Sunday, November 1, 2015

Using Transportation Performance Measures to Shape Your City

Posts have become quite infrequent here, but with good reason.  I began an internship in the planning field three months before graduating from the University of Washington with my Master of Sustainable Transportation degree.  As such, I've relocated to Washington, DC and was recently promoted to a full-time position.  The following is some placemaking perspective I've gained while researching performance measures for local streets and roads.

As I've begun to attend professional conferences in the past year and a half (CNU22 in Buffalo, the CNU Transportation Summit in New York, and CanU7 in Ottawa), I've noticed many long-time members remarking on the vastly increased focus on transportation topics.  The self-evident link between transportation and land use - How does one design a neighborhood without considering how its inhabitants will move within it or between neighborhoods? - is being properly recognized, and with it the compartmentalization of disciplines continues to diminish.  The following paragraphs serve as an overview of how one might construct a performance measure set for the basic corridor unit, the local street, which reinforces spatial and placemaking goals.

Development of the New

While the concept of a performance measure is certainly nothing new, packaging of measures and a focus on sustainability achieved prominence from 1994 to 2006 through the evolution of the LEED program at the building level.  Since then similar project-based scoring and certification systems have been developed on the transportation side, most notably Greenroads.

Greenroads is a sustainability rating system for roadway design and construction.  It can be applied to a variety of transportation projects including new roads and the reconstruction of and/or rehabilitation of old roads and bridges.  A collection of sustainability best practices, called “credits,” aggregate into a final project score which indicates overall sustainability of the roadway.  The goal of the system is to create an inclusive single metric for considering overall roadway sustainability that is quantitative and enables informed design and construction decisions.

While the system criteria normally combine to form an overall project score, the individual measures found in the Greenroads Scorecard can be disaggregated and applied to goals stated in municipal vision plans.  For example, aspects of roadway design and implementation such as runoff control and habitat conservation can relate to environmental goals.  The table below contains additional pertinent examples.

Measure Sub-Measure Use Justification
Environment & Water Rating Habitat Conservation Shows a commitment on the part of the local government to environmental sensitivity and establishes sustainability as a transportation network priority.
Vegetation Quality
Soil Management
Runoff Flow Control
On-site Water Treatment
Materials & Design Rating Recycled Content Clients have cited implementation cost savings associated with decreased life-cycle costs of both raw material and design for durability.
Local Material Content
Long-life Design
Access & Livability Rating Multimodal Connectivity Adds more dimension to street design. Aggregates factors affecting all people that cannot be isolated from transit or vehicle counts.
Active Transportation Inclusion
Noise Reduction

Evolution of the Classics

Classic performance measures are evolving as well to capture the impact of Complete Streets or similar initiatives.  Take the example of the Transportation Master Plan for the City of Ottawa.  Quite possibly my favorite transportation plan, and one that I've cited in both academic and professional work, the Ottawa TMP dedicates an entire chapter to the provision of safe and efficient roads.  In addition to the adoption of a complete streets policy and an updating of design standards, the plan uses multimodal level of service (MMLOS) indicators a means to assess road design and allocate right of way with a broader goal of moving people.  This represents a fundamental shift in focus in a discipline still known today as traffic engineering.  Metrics that have guided road design decisions for decades have focused only on moving vehicles through the roadway network as quickly and efficiently as possible.  MMLOS broadens the focus to all modes, to understand how design choices impact the journey quality of each user – pedestrian, cyclist, transit rider, motorist, or truck driver.

As with the Greenroads ratings, MMLOS measures can be considered umbrella metrics, pieced together from simpler sub-measures.  Adding to the old standbys of motor vehicle delay and capacity ratios, pedestrian delay, cyclist travel stress, and transit travel time ratios are now taken into account.  These measures prove their usefulness in shaping the urban form during review processes as development applicants are required to submit transportation impact assessments and provide funding for mitigation.

Packaging Priority

There are other groups of metrics pertaining to local streets and roads.  Roadway safety comes to mind, using collision and citation data to identify trouble areas and prioritize safety initiatives.  There are no doubt many others.  When choosing performance measures to bundle into a comprehensive set, some priority identification is necessary.  This is made easier by clearly defined goals stated upfront in jurisdictional transportation plans.  It should be simple to attach a performance measure proposed for inclusion to one or more expressed objectives.

Further Applicability

Beyond consistency with the aims of a given transportation plan, performance measures occupy a place at the heart of what many consider to be the future of transportation financing; local option taxes.  Regardless of the form of the taxation (sales, fuel, property, etc.), taxes approved by voters via referendum for a specific use generally come with strict strings attached.  For example, in Alameda County, California, Measure B, a half-cent transportation sales tax, was approved by voters in 2000 (subsequently renewed and increased via Measure BB in 2014) to serve major countywide transportation needs.  Beyond project regulations, applying agencies must meet specific criteria including the adoption of a Complete Streets policy.  Taking this accountability a step further, annual compliance reports must be prepared by all recipient agencies.  Noting that local option funding could be the topic of a lengthy article in and of itself, it seems rather obvious that appropriate performance measure bundles are a critical tool for proponents of such legislation not only to realize an initial implementation, but to ensure the future of such a program through retention of the public trust.


