Measuring Sprawl and Its Transportation Impacts

Reid Ewing, Rolf Pendall, Don Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Across the United States, urban sprawl, its impacts, and appropriate containment policies have become the most hotly debated issues in urban planning. Today's debates have no anchoring definition of sprawl, which has contributed to their unfocused, dogmatic quality. Efforts to measure sprawl and test for relationships between sprawl and transportation outcomes are described. This is the first use of the newly minted Rutgers-Cornell sprawl indicators. Sprawl is operationalized by combining many variables into a few factors representing density, land use mix, degree of centering, and street accessibility. This consolidation of variables is accomplished with principal component analysis. These factors are then related to vehicle ownership, commute mode choice, commute time, vehicle miles traveled per capita, traffic delay per capita, traffic fatalities per capita, and 8-h ozone level. These associations are made with multiple regression analysis. For most travel and transportation outcomes, sprawling regions perform less well than compact ones. The exceptions are average commute time and annual traffic delay per capita, which do not clearly favor compactness over sprawl. The main limitation of this study has to do with the data it uses. By necessity, the study uses highly aggregate data from a variety of sources that are not always consistent as to the area under study and time period. They are simply the best data available from national sources with sufficient breadth to provide a panoramic view of sprawl in the United States. Results will have to be validated through follow-up work of a more focused nature.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)175-183
Number of pages9
JournalTransportation Research Record
Issue number1831
StatePublished - 2003
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Mechanical Engineering


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