Urban Sprawl: Beyond Traditional premises from Land Use and Transport Planning

Jorge Diaz Tejada
11 julio, 2018 - Resiliencia
Foto: Gobierno del Distrito de Miraflores.

“Urban Sprawl: Beyond traditional premises from Land Use & Transport Planning”



The increase in travel time and constraints regarding accessibility has been traditionally related to Urban Sprawl, mainly understood as a pattern of land development that causes a considerable increase in territorial extension . Population size and density are, of course, two key inputs to provide a better assessment and see if there is a positive correlation between territorial extension, population size, and density and an increase in travel time and constraints within accessibility.

While “travel time” is a quantitative variable, “accessibility” includes also a qualitative nature that denotes, not only the ease which any land use can be reached from a location using a particular mode of transportation but also some “side-benefits” as the ease for social interaction amongst the city inhabitants.

From the cities case studies to analyze, our purpose is also to find if there is a “gap” between the performance of mobility (considering travel time and accessibility) and the hypothetical benefits of a more dense, and compact urban fabric.

The paradox within provision of public services in general and transportation facilities in particular in a city, is that the better they are, the more people they attract, leading to a “vicious circle” which may be affected at some stage by the pattern of land development at the outskirts of a city and the poor quality of public transportation leading to a “gap” when the consequences upon mobility are quite exacerbated.

We aim to find new insights regarding the following questions:

I. Is this “gap” related to population size, density patterns and urban sprawl?
II. How can transport planning overcome the challenges that come from this “gap”?
III. Is there an optimal population size, density pattern, and travel modal split for achieving a “good living standard” (travel time and accessibility)?

Research Premises

A.- Urban Sprawl is a quite different phenomenon between developing city-countries and developed ones. Informal settlements at the outskirts in the former are usually densely populated areas where poor public transportation prevails.

B.- Neither Urban Sprawl nor motorized modes by themselves deteriorates quality of life (increase in travel time and accessibility constraints) if good transit is provided and private cars are not used in a daily basis.

C.- Urban Sprawl is an opportunity to shift from territorial planning to time planning and the re-design of suitable built environment according to this change.

Main traditional urban & transport planning premises have been associated to:

• Increase density of housing, jobs, and facilities allocation
• Promote mixed land uses
• Reduce car ownership
• Promote investments in infrastructure, mainly for new roads.
• Reduce environmental pollution
• Improve safety of roads, driving habits, and so on to reduce injuries and fatalities


The scope of my research is not solely academic but seeks to link theoretical analysis with empirical evidence so to provide a better input for policy-makers within urban planning in general and transport planning in particular. It surveys end users choices and priorities regarding mobility and settlement patterns. It also approaches to policy makers to get a better insight of their leading premises within the delivery of binding planning documents.

Considering that this research embraces a comparative analysis it will include collecting on-site data in the cities of Warsaw and Lima.

The research will be developed according to the following steps:

a.- Brief Description of Problem to analyze
b.- Key Issues for Assessment
c.- Data Collection
d.- Analysis
e.- Future Research

There are two kinds of data collection within this research.

1.- Review of Bibliography
2.- On-Site Data Collection

a. End Users of all Transport modes (Quantitative & Qualitative Survey)
b. Policy-Makers (Qualitative Survey)


Policy Makers

Theoretical References User Choices
Empirical Evidence

Urban Planning

Life Quality is a too broad concept and it has been assessed from different approaches and considerations (quantitative and qualitative) while local circumstances provide a more accurate definition of it, there are some basic standards that we may agree on a global scale. For the purpose of this research it will be considered two references: Travel time and Accessibility.

Cost-Effective Urban Planning

Cost-Effective Model

Nature & Built Environment Design Connectivity&Communication Network

Urban Planning

a.- Brief Description of Problem to analyze

Whatever the differences between countries and cities of the developed and developing world, there is a common tendency towards individual motorization, at the same time, longer distances and large urban agglomerations have made motorized public transport necessary.
The meaning of the automobile in modern societies is multifaceted, there are, at least, three approaches to understand it: The anthropological, sees the automobile as a symbol of power, status and wealth, the political corresponds to symbols of freedom and privacy and the psychological makes visible the hedonistic society that has prevailed along history.

