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Fall 2004, Commuting Trends in U.S. Cities in the 1990's

Harry W. Richardson, Peter Gordon, and Bumsoo Lee
In the U.S., people have been moving from the cities to the suburbs for decades. Some analysts have argued that suburbanization has occurred at the cost of efficient travel patterns, in no small part because almost all roads and highways are unpriced. But evidence has accumulated over the years that suburbanization is as much a traffic “solution” as it is a problem. The reason is that many employers have actually followed workers into the suburbs, so most commuting is now suburb-to-suburb. In economists’ terms, the inefficiencies in transportation have been partially remedied by the efficient functioning of flexible land markets. As a result, average commuting times (and their distributions) have been relatively stable for some thirty years. Suburbanization, therefore, has been seen as a “traffic safety valve.”