Impacts of urban form on future US passenger-vehicle greenhouse gas emissions

Steve Hankey, Julian D. Marshall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

101 Scopus citations


Urban form - for example, sprawl versus infill development - impacts people's daily travel patterns and annual vehicle-kilometers traveled (VKT). This paper explores how urban form impacts greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from passenger-vehicles, the largest source of urban transportation GHG emissions. Our research uses a recently published urban scaling rule to develop six scenarios for high- and low- sprawl US urban growth. We develop and apply a Monte Carlo approach that describes ensemble statistics for several dozen urban areas rather than forecasting changes in individual urban areas. Then, employing three vehicle- and fuel-technology scenarios, we estimate total passenger VKT and resulting GHG emissions for US urban areas. Our results indicate that comprehensive compact development could reduce US 2000-2020 cumulative emissions by up to 3.2 GtCO2e (15-20% of projected cumulative emissions). In general, vehicle GHG mitigation may involve three types of approaches: more-efficient vehicles, lower-GHG fuels, and reduced VKT. Our analyses suggest that all three categories must be evaluated; otherwise, improvements in one or two areas (e.g., vehicle fuel economy, fuel carbon content) can be offset by backsliding in a third area (e.g., VKT growth).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4880-4887
Number of pages8
JournalEnergy Policy
Issue number9
StatePublished - Jan 1 2010


  • City design
  • Environmental planning
  • Smart growth

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