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

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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: 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...
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It's Time For Transportation Planning to Account for Economic Uncertainty

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Changes in the administration, debates in Washington, and  ongoing developments in technology, climate change and infrastructure costs make it harder than ever to undertake meaningful transportation plans, corridor studies and prioritize public investments.   Choosing between different mixes of long-term transportation infrastructure investments for such an uncertain future is a bit like trying to walk ashore in a rising tide. As soon as you find your path, it disappears!  The cost of over-build on an asset or transportation system can have life cycle costs that jeopardize an agency’s ability to respond to new challenges. However the societal costs of under-build in terms of safety, congestion and environmental loss can be even more taxing. It is time for transportation planners and engineers to consider the implications of different economic trajectories when assessing future traffic volumes and investment needs.  What if energy prices (including motor fuel) rise at triple the price currently anticipated? What if foreign trade...
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Quantifying Uncertainty in Real World Decision-Making: Making Smarter More Grounded Choices

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It is the often untold story of project evaluations: We can never be fully certain about the results. Whether it is about the selection of the best alternative for a project or about setting priorities among different projects, the results depend to a considerable extent on assumptions we make. Assumptions are embedded in our analytical choices and results : what are the appropriate weights for each factor in a multicriteria analysis? How about the discount rate in a BCA? How accurate are the data sources we rely on? Do we truly know how much a project will cost or the level of future demand? To be unaware of uncertainties in evaluation results means missing important pieces of information that can help support smart decision-making . Tackling this challenge, Mark Sieber, Chandler Duncan and Naomi Stein of EDR Group presented a poster at the TRB Annual Meeting in D.C., whose purpose...
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To Rebuild or Not to Rebuild: Infrastructure and Environmental Justice

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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The Value of Reliability

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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...
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The calm before the storm

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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...
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Welcome to TRB 2017

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Innovative Infrastructure Finance

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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.  The 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...
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Urbanization vs. Sprawl: New Findings for a Swiss Study

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  The Swiss Federal Offices for Spatial Development, Roads, Transportation, the Environment and Energy jointly released the new Transport Outlook 2040. Ernst Basler + Partner ( www.ebp.ch ), based in Zurich and an affiliate of EDR Group, worked on this project in collaboration with two other companies. The firm performed the passenger transportation forecast and for the modelling of impacts. The report offers intriguing findings that may be of interest for transportation and land use planners in the US and worldwide. One finding concerns the decoupling of population, economic and transport growth. Switzerland has a fast growing population and a strong economy. Already the retrospective analysis at the beginning of the project showed that these are the two principal forces for a growing transportation demand. Thus, the kilometers travelled will continue to increase substantially (+25% between 2010 and 2040), but less than the population (+28%) and the economy (+46%). A saturation...
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Securing Grant Funding for your Rural or Freight Project

To secure funding for projects through the federal TIGER or FASTLANE grant programs, it is critical to demonstrate not only a great project in terms of benefit-cost ratio, but also why the project has economic consequences. Successful TIGER grants for highway or bridge projects have tended to go to applicants who can show community or regional benefits. The new FASTLANE grant program seeks applications that can demonstrate national freight significance and visible economic outcomes. Rural and freight projects can easily be overlooked if the sources of benefits are not understood to go beyond the regular travel time, reliability and mileage savings. In rural areas, where traffic volumes are often low – a strong accessibility and livability case can be essential to a strong application. In 2014 EDR Group performed the Benefit-Cost analysis for the largest TIGER award given that year – the Kentucky Mountain Parkway Extension. Access to state parks,...
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Until next year

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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. 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. MPOs, like many public sector agencies, grapple with conflicting demands from many different constituents and oversight entities....
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If you get enough biases, you might get a mosaic of an approximate reality

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Can you get there from here?

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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...
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Booth time!

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How late is too late?

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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This is real-time learning

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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: 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...
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GTFS

Ready to learn.
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