Car dependency beyond land use: Can a standardized built environment indicator predict car use?
Keywords:car dependency, built environment, travel behavior, Vehicle Kilometers Travelled, Flanders
In June 2019, the government of the Flemish Region (Belgium) launched the “mobility score,” a standardized built environment indicator that informs citizens in Flanders about the walking or cycling accessibility from their dwelling to a range of basic amenities and public transport stops. The development of the mobility score was developed to be a tool to raise awareness of the environmental impact of travel. Against this backdrop, this paper assesses the extent to which the mobility score can predict car use and aims to contribute to the line of research that studies travel patterns in relation to accessibility, spatial context, and travel mode choice. Based on the data from the Flemish Travel Behavior Survey, we analyze the effect of the interaction between the built environment, frequency of car use and vehicle kilometers traveled. Our findings illustrate that frequent and intensive car use is not an exclusive feature of suburban and rural residents in Flanders, or of those who travel long distances. The outcomes show that the mobility score can predict the frequency of car travel but only in the inner city. As for other areas, travel behavior shows little variance among respondents. The presence of a company car in a household is a much stronger predictor of vehicle kilometers traveled than any other variable, including the built environment. Travel behavior turns toward car use once a household acquires a car, almost regardless of the type of neighborhoods where respondents live. In Flanders, policy has so far been directed more toward curbing car use than discouraging car ownership. Our findings suggest that it could be more effective to aim for the latter, as this prevents the development of a cycle of car-oriented behavior in the first place.
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