THE INFLUENCE OF URBAN FORM AT DIFFERENT GEOGRAPHICAL SCALES ON TRAVEL BEHAVIOR; EVIDENCE FROM U.S. CITIES
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Suburban lifestyle is popular among American families, although it has been criticized for encouraging automobile use through longer commutes, causing heavy traffic congestion, and destroying open spaces (Handy, 2005). It is a serious concern that people living in low-density suburban areas suffer from high automobile dependency and lower rates of daily physical activity, both of which result in social, environmental and health-related costs. In response to such concerns, researchers have investigated the inter-relationships between urban land-use pattern and travel behavior within the last few decades and suggested that land-use planning can play a significant role in changing travel behavior in the long-term. However, debates regarding the magnitude and efficiency of the effects of land-use on travel patterns have been contentious over the years. Changes in built-environment patterns is potentially considered a long-term panacea for automobile dependency and traffic congestion, despite some researchers arguing that the effects of land-use on travel behavior are minor, if any. It is still not clear why the estimated impact is different in urban areas and how effective a proposed land-use change/policy is in changing certain travel behavior. This knowledge gap has made it difficult for decision-makers to evaluate land-use plans and policies. In addition, little is known about the influence of the large-scale built environment. In the present dissertation, advanced spatial-statistical tools have been employed to better understand and analyze these impacts at different scales, along with analyzing transit-oriented development policy at both small and large scales. The objective of this research is to: (1) develop scalable and consistent measures of the overall physical form of metropolitan areas; (2) re-examine the effects of built-environment factors at different hierarchical scales on travel behavior, and, in particular, on vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and car ownership; and (3) investigate the effects of transit-oriented development on travel behavior. The findings show that changes in built-environment at both local and regional levels could be very influential in changing travel behavior. Specifically, the promotion of compact, mixed-use built environment with well-connected street networks reduces VMT and car ownership, resulting in less traffic congestion, air pollution, and energy consumption.