Accessibility in Cities: Transport and Urban Form

Graham Floater | Philipp Rode

This essay is a condensed version of the NCE Paper 03, “Accessibility in Cities: Transport and Urban Form,” which was an output of the New Climate Economy project of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate (

Access to people, goods, services, and information is the basis of economic development in cities. The better and more efficient this access, the greater the economic benefits through economies of scale, agglomeration effects, and networking advantages. Cities with higher levels of agglomeration tend to have higher GDP per capita and higher levels of productivity. The way in which cities facilitate accessibility through their urban forms and transport systems also impacts directly on other measures of human development and well-being. Urban travel currently constitutes more than 60% of all kilometres travelled globally (van Audenhove, Korniychuk et al. 2014) and, as a result, urban transport is currently the largest single source of global transport-related carbon emissions and the largest local source of urban air pollution.

This paper will present evidence first on how accessibility in cities is created through the co-dependence of urban form and transport systems and how this relates to urban carbon emissions. This paper is primarily based on an extensive literature review and aims to assist a further reframing of the urban transport debate by emphasizing accessibility as the underlying objective of mobility and transport in cities. Above all, such a reframing implies a far greater recognition of urban form characteristics such as land use, the distribution of densities, and urban design, in addition to more conventional transport characteristics such as related infrastructure, service levels, and travel speeds.

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Contributing Authors: Nikolas Thomopoulos, James Docherty, Peter Schwinger, Anjali Mahendra, Wanli Fang.LSE Cities Research Team: Bruno Friedel, Alexandra Gomes, Catarina Heeckt, Roxana Slavcheva.

[1] Accessibility is frequently contrasted with mobility-based frameworks that dominate urban transport policy (Litman 2008). It draws attention to the interaction of transport conditions, land-use patterns, and individual attributes in determining how easily residents of a city can access a range of social and economic opportunities. Improving accessibility may well involve an increase of people’s levels of mobility through improved transport systems; however, the concept has advantages in opening up a wider range of policy responses for addressing transport problems, including changes to the spatial distribution of opportunities that bring activities closer to residents, rather than requiring increased mobility (Farrington 2007; Litman 2008). Accessibility has been defined as “the extent to which land-use and transport systems enable (groups of) individuals to reach activities or destinations by means of a (combination of) transport mode(s)” (Geurs and van Wee 2004, p. 128).

[2] We define “compact urban growth” (which can be both new urban development and urban retrofitting) as urban development characterised by human-scale built environments with higher density, mixed-use urban form and high-quality urban design. Compact urban development typically focuses on urban regeneration, the revitalisation of urban cores, the promotion of public and non-motorised transport, and high standards of urban management (Floater, Rode et al. 2014b). Related concepts include the European City model, smart growth, and transit-oriented development (TOD).

[3] It is important to note that a range of earlier studies were more critical of the potential of reducing travel demand through higher residential densities (see Kagermeier 1997; Crane and Crepeau 1998; Kockelman 1997; Hall 2001; Gomez-Ibanez 1991; Gordon and Richardson 1989). However, these studies also tended to look at density in isolation and independent from related changes such as mixed use or design quality. Studies supporting the land-use transport pattern impacts further include Cervero and Duncan (2006), Limtanakool et al (2006), and Chen et al (2008).