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Do Changes in Neighborhood Characteristics Lead to Changes in Travel Behavior? A Structural Equations Modeling Approach

UCD-ITS-RP-07-18

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Sustainable Transportation Center, Sustainable Transportation Energy Pathways (STEPS), Urban Land Use and Transportation Center

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Suburban sprawl has been widely criticized for its contribution to auto dependence. Numerous studies have found that residents in suburban neighborhoods drive more and walk less than their counterparts in traditional environments. However, most studies confirm only an association between the built environment and travel behavior, and have yet to establish the predominant underlying causal link: whether neighborhood design independently influences travel behavior or whether preferences for travel options affect residential choice. That is, residential self-selection may be at work. A few studies have recently addressed the influence of self-selection. However, our understanding of the causality issue is still immature. To address this issue, this study took into account individuals’ self-selection by employing a quasi-longitudinal design and by controlling for residential preferences and travel  attitudes. In particular, using data collected from 547 movers currently living in four traditional neighborhoods and four suburban neighborhoods in Northern California, we developed a structural equations model to investigate the relationships among changes in the built environment, changes in auto ownership, and changes in travel behavior. The results provide some encouragement that land-use policies designed to put residents closer to destinations and provide them with alternative transportation options will actually lead to less driving and more walking.