In a Commuting Utopia, Efficient Housing Location Could Cut Travel by One-Third

By Saumya Jain

Most states and local governments are either interested in defining vehicle miles traveled (VMT) reduction goals or already have these in place and are actively working toward VMT reduction. Often these goals are approached either by promoting alternative travel modes or through policy incentives. In a recent article, Canadian researchers ran an optimization model to assess the potential impact of household relocation on home-based travel to work and study destinations. While this is a hypothetical analysis, the results are compelling.

Using data from the 2013 Montreal travel survey of 79,000 households, the researchers designed an optimization model that swaps locations of similar types of households to bring residents closer to their work and study destinations. The model predicts that eliminating the spatial mismatch in Montreal could reduce VMT by up to 38% (8-9 daily miles per household). The results from this analysis also show that:

If the mode choice remains constant despite the new trip conditions following the household relocations, the total mileage for work and study trips would decrease by 42.8% for car drivers, by 35.2% for car passengers, by 13.3% for school bus, and 34.2% for public transport. As a result of the household relocations, walking and cycling latent trips increased, respectively, from 2.6% to 15.5% and 26.1% to 39.9% of motorized trips.

To achieve these stark results, the model relocated 98.2 percent of the total households. Although structural changes as huge as this are not practical, the study  highlights inefficiencies within our current residential distribution. It also emphasizes the importance of housing location with respect to a resident’s travel behavior.

While transportation demand management efforts are successful in inducing sustainable travel choices,  the study indicates it is also important to make relocating closer to work an attractive option. Transit oriented development, new urbanism principles, and infill development are different development strategies that planners and policy makers could use for eliminating spatial mismatch.

SSTI recently published a report with the City of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, highlighting the accessibility and health related benefits of infill development.

Photo credit: maelick via Flickr, unmodified. License