A central theme of my research is that prejudices in professional practice have resulted in the development of less-than-optimal transportation networks. This theme is visible both in historical research on the evolution of urban transportation planning and in contemporary research on public transit policy and planning. I also conduct research on surface transportation policy and finance.


The notes below highlight some of my past publications. Click here for discussion of ongoing and future projects.



Urban Transportation History

My research on urban transportation planning history examines both the early professionalization of transportation planning and the contest between transportation planners and highway engineers over the direction and shape of urban freeway development, the most important urban transportation planning event of the last century.


Brown, Jeffrey. 2006. “From Traffic Regulation to Limited Ways: The Effort to Develop a Science of Transportation Planning.” Journal of Planning History 5(1): 3-34.


During the 1910s and 1920s, transportation planners cloaked themselves with the mantle of science and presented themselves to the public as neutral, expert problem solvers who could address the growing problem of automobile congestion. Rather than being neutral analysts, they defined the transportation problem in a very narrow way that reflected the concerns of their downtown business group clients. But, by virtue of their possession of traffic data and their training in special analytic techniques, they successfully staked a claim to status as the acknowledged experts on transportation issues. In so doing, they transformed transportation planning from a multidisciplinary exercise concerned with links between transportation, urban development, and the quality of urban life into a narrow technical one concerned primarily with facilitating motor vehicle travel, and in so doing they exerted a profound influence on the course of urban development.  Among scientific transportation planning’s important legacies are survey techniques that generate the traffic data still used to inform decision making, principles of traffic regulation and street classification that are institutionalized in municipal codes throughout the country, and the idea that transportation planners should have rigorous technical training. But also among its legacies are a tendency on the part of many practitioners to resist the involvement of non-expert others (elected officials, interest group representatives, and especially the general public) in the decision-making process, a tendency to use data as weapons in conflicts over decisions with these non-expert others, and a narrow professional focus on guaranteeing easy traffic movement, at the lowest possible cost, that led directly to the most disruptive urban freeway projects.


Brown, Jeffrey.  2005. “A Tale of Two Visions: Harland Bartholomew, Robert Moses, and the Development of the American Freeway.” Journal of Planning History 4 (1): 3-32.


Engineers viewed freeways as efficient traffic conduits, and their plans reflect this functional view. Planners, on the other hand, viewed freeways not only as traffic carriers but also as powerful tools that could be wielded to reshape urban development patterns. The article uses the plans of Harland Bartholomew and Robert Moses to illustrate these competing visions and to assess their implications for the development of the freeway and its long-term influence on our cities. The engineers’ traffic-service vision emerged victorious through the creation and financing of the interstate highway system, but this victory carried with it a high price for many American cities, including community disruption, environmental degradation, and continued traffic congestion, among a host of other consequences.



Public Transit and Urban Decentralization

Conventional wisdom in both the scholarly and practitioner community suggests that transit can only succeed in the high-density environments characteristic of older, industrial-era cities and is doomed to serve a very marginal, and largely ineffective, role in other kinds of urban environments. Given that most cities do not exhibit traditional characteristics, the conventional wisdom suggests a grim future for public transit, particularly in the Sunbelt. My research with Greg Thompson provides strong evidence against the conventional wisdom.


Brown, Jeffrey and Gregory Thompson. 2008. “Service Orientation, Bus-Rail Service Integration, and Transit Performance: An Examination of 45 U.S. Metropolitan Areas.” Transportation Research Record, Journal of the Transportation Research Board 2042: 82-89.


This article examines the roles played by service orientation (radial versus multidestination) and transit service mix (bus only versus bus and rail) on transit riding habit, service productivity, and cost effectiveness in 45 U.S. metropolitan areas with between 1 million and 5 million persons from 1984 to 2004, and finds that metropolitan areas with multidestination service orientation and a mix of bus and rail services perform best on all three measures.


Brown, Jeffrey  and Gregory Thompson. 2008. “Transit Ridership and Urban Decentralization: Insights from Atlanta.” Urban Studies 45 (5&6): 1119-1139.


Conventional wisdom suggests that the increasing decentralization of population and employment in U.S. metropolitan areas is to blame for declining public transit mode shares and deteriorating system productivity. Proponents of this view assert that transit performs best when it connects suburbs to central business districts in more centralized urban environments. Our time-series analysis of transit patronage in Atlanta suggests that the previously reported secular decline in transit patronage is attributable to employment decentralization outside the MARTA service area but that this can be reduced if the transit system makes decentralizing employment reachable.


Brown, Jeffrey and Gregory Thompson. 2008. “Examining the Influence of Multidestination Service Orientation on Transit Service Productivity: A Multivariate Analysis.” Transportation, volume 35 (2), pp. 237-252.


This article uses multivariate statistical analysis to explore the influence of transit network structure on service productivity in 73 U.S. metropolitan areas, and finds that decentralized network structures perform just as well as, or better than, more centralized network structures in serving the increasingly dispersed set of travel destinations so characteristic of most U.S. metropolitan areas.


Thompson, Gregory and Jeffrey Brown. 2006. “Explaining Variation in Transit Ridership Change in U.S. Metropolitan Areas between 1990 and 2000: A Multivariate Analysis.” Transportation Research Record 1986.


