Comparing the impacts of local land use and urban spatial structure on household VMT and GHG emissions

Sungwon Lee, Bumsoo Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


To highlight the role of sustainable urban spatial structure in reducing household vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and CO2 emissions, this empirical study of the 121 largest urban areas (UAs) in the U.S. compares the effects of local land use and UA scale spatial structure in a multilevel analysis framework. The results show that centralized population and mezzo scale jobs-housing balance as well as higher UA population density can significantly reduce VMT and CO2 emissions. The combined effects of all UA level variables, including population-weighted density (PWD), are found to be on par with the elasticity of VMT with regard to a census tract level compactness index. Further, we find that urban spatial structure moderates local urban form effects on travel behavior. For example, while 10% more compact census tracts are associated with 5% fewer VMT in UAs with the sample average PWD, such as St. Louis and Pittsburgh, this estimated local effect increases to 7.5% and 10% in UAs where PWD is as high as in Chicago and New York, respectively. The findings of this study strongly support policy programs that aim to boost “articulated densities” in the urban region and call for stronger institutional frameworks for regional planning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number102694
JournalJournal of Transport Geography
StatePublished - Apr 2020


  • GHG emissions
  • Multilevel analysis
  • Sustainable transportation
  • Urban form
  • Urban spatial structure
  • Vehicle miles traveled

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Transportation
  • Environmental Science(all)


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