The New Suburbs: Evolving travel behavior, the built environment, and subway investment in Mexico City
Mexico City is a suburban metropolis, yet most of its suburbs would be unfamiliar toÂ urbanists accustomed to thinking about US metropolitan regions. Mexico Cityâ€™s suburbs areÂ densely populatedâ€”not thinly settledâ€”and its residents rely primarily on informal transit ratherÂ than privately-owned automobiles for their daily transportation. These types of dense and transitdependentÂ suburbs have emerged as the fastest-growing form of human settlement in citiesÂ throughout Latin America, Asia, and Africa. Wealthier and at a later stage in its economicÂ development than other developing-world metropolises, Mexico City is a compelling place toÂ investigate the effects of rising incomes, increased car ownership, and transit investments in theÂ dense, peripheral areas that have grown rapidly around informal transit in the past decades, andÂ is a bellwether for cities like Dakar, Cairo, Lima, and Jakarta. I begin this dissertation with a historical overview of the demographic, economic, andÂ political trends that have helped shape existing urban form, transportation infrastructure, andÂ travel behavior in Mexico City. Despite an uptick in car ownership and use, most householdsâ€”both urban and suburbanâ€”continue to rely on public transportation. Furthermore, suburbanÂ Mexico City has lower rates of car ownership and use than its central areas. In subsequentÂ chapters, I frame, pose, and investigate three interrelated questions about Mexico Cityâ€™s evolvingÂ suburban landscape, the nature of householdsâ€™ travel decisions, and the relationship between theÂ built environment and travel behavior. Together, these inquiries tell a story that differsÂ significantly from narratives about US suburbs, and provide insight into the future transportationÂ needs and likely effects of land and transportation policy in these communities and others likeÂ them in Mexico and throughout the developing world. First, how has the influence of the built environment on travel behavior changed as moreÂ households have moved into the suburbs and aggregate car use has increased? Using two largeÂ metropolitan household travel surveys from 1994 and 2007, I model two related-but-distinctÂ household travel decisions: whether to drive on an average weekday, and if so, how far to drive.Â After controlling for income and other household attributes, I find that the influence ofÂ population and job density on whether a household undertakes any daily car trips is strong andÂ has increased marginally over time. By contrast, high job and population densities have a muchÂ smaller influence on the total distance of weekday car travel that a household generates. For theÂ subset of households whose members drive on a given weekday, job and population densitiesÂ have no statistical effect at all. Contrary to expectations, a householdâ€™s distance from the urbanÂ center is strongly correlated with a lower probability of driving, even after controlling forÂ income. This effect, however, appears to be diminishing over time, and when members of aÂ household drive, they drive significantly more if they live farther from the urban center. TheÂ combination of informal transit, public buses, and the Metro has provided sufficient transitÂ service to constrain car use in the densely populated suburban environments of Mexico City.Â Once suburban residents drive, however, they tend to drive a lot regardless of transit or theÂ features of the built environment. Second, how much are the recent trends of increased suburbanization, rising carownership,Â and the proliferation of massive commercially-built peripheral housing developmentsÂ interrelated? To investigate this question, I first disentangle urban growth and car ownershipÂ trends by geographic area. The fastest-growing areas tend to be poorer and have had a muchÂ smaller impact on the size of the metropolitan car fleet than wealthier, more establishedÂ neighborhoods in the center and western half of the metropolis. I then zoom in to examineÂ several recent commercial housing developments. These developments, supported by publiclysubsidizedÂ mortgages, contain thousands of densely-packed, small, and modestly-priced housingÂ units. Their residents remain highly reliant on public transportation, particularly informal transit,Â and the neighborhoods become less homogenous over time as homeowners convert units andÂ parking spaces to shops and offices. Finally, I use the 2007 household travel survey to modelÂ householdsâ€™ intertwined decisions of where to live and whether to own a car. As expected,Â wealthier and smaller households are more likely to purchase vehicles. However, they prefer toÂ live in more central areas where households with cars tend to drive shorter distances. If housingÂ policy and production cannot adapt to provide more centrally-located housing, growing incomesÂ will tend to increase car ownership but concentrate more of it in areas where car-owningÂ households drive much farther. Third, how has the Metroâ€™s Line B, one of the first and only suburban high-capacityÂ transit investments, influenced local and regional travel behavior and land use? To explore thisÂ question, I compare travel behavior and land use measures at six geographic scales, including theÂ investmentâ€™s immediate catchment area, across two time periods: six years before and sevenÂ years after the investment opened. Line B, which opened in stages in 1999 and 2000,Â significantly expanded Metro coverage into the densely populated and fast-growing suburbanÂ municipality of Ecatepec. While the investment sparked a significant increase in local Metro use,Â most of this increase came from people relying on informal transit, rather than cars. While thisÂ shift reduced transit fares and increased transit speeds for local residents, it also increasedÂ government subsidies for the Metro and had no apparent effect on road speeds. Furthermore, theÂ Metro remains highly dependent on informal transit to provide feeder service even withinÂ Ecatepec. In terms of land use, the investment increased density around the stations but appearsÂ to have had little to no effect on downtown commercial development, where it might have beenÂ expected to have a significant influence. In short, the effects of Line B demonstrate much of theÂ promise and problem with expanding high capacity transit service into the suburbs. Ridership isÂ likely to be high, but so too will be the costs and subsidies, while the effects on car ownershipÂ and urban form are likely to be modest. Individually, each chapter contributes to a specific body of transportation and planningÂ literature drawn from the US as well as developing countries. Collectively, they point toÂ connection between land use and transportation in Mexico City that is different from theÂ connection in US and other rich-world cities. In particular, there is a physical disconnect betweenÂ the generally suburban homes of transit users and the generally central location of high-capacityÂ public transit. Addressing this disconnect by shifting housing production from the periphery toÂ the center or by expanding high-capacity transit to the periphery would require significantÂ amounts of time and public subsidy. Thus, contemporary policies to reduce car use or increaseÂ accessibility for the poor in the short and medium term would do well to focus on improving theÂ flexible, medium-capacity informal transit around which the cityâ€™s dense and transit-dependentÂ suburbs have grown and continue to grow.
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