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Travel Behavior and Built Environment

Exploring the Importance of Urban Design at the Non-Residential End of the Trip

J. Richard Kuzmyak, Jerry Walters, Hsi-hwa Hu, Jason Espie, and Dohyung Kim

May 2012, English

This working paper presents results of an analysis of how land use characteristics may affect travel behavior decisions when considered in the context of non-residential trip destinations. Interest in the relationship between land use and travel behavior is central to planning and policy discussions addressing concerns such as mobility, congestion, energy dependency and climate change. There is considerable evidence that conventional dispersed, auto-centric development patterns (aka “sprawl”) are inefficient, wasteful of land and natural resources, and difficult to sustain. In contrast, community designs that emphasize higher-density/more compact forms, a diverse mix of land uses, thoughtful design that makes uses more attractive and accessible to pedestrians, a traditional street grid, and good transit access have been shown to reduce auto reliance, cut average trip lengths, and reduce vehicle miles of travel.

While much good research has been done to help quantify those characteristics of the built environment that influence travel decision making using the “Ds” of density, diversity, design and destinations, the focus of this existing body of research has been almost exclusively on the residential production end of the trip. This leaves a major gap in accounting for how conditions at the non-residential end of the trip also factor into how a person chooses to travel to a given destination, or more fundamentally, how they choose what destination to travel to.

This research study, enabled by a Lincoln Institute grant, processed travel survey and underlying land use data from Southern California to begin to address how the characteristics of the built environment at non-residential trip destinations—such as commercial or employment centers—influence travel patterns to those destinations. While much additional research remains to be done with the unique database assembled, the initial findings are highly encouraging in beginning to quantify the importance of the built environment at non-residential trip ends. This is an important step toward completing the behavioral construct which is needed to fully account for the benefits of compact, mixed, transit served land use on travel behavior.