For decades, transportation agencies in the United States have prioritized the movement of motor vehicles in planning and designing their transportation networks. Almost all performance standards have been with respect to vehicle mobility, with only free-flow vehicle traffic grading out well.
Last week, the United States Department of Transportation issued new standards to guide transportation agencies, signaling a shift in policy that no longer disincentivizes investments in public transit, walking and biking. Previous performance measures (and those proposed at the beginning of this revision) encouraged all roads to be treated as highways, propelled cities to try to spend themselves out of congestion, and induced greater sprawl as a result of the policy.
While there is no funding from the federal government at stake with these revisions, state and local departments will have to change the manner in which they assess their transportation networks and projects, providing new mechanisms for the general public to hold those bodies accountable. The revised standards will support investments in transit, walking, and biking through four key changes, as highlighted in this piece by Transportation For America:
- No longer will comparing rush hour speeds and delay to free-flow speeds and delay be a measure for these projects; this measure rewarded long commutes with no delay, rather than focusing on shorter commutes and less time spent traveling
- Person-hours of delay will be a new measure to look at how a corridor or facility behaves; previously, vehicle-hours of delay were the measurement, but this did not consider how many people were in those vehicles (via carpooling or transit) or how many people the corridor actually moved
- The change in carbon dioxide emissions from new vehicles will be measured to convey the potential effects on the surrounding environment as a result of these projects
- Lastly, projects will have to measure the number of people moving via any mode other than single-occupant vehicles, which will help projects in urbanized areas be treated appropriately to their context
Indirectly, these measures may also help prioritize safety by deemphasizing speed and delay, supporting moves in the transportation community to work to end preventable traffic-related deaths and serious injuries on our streets. Despite stereotypes, even cities in Texas are making this change.
We encourage you to contact us about your next traffic engineering project to see how we can help you to make it a great success.