Acta Geographica Sinica ›› 2015, Vol. 70 ›› Issue (10): 1675-1685.doi: 10.11821/dlxb201510011

• Theory and Behavior Geography • Previous Articles     Next Articles

The relationship between the built environment and car travel distance on weekdays in Beijing

na Ta1(), Yanwei CHAI2(), Mei-Po KWAN3   

  1. 1. School of Geographic Sciences, East China Normal University, Shanghai 200241, China
    2. College of Urban and Environmental Sciences, Peking University, Beijing 100871, China
    3. Department of Geography and Geographic Information Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Champaign, IL 61820, USA
  • Received:2014-11-04 Revised:2015-04-22 Online:2015-10-20 Published:2015-11-12


Car use has changed daily activity travel patterns, which cause serious urban problems including air pollution, traffic congestion, road accidents, and community severance. Particularly in China's rapid suburbanization, car use and related social and environmental issues are attracting great attention. Previous research has illustrated the importance of the built environment and car ownership on daily car travel distance. However, it is still not clear how car ownership and car use impact individual behavior, and the ways researchers measure the contextual influence of the built environment are not consistent. Most of the existing literature only uses residential area as the geographic context to study the impact of built environment, and only a few studies focus on workplaces or other destinations. In recent years, the uncertain geographic context problem has come under intense scrutiny by geographers seeking to elucidate the interaction between urban space and individual behavior. According to this phenomenon of the uncertain geographic context, travel behavior is influenced not only by the origin and destinations of trips, but also by the travel routes and the surrounding activity spaces. However, so far few studies have been conducted on the impact of activity space. Based on a GPS-facilitated activity-travel survey dataset collected in the Shangdi-Qinghe area in Beijing in 2012, the present paper studies the relationship between the built environment and car travel behavior of suburban residents on weekdays. To understand the importance of geographic context, three types of geographic context are used: residential area, work location and activity space. The impact of the built environment on car travel distance in daily travel, commuting travel and non-work travel is analyzed using three sets in a linear regression model. The study finds that the impact of the built environment on car travel behavior depends on travel mode and geographic context, and the built environment in work locations and activity spaces has a larger impact on car travel distance than that in residential areas. The built environment in residential areas has an influence on daily travel distance, but lower development density and better residential accessibility in residential areas can reduce car travel distance in commuting. Higher development density in both work locations and activity spaces is related to longer car travel distance in daily life, commuting and non-work travel behavior. Contrary to the findings of Western studies, better accessibility to public transit leads to more car use in non-work travel. This paper discusses the importance of the uncertain geographic context problem, indicating that activity space plays an important role in daily activity travel behavior. These findings have key implications for policy-making decision. The built environment should be a great concern in policies aimed at car use limitation.

Key words: geographic context, built environment, car travel, suburbs, Beijing