Higher density developments reduce transportation costs, traffic congestion, says study

The growth of Charleston, South Carolina in recent years has given rise to emerging real estate that offers more convenient accommodation and lifestyle options for communities.

High-density developments, also known as compact developments, and various housing types have been embraced in many communities across the country. Many residents in the Charleston area, however, are fighting against high-density developments such as condos and apartment buildings, which provide a popular alternative to sprawl.

In Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, a 180-day moratorium on new apartments and multi-family developments was recently approved by the Mount Pleasant Town Council to slow down the rapid development of the city and construct new roads to deal with the traffic before the city can proceed with approximately 2,200 apartments currently under construction.

Some research, however, suggests that higher density developments reduce sprawl, which can actually reduce traffic congestion and the need for more infrastructure.

“My research does suggest that there are many economic, social and environmental benefits from more compact development, or described differently, there are several economic, social and environmental costs of sprawl,” Todd Litman, founder and executive director of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, told Palmetto Business Daily.

Litman explained that more compact development tends to reduce vehicle travel per capita because residents often rely on walking, cycling and public transit more than they do in a sprawled location.

“So it is possible to have more people without more vehicle trips, but that depends on specific conditions, such as whether there are significant investments in sidewalks and development patterns encourage more mixed development,” Litman said.

Sprawl, Litman stated in a report, increases per capita land consumption and disperses development, which increases the distances between common destinations, the cost of providing public infrastructure and services, and transportation costs required to access services and activities.

Sprawl also imposes various economic and environmental effects, including decreased agricultural production, increased infrastructure and transport costs for governments and businesses, traffic congestion, and pollution, Litman noted.

Litman said most importantly, more compact development can reduce household transportation cost burdens and increase total affordability, which is the combined housing and transport costs relative to incomes.

“These have important implications in South Carolina, which has one of the highest rates of obesity and associated health problems, and a higher portion of household budgets devoted to transport than most other U.S. states,” he said.

Tom Leonard, executive director of the Trident CEO Council, told Palmetto Business Daily that the issue of sprawl has become a main concern amid the tremendous growth of the Charleston metro region. He said developments such as Nexton in Summerville, East Edisto in lower Dorchester County and some areas of North Charleston are prime examples of how higher-density developments can provide value to the region.

"Our region contains numerous success stories of how high-density urban design meets demand for aspiring city dwellers," Leonard said. "At the same time, they increase municipal revenues for improved services and better schools."

Leonard added that these density-focused designs "are cost-efficiencies built into everything from trash removal to low water and electric utility rates."

Such developments are necessary to serve the new residents coming to the region to work at the new and expanding Boeing, Daimler, Google and Volvo facilities, he said.

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Trident CEO Council Victoria Transport Policy Institute

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