Craig Noble at 415-777-0220

David B. Goldstein at 415-777-0220

John Holtzclaw at 415-977-5534


New Study Links Auto Use to Neighborhood Design

Authors say research proves for the first time that smart growth works


SAN FRANCISCO (June 10, 2002) For decades, city planners have dismissed

calls for building better cities, saying there's only anecdotal evidence

that so-called "smart growth" works. But authors of a new, peer-reviewed

study say their research proves for the first time that better urban design

can reduce auto use and relieve the traffic congestion and pollution that

come with it.


The researchers' analysis of the San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago

metropolitan areas found a direct link between the amount people drive and

city attributes like neighborhood density, transit access, and pedestrian-

and bicycle-friendliness. According to the authors, those attributes

measure an area's "location efficiency," and, not surprisingly, the more

efficient the location, the less people drive.


"We now have empirical evidence that smart growth works," said David B.

Goldstein, a study co-author and director of the energy program at NRDC

(Natural Resources Defense Council). "This study shows that people who live

in more convenient communities are less dependent on cars. These

communities are not only more convenient, they're also more livable because

they tend to have cleaner air and water and more protected open space."


"Smart growth has the added benefit of saving consumers thousands of

dollars in car costs annually," said Hank Dittmar, study co-author and

president of the Great American Station Foundation. "It's time for city and

transportation planners to put an end to sprawl development, for the

benefit of consumers and the environment."


The study examined auto ownership and driving patterns in nearly 3,000

neighborhoods in the three metropolitan areas, and the results were

quantified. The authors used the results to construct mathematical models

that allow the average number of autos owned and miles driven to be

calculated for a household of any given income and size, as long as the

neighborhood's density, transit access and pedestrian friendliness are

known. The authors said their findings offer intriguing suggestions for how

we can design our cities to reduce dependence on driving, traffic

congestion, energy use, and air and water pollution.


"Over the years, sprawl development has forced us to drive more and more,"

said John Holtzclaw, the study's lead author and consultant to NRDC. "Not

surprisingly, smarter, more convenient cities resemble the pedestrian- and

transit-oriented cities of our grandparents, which were built before the

car dominated our zoning laws and transportation projects."


The authors also note that, after housing, transportation is the second

biggest expenditure in the average household budget. This fact can be

leveraged to encourage smart growth through a new mortgage product called a

Location Efficient Mortgage® or LEM®. The LEM® allows a homebuyer who

purchases a home in a convenient area to qualify for a larger loan. For

example, a potential buyer who would avoid $500 in auto costs by living in

a convenient area could qualify for a larger mortgage. (For more

information about the Location Efficient Mortgage®, visit


"The homebuyer who qualifies for a Location Efficient Mortgage® can invest

their auto savings in house payments," said Peter Haas, study co-author and

analyst with the Center for Neighborhood Technology in Chicago. "That means

they get more house for their money in a more livable community."


The study, "Location Efficiency: Neighborhood and Socio-Economic

Characteristics Determine Auto Ownership and Use ? Studies in Chicago, Los

Angeles and San Francisco" by John Holtzclaw, Robert Clear, Hank Dittmar,

David Goldstein and Peter Haas, appeared in the March 2002 issue of

Transportation Planning and Technology (


The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit

organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated

to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has

more than 500,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York,

Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco. More information is available

through NRDC's Web site at