Factors shaping commuting patterns

What factors shape (these) commuting patterns? You’d think that density would matter for one transit is more available and it’s easier for commuters to walk or bike to work in cities and metros that have less sprawl. Weather and climate should also play a role: Who wants to cycle or walk to work in wet, cold, and snowy places? It’s much easier and more pleasurable to use your feet to get to work when and where the weather is nice.

But “what you’d think” isn’t always what is. To get a better idea, my colleague Todd Gabe, an economics professor at the University of Maine and an MPI Affiliate, ran a series of statistical analyses to gauge the determinants of public transportation use and walking and biking in US metropolitan areas. He looked at factors like population density, rainfall, temperature levels, housing development, and the kinds of work people do. The upshot is this:

1. Population density increases public transportation usage, but has no effect on walking and biking.

2. Weather and climate do play a role, but not necessarily what you’d think. People are more likely to drive to work where the weather is warm and/or wet. Public transit use as well as walking and biking are more common in drier climes but also in places with colder January temperatures.

3. The longer the commute (based on the average commute time), the more likely people are to use public transit, but—not surprisingly—the less likely they are to bike or walk.

4. The type of housing development matters. The share of housing units built between 2000 and 2006 is negatively associated with the percentage of people who bike, walk or take public transit to work. Rapidly growing cities of sprawl – those which built the most houses during the height of the bubble – remain much more car-dependent than other places.

5. Finally, and perhaps most interesting, the way we get to work is associated with the kinds of work we do. The share of workers in the creative class – scientists, engineers, techies, innovators, and researchers, as well as artists, designers, writers, musicians and professionals in healthcare, business and finance, the legal sector, and education – is positively associated with the percentages of people who take public transit or walk or bike to work. In fact this creative class variable was the largest of all.

Read more at Creative Class


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