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Naomi Stein

Naomi Stein is a Planning and Policy Analyst at EDR Group, where she researches the economic development implications of transportation projects, programs, and policies.  She has specific expertise in transportation and land use planning, market access, high-speed rail, and urban design. She is particularly interested in assessing and quantifying the role transportation plays in providing access to opportunities distributed within geographic space.  Her work at EDR Group includes transportation, economic, and policy analysis of a wide variety of passenger and freight transportation issues.

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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On the affirmative obligation to address past discrimination: When it's time to reconstruct infrastructure, can we address exclusionary design that was put in place 50-60 years ago? How does what we know now about the need for connectivity change how we might choose to reinvest in or update our infrastructure in the future?

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Transportation of the future - imagine...

A round-up of excellent questions from a day at TRB:

How does law enforcement pull over a platoon of trucks with connected vehicle technologies?

Is the transportation workforce changing fast enough to meet our needs?

If people are the most important asset in any system, what should social sustainability mean in our understanding of economic development?

What does globalization mean for rural economies and how does connectivity play into that?

This and other interesting questions coming to a DOT near you...

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This morning I attended the Freight Transportation Planning and Logistics Committee meeting. Their committee awards a best paper award each year and this year's topic was the Value of Reliability. Xia Jin of Florida International University presented results from a state preference survey of freight system users. The research was conducted in collaboration with Florida DOT.

There has been increasing attention paid to the importance of reliability for both passenger and freight transportation. However, we don't always have enough real-world data to support more quantitative analysis. This research demonstrated the importance of differentiating both commodities and freight user types when seeking to understand freight behavior. For example, the data show that perishable products have higher values of time and values of reliability than do non-perishable products. Additionally, carriers and shippers (with and without their own transportation) show markedly different sensitivities towards travel time savings and reliability improvements.

Other lessons learned on the pragmatic side of research design from this project: when seeking to connect to industry, it really helps to collaborate with industry associations. Also, make sure your research questions make sense from a practitioners perspective! The paper authors worked closely with freight system users to come up with easy ways of describing reliability. For example: your shipment will arrive on time 3 out of 5 times, with a possible delay of 2-4 hours.

While the research world can be intriguing, and the "geekiness" can certainly be a bit of fun at times, TRB is a great place to remember and consider our committment to making sure technology is successfully transfered between worlds, with learning on both sides.

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For many of us, this year's TRB kicked off in a primarily social vein, at the Exhibit Hall opening and reception. Sunday has workshops but is also the grace period when we all take a moment to find familiar faces, make introductions, maybe sample a few appetizers.

Some facts about this year's TRB:

  • As of Friday, January 6th 13,722 people had registered for the annual meeting. This is 5% over last year's record attendance at the same point in time.
  • 5,900 papers were reviewed
  • There are 800+ workshops and sessions (another record)

Looking forward to diving in!

 

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It's that time of year again: the hubbub and organized chaos of the Transportation Research Board conference. Last year I had the pleasure of sharing my experiences here on the EDR Group blog and I'm hoping you'll join me again for the ride. I always marvel at the sheer volume of programming at the TRB annual meeting and this year is no exception (see above if you'e curious what the logistics looks like for us here at EDR Group). As always I'm looking forward to reconnecting with old classmates and past/current/future collaborators at other firms and agencies.

This year I will be wearing one new hat at TRB. In addition to attending the Transportation and Economic Development (ADD10) committee meeting as a member, I have the honor of attending my first in-person meeting as a section represenative for the TRB Young Members Council - Planning and Environment Group. YMC exists to encourage and facilitate participation by young professionals in the TRB community.

In the spirit of that, here are my tips for anyone new to TRB:

  • Young people: don’t be afraid of committee meetings. They want you there, I promise!
  • Make plans for at least one meal away from the convention hall. It helps to pace yourself.
  • Business cards are great. But write down notes on the back of them or you’ll never remember that interesting person you met.
  • Can’t scribble down everything you want from that slide or poster? Take a picture.

See you in DC!

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Every four years, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) grades the condition of U.S. infrastructure on a scale of A through F. Since 1998, America’s infrastructure has earned persistent D averages. Underinvestment is a much-studied topic. EDR Group’s recent report on this issue to ASCE "Failure to Act: Closing the Infrastructure Investment Gap for America’s Economic Future” found that the most significant investment gap across all types of infrastructure is in the transportation sector, where $1 trillion in additional investment is needed over the next ten years.

