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The Evolution of Transport Networks


  • David Levinson

    () (Nexus (Networks, Economics, and Urban Systems) Research Group, Department of Civil Engineering, University of Minnesota)


Between 1900 and 2000, the length of paved roads in the United States increased from 240 km to 6,400,000 km (Peat 2002, BTS 2002) with virtually 100% of the U.S. population having almost immediate access to paved roadways. Similarly, in 1830 there were 37 km of railroad in the United States, but by 1920 total track mileage had increased more than ten-thousand times to 416,000 km miles, however since then, rail track mileage has shrunk to about 272,000 km (Garrison 1996, BTS 2002). The growth (and decline) of transport networks obviously affects the social and economic activities that a region can support; yet the dynamics of how such growth occurs is one of the least understood areas in transport, geography, and regional science. This is revealed time and again in the long-range planning efforts of metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs), where transport network changes are treated exclusively as the result of top-down decision-making. Changes to the transport network are rather the result of numerous small decisions (and some large ones) by property owners, firms, developers, towns, cities, counties, state department of transport districts, MPOs, and states in response to market conditions and policy initiatives. Understanding how markets and policies translate into facilities on the ground is essential for scientific understanding and improving forecasting, planning, policy-making, and evaluation.

Suggested Citation

  • David Levinson, 2004. "The Evolution of Transport Networks," Working Papers 200510, University of Minnesota: Nexus Research Group.
  • Handle: RePEc:nex:wpaper:networkevolution2

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Aschauer, David Alan, 1989. "Is public expenditure productive?," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 23(2), pages 177-200, March.
    2. Bhanu Yerra & David Levinson, 2005. "The emergence of hierarchy in transportation networks," The Annals of Regional Science, Springer;Western Regional Science Association, vol. 39(3), pages 541-553, September.
    3. Noland, Robert B., 2001. "Relationships between highway capacity and induced vehicle travel," Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, Elsevier, vol. 35(1), pages 47-72, January.
    4. Landis, John D., 1994. "The California Urban Futures Model: A New Generation of Metropolitan Simulation Models," University of California Transportation Center, Working Papers qt9pb6g3g6, University of California Transportation Center.
    5. Pavithra Parthasarathi & David M. Levinson & Ramachandra Karamalaputi, 2003. "Induced Demand: A Microscopic Perspective," Urban Studies, Urban Studies Journal Limited, vol. 40(7), pages 1335-1351, June.
    6. J D Landis, 1994. "The California Urban Futures Model: a new generation of metropolitan simulation models," Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design, Pion Ltd, London, vol. 21(4), pages 399-420, July.
    7. J D Landis, 1994. "The California Urban Futures Model: A New Generation of Metropolitan Simulation Models," Environment and Planning B, , vol. 21(4), pages 399-420, August.
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    Cited by:

    1. David Levinson, 2008. "Density and dispersion: the co-development of land use and rail in London," Journal of Economic Geography, Oxford University Press, vol. 8(1), pages 55-77, January.
    2. Alexander Erath & Michael Löchl & Kay Axhausen, 2009. "Graph-Theoretical Analysis of the Swiss Road and Railway Networks Over Time," Networks and Spatial Economics, Springer, vol. 9(3), pages 379-400, September.

    More about this item


    Transportation Network Growth; Transportation-Land Use Interaction; Markov Chain;

    JEL classification:

    • R41 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - Transportation Economics - - - Transportation: Demand, Supply, and Congestion; Travel Time; Safety and Accidents; Transportation Noise
    • R42 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - Transportation Economics - - - Government and Private Investment Analysis; Road Maintenance; Transportation Planning
    • R48 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - Transportation Economics - - - Government Pricing and Policy
    • O33 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights - - - Technological Change: Choices and Consequences; Diffusion Processes


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