Peak travel in a megacity: exploring the role of infrastructure saturation on the suppression of automobile use
Contrary to many previous travel demand forecasts there is increasing evidence that vehicle travel in developed countries may be peaking. The underlying causes of this peaking are still under much debate and there has been a mobilization of research, largely focused at the national scale, to study the explanatory drivers but research focused at the metropolitan scale, where transportation policy and planning are frequently decided, is relatively thin. Additionally, a majority of this research has focused on changes within the activity system without considering the impact transportation infrastructure has on overall travel demand. Using Los Angeles County California, we investigate Peak Car and whether the saturation of automobile infrastructure, in addition to societal and economic factors, may be a suppressing factor. After peaking in 2002, vehicle travel in Los Angeles County in 2010 was estimated at 78 billion and was 20.3 billion shy of projections made in 2002. The extent to which infrastructure saturation may contribute to Peak Car is evaluated by analyzing social and economic factors that may have impacted personal automobile usage over the last decade. This includes changing fuel prices, fuel economy, population growth, increased utilization of alternate transportation modes, changes in driver demographics , travel time and income levels. Summation of all assessed factors reveals there is at least some portion of the 20 billion VMT that is unexplained in all but the worst case scenario. We hypothesize that the unexplained remaining VMT may be explained by infrastructure supply constraints that result in suppression of travel. This finding has impacts on how we see the role of hard infrastructure systems in urban growth and we explore these impacts in the research.