Urban Transportation, Land Use, Air Quality, and Health

Yingying Lyu and Ann Forsyth. 2021. “Attitudes, perceptions, and walking behavior in a Chinese city.” Journal of Transport & Health. Publisher's VersionAbstract


An increasing number of walking studies discussed the relationship of walking with attitudes and perceptions. However, the findings were not consistent, and few studies examined the relationship between walking and attitudes to overall mobility and multiple modes. In this paper, we contribute to the debates by exploring the relationship between walking for transport and broad attitudes to urban mobility and transport modes.


Using a clustered random sample survey conducted in a second-tier city in China (N=1,048), we hypothesized that people with different attitudes have different amounts of walking for transport. Data analysis methods involved descriptive statistics, t-tests, Analysis of Variance (ANOVA), hierarchical logistic models, and hierarchical linear models.


Positive attitudes and perceptions regarding multiple transport modes and related environments were associated with some walking for transport. T-tests indicated that those with different attitudes walked different amounts. Regression models showed that associations between attitudes and odds of people walking varied between genders. Males who perceived bus frequency was not a problem were more likely to walk. Females tended to walk when viewing transportation in the city as convenient. Both findings contribute to the understanding that positive perceptions of overall mobility in the city were associated with higher odds of walking. Meanwhile, among those who did walk, those with positive attitudes towards pedestrian safety crossing streets and those perceiving traffic jams as a problem in their daily trips spent more time walking.


This paper concludes that positive broad attitudes and perceptions of overall mobility and all transport modes are related to more walking activities. A better understanding of such relationships can provide a reference point for urban policies aiming at promoting walking for transport.

Chenghe Guan, Jihoon Song, Michael Keith, Bo Zhang, Yuki Akiyama, Liangjun Da, Ryosuke Shibasaki, and Taisei Sato. 2021. “Seasonal variations of park visitor volume and park service area in Tokyo: A mixed-method approach combining big data and field observations.” Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, 58, March 2021, Pp. 126973. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Urban green and open space are important components of achieving the goal of planning sustainable cities, by offering health benefits to urban dwellers and providing socio-economic and environmental benefits to society. Recent literature studied the usage of urban parks, however, few has addressed seasonal fluctuations of park visitor volume, let alone seasonal variations of home-park travel distances and park service areas. This paper not only empirically shows the seasonal variations of park visits but also examines links between the park visit patterns and spatial characteristics of the case parks. Applying spatial analysis methods to location data of over 1 million anonymous mobile phone samples collected from January to December 2011, we analyzed the seasonal variations in six medium-sized urban parks, of which size falls under the category of ‘district parks,’ in central Tokyo. We also conducted content analysis of a Japanese place review website to understand visitor perceptions of the case parks. On the other hand, park spatial characteristics data were collected and summarized through various ways including field observation and satellite image analysis. The results show that (1) while notable seasonal variations of park visitor volume and park service area existed in all case parks, the degree of variation also differed from park to park; (2) spatial characteristics of parks were closely interlinked to seasonal cultural events, to visitor perceptions, and consequently to seasonal fluctuations of the park visit patterns. Lessons learned from the policy perspective include highly diverse user groups visit these medium-sized urban parks than what the typical guidelines assume, and seasonal patterns of their visits considerably vary from park to park, interacting with spatial characteristics of the parks. Hence, the urban park planning process should consider specific and detailed characteristics of parks and allocate resources to respond to dynamic park visit patterns beyond generic guidelines.
Haikun Wang, Xiaojing He, Xinyu Liang, Ernani F. Choma, Yifan Liu, Li Shan, Haotian Zheng, Shaojun Zhang, Chris Nielsen, Shuxiao Wang, Ye Wu, and John Evans. 2020. “Health benefits of on-road transportation pollution control programs in China.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Sept 2020, 201921271. Publisher's VersionAbstract
China started to implement comprehensive measures to mitigate traffic pollution at the end of 1990s, but the comprehensive effects, especially on ambient air quality and public health, have not yet been systematically evaluated. In this study, we analyze the effects of vehicle emission control measures on ambient air pollution and associated deaths attributable to long-term exposures of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and O3 based on an integrated research framework that combines scenario analysis, air quality modeling, and population health risk assessment. We find that the total impact of these control measures was substantial. Vehicular emissions during 1998–2015 would have been 2–3 times as large as they actually were, had those measures not been implemented. The national population-weighted annual average concentrations of PM2.5 and O3 in 2015 would have been higher by 11.7 μg/m3 and 8.3 parts per billion, respectively, and the number of deaths attributable to 2015 air pollution would have been higher by 510 thousand (95% confidence interval: 360 thousand to 730 thousand) without these controls. Our analysis shows a concentration of mortality impacts in densely populated urban areas, motivating local policymakers to design stringent vehicle emission control policies. The results imply that vehicle emission control will require policy designs that are more multifaceted than traditional controls, primarily represented by the strict emission standards, with careful consideration of the challenges in coordinated mitigation of both PM2.5 and O3 in different regions, to sustain improvement in air quality and public health given continuing swift growth in China’s vehicle population.
Chenghe Guan and Ann Forsyth. 2020. “The influence of urban form and socio-demographics on active transport: a 40 neighborhoods study in Chengdu, China.” Journal of Transport and Land Use . Publisher's VersionAbstract

