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Outcomes and Outputs

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Outcomes and Outputs


vlad1I took the above photo of a disconnected crosswalk in Hampton, Virginia a couple of years ago.  The photo nicely demonstrates the difference between outputs and outcomes, showing a crosswalk that ends up a few feet to the left of the new depressed curb that was built.  To be fair, perhaps the crosswalk marking program hadn’t yet caught up with the depressed curb construction program and they will one day connect.  Notice, however, that the pedestrian who is actually crossing doesn’t trust either the curb depression or the crosswalk but is striking out on his own. How does this demonstrate outputs versus outcomes?  An output is simply a quantity of goods or services produced by an individual, a business or an agency.  An output measure in this case could be defined as the number of crosswalks marked or the number of curbs depressed to meet ADA standards.  Let’s say a transportation agency had a performance measure of the number of new crosswalks installed in a given year.  This would be an example of an output measures.  An outcome, on the other hand, is the ultimate goal or purpose towards which we strive.  If this same transportation agency had instead a performance measure of the reduction in pedestrian accidents at intersections, then this would be an example of an outcome measure.  It would measure progress toward an ultimate goal such as pedestrian safety, but it wouldn’t measure anything that is actually produced by the agency.

A Matter of Control

In the realm of performance based planning and programming (PBPP) the key difference between output and outcome measures can become confused.  The main functional difference in this context is that outputs are within the realm of control of the agency, whereas outcomes are beyond the full control of the agency.  The classic example is in the case of safety.  If safety is the goal of the agency, then some of the outputs that the agency may control to meet that goal might be things like the number of road miles repaired or the number of crosswalks added.  However, there are other factors that influence safety that are not totally within the control of the agency.  To name a few, driver attention, skill or weather conditions are totally outside the control of a transportation agency and yet they influence overall safety.  Therefore, measures such as the number of car accidents or pedestrian injuries are really outcome measures since they include factors that are beyond the agency’s control, whereas measures such as roads repaired or crosswalks installed are output measures since they are wholly within the control of the agency.  The chart below illustrates some examples of output versus outcome measures for transportation:

vlad2In God we trust, all others bring data (W. Edward Deming)

The world of transportation planning nowadays is positively drenched in performance measurement.  With the passage of MAP 21, USDOT will now be establishing a set of performance measures for implementation by states and MPOs in the spring of 2014, and we can all anticipate greater prominence of performance measurement in funding and policy decisions.  In transportation planning, confusion among output and outcome measures can result in a lack of connection between policies and their desired results.  As some have pointed out, this confusion can often be complex and hard to sift through.  For example, should TOD be expressed as an output measure (increase in square footage of development around transit) or an outcome measure (greater economic vitality as a result of transit expansion)?  In either case, an awareness of the key difference between outputs and outcomes will help planners avoid obvious pitfalls.  We can at least learn to distinguish between measuring an output such as the number of crosswalks as something we can control, versus measuring an outcome such as overall safety as something we can only influence but not fully control.

–Vlad Gavrilovic, Cities That Work Blog

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Performance Anxiety – The Growing Impact of Performance Measures on Transportation Planning


Performance Anxiety – The Growing Impact of Performance Measures on Transportation Planning


Performance measures have been used in transportation planning for a long time. In the 1950s, when we were primarily concerned with building our system of interstates, performance was measured in simple terms such as the number of miles of road built each year. As transportation planning has become more complex, we now need to measure not only the expansion of our highway network but of other modal networks, their maintenance and operations, safety records and the management of congestion, and increasingly issues such as accessibility and livability. Our current resource-strapped age is looking more and more at performance measures to ensure wiser use of limited funds and a good return on transportation investments. The transportation planning profession is encountering performance measures and performance-based planning in several ways. Planners will feel the increased impact of performance management at the federal, state and regional/local levels.

MAP-21 – Holding ourselves accountable

The new federal transportation law, known as MAP-21, mandates a performance-driven, outcome-based transportation planning process that has significant implications for the transportation planning process.  In essence, MAP-21 reflects new fiscal constraints at the federal and state levels and responds to them with a demand for a more competitive, performance-based process for project selection and funding. In addition, MAP-21 gradually, but clearly, raises the bar for regional and local accountability.

To succeed, entities at any level of government must develop a stronger case for transportation projects and tell a more effective story about their value and benefits toward meeting desired regional outcomes and national goals.   Renaissance Vice President Whit Blanton echoed this viewpoint and how the new MAP-21 legislation has the power to promote meaningful planning in communities and cities in the January issue of APA's Planning Magazine.  An excellent summary for transportation professionals and officials alike of the ins and outs of the MAP-21 legislation is available in an easy to read handbook from Transportation 4 America entitled “Making the Most of Map-21.”

Map-21 could lead to a greater integration over time among performance measures at the federal, state and regional/local levels

Performance Measures at the State Level

Performance measurement is nothing new at the level of state DOTs. Many states already measure their transportation networks through annual “report cards”, “dashboards” or other user-friendly rating systems. Only rarely are these measures related to specific targets or measurable goals, however. Under MAP-21, states will soon be required to adopt targets and measure how the transportation systems perform relative to those targets over time, with the expectation that future funding formulas may someday be linked to how effectively they are reaching these targets.

