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Urban Accessibility: Balancing Land Use and Transportation

Working paper #798
Gilles Duranton and Erick Guerra

In this paper, we examine the importance, theoretical understanding, and empirical measurement of urban accessibility. Drawing on examples from poor, rich, and intermediate-income cities, we argue that accessibility is the main urban quantity to consider from a resource allocation standpoint since it links land use and transportation, the two primary urban consumption goods. Despite the importance of accessibility, a sparsity of empirical knowledge about accessibility and a disconnect between policymaking and accessibility outcomes have led many researchers to retreat into narrow areas of expertise-such as land use, housing, or transportation treated in isolation-and many urban policymakers to ignore accessibility altogether. Even when data are good, the politics of land use and transportation decisions rarely favors accessibility as an important policy outcome. As a result, urban policies often fail to allocate land use or transportation either efficiently or equitably.

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