In the past few months I have come to a much greater appreciation of transportation performance measures for local streets and roads.  The sheer number of them and the flexibility of their application has increased to a level where their use can be more advantageous than onerous, especially when seeking funding sources.  Finally, the new generation of measures intuitively connect to the overarching goal of the sustainable planning profession, enriching the places we live while providing for their future.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Focus for a More Sustainable Long-Range Transportation Plan

The following post will be cross-posted to the Reconnect Rochester blog at a later date.

We are often asked at Reconnect Rochester questions regarding who is responsible for prioritizing transportation projects in our region and the process through which that is accomplished.  The answer leads back to the 1962 National Highway Act which required all urbanized areas of greater than 50,000 population to form a Metropolitan Planning Organization, or MPO, for the channeling of federal funding to both individual projects and transportation programs.

One of the most important duties of an MPO is to develop and periodically maintain a Long-Range Transportation Plan (LRTP) at a minimum 20 year planning horizon.  This document sets the agenda for the region's transportation investments while adhering to fiscal realities.  In Rochester, as you read this, work is being performed on the 2040 edition of the Genesee Transportation Council's LRTP.  GTC has been a strong partner of Reconnect Rochester and has made us a part of their community input process for this document.

It is also important to understand that transportation planning is evolving.  No longer a one-dimensional endeavor, transportation planning must address the needs of all citizens.  Sustainable transportation planning and sustainable transportation plans are frameworks for action which consider environmental, economic, and social issues to create a healthier and more prosperous region for all.

We at Reconnect would like to see our regional LRTP become influenced to the greatest extent possible by the principles of sustainable transportation planning.  As such, we've prepared a list of plan elements that we feel should not only be included in any regional transportation plan, but also refined and made into points of emphasis.

  • In quantifying the regional mode share, treatment of the peak period which includes trip pattern elements such as 'suburbs to core' and 'rural to suburbs' should be included.  Data following on this which assumes the status quo and is forecasted out to 2040 would be instructive with the ultimate intention of establishing mode share targets for pedestrianism, bicycling, transit, carpooling, and single occupancy vehicles.  These targets would inform all initiatives to follow and can be as incremental or aggressive as desired.
  • A supportive built environment for sustainable transportation planning should be a significant plank in the regional planning platform.  Planning for a 9-county area carries significant challenges in this regard, but there is high value in ensuring that all long-range initiatives and proposed projects are compatible with local comprehensive plans.  This would signal an intention to have a system of checks on development with respect to facility provision, parking supply, and density, ensuring that any new development works with the overarching goals, instead of in opposition.
  • The treatment roads in a transportation plan focused on sustainability is not a simple task.  It is important to continue to promote safety, enable efficient good movement, and address maintenance responsibilities on automobile facilities, though the wording and scope of this commitment cannot run counter to other identified needs such as adding new or increasing the frequency of public transportation.
  • The roadway safety discussion should be reframed.  Rather than engineering for driver error at high speed, the emphasis should be on traffic calming wherever possible via complete streets measures.  This would have the side benefit of enabling and/or reinforcing the use of multimodal level-of-service measures to assess roadway design, putting the focus on moving people and goods, not vehicle counts.  On the freight side, it is important to define a diffuse trucking network which avoids over concentration and over burden on non-characteristic facilities.
  • On the topic of transforming transit, a rapid transit and transit priority (RTTP) network in the region should be defined.  Going beyond public transportation priority and signalization efforts, enhancement of existing transit should be expedited by the identification of current frequent peak period corridors followed by assignment and prioritization of new transit projects.
  • To further development and density goals, the RTTP previously described must be integrated into the community.  Transit should not be promoted in isolation, but together with walking and cycling opportunities on the identified transit corridors.  It is necessary to signal a commitment to maintenance of bicycle and pedestrian networks, especially winter maintenance.  Beyond ridership, congestion mitigation, or operating costs, the opportunity for land use intensification is a new indicator of success for transit implementation.  The provision of all three active transportation elements creates a strong foundation for true transit oriented development, and not just transit adjacent development where the inhabitants maintain their old habits.
  • Finally, in order to promote sustainable mobility choices, promotion and education must be part of the package.  Transportation demand management strategies should have many tools/incentives at their disposal to impact mode share and trip reduction.  Monetary and non-monetary incentives, cyclist awareness campaigns for motorists, student educational initiatives, special events, employer partnerships, provision of parking for sustainable modes of travel, and municipal or regional motor vehicle parking pricing strategies are just some of the possible ways to encourage a constituency behavioral change.
To summarize, these measures are mainly about steering policy priorities back toward a balanced transportation system that has been missing in American culture since the end of the second World War.  In the current regional arrangement, more sustainable behavior which was once a matter of course has become difficult if not impossible.  By looking at the regional transportation network as one system, and creating a sustainable transportation framework, we can add momentum to initiatives in other domains, all working toward more vibrant communities and a more sustainable future.

It is not too late to make your voice heard on Rochester's 2040 LRTP.  The GTC has launched a 2nd round of surveying meant to gain a better understanding of preferred transportation alternatives.  This is a strong opportunity for the public to help shape future regional transportation policy.