In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Commuting

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Resources
  • Journals
  • Policies to Overcome Mismatch

Geography Commuting
Valerie Preston
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 February 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 February 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0033


Commuting—the travel between place of residence and workplace that many people undertake daily—emerged on a large scale during the Industrial Revolution when, for the first time, work locations were separated from places of residence. Commuting is significant because it generates a large proportion of all travel and is often concentrated in peak hours, adding to costly congestion. Geographers have examined commuting to learn how place shapes different forms of economic activity and how the relations between paid work and unpaid work that are expressed in commuting patterns influence the form of urban areas. For many low-income minorities, residential segregation increases the length and cost of work trips, limiting their economic opportunities. Commuting has also captured the attention of urban planners who have investigated how land use patterns may influence commuting distances and modes. There is also growing interest in the links between commuting and carbon emissions and the health effects of commuting, particularly its relation to obesity. Much of the geographical research about commuting has concentrated on highly developed societies although interest in commuting in less developed societies is increasing.

General Overviews

There are few overviews of commuting in the geographical literature; however, the topic is often discussed as part of transportation geography. For example, in Knowles, et al. 2008 and Hanson and Giuliano 2004, commuting is considered an important aspect of urban travel patterns. The authors of Chapin and Hightower 1965 were some of the first to draw attention to commuting as a critical activity that geographers should investigate. Hagerstrand 1970 introduced the notion that each person’s ability to travel from one location to another for daily activities is constrained by technology, the conflicting schedule of various activities, and legal, social, and political limitations such as the minimum age for a driver’s license. Law 1999 critiqued the geographical literature for its emphasis on the journey to work and neglect of many other trips that are essential parts of daily life. Cresswell 2006 also argues that mobility of all types should be the focus of geographical research. Urry 2002 and Larsen, et al. 2006 expand on this argument, noting that the co-presence which is a prerequisite for many social interactions can be achieved only by travel.

  • Chapin F. Stuart, Jr., and Henry C. Hightower. “Household Activity Patterns and Land Use.” Journal of the American Association of Planning 31.3 (1965): 222–231.

    DOI: 10.1080/01944366508978169

    This is the first article to articulate the difficulties that segregated land use planning creates daily for many residents of American cities. It has shaped transportation planning for almost fifty years.

  • Cresswell, Tim. On the Move: Mobility in the Modern Western World. London: Routledge, 2006.

    In this recent book, Cresswell reviews contemporary geographical views of mobility. He emphasizes that mobility is a right and it plays an important role in people’s sense of belonging to different places.

  • Hagerstrand, Torsten. “What about People in Regional Science?” Papers of the Regional Science Association 24 (1970): 7–21.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1435-5597.1970.tb01464.x

    Hagerstrand draws attention to everyday activities and the ways that technology and society constrain them. This is a seminal article that lays out the foundations of contemporary approaches to commuting in time-space geography.

  • Hanson, Susan, and Genevieve Giuliano. The Geography of Urban Transportation. 3d ed. New York: Guilford, 2004.

    This is a comprehensive introduction to all aspects of urban transportation. Commuting is considered in several chapters on urban transportation that examine current travel patterns in cities, how planners model demand for transportation, and the social justice questions that result.

  • Knowles, Richard, Jon Shaw, and Iain Docherty. Transport Geographies: Mobilities, Flows and Spaces. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2008.

    This textbook situates geographical studies of commuting in a broad review of the field of transportation geography that ranges from discussion of the impact of transportation on economic development to future directions in transportation and transportation geographies.

  • Larsen, Jonas, John Urry, and Kay Axhausen. Mobilities, Networks, Geographies. London: Ashgate, 2006.

    The authors examine how and why people travel in an era of virtual communications. Their analysis highlights how mobility is required to establish and maintain many social networks.

  • Law, Robyn. “Beyond ‘Women and Transport’: Towards New Geographies of Gender and Daily Mobility.” Progress in Human Geography 23.4 (1999): 567–588.

    DOI: 10.1191/030913299666161864

    Law critiques the emphasis on the journey to work in geographical analyses of women’s travel. She advocates a broader conceptualization of daily mobility that highlights the abilities of men and women to travel for all of their daily needs, not just the trip to work.

  • Urry, John. “Mobility and Proximity.” Sociology 36.2 (2002): 255–274.

    DOI: 10.1177/0038038502036002002

    In this provocative discussion of the social necessity of travel, Urry argues that geographers have not paid much attention to the social bases of travel and the social inclusion and exclusion that results from differences in the capacity to travel.

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