What Is the Transportation Burden On the Working Poor In St. Louis?

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Government intervention and choices in housing and infrastructure, especially in transportation, has promoted spreading out the region. Since 1970 the region’s population is up only 50% while the space occupied has increased by 400%. Putting people, jobs, services, shopping, and amenities further apart raises costs for the public and private sector. Our hyper-fragmentation has been unable to hold back these forces, often working in concert.

Transportation Burden on Working Poor{A Low Income Individual is defined as a single person household with one commuter that is at or below the national poverty line. The value indicates the percentage of income spent on Transportation}

The most tragic effect is the heavy burden placed on the poor. Unnecessary transportation costs in money and time crowd out housing, food, education, health care, childrearing, etc. and build no human or physical assets. Our policy priorities in transportation and housing have been exacerbating poverty.

For the region as a whole, our policy priorities that encourage longer distance commutes send great amounts of wealth out of the region. The amount of infrastructure needed to support it has rendered us house poor.

Mysidewalk.com has made a map of St. Louis City and County by census tract showing the portion of income spent on transportation by low wage workers. Click on “read more” for sources. They also made a map of the metro area by zip code.

Transportation Burden on Working Poor Counties

As our build-abandon-build-abandon land use policy of the region carries on, we should expect the burden to become greater. The burden applies not just to households, but to the often tiny municipalities trying to serve them. It is fortuitous for them that the same built environment that’s not productive enough to fund the town government also forces poor people to drive, often poorly maintained cars, so they are marks for revenue generation via tickets and court fines. The incentive for other revenue sources grows as higher taxes chase declining services while the tax base erodes.

We must recognize the role the built environment is playing in stymieing people’s efforts to escape poverty. When we choose to change the policies that encourage us to move further away from everything else, we will lift one less burden off the shoulders the poor.

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  • gmichaud

    Riding bicycles in winter came to mind reading a post about Minnesota on Urban Review.
    When I was in Finland one winter, I was amazed to see more people riding bikes than do so in nice weather in St. Louis. This is relevant, hang on.
    There are often separate bike routes and they are maintained in winter, it is a priority.
    And then there is the very good to excellent mass transit throughout Finland if you aren’t into winter biking.
    The poor in Finland are not stigmatized as in the US. The design of the city creates that equality. So walking, biking and transit are all normal, as is the automobile.
    While you are right about the drastic impact sprawl has had on the poor, correcting the problem isn’t an entitlement.
    I think this is a deep seated problem for everyone in the region on many levels, global warming being one, you mention infrastucture and then there is the question of sustainability. Those struggling with transportation options are hit first that is true, but the mindless sprawl should be a concern for everyone in the region.
    What it’s all about of course is that raw land is easy to flip for developers, the further out they go, the more cars sold etc. on and on and on. Everything is based on good old boy get rich schemes, or in other words, the underlying problem.

  • Pingback: Mapping the Cost of Sprawl for Low-Income Workers | Streetsblog.net()

  • Steve Pona

    Good post, Richard. Don’t forget about the cost(s) of bussing (mostly poor) school kids from the city to their transfer districts in the county at an unbelievable human and monetary cost.