However and according to previous research , people, in general, choose automobiles because the ease of making trips anywhere and at any time, and also because of time saving. The automobile also allows for a “random route system” and is almost a “door-to-door” mode.

We may say as hypothesis that private transportation in developing countries in general and in a city like Lima in particular is utility-oriented more than status oriented.

Transport planning policies must address a cost-benefit analysis not only regarding travel itself and the modal choices to implement, but its impact on land use patterns in general and in suburbanization in particular. This is a typical “two sides of the same coin” problem.

Population & Motorization

City Inhabitants Motorized Vehicles M.Vehicles/Inhabitants
Lima 10´051,912 680, 938 0.06
Warsaw 1’735, 442 1’120, 028 0.64

In the case of Lima, there is a notorious weak regulation and operational management of public transportation, although there has started an implementation of a BRT system (2010), it is still an uncompleted network with scarce integration to other modes. The city of Lima relies considerably in small buses with a random route planning in addition to non-appropriate capacity and safety, contributing to a “dead end road”.

At the same time there is just one line of the subway network in operation (34.6 km) from 2012.

In the case of Lima, public transportation modes move 53% of total daily trips, while private cars account for 21% of total daily trips and 26% is made by walking and non-motorized modes.

In the case of Warsaw, public transportation moves 54.6% of total daily trips, while 22.6% are made in automobiles and 22.8% of all journeys are made on foot and other modes .

Warsaw has two subway lines of a length of 29 km served by 27 stations located at an average distance of 1.1 km from one another . The end stations are Młociny in the north and Kabaty in the south (line 1), which also provides a technical and parking station as well as line maintenance.

So, from a preliminary review of data, there is a similar travel modal split and in both cities there is a similar length of subway routes in operation.

However a remarkable diference comes from the role that railroad network plays in Warsaw and we could consider a plausible premise for urban sprawl in this city.

Total railroad length used in passenger transportation in the Warsaw area amounts to 93 kilometers. The entire network consists of eight train stations and 40 stops. The major passenger stations include Warszawa Centralna, Warszawa Zachodnia, Warszawa Wschodnia, Warszawa Śródmieście, Warszawa Gdańska, and Warszawa Wileńska

The participation of rail transportation in total passenger transportation in the city center is insignificant, amounting to 6%–8% during the morning rush hour and 2%–3% during the afternoon one. However, rail services ensure principal connections to Warsaw within the agglomeration and the region as a whole.

From the preliminary review we can propose as hypothesis that:

• Research Premise (A) is true in the city of Lima, where pernicious effects of individual advantages surpass those of the collective realm, affecting negatively the city as a whole.
• Research Premise (B) is true in both city case studies, while the “if” condition does exist in the case of Warsaw; it does not exist in the case of Lima.
• Research Premise (C) has not been developed in both city case studies.

From the data already provided we can identify that there are much more motorized vehicles (including private cars) in Warsaw than in Lima, both in an absolute and relative comparative scenarios and also its territorial extension (urban sprawl) can be considered bigger than Lima as we will analyze. However we will see how life quality (travel time, and accessibility) is much better in Warsaw despite those indicators.

Warsaw Urban Development Plan

The Patterns of allocation, that explain the linkages between territory (facilities), people settlement (dwellings) and economic purpose of activities developed (jobs), is not solely a matter of cost-effective premises that can be converted into monetary benefits, but also related to some “side benefits” that are mostly of an «intangible» nature (e.g. social interaction)
Regarding this, “accessibility”, will be measured within the scope of this research, considering “expenditures” for commuting from home to jobs, school, shopping and leisure and, on the other hand, considering the number of “transfers” that have to be made to reach a destination.

The research regarding social interaction (which is also derived from the connectivity&communication network) will demand a following step not to be embraced during this project.

Territory & Density

City Extension (Km2) Metropolitan Area Extension (Km2)
Core Area Density (Pop/Km2)
Lima 2,812 798 20,000-30,000
Warsaw 6,203 517 3,280

Lima-Urban Sprawl

Density Pattern Socio-Economic Welfare Travel Density

As we can see from the maps related to “Lima-Urban Sprawl”, there is a linear relation between social and economic development of inhabitants and the pattern of dwelling development from the core city to the outskirts, being the latest the poorer. (in general terms)

Despite of low ratio of motorization, which is furthermore lower at the outskirts, Lima city continues to spread over these territories that are neither provided by good transit modes nor it is reached in private automobiles.

