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Economic Development Research Group Blog

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Beyond the Usual Suspects: Looking Past Typical Measures Used in Prioritization and Performance Measurement

We all know some variation of the saying, what you measure is what you get. At EDR Group, we work with States and regions to help choose the right things to measure – whether for performance management over time or to support project evaluation and prioritization – and to understand how those choices affect long-term policy implementation.

Two EDR Group efforts, one recent and one ongoing, address this directly:

  1. Freight Accessibility Measurement. Naomi Stein and Glen Weisbrod presented a poster titled Freight Accessibility and Economic Development, Case Studies in Practical Measurement at this year’s TRB annual meeting. Walter Hansen famously defined accessibility as the potential of opportunities for interaction.” The poster focuses on different approaches to measuring freight accessibility, using readily available information, and argues that freight accessibility is an important performance measure and indicator of economic development and growth potential. Examples of common metrics include the number of employees within a one-day truck delivery market (approximately 3-hrs one direction) and travel time to the closest intermodal rail terminal. These measures capture how well a business can access customers, suppliers, and the broader long-distance freight network. An important conclusion of the research is that while traditional measures like travel time or level of congestion on a network link can help you understand the sources of accessibility constraints, accessibility metrics are necessary to truly understand how those problems affect the scope of economic opportunity available to businesses that rely on the freight network. Using accessibility metrics, you can start to compare the competitiveness of different locations, or forecast how accessibility might change over time, all with an eye towards economic viability.
  1. Prioritization Methods for Low-Volume Roads. EDR Group is currently working on a synthesis of practice for NCHRP on Investment Prioritization Methods for Low Volume Roads. This research was sponsored by AASHTO to address the problems faced by low volume roads in the transportation planning and funding process. Traditional approaches to measuring the importance of an investment tend to focus on volume, or on other measures like travel time savings or vehicle-miles saved that also scale with volume. For low-volume roads this creates a disadvantage and also leaves out some of the wider social and economic objectives of these facilities, including maintaining access to markets, labor, health care, and education. The synthesis project will collect information on how States address this challenge, particularly with respect to processes, procedures, and examples that integrate economic, social, and environmental metrics into the decision-making process.

EDR Group’s work fits within a national conversation as well. Just recently, USDOT modified its rules regarding measurement of delay to reflect person hours rather than vehicle hours, in an effort to make sure that all users of the transportation system are counted. Going forward, as states and regions develop greater and greater capacity for data collection, performance measurement, benchmarking, and forecasting, it will be critical to ensure that our measures truly reflect our goals and values.

                       

Naomi Stein at TRB 2017 presenting on Freight Accessibility.


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