Flickr

Yes, according to one new study.

We have long known that residents of smart-growth neighborhoods – those with central locations, walkable streets, nonsprawling densities, and a good mix of shops and amenities – drive significantly less than do residents of spread-out suburban subdivisions. But, writing in his blog hosted by Planetizen, Todd Litman reports on a new Arizona study that found that those attributes can reduce local congestion as well:

[The study] found that roadways in more compact, mixed, multi-modal communities tend to be less congested. This results from the lower vehicle trip generation, particularly for local errands, more walking and public transit travel, and because the more connected street networks offer more route options so traffic is less concentrated on a few urban arterials. This contradicts our earlier assumptions.

This is a little counter-intuitive, since many of us have had the experience of finding roadway traffic to be more congested as we drive from a less dense neighborhood to or through one with a greater concentration of development and uses. To some extent, this appears to be because of the presence of more stoplights and other traffic controls in higher-density areas in order to regulate vehicle traffic arriving at an intersection from multiple directions, and sometimes because of controls designed to increase safety for pedestrians. It is possible that, while drivers are experiencing substantially longer travel times through denser areas, it is due to the controls and not necessarily because traffic volume is higher.

I would like to see more research to tease out the precise factors that can make smart growth reduce congestion, because I don’t think it always does. The more we can learn about this, the more we can refine our understanding of how to make good, walkable development even better. The study, published by the Arizona Department of Transportation, certainly gives one hope. Read Todd’s full analysis here.

Photo credit: Oran Virincy/Flickr

This post originally appeared on the NRDC's Switchboard blog.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Design

    A History of the American Public Library

    A visual exploration of how a critical piece of social infrastructure came to be.

  2. Equity

    Berlin Builds an Arsenal of Ideas to Stage a Housing Revolution

    The proposals might seem radical—from banning huge corporate landlords to freezing rents for five years—but polls show the public is ready for something dramatic.

  3. a map of the Mayan Train route in Mexico
    Environment

    Mexico’s ‘Mayan Train’ Is Bound for Controversy

    President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s signature rail project would link cities and tourist sites in the Yucatan with rural areas and rainforests.

  4. A photo of a design maquette for the Obama Presidential Center planned for Jackson Park and designed by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects with Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates.
    Design

    Why the Case Against the Obama Presidential Center Is So Important

    A judge has ruled that a lawsuit brought by Chicago preservationists can proceed, dealing a blow to Barack Obama's plans to build his library in Jackson Park.

  5. Transportation

    You Can’t Design Bike-Friendly Cities Without Considering Race and Class

    Bike equity is a powerful tool for reducing inequality. Too often, cycling infrastructure is tailored only to wealthy white cyclists.