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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Land-Use Mixing and Suburban Mobility


Suburban traffic congestion has emerged as one of the most pressing problems in the transportation field today and, most probably, will hold center stage in the transportation policy arena for years to come. Most accounts link the suburbanization of congestion to the suburbanization of jobs during the 1980s. Indeed, recent surges in suburban office employment have fundamentally altered commuting patterns, giving rise to far more cross-tow, reverse-direction, and lateral travel movements than in years past. This dispersal of jobs and commuting has been a mixed blessing of sorts. While on the one hand it has relieved some downtowns of additional traffic and brought jobs closer to some suburbanites, on the other hand it has flooded many outlying thoroughfares with unprecedented volumes of traffic and seriously threatened the very quality of living that lured millions of Americans to the suburbs in the first place.

The way suburban workplaces are being designed, it could be argued, bears some of the blame for worsening congestion. In particular, the emergence of many suburban job centers that have a single dominant use, usually offices, could be inducing many employees to drive their own cars to work. These single-use office centers stand in marked contrast to traditional downtowns, most of which feature a rich variety of offices, shops, restaurants, banks, and other activities intermingled amongst one another. While downtown workers can easily walk to a restaurant or a merchandise store during lunch, those who work in many campus-style office parks are almost stranded in the midday if they don't drive their own car to work. The problem has been less one of these workers clogging roadways during the noon hour and more one of regional thoroughfares being jammed during peak periods by those who feel compelled to drive so that they have an auto readily available during and after work.

This article examines the potential mobility benefits of developing mixed-use suburban workplaces, ones where offices, shops, banks, restaurants, and other activities are built side-by-side. The affects of current land-use mixes on the commuting choices of suburban workers are also studied based on an empirical analysis of some of the largest suburban employment centers in the United States. The article concludes with suggestions on how mixed-use developments could be encouraged in suburbia through various zoning and tax policy initiatives.

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