In China a centralized planning culture has created similar neighborhoods across the country. Using a survey of 1,048 individuals conducted in 2016 in Chengdu—located in a carefully conceptualized typology of neighborhood forms—we analyzed the associations between individual and neighborhood characteristics and active or non-motorized transport behavior. Using several multiple logistic and multi-level models, we show how neighborhoods were categorized and the number of categories or neighborhood types affected the magnitude of the associations with active transport but not the direction. People taking non-work trips were more likely to use active compared with motorized modes in all neighborhood types. Neighborhood type was significant in models, but so were many other individual-level variables and infrastructural and locational features such as bike lanes and location near the river. Of the 3-D physical environment variables, floor area ratio (a proxy for density) was only significant in one model for non-work trips. Intersection density and dissimilarity (land use diversity) were only significant in a model for work trips. This study shows that to develop strong theories about the connections between active transport and environments, it is important to examine different physical and cultural contexts and perform sensitivity analyses. Research in different parts of China can help provide a more substantial base for evidence-informed policy-making. Planning and design recommendations related to active transport need to consider how neighborhoods, built environments, and personal characteristics interact in different kinds of urban environments.

Yingying Lyu. 2019. “Walking culture in China.” Harvard Graduate School of Design.
Thesis Type: D. Des dissertation..  This paper uses data from the Project's household survey in Chengdu, Sichuan.
Chenghe Guan, Sumeeta Srinivasan, Bo Zhang, Liangjun Da, Chris P. Nielsen, and Jialin Liu. 2020. “The influence of neighborhood types on active transport in China’s growing cities.” Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment, 80, 102273. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Rapid urban expansion in China has created both opportunities and challenges for promoting active transport in urban residential communities. Previous studies have shown that the urban form at the city scale has affected active transport in Chinese cities. However, there is less agreement about how the physical and social variations of neighborhood types should be addressed. This research investigates the four most representative neighborhood types found in Chinese cities: traditional mixed-use, slab block work-unit, gated community, and resettlement housing. Household travel diaries conducted in Chengdu in 2016 were analyzed using binary logistic regressions, supplemented by informal onsite interviews. The findings indicate significant variations in the use and accessibility of active transport in each neighborhood type for non-work trips. This suggests that each neighborhood type may need different strategies for promoting active transport: (1) the traditional mixed-use neighborhoods are in need of intensified urban retrofitting projects to reclaim public open space; (2) the work-unit could benefit from comprehensive plans rather than a patchwork of projects; (3) while opening up gated communities can improve porosity across neighborhoods and promote active transport, the more pressing issue may be their inability to keep up with the transportation needs of the residents; and (4) residents of resettlement housing should have better access to employment using transit and non-motorized modes.
Chenghe Guan, Jihoon Song, Michael Keith, Yuki Akiyama, Ryosuke Shibasaki, and Taisei Sato. 2020. “Delineating urban park catchment areas using mobile phone data: A case study of Tokyo.” Computers, Environment and Urban Systems, 81. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Urban parks can offer both physical and psychological health benefits to urban dwellers and provide social, economic, and environmental benefits to society. Earlier research on the usage of urban parks relied on fixed distance or walking time to delineate urban park catchment areas. However, actual catchment areas can be affected by many factors other than park surface areas, such as social capital cultivation, cultural adaptation, climate and seasonal variation, and park function and facilities provided. This study advanced this method by using mobile phone data to delineate urban park catchment area. The study area is the 23 special wards of Tokyo or tokubetsu-ku, the core of the capital of Japan. The location data of over 1 million anonymous mobile phone users was collected in 2011. The results show that: (1) the park catchment areas vary significantly by park surface areas: people use smaller parks nearby but also travel further to larger parks; (2) even