Correlation or Causality between the Built Environment and Travel Behavior? Evidence from Northern California

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

land use - planning, place - low density, policy - environment, ridership - attitudes


Travel behavior, Suburbs, Policy making, Northern California, Neighborhoods, Multivariate analysis, Mental attitudes, Longitudinal studies, Land use planning, Correlation analysis, Correlation (Mathematics), Consumers' preferences, Consumer preferences, Cities, Causal relationships, Built environment, Automobile use, Automobile usage, Automobile travel, Attitudes


Previous studies have shown that, all else being equal, residents of neighborhoods with higher levels of density, land-use mix, transit accessibility, and pedestrian friendliness drive less than residents of neighborhoods with lower levels of these characteristics. However, these studies have not established the underlying direction of causality--in particular, whether neighborhood design influences travel behavior or whether travel preferences influence the choice of neighborhood. This leaves a key question largely unanswered: if cities use land use policies to bring residents closer to destinations and provide viable alternatives to driving, will people drive less and thereby reduce emissions? The present study uses quasi-longitudinal design to investigate the relationship between neighborhood characteristics and travel behavior while taking into account the role of travel preferences and neighborhood preferences in explaining this relationship. A multivariate analysis of cross-sectional data shows that differences in travel behavior between suburban and traditional neighborhoods are largely explained by attitudes and that the effect of the built environment mostly disappears when attitudes and sociodemographic factors are accounted for. However, a quasi-longitudinal analysis of changes in travel behavior and changes in the built environment shows significant associations, even when attitudes have been accounted for, providing support for a causal relationship. Although these results provide some evidence that land-use policies designed to put residents closer to destinations and provide them with alternatives to driving will actually lead to less driving, the analyses presented here are not definitive, nor do they clarify the nature of the causal relationship. Directions for future research are discussed.


Transportation Research Part D Home Page: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/13619209