Sunday, April 28, 2013

The United States Struggle for Alternative Transportation: Land Use Implications

Most of us are aware that the dominance of the automobile in the United States during a time of rapid development and expansion within this country has greatly shaped the United States' landscape. The dominance of suburbs and single-family homes are nothing new to us, and can even be found in many
other parts of the world. However, the extent to which building and housing types have impacted our development is a hard and abstract concept for many to grasp.  Through a research project I assisted on several years ago, I worked to create a typology chart and maps of built landscape types across numerous cities around the world. In order to better understand the extent of the land-use impacts driving dominance during the US’s developing years has had, I will look at the current land-use patterns found in Boston Massachusetts and in Bogota Colombia as a comparison (Although neither are my assigned city for this class, I think they make a decent comparison due to population size and stature as global cities).

Bogota has a metro area of 613 square miles and a population of 7.6 million people, but developed rapidly in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s before major automotive influences were found in Colombia. A tramway provided major transportation for the city until the mid 1900’s. Although today the city has major congestion issues due to the present day influence of automobiles, Bogota is starting to address them through the implementation of BRT and other alternative transportation programs. Signs have already started to show major VMT reduction and congestion reduction in the city due to the ease at which these programs can reach the nearly 8 million residents due to the density of the city.

Boston on the other hand, has a metro area of 4,511 square miles, and a population of 4.5 million people. Due to its sprawling low density land use patterns given its large size, implementing measures like a BRT system the size of Bogotá’s (less than 100miles of BRT roadway), would not get anywhere close to providing a viable alternative transportation system in Boston that would be more convenient than driving. The land use patterns that have developed provide a huge cost barrier to break away from the sprawl development that exists. The maps I have created below show the same scale for both cities and give a better idea of the extent to which different land use types exist and how the two places have developed quite differently due to the influence of the automobile:

Post Edited by Matt Berggren 


  1. One of the biggest problems we face is that fact that our built space in most of the U.S. and especially in the western part of the country was built around the automobile. This makes it extremely hard to try to service these areas with transit because it is just not economically justifiable.

    Another problem that compounds the fact is that many times land use planners and transit planners do not work together. At a recent neighborhood meeting a member of the Portland Transportation Dept. gave a talked and at one point said that the issue being talked about is a land use issue and that is the planning department and they rarely talk, and this is in Portland who is supposed to do things better. Wonder what the answer would be in most cities?

  2. It is an interesting topic. I am curious about which one is more appropriate statement? The use of automobile affects on land use design or land use design influences automobile use in U.S? It seems to me it is an almost same question ; which came first, the chicken or the egg?

    I have more engineering background compared to other students in a class. From my background, I think, "given" land use design promotes the use of automobile. I think, Transportation planner who has a background in engineering background likely think land use as a given constraints, and automobile is one way to connect between destinations and origins. That might be one of reason why land use planners an transit planners do not cooperate a project together as John pointed out.

  3. I'd be curious to know if there are any examples (anywhere in the world) where cities are actually taking steps to "de-sprawl." For example, we know there is encouragement to live densely in developments that already exist but what about programs that encourage people living in those far off suburbs to move closer into the city? It is a long shot, especially considering that there's not much financial incentive for a city to do so (well, there would be in the long run). Of course most people do not want to be uprooted from where they live, but if there is incentive for them to do so, such as tax incentives, housing subisidies, etc to live in areas with better connectivity, it could be possible to reverse the effects of the auto-sprawl. There are many examples of cities trying to prevent the sprawl, but I'd just be curious to know if much is being done to reverse it.


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