for the parks in the same size category, there are notable differences in the spatial pattern of visitors, which cannot be simply summarized with average distance or catchment radius; and (3) almost all the parks, regardless of its size and function, had the highest user density right around the vicinity, exemplified by the density-distance function closely follow a decay trend line within 1-2 km radius of the park. As such, this study used the density threshold and density-distance function to measure park catchment. We concluded that the application of mobile phone location data can improve our understanding of an urban park catchment area, provide useful information and methods to analyze the usage of urban parks, and can aid in the planning and policy-making of urban parks.
James K. Hammitt, Fangli Geng, Xiaoqi Guo, and Chris P. Nielsen. 2019. “Valuing mortality risk in China: Comparing stated-preference estimates from 2005 and 2016.” Journal of Risk & Uncertainty, 58, 2-3, Pp. 167–186. Publisher's VersionAbstract
We estimate the marginal rate of substitution of income for reduction in current annual mortality risk (the “value per statistical life” or VSL) using stated-preference surveys administered to independent samples of the general population of Chengdu, China in 2005 and 2016. We evaluate the quality of estimates by the theoretical criteria that willingness to pay (WTP) for risk reduction should be strictly positive and nearly proportional to the magnitude of the risk reduction (evaluated by comparing answers between respondents) and test the effect of excluding respondents whose answers violate these criteria. For subsamples of respondents that satisfy the criteria, point estimates of the sensitivity of WTP to risk reduction are consistent with theory and yield estimates of VSL that are two to three times larger than estimated using the full samples. Between 2005 and 2016, estimated VSL increased sharply, from about 22,000 USD in 2005 to 550,000 USD in 2016. Income also increased substantially over this period. Attributing the change in VSL solely to the change in real income implies an income elasticity of about 3.0. Our results suggest that estimates of VSL from stated-preference studies in which WTP is not close to proportionate to the stated risk reduction may be biased downward by a factor of two or more, and that VSL is likely to grow rapidly in a population with strong economic growth, which implies that environmental-health, safety, and other policies should become increasingly protective.
Chenghe Guan, Sumeeta Srinivasan, and Chris P. Nielsen. 2019. “Does neighborhood form influence low-carbon transportation in China?” Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment, 67, Pp. 406-420. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Developing less auto-dependent urban forms and promoting low-carbon transportation (LCT) are challenges facing our cities. Previous literature has supported the association between neighborhood form and low-carbon travel behaviour. Several studies have attempted to measure neighborhood forms focusing on physical built-environment factors such as population and employment density and socio-economic conditions such as income and race. We find that these characteristics may not be sufficiently fine-grained to differentiate between neighborhoods in Chinese cities. This research assesses characteristics of neighborhood spatial configuration that may influence the choice of LCT modes in the context of dense Chinese cities. Urban-form data from 40 neighborhoods in Chengdu, China, along with a travel behaviour survey of households conducted in 2016, were used to generate several measures of land use diversity and accessibility for each neighborhood. We use principle component analysis (PCA) to group these variables into dimensions that could be used to classify the neighborhoods. We then estimate regression models of low-carbon mode choices such as walking, bicycling, and transit to better understand the significance of these built-environment differences at the neighbourhood level. We find that, first, members of households do choose to walk or bike or take transit to work provided there is relatively high population density and sufficient access to public transit and jobs. Second, land-use diversity alone was not found to be significant in affecting LCT mode choice. Third, the proliferation of gated communities was found to reduce overall spatial connectivity within neighborhoods and had a negative effect on choice of LCT.
China’s CO2 peak before 2030 implied from diverse characteristics and growth of cities
Haikun Wang, Xi Lu, Yu Deng, Yaoguang Sun, Chris P. Nielsen, Yifan Liu, Ge Zhu, Maoliang Bu, Jun Bi, and Michael B. McElroy. 2019. “China’s CO2 peak before 2030 implied from diverse characteristics and growth of cities.” Nature Sustainability, 2, Pp. 748–754. Publisher's VersionAbstract