We may say that, in the case of the city of Lima, that urban sprawls provides benefits that offset cost, although these benefits tends to be private (internal) more than collective (external)

The subtle sub-division of zones (North, South, East, Center) and a differentiated “Modern Lima” as a zone with the best living standards is quite a symbolic recall of the notorious qualitative unbalanced amongst inhabitants, which of course highlights a key difference when comparing a developed and a developing cities as Warsaw and Lima.

This unbalanced population settlement within cities is also notorious when analyzing the country as a whole, while Warsaw accounts for just 7.8% and 4.5% (WMA and the core city respectively) of the country total population, the city of Lima concentrates 32% and 28.5%, making evidence of an issue of quantitative unbalanced too.

When analyzing the pattern of human settlement in both Lima and Warsaw, we can identify a remarkable difference that may provide a better basis for transport planning in the latter as far as it has a more balanced distribution (qualitative) of inhabitants and also a better control of population size (quantitative)

While the average density in Warsaw is 3,280 inhabitants/Km2, it goes as high as 30,000 inhabitants/Km2 in the case of Lima, this of course poses a more challenging situation in Lima regarding modal split and the indispensable provision of a mass transportation mode, such as, trains and a subway network.

At the same time travel density in Lima is scattered throughout its territory and it is not related to mass public transportation modes but mostly by means of small buses that are inefficient in terms of capacity, speed, safety and environmental considerations.

Warsaw-Urban Sprawl

Density Pattern Socio-Economic Welfare Travel Density

From the maps of the city of Warsaw, we can identify a close relation between travel density and the metro line (1), which is of course, the most efficient way of mobility if capacity, speed, safety and environmental considerations are at the top.

At the same time as seen in the maps population density is higher at the core city while travel density associated with the use of metro lines is not, this may imply that travel in the city center is made by non-motorized modes as walking,

Regarding welfare there is also a linear relation between social and economic development of inhabitants and the pattern of dwelling development from the core city to the outskirts, being the latest the poorer (in general terms)

On the other hand, by initiative of the Capital City of Warsaw, the Warsaw agglomeration introduced a combined public transportation ticket. The combined ticket offers a special tariff option, where holders of selected ZTM tickets are entitled to travel by suburban trains throughout the Warsaw area and neighboring boroughs.
This initiative developed by policy-makers highlights the opportunity for future dwelling allocation in the suburbs while preserving the balance of population within the main city and promotes the growth in surronding cities.

Regardless of a qualitative and quantitative data analysis, we may look for evidence related to the functional interdependence between the core city and its surroundings, the role of public transport within this phenomenon and life quality considered by means of travel time, and multi modal connectivity, as previously stated within the purpose of this research.

Urban sprawls exist as far as exist a functional interdependence between the core city and its surroundings, it is not solely a matter of territorial extension.

The main issue of “urban sprawl” is the consequences that have upon the surroundings territories (cities) that constitute a system as a whole, it is the disruption of a more balanced population settlement model which brings issues as: increased travel time, endless cycle of infrastructure provision, environmental degradation, to name a few.

From the revised information in the case of the city of Warsaw the following guidelines are considered regarding future urban development.

• Spatial development should continue along existing communication corridors, in accordance with the existing trends.
• Development corridors should include areas urbanized in the past along railway lines, as well as recently urbanized areas along roads.
• Development corridors should be separated by green areas of extensive use forming wedges cutting into the center of Warsaw.
• The radial series of development corridors should be linked by circular communication corridors which would allow travel between the corridors without entering the city center.
• The metropolitan area as a whole should be enclosed by a natural green belt, directly linked to the areas of extensive use.
• The WMA should develop in coordination with the Łódź Metropolitan Area with a particular focus on spatial links between the appropriate corridors both of urbanized land and open space.

Some important considerations are made regarding the close relation that should prevail between spatial development and communication corridors, the role of green belts in preserving a balance between nature and built environment, and the coordination of planning considering the metropolitan extension of the city.

