The impacts of light rail on residential property values in a nonzoning city: A new test on the Houston METRORail transit line

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The impacts of rail transit system on residential property values have been examined for many metropolitan areas in the U.S. But there are few studies on the effects of light rail in a non-zoning city. As the rail transit in the largest non-zoning city, Houston's light rail transit line, or the so-called METRORail, has not received much attention from the planning research society since it opened to the public in 2004. A previous study by the author utilized 2007 household data to analyze the impacts of Houston's METRORail line and found the net effects of the rail transit line change significantly at different distances from the rail stations. One limitation of that study was that the physical environment and neighborhood characteristics of the station areas may not have had notable changes over a relatively short time span, i.e., three years after the opening of the light rail. This study employs 2010 InfoUSA household data to re-examine the effects of Houston's METRORail line. Similar to the previous studies, the author adopts a traditional ordinary linear regression (OLS) to investigate the contribution of a set of variables representing the physical, neighborhood, and accessibility characteristics of properties, and also employs a multi-level regression model (MLR) to examine the hierarchical structures of spatial data explicitly. In addition, this study tests the spatial autocorrelation in the modeling process and analyzes its effects on the results. The modeling results suggest that the METRORail line has had significant net positive effects on residential property values. The MLS model captures the difference of these effects with more spatial details. The spatial regression model improves model fit, but spatial autocorrelation is not completely eliminated.