This paper examines changes in ridership (per capita) between 1990 and 2000 among all US Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) with more than 500,000 persons. The multivariate analysis shows that transit is growing most rapidly in the non-traditional markets of the West but that much of the regional variation is a function of the particular service coverage, frequency, and orientation decisions made by transit agencies in this region. Service coverage and frequency are the most powerful explanatory variables for variation in ridership change among MSAs with 1 million to 5 million people, while a multidestination service orientation is the most important explanation for variation in ridership change among MSAs with 500,000 to 1 million people.


Thompson, Gregory, Jeffrey Brown, Rupa Sharma, and Samuel Scheib. 2006. “Where Transit Use is Growing: Surprising Results.” Journal of Public Transportation 9 (2): 25-43.


This paper is a descriptive examination of whether transit’s fate is tied to the last vestiges of old urban forms or whether it is finding niches in the new, largely suburban urban forms that increasingly have manifested themselves since the 1920s.  Following the conventional wisdom, the hypothesis is that most growth is in census regions with the strongest vestiges of older urban forms centered on CBDs.  However, our results show that for MSAs with fewer than 5 million people, transit use has been growing faster than very rapid population growth in the West region, but not elsewhere in the country.  We conclude that transit growth is not tied to old urban forms. 



Public Transit Policy Innovation

My research on public transit policy innovation explores the potential for transit pass programs targeted at universities to generate new ridership for transit agencies while also providing a low-cost, high-benefit alternative to universities that are struggling to meet their transportation needs. This research also has implications for settings beyond the university, including at major employment sites.


Brown, Jeffrey, Daniel Baldwin Hess, and Donald C. Shoup. 2001. “Unlimited Access.” Transportation. 28 (3): 233 - 267.


This paper introduced the concept of Unlimited Access to describe transit programs that allow students, faculty, and staff to ride public transit without paying a fare when they board a vehicle. In such programs, the university negotiates with the transit agency for a bulk purchase discount that in essence transforms their university identification into a transit pass. This article presented the results of a survey of 35 such programs throughout the United States. The study has been cited in several articles and books on transit policy innovations.



Brown, Jeffrey, Daniel Baldwin Hess, and Donald C. Shoup. 2003. “Fare-Free Public Transit at Universities: An Evaluation.” Journal of Planning Education and Research 23 (1): 69-82. Awarded Chester Rapkin Award for Best Article in Journal of Planning Education and Research.


This study presented the results of an evaluation of the pass program at the University of California, Los Angeles. The article evaluated overall program performance, in terms of ridership growth, and calculated benefit-cost ratios for a number of affected campus and non-campus groups. The paper found that transit ridership increased, parking demand fell, and all four identified constituency groups had benefits that exceeded their costs. The article won the Chester Rapkin Award for Best Article in the Journal of Planning Education and Research.



Public Transit Finance


Brown, Jeffrey. 2005b. “Paying for Transit in an Era of Federal Policy Change.” Journal of Public Transportation 8 (3): 1-32.


Public transit agencies rely on a combination of local, state, and federal subsidy to provide their services. However, federal policy changes have introduced uncertainty into the public subsidy picture. In 1998, Congress passed TEA-21 which eliminated federal operating assistance to agencies in U.S. urbanized areas with populations of 200,000 or more persons. This policy change came at the end of a more than decade-long decline in the share of federal operating support for agencies in larger urban areas. The analysis revealed that agencies in different parts of the country have followed different financial paths, with dedicated sales taxes a particularly important source of finance in the Sunbelt.



Other Transportation Policy Publications


Brown, Jeffrey. 2002. “Statewide Transportation Planning: Lessons from California.” Transportation Quarterly. 56 (2): 51- 62.


The paper used the experience of one state, California, to provide guidance to state departments of transportation (DOTs) that were (and still are) struggling with how to meet federal mandates that they engage in multimodal transportation planning with metropolitan planning organizations and other governmental agencies. California’s record shows that the recent round of soul-searching is nothing new. California’s experience is one of episodic, triage-style planning undertaken in response to a recurring series of fiscal or physical crises and external mandates. The only exception to this pattern was the long-range planning surrounding the California Freeway System plan adopted in 1959. But given today’s transportation policy environment and prevailing public attitudes about building large transportation facilities, the ability of state DOTs to craft far-reaching, long-range plans along the lines of the 1959 example is a Herculean task. Today’s round of organizational soul-searching could represent the first hesitant steps toward an era of thoughtful, proactive planning, or it could simply be the latest example of reactive planning. Past experience suggests that the latter is more likely the case.



Hess, Daniel Baldwin, Jeffrey Brown, and Donald Shoup. 2004. “Waiting for the Bus.” Journal of Public Transportation 7 (4): 67-84.


How much is time worth?  In a natural experiment, college students riding public transit to UCLA were presented with the opportunity to pay for time savings: they could pay 75¢ to travel right away, or wait an average of 5.3 minutes for a free ride.  Eighty-six percent of riders chose to wait rather than pay.  Their behavior suggests that the disutility of time spent waiting for a free ride is less than $8.50 per hour.  Riders overestimated their wait time by a factor of two when it was imposed by the transit system, but accurately estimated their wait time when they chose to wait for the free bus ride.



Brown, Jeffrey. 1998. “Race, Class, Gender, and Public Transportation Planning: Lessons from the Bus Riders Union Lawsuit.” Critical Planning. Vol. 5, pp. 3 - 20.


This paper examines the Bus Riders Union lawsuit against the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, one of the most famous civil rights lawsuits in transportation.



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