T.R.E.N.D.S. // Transportation + Energy Decisions Study: Analysis of Fast Growth US Metro Regions: Explaining Location Choices, Transportation Choices, and Energy Decisions

Research Sponsor:

Toyota Research Institute—North America

TEMA, Ann Arbor, Michigan (TRI-NA)

Principal Investigator:

Alan M. Berger


Alan M. Berger, Casey L. Brown, Carolyn Kousky (RFF), Richard J. Zeckhauser (KSG)


Overall U.S. population density has decreased over the past decades, with the majority of the population now living in suburban and exurban areas. Current policies and spending reinforce these polycentric trends toward decentralization nationwide.

The focus of this project will be the U.S. as a whole. This research left open the question of the underlying drivers in these trends, suggesting several questions for follow-on work: What are the leading determinants of an individual’s location and transit choice? What do the trends in these factors suggest about what mobility options the population may choose and desire for the future? How do choices and perceptions of mobility options vary across different subgroups of the population? What might be the effect of higher energy prices on individual’s transportation and location choices?

This research identifies the key drivers of the documented trends in mobility and land use, with a special focus on the cost of energy and how individuals respond to changes in energy prices and answers the following three questions:

  • (1) What factors influence individuals’ location choices?
  • (2) What factors influence individuals’ transit choices?
  • (3) How does the cost of energy—particularly gasoline prices—influence these decisions?

This project will rigorously synthesize the findings on the drivers of people’s location and mobility decisions, with an emphasis on the role of the cost of energy. This meta-study will integrate findings across a range of disciplines, including policy studies, economics, geography, political science, planning, and to a lesser extent, psychology. The project will result in the following outputs:

  • (1) A database of all related studies, their results, and our evaluation of their analysis
  • (2) A framework of individual decision-making with respect to location choice
  • (3) A framework of individual decision-making with respect to transit choice

The research seeks to assess, integrate, compare, and evaluate a wide range of findings related to the drivers of location and mobility decisions within a well-defined and rigorous economic analytical framework. All five deliverables require extensive background research on findings in multiple disciplines. Combined, the components will define the boundaries of what is known and what is not known about the drivers of the observed mobility and location patterns previously documented.

We will conduct some data collection, analysis and mapping to visualize costs across discrete geographical units, from city center to urban periphery, across one selected metropolitan area. The results will reveal geography of commuting time, school performance, and housing cost/area, and feedback into our previous twelve-month study of energy choice, location choice, and transportation choice, to explain the logic of location choice through economic and spatial measurement.

(Internal publication, 2012-14)

Version Published:

“Where Americans Live: An Environmental and Geographical Tally,” Harvard Journal of Real Estate - Navigating Investments with Ethical Risk, June, 2013: 39-50

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