Final and Absolute Conclusion – Traffic Congestion is Caused by Land Use

TRB Special Report 298

Two reports were published during the past two months that provided the final and absolute documentation necessary for all planners, developers, traffic engineers and elected official to agree – automobile traffic is caused by land use. Many of us will be unimpressed with this finding, coming on top of years of reports and studies, as well as our own professional judgment. But now, the Transportation Research Board (TRB) has published a new Special Report 298 titled “Driving and the Built Environment – The Effects of Compact Development on Motorized Travel, Energy Use and CO2 Emissions.”

TRB is one of six major divisions of the National Research Council. The mission of TRB is to provide leadership in transportation innovation and progress through research and information exchange, conducted within a setting that is objective, interdisciplinary and multimodal. TRB’s varied activities annually engage about 7,000 engineers, scientists and other transportation researchers and practitioners from the public and private sectors and academia, all of whom contribute their expertise in the public interest. The program is supported by state transportation departments, federal agencies including the component administrations of the U.S. Department of Transportation, and other organizations and individuals interested in the development of transportation.

Among the findings of the TRB Special Report 298:

Finding 1

Developing more compactly, that is, at higher residential and employment densities, is likely to reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT).

Finding 2

The literature suggests that doubling residential density across a metropolitan area might lower household VMT by about 5 to 12 percent, and perhaps by as much as 25 percent, if coupled with higher employment concentrations, significant public transit improvements, mixed uses and other supporting demand management measures.

Finding 3

More compact, mixed-use development can produce reductions in energy consumption and CO2 emissions both directly and indirectly.

Finding 4

Illustrative scenarios developed by the committee suggest that significant increases in more compact, mixed-use development will result in modest short-term reductions in energy consumption and CO2 emissions. But these reductions will grow over time.

Finding 5

Promoting more compact, mixed-use development on a large scale will require overcoming numerous obstacles. These obstacles include the traditional reluctance of many local governments to zone for such development and the lack of either regional governments with effective powers to regulate land use in most metropolitan areas or a strong state role in land use planning.

Finding 6

Changes in development patterns significant enough to substantially alter travel behavior and residential building efficiency entail other benefits and costs that have not been quantified in this study.

Recommendation 1

Policies that support more compact, mixed-use development and reinforce its ability to reduce VMT, energy use and CO2 emissions should be encouraged.

Recommendation 2

More carefully designed studies of the effects of land use patterns and the form and location of more compact, mixed-use development on VMT, energy use and CO2 emissions should be conducted so that compact development can be implemented more effectively.

Report by Florida DOT and CUTR

A second report was unveiled in September by the Florida Department of Transportation and the Center for Urban Transportation Research (CUTR) at the University of South Florida. The 2009 Trends and Conditions Report – Impact of Transportation: Transportation and Land Use, also confirms much of what is stated in the TRB special report, but is specifically focused on the State of Florida.

Among the many positions outlined by Florida DOT in the report is the following: “Land use and transportation are interdependent dimensions of urban development. Coordination of the two is therefore essential to achieving a variety of transportation as well as growth management goals. Reducing traffic congestion, increasing use of public transportation, improving roadway safety, lowering greenhouse gas emissions, containing public costs, sustaining economic growth, promoting livable communities, preserving natural areas and resources – these public goals require effective land use and transportation coordination.”


The State of Georgia has benefitted from the growth of the past few decades. But the fiscal, economic and governmental conditions that made the 1970 to 2007 growth boom occur are effectively over. Public funds for transportation projects must be targeted in the future in a manner that leverages the strategic benefits of the investment through real coordinated land use strategies.

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One Response to “Final and Absolute Conclusion – Traffic Congestion is Caused by Land Use”

  1. nidhi garg Says:

    this essay has provided us a lot of information in clearing my doubts.^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

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