Urban spatial structure and commute duration: An empirical study of China

Bindong Sun, Zhou He, Tinglin Zhang, Rui Wang*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Citations (Scopus)


Urban traffic is embedded in and fundamentally shaped by the spatial pattern of urban land use, such as city size, density, extent of polycentricity, and the relationship between employment and residential locations. Previous evidence, mainly from European and American cities, suggests that the duration of commute trips increases with city size and the spatial separation between jobs and housing. On the other hand, the influences of density and polycentricity are less clear. Using data from 164 cities in China, this study empirically analyzes the relationship between city average commute duration and multiple dimensions of urban spatial structure. Controlling for economic, demographic, and infrastructure characteristics, we find that commute duration correlates positively with city size and jobs–housing separation but negatively with density and polycentricity. As one of the earliest studies on commute cost in the rapidly urbanizing and motorizing Chinese cities, this study can help Chinese decision makers improve urban economic and environmental efficiency through spatial planning and policy making. Specifically, compact, mixed-use, and polycentric spatial development may ease the burden of commute, and thus substitute for unnecessary infrastructure investment and energy consumption during a period of rapid urban expansion in China.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)638-644
Number of pages7
JournalInternational Journal of Sustainable Transportation
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 8 Aug 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • China
  • city size
  • commute duration
  • jobs–housing balance
  • polycentricity
  • urban spatial structure


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