Two well established systems of statewide performance measurement are in Florida and Virginia. In Florida, over a decade of refinement has led to the development of the Florida Mobility Measures System. Under the system, mobility performance measures are used to characterize the success of the system in terms of four dimensions. Further, the DOT recently released its first MAP-21 Performance Report providing summaries on performance for safety, system performance, roadways, bridges, freight, transit, and air quality.

In Virginia, the latest edition of the Statewide Performance Report features a new interface and rating system that is tied to the statewide transportation vision and seven core goals: The Scorecard uses “consumer report-style” filled in circles to show current performance, a graph of the previous year trends, and – most importantly – an arrow to show the direction of the desired trend. This report is available at: . Both Florida and Virginia show a move towards both broadening the range of measures used and to tying measures more closely to broad goals and policies.

Performance Measures in MPOs and Localities

MAP-21 will also move MPOs to work in partnership with states to agree upon performance measures that align with national goals, statewide measures and system performance measures, and define performance targets to achieve desired outcomes for a region. In particular, the development of Long Range Transportation Plans will require greater alignment to MAP-21 by establishing specific goals, measures and targets for the development of a regional multimodal transportation network. Larger MPOs already do many of these things. For smaller MPOs, the move towards greater accountability in transportation investments and their documentation through performance measurement will undoubtedly be harder.

Finally, local governments – cities towns and counties – although not directly tied to new MAP-21 mandates, will likely feel the impact of performance based planning in the way they do transportation planning in the future. In Florida, for example, localities had already been accustomed to documenting traffic congestion through concurrency requirements.

If local governments move closer to performance-based planning, the impetus will likely come from any of three sources; from their MPOs and Long Range Transportation Plans using performance metrics, from state legislation requiring local accountability for transportation investments (as in Florida), or even from local citizens themselves, calling for greater transparency and accountability in the return on investment of public funds.

Conclusion: Two Ways of Looking at it

We can look at performance measures in two ways – extrinsically or intrinsically. If we see them extrinsically, as something imposed on us top-down by new laws and rules, we risk missing their real significance. Ultimately, we should see the recent thrust for performance measurement as something intrinsic – as coming from society itself, and from our own intrinsic desire to hold ourselves more accountable in the future. If we fail to see MAP-21 and its intergovernmental counterparts as part of a wider public sentiment to make transportation programs more accountable, we risk losing the public support that allowed those programs to be funded in the first place.

--Vlad Gavrilovic Cities That Work Blog

A version of this blog will be published as an article by the APA. The article is co-authored by Vlad Gavrilovic and Karen Kiselewski


The Millenial Generation and the Road Less Traveled


The Millenial Generation and the Road Less Traveled


Commuters at Vienna, VA Metro stationThe Annual Meeting of the Transportation Research Board in Washington, DC brings together about 12,000 folks from around the world to share their diverse experiences with a wide variety of flu strains. Sharing also occurred through some 800 technical sessions, countless committee meetings, and 2,300 technical papers on everything from Accelerated Pavement Testing to Young Drivers. The meeting is a great opportunity to gain insight on societal and technological trends, and how they intersect with land use and transportation planning practices.

Talking ‘ Bout My Trip Generation

Will Drive for Food logoFor instance, everyone knows that today’s kids don’t drive their father’s Oldsmobiles, right? Or better yet, common knowledge suggests, they don’t drive much at all; the desire to cruise replaced instead by social media and fueled by greater environmental consciousness. Actually, it turns out that today’s kids share the same travel tendencies as their counterparts two decades ago.

Brian Taylor and Kelcie Ralph of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs presented their research on the last three editions of the Nationwide Personal Transportation Survey (NPTS) in 1990, 2001, and 2009. They found that folks under the age of 26 are driving less than the same cohort did in 2001, but at about the same rate as young folks did in 1990. The difference? It’s the economy; with the recessionary effects felt strongest at the lowest end of the age spectrum. For instance, in 2001 the employment rate among 16-year olds was 40%; by 2008 it was below 20%. This not only reduces the amount of travel to get to and from those vanishing jobs, but also the amount of discretionary travel to spend that disappearing discretionary income.

Have iPad, Will Travel

TV spots Chevron baby carriagesThe current thinking is also that societal changes might dampen travel by young people, due to more boomerang kids living with their parents, tighter drivers licensing requirements in many states, and the ability to connect virtually and digitally rather than F2F. But Taylor and Ralph also found that in all three years, the boomerang kids actually travel more than their peers who are living on their own (so yes, you actually can go home again, but perhaps you won’t want to hang out with the people there…). Similarly, those who are plugged in to the web on a daily basis travel 20% to 30% more than those who aren’t as wired, suggesting that social media is a complement to, rather than a substitute for, travel (anyone remember the concept of the paperless office?). And interesting enough, stricter licensing requirements aren’t reducing PMT among young people; it appears they’re perhaps just being chaufferred by their parents rather than by their peers.

Where Do We Go From Here?

So we know that folks of all ages are traveling less (total US vehicle miles of travel has fallen about 3% from its 2008 peak), and we’re fairly confident that the economy has played a key role in that decline. But what does the future hold? One argument would suggest that the combination of a recovering economy and aging generation of Millenials will lead to a rebound in PMT and VMT. A counter-argument would suggest that perhaps the Millenials, having acclimated to a lower-travel lifestyle during the Great Recession, will retain that behavior, assisted by supportive lower-carbon government policies and housing market products, even as their means for travel increases. The MAP-21 emphasis on performance-based planning will help us monitor, and even guide, these megatrends.