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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Regional Versus Local Accessibility: Neo-Traditional Development and Its Implications for Non-work Travel


The question of how particular forms of metropolitan development affect travel patterns has long been of concern to planners but has recently been at the centre of a heated debate. Much of this debate has focused on the effects of suburbanization in particular, with some arguing that the decentralization of housing and jobs reduces overall travel (for example Gordon et al., 1989; 1991) and most others arguing that the low-density development that is associated with decentralization leads to more automobile travel and gasoline consumption (for example Newman and Kenworthy, 1989; 1992). The debate has taken on a very practical form in proposals that address the problem of growing levels of travel, particularly non-work travel, by changing the way in which individual suburbs are designed. The sprawling, low-density suburban development that has proliferated in recent decades in the United States is defined as the problem and a new approach to design is put forth as the solution. This approach is commonly dubbed 'neo-traditional development'.

Despite the popularity of the neo-traditional concept, the evidence on how effective these developments will be at reducing non-work travel is limited. This paper begins to remedy this situation, by providing both a framework through which these proposals must be evaluated and evidence from case studies of four communities within the San Francisco Bay Area as to the relationship between alternative forms of suburban development and the travel patterns of suburban residents. The question addressed is whether 'traditional' suburban forms engender less non-work travel than alternative forms, and the answer is ambiguous.

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