High-Density, Mixed-Use Development Will Not Solve Transportation Problems

By Kiderra, Inga | Public Management, April 2004 | Go to article overview

High-Density, Mixed-Use Development Will Not Solve Transportation Problems


Kiderra, Inga, Public Management


Rebuild American localities with more condos and strong commercial cores, and people will abandon highways in favor of railways and sidewalks. Transportation expert Genevieve Giuliano, a professor in the University of Southern California (USC) School of Policy, Planning, and Development, puts this notion to the test in her research released in 2003.

New urbanists--who advocate high-density, mixed-use development--have been promoting this concept for years, Giuliano says, and it is now widely accepted among planners. They look with admiration at European examples, where dense, centralized metropolitan areas have lower levels of auto use. But the two conditions may not always be closely linked.

"The leading idea is that high-density living makes you more likely to walk or to use public transportation," she says. "In the United States, we do observe this relationship. But when we look closer, the explanation seems to be factors associated with density, not density itself."

Using the travel-diary data of more than 100,000 individuals from the United States and Great Britain, Giuliano and Dhiraj Narayan, a recent graduate of USC's master of planning and master of real estate programs, compared the relationships of urban form with travel behavior in the two countries.

The most striking finding, Giuliano states, is that "how people travel in Britain has little to do with low-, mid-, or high-density living." Brits have a much lower propensity for regular (nonvacation) travel than Americans. And they go only about half the distance. They travel less by any mode or for any purpose, whether walking to the grocer's, biking to a neighbor's, or driving to the office.

In the United States, a person makes an average of 3.8 trips a day and covers 28.7 miles. In the United Kingdom, the figures are 2.9 trips and 14 miles.

These travel stats are true for Brits across the board, says Giuliano, with no appreciable difference whether they live in London or in a remote village. What accounts for the discrepancy with American habits, if not density? Income and cost, she says.

"All the demographics--gender, age, income, employment--that matter here, matter there," says Giuliano, who also directs METRANS, the National Center for Metropolitan Transportation Research, which is operated jointly by USC and Cal State Long Beach. "And they matter equally in both countries."

Women travel less than men. The old and the poor travel less than the young and the rich. And while the British population is not older or more female, it is poorer. In 1999, median household income was $33,900 in the United States and $21,800 in the United Kingdom. "Wealth, of course, begets demand for consumer goods, including houses and cars," Giuliano says. …

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