The emergence of hierarchy in transportation networks

Bhanu M. Yerra, David M. Levinson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

84 Scopus citations


A transportation network is a complex system that exhibits the properties of self-organization and emergence. Previous research in dynamics related to transportation networks focuses on traffic assignment or traffic management. This research concentrates on the dynamics of the orientation of major roads in a network and abstractly models these dynamics to understand the basic properties of transportation networks. A model is developed to capture the dynamics that leads to a hierarchical arrangement of roads for a given network structure and land use distribution. Localized investment rules, wherein revenue produced by traffic on a link is invested for that link's own development, are employed. Under reasonable parameters, these investment rules, coupled with traveler behavior, and underlying network topology result in the emergence of a hierarchical pattern. Hypothetical networks subject to certain conditions are tested with this model to explore their network properties. Though hierarchies seem to be designed by planners and engineers, the results show that they are intrinsic properties of networks. Also, the results show that roads, specific routes with continuous attributes, are emergent properties of transportation networks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)541-553
Number of pages13
JournalAnnals of Regional Science
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2005


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