We will address these issues in depth for the city of Lima, at a later stage of this research, but we could have as hypothesis, from the preliminary references and my empirical experience in that city, that the planning task has historically fell down because of lack of coordination at the metropolitan scope (policy-makers), the gap between spatial development and transport infrastructure provision, the quantitative and qualitative inefficiency of mass transportation modes (over stock of small buses represent an oversupply of 40% and they perform 51% of total trips in public transportation), the inexistence of a Multi-Modal network, amongst the main issues.

On the other hand, the hyper-concentration (population density) and the prevalence of a cultural sense of privileging private benefits over collective benefits cause a detrimental quality of life in Lima.

Finally I will highlight that, our daily life scatters in several territories along a single day, transport planning policies have been focused in changing from motorized modes to non-motorized ones, promote mixed land use, density increase and so on, but we may be in a position of dramatically shift when we need to address not only the way we use our territories but also the way we use our time.

b.- Key Issues for Assessment

The formats for interviews and data collection (survey) have been prepared under support of expert researchers of the University of Warsaw, Faculty of Geography and Regional Studies.

In general the assessment seeks for some insights regarding the following:

Policy Makers
• Interview with relevant policy makers engaged in land use and transport planning of the city of Warsaw

a) Main Achievements and Failures within Land Use & Transport Planning
b) Proposed changes in City Planning and Management
c) Social inclusion and its practice within City Planning

End Users
• Survey to local inhabitants of the city of Warsaw, regarding the following considerations:

a) Settlement Patterns: City Center, Outskirts
b) Housing types and preferences: Single House, Apartment Building
c) Public Transportation performance: Travel Time, Accessibility
d) Non-motorized modes: Opportunities for bicycling enhancement
e) Mobility and personal travel patterns: Travel Modes, Budget and Expenditure, Car Use

c.- Data Collection

• From the interview to policy-makers, Roads and Public Transportation Department (BDiK) of the Capital City of Warsaw, we may highlight the following:

1) Main Achievements and Failures within Land Use & Transport Planning for the city of Warsaw

Urban & Transport Planning at the Metropolitan Area level is not made in a comprehensive way since there is not a single authority that manage the city as a whole.

However, considering that the city has had a continue planning process, facilitated by the fact that the mayor of the city has been providing leadership since her first election in 2006, the chances for managing and implementing some key projects to improve the performance of the transportation system & land use related premises are quite favorable.

On the other hand, the high level of social acceptance for granting privileges to public transportation makes feasible on-going and future projects that promotes transit over private cars.

Regarding modal Split, although public transportation use is growing so is the use of private cars, and at the same time urban development at the outskirts is growing fast.

On the other hand, mix-land use projects are underdeveloped yet, so most projects are issued as “residential”, “offices”, “retail” but not a mix of them.

The Strategy from policy-makers interviewed assumes that in spite of development of individual motorization, mass rail transportation will play the key role in the Warsaw transportation system and its quality will define the efficiency of the functioning of the agglomeration (metropolitan area), especially its downtown area.

2) Proposed changes in City Planning and Management

Considering some initiatives based on the “shared economy” principles within transport planning (airbnb, amazon, uber) could be a way to explore.

The use of non-motorized modes (bicycles) may increase, as far as, the network of bicycle paths is completed so to allow a continue trip from Origin to Destination.

“Home-based” Jobs, may play a significant role not only to reduce motorized travel but also as a way to improve quality of life. The City of Warsaw has been increasing the opportunities to work from home especially in the private sector (Business, Software Development, etc.)

3) Social inclusion and its practice within City Planning (feedback from end users choices and priorities)

Increasing “end users” engagement regarding transport planning, is, of course, a prevailing challenge.

Protests by some groups of local communities against transportation projects in Warsaw, may demand to approach people by means of public consultation forums, workshops, social media, etc. Initiatives, as those from the city of Gdynia, to use a web-based platform to survey “end users” choices and priorities, may be an alternative to explore.

• Regarding the on-line survey, it was run during ten days (March 22-31, 2017) according to the following questions that were answered by 322 persons: (Final Version in Original Language-Polish)

Badanie przeprowadzone w ramach projektu Erasmus Mundus

Miejsce zamieszkania:
o w granicach administracyjnych miasta Warszawy,
o w mieście pod Warszawą,
o na wsi pod Warszawą,
o na wsi ponad 50 km od Warszawy,
o w mieście ponad 50 km od Warszawy.

