Density and the journey to work

David M. Levinson, Ajay Kumar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

124 Scopus citations


This paper evaluates the influence of residential density on commuting behavior across U.S. cities while controlling for available opportunities, the technology of transportation infrastructure, and individual socio-economic and demographic characteristics. The measures of metropolitan and local density are addressed separately. It is suggested that metropolitan residential density serves principally as a surrogate for city size. Markets react to high interaction costs found in large cities by raising density rather than density being a cause of those high costs. Local residential density measures relative location (accessibility) within the metropolitan region as well as indexing the level of congestion. Regressions are conducted to predict commuting time, speed, and distance, by mode of travel on a cross-section of individuals nationally and city by city. The results indicate that residential density in the area around the tripmaker's home is an important factor: the higher the density the lower the speed and the shorter the distance. However, density's effect on travel time is ambiguous; speed and distance are offsetting effects on time. The paper suggests a threshold density at which the decrease in distance is overtaken by the congestion effects, resulting in a residential density between 7,500 and 10,000 persons per square mile (neither the highest nor lowest) with the shortest duration auto commutes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)147-172
Number of pages26
JournalGrowth and Change
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1997


Dive into the research topics of 'Density and the journey to work'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this