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Expo Line proves a point: If you build it, people will ride

Expo Line proves a point: If you build it, people will ride
An Expo Line train pulls into the La Cienega/Jefferson station. (Los Angeles Times)

People living near the new Expo Line started taking transit more and driving significantly less, a University of Southern California study has found.

This study, apparently the first of its kind for a major California transportation project, should be footnoted in any future ballot measure asking people to vote to raise taxes to pay for transit.

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Even though we all kind of know, intuitively, that some people will ditch their cars in favor of convenient, fast public transit, behavioral studies like this offer proof: If you build it, people will ride.

The study tracked roughly 200 households before and after the opening of the Expo Line's first phase, from downtown to Culver City, in 2012. Researchers found that people living within half a mile of the Expo Line tripled their use of rail after the opening. They also drove about 10 miles less per day after the transit line opened, compared with households in similar neighborhoods farther from the line. And because the Expo-adjacent residents drove less, they generated about 30% less carbon emissions.

These are compelling numbers showing that the Expo Line helped people change their habits, leading to fewer cars on the road and less air pollution.

We need more of these kinds of behavioral studies, particularly as the Metro board of directors considers putting another sales tax for transportation projects on the 2014 or 2016 ballot. The Expo Line may be getting people out of their cars, but what about the Orange Line busway? The Wilshire Rapid bus-only lane? The 405 Freeway carpool lane? We should know which transportation investments are giving us the biggest bang for our construction buck.

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Follow Kerry Cavanaugh on Twitter @kerrycavan and Google+

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