Rodzaj mieszkania:
o dom jednorodzinny,
o dom wielorodzinny

Grupa wiekowa:
o 16-25 lat,
o 26-35 lat,
o 36-45 lat,
o 46-55 lat,
o 56-65 lat,
o + 66 lat.

o kobieta,
o mężczyzna.

Długość trwania typowej podróży:
0-30 min. 30-60 min. 60-90 min. ponad 90 min.
do pracy
do szkoły
na zakupy
w celach rozrywkowych/towarzyskich

Główne środki transportu używane do typowych dojazdów do pracy: (można zaznaczyć kilka odpowiedzi)
o pieszo,
o rower własny,
o rower publiczny,
o motocykl,
o samochód,
o taksówka,
o minibus,
o autobus,
o tramwaj,
o metro,
o kolej.

Główne środki transportu używane do typowych dojazdów do szkoły: (można zaznaczyć kilka odpowiedzi)
o pieszo,
o rower własny,
o rower publiczny,
o motocykl,
o samochód,
o taksówka,
o minibus,
o autobus,
o tramwaj,
o metro,
o kolej.
Główne środki transportu używane do typowych dojazdów na zakupy: (można zaznaczyć kilka odpowiedzi)
o pieszo,
o rower własny,
o rower publiczny,
o motocykl,
o samochód,
o taksówka,
o minibus,
o autobus,
o tramwaj,
o metro,
o kolej.
Główne środki transportu używane do typowych dojazdów w celach rozrywkowych/towarzyskich: (można zaznaczyć kilka odpowiedzi)
o pieszo,
o rower własny,
o rower publiczny,
o motocykl,
o samochód,
o taksówka,
o minibus,
o autobus,
o tramwaj,
o metro,
o kolej.

Liczba przesiadek podczas podróży:
bez przesiadek jedna-dwie więcej niż dwie
do pracy
do szkoły
na zakupy
w celach rozrywkowych/towarzyskich

Które z poniższych cech transportu zbiorowego uważasz za główne kryteria jego atrakcyjności? (można zaznaczyć kilka odpowiedzi)
o punktualność,
o czas podróży,
o częstotliwość kursowania,
o ilość przesiadek,
o cena,
o dostęp Wi-Fi,
o dostępność biletów,
o dostępność informacji o rozkładzie jazdy,
o ilość miejsca w pojeździe,
o wygoda przystanków,
o udogodnienia dla niepełnosprawnych,
o kultura obsługi,
o bezpieczeństwo pojazdów.

Jak często jeździsz na rowerze?
o kilka razy w tygodniu,
o kilka razy w miesiącu,
o sporadycznie,
o tylko w sezonie,
o tylko rekreacyjnie

Jaki procent swoich dochodów przeznaczasz na codzienny transport?
o 0-10,
o 10-20,
o powyżej 20.

d.- Analysis

Regarding transport planning in the city of Warsaw, on-going and future projects are aimed at “adjusting the bus line system to take into account the system of rail transportation, bearing in mind the basic function of bus transportation in Warsaw—to bring passengers to the tramway, subway, or railroad, and elimination of competition along the same transportation corridors between busses and rail transportation (tramway, subway, and railroad)”.

This approach highlights a key premise for the performance of the system as a whole and will of course have a favorable impact for increasing travel in public modes.

At the same time, construction of a system of Park & Ride facilities, initially in the area of peripheral 
stops serving rail transportation lines (subway, railroad, tramway) will contribute to rationalization of car use, considering it just a part or link within the network.

A lower social cost will also be a critical input for the efficiency of public transportation.
From the point of view of passengers, the system and network legibility, is at the top of the considerations while rationalizing routing and providing a hierarchical system derived from its territorial scope, capacity, and travel time.

