URBAN DESIGN International

, Volume 17, Issue 3, pp 221–227 | Cite as

Automobile use and land consumption: Empirical evidence from 12 cities

  • Christopher McCahill
  • Norman Garrick
Original Article


Automobile use has increased significantly in most US cities for at least five decades. However, automobile infrastructure can consume significant amounts of land that could otherwise be used for non-transportation activities. Theory suggests that as automobile mode share increases in a city, the amount of land used for transportation also increases, whereas the land available for other uses decreases. This can result in a loss of activities from the city. This study compiles data from 12 cities in the United States to test these theoretical relationships. The findings suggest that on average each increase of 10 percentage points in the portion of commuters traveling by automobile is associated with an increase of more than 2500 m2 of parking per 1000 people and a decrease of 1700 people/km2. In quantifying these relationships, this work provides a basis for assessing the potential impacts of transportation policy decisions on land use and on the concentration of people in cities. These issues ultimately have an impact on the vitality and financial viability of cities.


transportation automobiles land use planning development 


  1. Bureau of the Census. (n.d.) Census 2000 summary file 3 (SF 3) – Sample data. American Factfinder,, accessed 12 June 2010.
  2. Bureau of Transportation Statistics. (n.d.) CTPP 2000 Part 3. Census Transportation Planning Product,, accessed 12 June 2010.
  3. Cervero, R. (2002) Built environments and mode choice: Toward a normative framework. Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment 7 (4): 265–284.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. City of Hartford. (1973) Journal of Court of Common Council of the City of Hartford, 1971–1973. Hartford, CT: Office of the Town and City Clerk, p. 580.Google Scholar
  5. Davis, A., Pijanowski, B., Robinson, K. and Kidwell, P. (2010) Estimating parking lot footprints in the Upper Great Lakes Region of the USA. Landscape and Urban Planning 96: 68–77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Ewing, R. and Cervero, R. (2001) Travel and the built environment: A synthesis. Transportation Research Record 1780: 87–113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Ewing, R. and Cervero, R. (2010) Travel and the built environment: A meta-analysis. Journal of the American Planning Association 76 (3): 265–294.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Frank, L., Bradley, M., Kavage, S., Chapman, J. and Lawton, T.K. (2008) Urban form, travel time, and cost relationships with tour complexity and mode choice. Transportation 25 (1): 37–54.Google Scholar
  9. Goldman, M. (2007) City on the Edge: Buffalo, New York. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.Google Scholar
  10. Handy, S., Cao, X. and Mokhtarian, P. (2005) Correlation or causality between the built environment and travel behavior? Evidence from Northern California. Transportation Research Part D 10 (6): 427–444.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Manville, M. and Shoup, D. (2005) Parking, People, and Cities. Journal of Urban Planning and Development 131 (4): 233–245.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Marshall, W. and Garrick, N. (2009) The Shape of Sustainable Street Networks for Neighborhoods and Cities. Proceedings of the 17th Congress for the New Urbanism; 10–14 June, Denver, CO.Google Scholar
  13. McCahill, C. and Garrick, N. (2010a) Losing Hartford: Transportation Policy and the Decline of an American City. Proceedings of the 18th Congress for the New Urbanism; 19–22 May, Atlanta, GA.Google Scholar
  14. McCahill, C. and Garrick, N. (2010b) Influence of parking policy on built environment and travel behavior in two new England cities, 1960–2007. Transportation Research Record 2187: 123–130.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. McCormack, E., Rutherford, G.S. and Wilkinson, M.G. (2001) Travel impacts of mixed land use neighborhoods in Seattle, Washington. Transportation Research Record 1780: 25–32.Google Scholar
  16. Mukhija, V. and Shoup, D. (2006) Quantity versus quality in off-street parking requirements. Journal of the American Planning Association 72 (3): 296–308.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Newman, P. and Kenworthy, J. (1999) Sustainability and Cities. Washington DC: Island Press.Google Scholar
  18. Santos, A., McGuckin, N., Nakamoto, H.Y., Gray, D. and Liss, S. (2011) Summary of Travel Trends: 2009 Household National Travel Survey. Washington DC: US Department of Transportation.Google Scholar
  19. Shin, Y., Vuchic, V. and Bruun, E. (2009) Land consumption impacts of a transportation system on a city: An analysis. Transportation Research Record 2110: 69–77.Google Scholar
  20. Shin, Y.E. (1997) Analysis of city/transportation system relationship via land consumption. PhD dissertation, University of Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh, PA.Google Scholar
  21. Victoria Transport Policy Institute. (2011) Online TDM encyclopedia,, accessed 10 January 2012.
  22. Woudsma, C., Litman, T. and Weisbrod, G. (2006) A Report on the Estimation of Unit Values of Land Occupied by Transportation Infrastructures in Canada. In fulfillment of Transport Canada Contract T8080-05-0191, 7 June.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christopher McCahill
    • 1
  • Norman Garrick
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Civil and Environmental EngineeringUniversity of ConnecticutStorrsUSA

Personalised recommendations