 Blog_graphic.jpgThe U.S. funds federal spending on highway and transit projects through a variety of user fees that pay into the Highway Trust Fund (HTF). Fuel taxes contribute the largest share of revenues by far. In FY 2014 they constituted 87% of the HTF’s tax revenues. However, over the past 10 years spending from the HTF began exceeding revenues, a condition forecast to worsen over time (see figure at left, source: Congressional Budget Office). Increased fuel efficiency of gas-powered vehicles and popularity of alternative fuel vehicles is key driver of this trend—one that also affects state transportation funds due to their significant reliance on state fuel taxes.

Starting in 2008, Congress addressed the HTF funding problem by transferring money from elsewhere, primarily the General Fund of the U.S. Treasury. The most recent surface transportation authorization bill, the FAST Act, continued this approach, with 25% of trust fund deposits over a five-year period to come from general tax revenue rather than broad-based user fees.

What’s going on at the federal level with the Highway Trust Fund is just one piece of a much broader conversation about how to fund transportation investments and an increasingly focused legislative, political, and research exploration of creative or alternative financing mechanisms.

The November 2016 elections saw residents in a nearly half of all U.S. states voting on a large range of transportation ballot measures and initiatives with over $250 billion at stake, according to the Eno Center of Transportation. Some passed, some did not, but all grappled with the question: who should pay for transportation infrastructure and services and how can revenue generation mechanisms be structured to support sustained long-term investment in a manner that is both efficient and fair?

EDR Group is currently involved in a number of federal and state efforts that address these questions.

In one project, EDR Group is part of a team funded by the National Cooperative Highway Research Program to develop guidance on the Use of Value Capture to Fund Transportation. Value capture (sometimes referred to as value sharing) is the idea that governments may be able to share some of the commercial value created by the access provided by public infrastructure investment, and use this “captured value” to help finance transportation system investments. The project considers a variety of mechanisms including development impact fees; land value-based fees; betterment levies and special assessment fees. The research will help State DOTs assess whether value is indeed being created by transportation investments and then assess a range of value capture mechanisms based on their efficiency, equity, revenue potential, and sustainability. Key questions being answered are: how can value created by public infrastructure investments be shared; what are the legal means and practical methods for sharing value; who benefits and who pays when value capture is implemented, and how has value capture been implemented in the past. A guidebook for policymakers illustrated with case studies and real-world examples will be produced by this project.

In another project, EDR Group is working with the RUC West, a consortium of 14 western states investigation the feasibility of implementing a Road User Charge (RUC) funding system. There are several on-going projects being sponsored by RUC West, including pilot studies, to assess the financial impacts of moving from a fuel-based tax to a mileage-based fee system. EDR Group assessed “revenue neutral” mileage-based road user fees that would be required to replace current gas tax revenues. A key equity concern for the Western states is whether there would be disproportionate impacts on rural drivers due to the greater distances involved in their daily travel. EDR Group’s analysis showed that due to the combination of travel characteristics, mileage driven, and current vehicle fuel consumption characteristics, rural drivers would actually pay less in terms of total dollars spent each year under a mileage-based fee system than with the current fuel-based tax system.

Going forward, innovative finance will continue to be a key issue in the transportation world. But as we fundamentally change the ways that we pay for our transportation investments, questions about the fairness, sustainability and the ability of these new mechanisms to meet our future investment requirements will need to be addressed. Economic principles and methods can provide the insight required to help make these changes. And fostering communications between policymakers and the public will be essential to gain the acceptance needed to make changes in how we fund transportation infrastructure investments in the future.

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Today is my last day at the conference and while it wasn't so jam-packed as the others, it might have been my favorite.

This morning I and a client from the MPO in Colorado Springs (PPACG), Craig Casper, presented our poster on the sensitivity of project rankings to underlying land use and growth assumption.

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While standing in front of a poster for 2 hours has the potential to be a little dull, this time around I actually benefited from a remarkable window into the MPO planning world. Not only did I get to learn more about the multicriteria ranking process used by PPACG (to which our TREDIS analysis provided just one input), I also got to watch members from agencies across the country share and discuss best practices for planning and project evaluation.

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MPOs, like many public sector agencies, grapple with conflicting demands from many different constituents and oversight entities. They also struggle, like the rest of us, with the reality of uncertain future conditions and the limitations of technical forecasting methods. But rather than throw our hands up in the air, we work ever so incrementally towards better information--from both models and public input processes--and ultimately towards better and more transparent decisions.

