How do local actions affect VMT? A critical review of the empirical evidence

Deborah Salon, Marlon G. Boarnet, Susan Handy, Steven Spears, Gil Tal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

94 Scopus citations


In this paper, we present a discussion of the challenges for research on the topic of vehicle miles traveled. We then summarize and critique evidence from the US on the association between 14 distinct factors and vehicle miles traveled. Our results quantify how much vehicle miles traveled can be expected to change in response to changes in policy or land use factors, including residential density and land use mix, as well as specific transport policies and programs such as transit improvements, road pricing, and programs aimed at changing people's travel choices. Overall, though individual studies differ as to exact effect sizes, it is clear that local-level policymakers can take actions that are likely to affect vehicle miles traveled. However, we highlight gaps in the knowledge base at a time when decision makers at the local level are being increasingly called upon to take action to reduce vehicle miles traveled. Variation in effect size based on local context or interaction with related policies and programs has been left largely unexplored. In addition, experimental research designs that can identify causal direction are rare, and appropriate data that quantifies vehicle miles traveled are often lacking.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)495-508
Number of pages14
JournalTransportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment
Issue number7
StatePublished - Oct 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Research design
  • Transit
  • Transport pricing
  • Travel and the environment
  • Vehicle miles traveled

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Transportation
  • General Environmental Science


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