The On-line survey provided the following remarks:

a) Settlement Patterns: City Center, Outskirts

65.52% of people who completed the online survey live within the boundaries of the city of Warsaw, while 26.08% live at the outskirts and just 8.37% are settle between 50 kilometers or more from the city. Considering that the survey was available mainly to students and academic staff from the University of Warsaw, which is located at the very center of the city, this pattern is quite logical as any criteria for choosing a dwelling location will be its proximity to the place of work or study, the two main activities at the University of Warsaw.

b) Housing types and preferences: Single House, Apartment Building

64.55% of the total of persons live in Apartment Buildings, while 35.44% live in single houses, this proportion when considered the previous data analyzed, suggest a correlation between the localization and the type of dwelling, standing that people who live within the boundaries of the city occupy mainly an apartment and the people who lives in suburban-like environments enjoys the advantages of single housing (more square meters available, own garden, and privacy), however it is just an hypothetical correlation that should be further assessed.

People living in suburban-like environments tend to have a higher use of car, although according to the data just around 20% of total population is currently using a car, it may imply that a percentage of people living far from the city (outskirts and suburban localities) is already using some kind of public transportation.

c) Public Transportation performance: Travel Time, Accessibility

When compared travel time for commuting to work, school and leisure, between 43-50% of total trips take less than 30 minutes (in the case of shopping 91.3%) this shows the opportunities for most people to access easily their corresponding offices, schools and stores in a daily basis.

Around 30% of total trips for any purpose (in the case of shopping 76.08%) are made with no transfers at all, it means that those persons are able to complete their travel from Origin to Destination in just one mode. However when compared to the modal split data, it is clear that most travels are made in combination of two or more modes. (62.59-71.26%).

When considering the attributes that people prioritize regarding the decision of using a public transportation mode, punctuality (53.41%) and travel time (24.22%) are at the top. Reliable information is, of course, indispensable if it is known that most people will need to transfer from one mode to another and waiting times in between are critical considerations.
Online travel planners, as the one provided by the Zarzad Transportu Miejskiego W Warszawie could contribute for the growth in the use of public transportation.

d) Non-motorized modes: Opportunities for bicycling enhancement

According to the survey, 12.89% of people are already using the bike in a frequent way, a similar proportion (14.84%) is doing it on a seasonal basis. From the data collected it could be said that the opportunities for achieving a higher use of the bike are quite diverse and at hand. The completion of a bike network is critical for increasing the number of users, as far as, issues as safety and higher speeds could be better achieved if a segregated lane is implemented, on the other hand, considering that most travels are made in combination of two or more modes there should be included space for transporting bikes in the metro, buses, and tram as well.
According to some international experiences (Amsterdam, Copenhagen) the same “loop-effect” that occurs for the increase in car use is true for the case of bikes. This is the “critical mass effect” when a certain quantity of people is needed to provoke a significant and multiplying effect which is closely related to the increase in roadways availability.

e) Mobility and personal travel patterns: Travel modes, Budget and Expenditure, Car Use

We have already stated that most trips are made in a combination of two or more modes (62.59-71.26%). It is clear then that a multi-modal system approach should drive future decisions. According to mobility and corresponding expenditures there is a correlation between the use of car and expenses above 20% of income. When compared data from 2015, it is seen that there has not been a relative increase in the use of cars, the proportion is still around 20% of total travels. However, it will be a better idea to improve the public transportation system than to just penalize the use of car by pricing policies (parking, zone restrictions, taxes) gas cost or mandatory insurances.

According to this analysis, the “gap” previously referred, will not happen in the case of the city of Warsaw, in the short time. It means that despite the growth in cars/inhabitant and housing and facilities provision in the “outskirts” (urban sprawl), travel time and accessibility will, at least, maintain current standards.

e.- Future Research

We look for multi-disciplinary future research that could provide new insights for urban planning and management in both developed and developing world cities. The task of planning has exceed the domain of traditional professionals such as: Architects, Engineers, Economist, and Lawyers and there is a need to include other domains such as: Psychology, Healthcare, Anthropology, etc.

Some topics to further analyze could be:

• The financing of public transport infrastructure by means of added value to land use development.
• The opportunities from a “shared economy” concept within land use planning. (Uber, Airbnb, Amazon)
• Cost-Effective analysis of land use patterns: Internal vs. External Costs, Individual vs. Collective Benefits .
• Transport Infrastructure and its impact on the built environment: The case of Public Space and the sense of community
• Smart Growth: Re-defining the premises and outputs of the paradigm (Core Development vs. Outskirt Development, High Density vs. Low Density)
• Urban Sprawl and Agglomeration: The value of proximity


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