China pledges to peak CO2 emissions by 2030 or sooner under the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to 2 °C or less by the end of the century. By examining CO2 emissions from 50 Chinese cities over the period 2000–2016, we found a close relationship between per capita emissions and per capita gross domestic product (GDP) for individual cities, following the environmental Kuznets curve, despite diverse trajectories for CO2 emissions across the cities. Results show that carbon emissions peak for most cities at a per capita GDP (in 2011 purchasing power parity) of around US$21,000 (80% confidence interval: US$19,000 to 22,000). Applying a Monte Carlo approach to simulate the peak of per capita emissions using a Kuznets function based on China’s historical emissions, we project that emissions for China should peak at 13–16 GtCO2 yr−1 between 2021 and 2025, approximately 5–10 yr ahead of the current Paris target of 2030. We show that the challenges faced by individual types of Chinese cities in realizing low-carbon development differ significantly depending on economic structure, urban form and geographical location.

2019 Sep 05

Walking Culture in China



Gund Hall, Room 121, Harvard Graduate School of Design, 42-28 Quincy Street

A dissertation defense by Yingying Lu, a Harvard Graduate School of Design doctoral candidate and incoming researcher of the Harvard-China Project.

Abstract: Walking brings wide-ranging health benefits to individuals (Hanson & Jones, 2015) and increases social interaction as well (Talen & Koschinsky, 2013). Walking, as a sustainable transportation mode, can contribute to the urban environment by saving transportation energy...

Read more about Walking Culture in China
Sumeeta Srinivasan, Chenghe Guan, and Chris P. Nielsen. 2019. “Built environment, income and travel behavior: Change in the city of Chengdu 2005-2016.” International Journal of Sustainable Transportation. Publisher's VersionAbstract
In this paper, we look at differences in travel behavior and location characteristics across income in Chengdu, China at two points of time, 2005 and 2016, using household travel surveys. Specifically, we compare changes over time for different income groups for Chengdu in 2005 and 2016. We find that walking or biking remains the most common mode for all income groups but higher-income households appear to have more choices depending on the proximity of their neighborhood to downtown. We also find that both average local and average regional access have worsened since 2005. Furthermore, it appears that there is less economic diversity within neighborhoods in 2016 when compared to 2005, with more locations appearing to have 40% or more of low-, middle-, or high-income households than in the past. Finally, we find that low-income households and older trip makers are more likely to walk or bike and that high-income households are the most likely to own cars and use motorized modes. Built environment characteristics like mixed land use appear to significantly reduce travel time in 2016 but do not result in higher non-motorized transport mode share. We contribute to existing literature by evaluating changes in the relationship of built environment and travel behavior during a period of rapid urbanization and economic growth in a Chinese city.