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Urban form and driving: Evidence from U.S. Cities

Working paper #788
Gilles Duranton and Matthew A. Turner

We estimate the effect of urban form on driving. We match the best available travel survey for the U.S. to spatially disaggregated national maps that describe population density and demographics, sectoral employment and land cover, among other things. We develop a novel approach to the sorting problem that follows from an intuitive definition of sorting and an assumption of imperfect mobility. We address the endogeneity problem by relying on measures of subterranean geology as sources of quasi-random variation in urban form. The data suggest that increases in density cause small decreases in individual driving. However, because densification policies must generally decrease population in source regions, this means that such policies can be expected to cause only tiny decreases in aggregate driving. This suggests that urban planning is unlikely to be a cost effective policy response to traffic congestion, automobile-related carbon emissions, or other automobile-related pollution.

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