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Is traffic congestion overrated? Examining the highly variable effects of congestion on travel and accessibility

Andrew Mondschein and Brian D. Taylor

Journal of Transport Geography, 2017, vol. 64, issue C, 65-76

Abstract: Congestion is universally unpopular, but is it always a problem? Are some places more “congestion-adapted” than others? Using data for Los Angeles, we examine whether the geographies of congestion and accessibility are distinct by mapping and describing them across neighborhoods. We then estimate a series of regression models of trip-making to test the net effects of traffic delays on behavior. We find that there are places where people make many trips and engage in many activities despite lots of congestion, which tend to be more central, built-up areas that host many short trips; in other places, high congestion and low activity coincide. Why the variance? While congestion can constrain mobility and reduce accessibility, traffic is also associated with agglomerations of activity and is thus a byproduct of proximity-based accessibility. Whether agglomeration and congestion have net positive or negative impacts on activity participation thus varies substantially over space. Controlling for factors such as income and working at home, we find that the effects of congestion on access depend on whether congestion-adaptive travel choices (such as walking and making shorter trips to nearby destinations) are viable. Because “congestion-adapted” places tend to host more trip-making, planners may be justified in creating more such places in order to increase accessibility, even if doing so makes absolute levels of congestion worse in the process.

Keywords: Accessibility; Congestion; Travel behavior (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2017
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