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Smart Growth and the Transportation-Land Use Connection: What Does the Research Tell Us?

April 2005

Susan Handy


This study addresses modern issues of transportation and land use, and seeks to assess the strength of the claims of smart-growth advocates. The study specifically looks at the following four claims regarding smart growth: building more highways will contribute to more sprawl, building more highways will lead to more driving, investing in light rail transit systems will increase densities, and adopting new urbanism design strategies will reduce automobile use. For each of these claims, the authors provide evidence consistent with and evidence that challenges smart growth advocates. The study finds that highway construction does not increase travel as much as previously thought and that the right conditions are needed for public transit to effectively increase population density. However, the study also finds ample evidence that highway construction has an impact on where growth will occur and that new urbanism strategies do help those who want to drive less.

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Policy Implications

Although a fiscally and environmentally important matter, the research on smart growth strategies is still inconclusive. This study reinforces the need for urban planners to carefully consider a multitude of factors while making regional transport decisions. With sprawl already a problem in many American cities, it is important that decision makers understand these are not hard-and-fast rules for success.

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