Do higher gas prices decrease urban sprawl?

A report finds that high gas prices are linked with decreased urban sprawl.

A working paper released earlier this month examines the link between gas prices and urban sprawl [PDF]. Georges Tanguay and Ian Gingras, researchers from the University of Quebec, analyzed data from the 12 largest metro areas in Canada and found that high gas prices lead to decreased urban sprawl.

On average, a 1% increase in gas prices has caused: i) a .32% increase in the population living in the inner city and ii) a 1.28% decrease in low-density housing units.

The researchers also found that a 1% increase income increase can lead to a 0.23% decrease of people living in the city center, increasing urban sprawl.

Overall, the effect of gas price is substantial given that in a long-term horizon, it is legitimate to believe that gas prices could increase. Obviously, other factors may offset these effects, notably household income.

They also conclude that because household income will cancel out the affect of gas prices on urban sprawl, decreasing the price of public transportation would help reduce urban sprawl.

The authors admit that it's difficult to make these generalizations without looking at the reasons for sprawl in individual metro areas.

Nonetheless, as gas prices continue to rise, the authors believe this study could encourage politicians to refrain from calling for lower gas prices.

Some support government intervention to lower gas prices when they increase considerably. However, governments that want to hinder urban sprawl could emphasize the role of a large increase in gas prices.

Cheaper gas certainly won't help curb sprawl, but don't expect any politicians calling for an increase in gas prices anytime soon. Even if they would be smart to promote less auto-dependent urban communities as gas prices will continue to rise over the long-term.

[Via The Infrastructurist]

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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