Reducing VMT, Encouraging Walk Trips, and Facilitating Efficient Trip Chains through Polycentric Development

The dominant paradigm of transportation planning in the U.S. (a la metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs)) now consists of a hierarchy of activity centers connected by high-quality transportation facilities. Yet, there is a dearth of studies demonstrating the benefits of this pattern of development. Instead, the emphasis in the travel behavior literature has been on the benefits of compact, mixed-use, neighborhood developments. The fundamental idea of this proposal is that polycentric development, with good destination accessibility within centers, is a partial antidote to urban sprawl. Even in a low-density residential environment, vehicular travel and vehicle miles of travel (VMT) may be minimized, and walking and biking may be maximized, with efficient trip chaining made possible by polycentric development. Residents of surrounding neighborhoods may make auto trips from their homes to centers and back, but once in centers, they can make short trips, usually on foot, from one destination to the next in multipurpose trip chains. Despite the negative effects, urban sprawl continues and policies to promote compact development run into political resistance. Instead of putting the emphasis of anti-sprawl policies on residential accessibility (placing attractions within walking distance of homes), this proposal explores the benefits of destination accessibility (placing attractions close to one another in centers). The database the research team uses consists of 931,479 trips by 94,620 households in 34 metropolitan areas in the U.S. This is the largest collection of household travel data with precise locational geocodes ever assembled. Based on precise XY coordinates, trip purpose and travel mode, the team will identify trip chains and non-home-based trips within centers, and can relate trip frequency, trip distance, mode choice, and VMT to the D variables (density, diversity, design, distance to transit, and destination accessibility) for the centers. The team would expect to find that households working and shopping in dense, diverse, well-designed, and transit-served centers generate less VMT on non-home-based trips, and make more non-home-based walk and bike trips, than those working and shopping in suburban sprawl. If expectations are correct, this would be the strongest evidence yet produced on the benefits of polycentric development through efficient trip chaining. This study has important policy implications by promoting polycentric and smart development as a more effective way to deal with urban sprawl and promote active transportation. The quantitative analysis will be complemented by detailed case studies of ten regions among the 34 that have promoted polycentric development. The case studies will explore how and why each of the ten regions have promoted polycentric development patterns.


  • English


  • Status: Active
  • Funding: $216332
  • Contract Numbers:

    NITC 1217

  • Sponsor Organizations:

    Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology

    University Transportation Centers Program
    Department of Transportation
    Washington, DC  United States  20590

    Utah Transit Authority

    3600 South 700 West, P.O. Box 30810
    Salt Lake City, UT  United States  84130

    University of Utah, Salt Lake City

    City & Metropolitan Planning
    201 South Presidents Circle
    Salt Lake City, UT  United States  84112

    University of Texas at Arlington

    Box 19308
    Arlington, TX  United States  76019-0308

    Salt Lake County

    Salt Lake City, Utah  United States 

    Wasatch Front Regional Council

    295 N. Jimmy Doolittle Rd.
    Salt Lake City, UT  United States  84116
  • Managing Organizations:

    TREC at Portland State University

    1900 SW Fourth Ave, Suite 175
    P.O. Box 751
    Portland, Oregon  United States  97201
  • Project Managers:

    Hagedorn, Hau

  • Performing Organizations:

    University of Utah, Salt Lake City

    City & Metropolitan Planning
    201 South Presidents Circle
    Salt Lake City, UT  United States  84112

    University of Texas at Arlington

    Box 19308
    Arlington, TX  United States  76019-0308
  • Principal Investigators:

    Ewing, Reid

    Hamidi, Shima

    Wei, Yehua

  • Start Date: 20180801
  • Expected Completion Date: 20200831
  • Actual Completion Date: 0
  • USDOT Program: University Transportation Centers Program

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01674842
  • Record Type: Research project
  • Source Agency: National Institute for Transportation and Communities
  • Contract Numbers: NITC 1217
  • Files: UTC, RIP
  • Created Date: Jul 5 2018 1:26PM