The Density Delusion? Urban Form and Sustainable Transport in Australian, Canadian and US Cities

This paper re-examines the relationship between population density and transport mode choice, taking another look at the ideas that have come to be known as the 'compact city'. It begins by reviewing the origins of the view that density determines mode choice, and that viable public transport cannot be provided below a density threshold variously estimated at 30-100 persons/hectare. The claim has been widely made, but an examination of the alleged basis reveals multiple layers of citation ultimately deriving from a single source, the Chicago Area Transportation Study 1956 (CATS). The CATS analysis erroneously attributed poor suburban public transport to low densities, when the real causes were failures of planning and policy. The paper then reviews the more recent data provided by Newman and Kenworthy, who found a similar relationship to that reported in CATS. Use of the most recent census data from Australia, Canada, and the United States suggests the existence of errors and inconsistencies in the estimation of urban densities. When these are corrected, the results reveal only a very weak correlation between density and public transport use, and no correlation at all with walking and cycling. The paper concludes that the 'compact city' notion is not substantiated by evidence.


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  • Accession Number: 01141902
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Files: TRIS
  • Created Date: Oct 15 2009 4:16PM