Ebook: Built environment and car travel
An academic and policy debate has been running in recent decades on whether and to what extent travel behaviour is influenced by the built environment. This publication addresses the influence on daily travel distance, chaining behaviour, car ownership, and car commuting. As cars are the dominant mode of transport, car travel received most attention. The analyses were based on a comprehensive dataset collected in the North Wing of the Randstad in the Netherlands. The study findings indicate that a more compact urban structure reduces car use. However, the effects are small. One important lesson is that behavioural mechanisms are never simple but invariably elicit compensation. The challenge facing planners is to design cities and neighbourhoods that make it easier to drive less and that are attractive to live in.
Being a ‘choice traveller’, I usually choose the most appropriate means of transport according to the distance involved, the environment, the weather and so on. The journey to Eindhoven is by train, the commuting trip to Delft is by bicycle (or by car if the weather is bad or if smart clothes are required). My preferred cycling route is, at 15 kilometres, a few kilometres longer than the shortest possible route, but it takes me through some pleasant countryside. There are parallels here with my doctoral research, because it was sometimes worth taking the ‘scenic route’, too.
After a number of years working for the Province of Zuid-Holland and the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO), I was looking forward to the opportunity to write my thesis when I joined the OTB Research Institute for Housing, Urban and Mobility Studies. For the first few years, my research was wide-ranging, varying from geographical information systems and public housing to freight and passenger transport. The foundation for this thesis was laid at the end of the 1990s when I became involved in some initial research projects into the relationship between urbanisation and travel. With my then roommate, Rob Konings, I conducted research into the effects of urban densification in the province of Noord-Brabant; with OTB collegue Erik Louw, I participated in the EU project ‘Designs to reduce the need to travel’ (DANTE), led by professor David Banister (University College London); and with professor Hugo Priemus, I conducted research for the Ministry of Transport, Public Works and Water Management into integrated transport and land use policies.
The relationship between the built environment and travel behaviour is a wonderful subject for a geographer with an interest in transportation, and these research projects provided me with inspiration to write a PhD proposal on this subject. Funding for the research had not yet been forthcoming, but in 2000 the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) allocated funding to the Amadeus research programme, led by professor Harry Timmermans (Eindhoven University of Technology), which enabled me to begin my doctoral research. Since then, however, I have not focused exclusively on completing my thesis as quickly as possible, but have been involved with a great deal of other work alongside it. As the shared data collection phase did not demand much of my time, I was able to work on various other research projects in parallel to my doctoral research. In particular the research I undertook into urban environments with Jan Jaap Harts of Utrecht University, commissioned by the Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment, which developed into a series of interesting projects lasting several years, took much of my time. From 2003 onwards, I have coordinated OTB's section of Urban and Regional Development. This is a pleasurable aspect of my job which involves me in the wider processes of my institute and university. In 2005, OTB became involved in setting up a new area of teaching – Land Use and Development – within the Faculty of Technology, Policy and Management, and my teaching load in this area (along with a number of existing lectures on transport) grew considerably. The ‘research project’ course that I teach (originally in collaboration with Eric Molin which I enjoyed) is particularly rewarding thanks to intensive interaction with the students. Around this time, under the impression that I was coming close to completing my thesis, I became the daily supervisor of two PhD candidates – first Wendy Bohte and later Eva Heinen – who are being supervised by professor Bert van Wee. I continued working on my own PhD thesis at the same time, and the end result is now in front of you.
As you can see from the description above, many others have contributed to the progression of my scientific work. My first thanks go to my supervisors. From the very start, Hugo Priemus explored the subject with me. He was somewhat less involved during the middle phase of the study, but during the last stretch his energy and drive were invaluable, as were the notes he scribbled in the margins as he was discussing my texts. I have benefitted very much his experience in doing research and from his wide range of knowledge, from housing and urban planning to transport. I also owe a debt of gratitude to Harry Timmermans for the successful application for NWO funding for Amadeus and for setting up the team in which I was able to carry out my research. Somewhat irregularly, I took the train to visit him in Eindhoven, where our discussions about my hypotheses, methods and papers enabled me to continue my work with confidence. My thanks also go to Theo Arentze (Eindhoven University of Technology), who played a particularly important role during the first years as the Amadeus post-doc, ensuring coordination between the projects, the extensive data collection, and not least his thoughts in all sorts of ways, inspired by the activity approach. I think back with great pleasure to collecting the data together, to our discussions and especially to the dinners with Theo and the other PhD candidates working on Amadeus – Stephan Krygsman, Chang-Hyeon Joh and Elenna Dugundji – which I would later miss when Stephan and Joh gained their doctorates in 2004 and returned to their respective home countries, South Africa and South Korea. Bert van Wee, although not one of my supervisors, always took a great interest in my work, encouraging me and helping me think through my hypotheses, all of which has resulted in several joint articles, including a theoretical contribution with OTB collegue Dominic Stead. Much of my gratitude goes to the stimulating environment that OTB provides, with its opportunities, variation and freedom of doing research, and with excellent supporting staff. Working there is particularly pleasant thanks to very nice colleagues, not in the least in my own research group.
Various conferences provided good motivation to have papers finished on time and were enjoyable stopping-off points along the way. These ranged from my first thoughts on the subject of the compact city at the NECTAR conference in Israel to the almost yearly TRB meetings in Washington, with many others in between. The last location was the village of Hoenderloo, where, in a half-deserted holiday park, I finally found the peace and quiet to finish off my last articles with the aid of a brisk daily bicycle ride through the Hoge Veluwe National Park.
Finally, I would like to thank Jan van der Wolf and Michiel Hoff for agreeing to assist me at the defence of my thesis as ‘paranymphs’. And last but certainly not least, I would like to thank Trude, Michiel and Wouter for their patience during this long journey.