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

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

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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

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The Millenial Generation and the Road Less Traveled

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The Millenial Generation and the Road Less Traveled

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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.

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Creating a Culture of Bicycle Transportation

cyclist in bike lane When I want to get from A to B by bike, I try to find routes where I can reach my destination most efficiently and comfortably. Living in Central Florida, which is mostly pancake-flat, I don’t have to worry about hills. I want a direct route that has minimal conflicts (with pedestrians, other bicyclists, debris, roadkill, what have you) and the ability to maintain a good pace. Off-road trails offer mobility, but they often lack access to destinations and feature hazards of their own, like dogs on long leashes or groups of slow-moving walkers. So I take the streets, often busy with commuters, delivery trucks and distracted drivers.

Creating a culture of on-street bicycle riding takes time and education, but it does not have to take a lot of money. Well-designed bicycle networks provide economic value for the same reason highways and rail lines do: they improve access and mobility. When integrated into a comprehensive bicycle and pedestrian plan, the two elements of access and mobility have the greatest power of improving the culture of bicycling as transportation, and defining a positive brand identity for a region, community or neighborhood, generating economic returns in several ways.

Street from cyclist's point of view

Different types of bicyclists clearly need different strategies to account for varying levels of experience and comfort. Destination-oriented cyclists benefit from a direct, well-defined routing plan that offers good flow and reduced conflicts. Most cities and urban areas have the basics for such a network already in place using existing streets. Lower speed streets (

Which Bike Facilities?

The knee-jerk response of many agencies is to add bike lanes or other expensive retrofits for separated on-street facilities. They are often poorly designed to reduce costs.

Even when properly designed, that approach results in a patchwork of roads with bike lanes and no real continuity of network for most communities.

What's needed is a coordinated strategy creating a lower cost shared network to make cycling more accepted and inviting. By using streets that best exhibit a few key traits, a plan for shared streets serves motorists and bicyclists equitably, offering both mobility and accessibility. Using shared lane pavement markings (“sharrows") and clear signage does not require right-of-way, offering a more cost-effective and publicly-accepted way of building a network providing mobility and accessibility, generating greater demand. It can have the added benefit of slowing down motorized traffic in appropriate locations, and there is evidence that bicyclists spend more money than auto drivers.

Six Key Considerations

bad bike lane

Selecting the right streets to place bicycling on a more equitable level as cars can have profound effects on personal mobility and economic development. There are six considerations to creating a preferential on-road network offering shared space for bicycle- and car-drivers:

  1. Continuous Traffic Flow. A network of well-spaced collector or minor arterial streets with few stop signs or signals that traverse a city or neighborhood is good for motorists as well as bicyclists. It serves as the backbone of a good bicycling community. A smooth asphalt, non-brick, surface is important. Too many stops at signs or signals disrupts the flow and introduces safety issues for cyclists. These are the bikeways or bike boulevards that link different parts of a community together east to west, north to south.
  2. A Connected Network. Cyclists don't mind riding 1/2 mile or so out of direction to traverse a network of streets offering good flow and fewer conflicts. Stitching this network of different types of streets with distinctive signage, pavement markings, banners and clear maps further reinforces the emphasis on primary routes where cyclists are invited and should be expected.
  3. Capacity Availability. Very experienced cyclists will ride in heavy traffic, but it's intimidating for others. There are many 2- and 4-lane roads operating well below capacity much of the day, making it easy for motorists to safely pass cyclists controlling the lane.
  4. Acceptable Speed Differential. As traffic speeds rise, the need for designated bike lanes or paths increases. Roads with operating speeds of 25 to 35 mph create a more comfortable environment for bicyclists averaging between 10-20 miles per hour without the need for physical separation. Shared lane markings and the presence of bicyclists using the lane can help keep traffic at the desired target speed.
  5. may use full lane signEducation. Many motorists don't get that sharing the road means one at a time, not riding side-by-side. Similarly, many cyclists do not follow the laws of the road. Using sharrows and adding signage reinforces a message that bicyclists belong and where they should ride in the lane. This must be augmented by educational messages and specific training for law enforcement, cyclists and motorists.
  6. Enforcement. Laws vary state to state, but roads with travel lanes less than 14' wide are not suitable for side-by-side sharing. Police play an important role in educational and enforcement efforts so that both car drivers and bicycle drivers operate safely and with respect for each other. It’s critical to get law enforcement on board for an on-street cycling strategy.

Taking those steps to build a citywide network one street at a time will prove effective at both attracting riders and sustaining economic vitality for a more mobile and accessible community.

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