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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Personal City: The Experimental, Cognitive Nature of Travel and Activity and Implications for Accessibility


Transportation planning research addresses accessibility from diverse approaches, focusing varyingly on the usability of the transportation system as a whole, a particular mode, the pattern of land uses, or the wherewithal of individuals and communities to make use of those systems. One aspect of accessibility that has received relatively little attention from planners is its cognitive, experiential aspect. Individuals’ activity and travel choices require not just money and time but also information about opportunities in the city. This component of an individual’s accessibility is highly personal but also dependent on the terrain of land uses and transportation options shaped by planners and policymakers. I seek to extend current accessibility research, addressing shortcomings in how the literature deals with individual experience of the city and knowledge. Through a series of empirical analyses of activity patterns and cognitive maps of the Los Angeles region, I explore the factors that shape individual accessibility. The first analysis investigates the spatial nature of personal cities, using the activity spaces of respondents to explore the types of opportunities that different populations within a city can access. The second demonstrates the differences – depending on mode of travel – among individuals’ perceptions of the city, even when location is held constant. The third analysis continues an exploration of the personal city by considering its fundamental components.

Overall, the analyses support the relevance of the personal city framework to accessibility research, highlighting in particular that planning interventions are filtered through experiential and cognitive processes. The findings highlight that the accessibility impacts of transportation and land use patterns are felt not just in the instantaneous calculations of a microeconomic choice framework, but also in the long-term, developmental processes of cognition and experience. For urban planners, the implications of this research include evidence of how the built environment can effectively reduce travel while maintaining accessibility and how different transportation modes afford varying levels of functional accessibility. Overall, I find that experience, information, and learning are elements of urban daily life traditionally neglected by planners but with potential to increase opportunity and accessibility for diverse urban populations.

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