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Study: Dependence on cars in urban neighbourhoods

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The Daily

Tuesday, January 22, 2008
2005 (correction)

Residents of Calgary and Edmonton are more dependent on their cars than those living in other large census metropolitan areas, according to a new study published today in Canadian Social Trends.

The study, in a series on life in metropolitan areas, examines the use of motor vehicles for everyday trips, such as commuting and running errands, by people aged 18 and over in census metropolitan areas (CMAs).

Results showed that 75% of Calgary residents and 77% of Edmonton residents relied on their cars to make all their trips on the survey reference day (correction). In contrast, the residents least likely to have done so were those in Montréal (65%) and Toronto (66%).

The differences between people who lived in central neighbourhoods in Montréal and those living in central neighbourhoods elsewhere were striking.

Only 29% of Montrealers living within five kilometres of the city centre went everywhere by car, compared with 43% in Toronto, 56% in Vancouver and 66% in Calgary. In smaller CMAs, 75% of the residents of central neighbourhoods travelled exclusively by car.

Many characteristics, apart from CMA of residence and distance from city centre, were associated with lesser or greater automobile use. The article revealed a clear relationship between dependence on cars and the housing density of neighbourhoods.

Over 80% of residents of very low-density neighbourhoods made at least one trip by car as the driver during the day. In contrast, less than half of people living in very high-density neighbourhoods did so.

(In low-density neighbourhoods, at least two-thirds of the dwellings are single, semi-detached and mobile homes and dwellings, or "traditional suburban dwellings." In high-density neighbourhoods, less than one-third of the dwellings are traditional suburban dwellings.)

The association between density and the use of cars varied depending on the distance from the city centre. Residents living less than 10 kilometres from the city centre were more likely to use their car for all trips if they lived in a lower-density "suburban-type" neighbourhood than a high-density neighbourhood.

More than 10 kilometres from the city centre, however, the impact of neighbourhood density on automobile use dwindled until it almost vanished, when the effects of other factors were controlled for.

This finding reflects the complex interaction between housing density and distance from the city centre. Usually, many locations in suburban neighbourhoods are zoned only for residential construction. As a result, places such as shopping centres, recreation centres, office buildings and other places of work become difficult to reach on foot or by public transit.

In contrast, the central neighbourhoods of large cities are generally characterized by a greater mix of uses and by greater density, two conditions that favour adequate public transportation and travel on foot.

Definitions, data sources and methods: survey number 4503.

The study "Dependence on cars in urban neighbourhoods" is now available in the January 2008 issue of Canadian Social Trends, no. 85 (11-008-XWE, free) from the Publications module of our website.

For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact Client Services (613-951-5979;, Social and Aboriginal Statistics Division.