Not such a bad thought to leave with.

Until next year!

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If you get enough biases, you might get a mosaic of an approximate reality

On the challenges of reported economic impacts (Transportation and Economic Development Committee meeting)

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This afternoon I attended Session 343 on the Role of Transit in Creating a More Equitable Society. Each presentation focused in one way or another on assessing the adequate provision of transit service from a spatial and socioeconomic perspective, as well as the role of transit and automobiles in facilitating access to jobs, services, health care, groceries, day care, and education.

What struck me about the session--and in particular the discussion afterwards--is that we're getting to the point as a community of practitioners where data and analytical capabilities are no longer the barriers to implementation they once were. And so now we have the chance to really talk about which measures are most instructive--to researchers, policy makers, the public--as opposed to which are most simply possible.

Do we want aggregate indicators that take into account the needs of many different population groups? Or do we want individual analyses reproduced over and over again for small scale market segments of the population, with each telling a more specific but more compelling story? Do we want to try to match individuals to their specific needs (e.g. low wage health workers to low-wage healthcare jobs), or should we opt for more generalized but also easier to understand aggregate measures (e.g. total job accessibility from residential areas)?

One presentation even surprised me with a new twist on some very basic concepts. We all know the burden of transportation comes from actual out-of-pocket costs and from time costs. Nevertheless, most accessibility analyses are pivoted off of travel times, alone. Researchers from McGill (Presentation 16-3715) demonstrated how simply adding fare cost to travel time information can yield a considerably different picture of job accessibility:

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A, on the left: job accessibility using a "1 hourly wage" threshold (a combination of fare costs and monetized travel time, using minimum wage hourly rates); B, on the right: simple 1 hr travel time thresholds. (Montreal).

 

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Presentation on the effect of on-time performance on ridership and revenue (Mark Feldman, Session 233):

The meaning of on-time performance depends on who you ask. Amtrak defines on-time performance using a minutes late threshold that varies by length of the route. But if you're a traveler, 20 minutes late may be a huge deal, or not matter much at all-- it all depends on the purpose and length of your trip, and the flexibility of your plans.

This is a challenge more broadly: internal agency performance measures do not always map to the aspects of performance that driver user behavior and ultimately the broader effects on society and the economy. Both sides of the coin are critical to our ability to prioritize improvements.
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"Transformation Technologies" is one of the the three "hot topics" designated by TRB for this Annual Meeting, so it's only appropriate that my first session of the conference gave me a crash course introduction to GTFS data and all the cool things people are doing to leverage information published in this format. If you're wondering what a crash course looks like with a bunch of very excited data geeks all interacting with data and documentation in real-time, here's a screen shot from today:

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GTFS is the de-facto standard for transit service information--first defined by google when Portland's TriMet asked: why isn't online trip planning as easy for transit as it is for driving? At current count there are 1000+ public feeds on 6 continents. Wide adoption of the specification allows anyone interested in looking at, analyzing, or mapping transit service information to all communicate in the same language.

Fundamentally, GTFS is a set of (deceptively simple) tables, organized to relate to one another using unique identifiers. Together, a GTFS data set describes transit service in terms of: the geographic distribution of stops (using lat/long coordinates), the routes/trips offered by a given agency, and the schedules and frequency of those services. In diagrammatic form it looks something like this:

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At EDR Group I've been spending a fair amount of my time lately using spatial data and other "join-able" data sources (demographics, economic activity, census journey-to-work patterns, freight flows, etc.) to understand the geography of access provided various transportation systems. GTFS is one cool ingredient in this wider world of merging many information sources into one single spatial framework.

After all-- the whole point of transportation is to give people and businesses access to opportunities.

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Ready to learn.

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Washington National Airport: built, like much of Boston, where once there was only water. Hello DC!

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My bags are packed—well, not quite. But it's busy here at the office getting ready for the annual pilgrimage down to DC where everyone in the transportation world gets to mingle with thousands of their closest friends. With approximately 11,500 attendees at last count, TRB really does have the feel of a (very large) family reunion.

Tune in for the next few days and I'll take you through my own personal experience of the conference. Right now it's all about ensuring that our posters and exhibit materials make it down in one piece. And of course, don't forget a few business cards! One of the best things about TRB is meeting other people with common interests and invaluable experience.

My short list of things to look forward to:

More soon!

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