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Abstract

The need for innovative regional transportation planning has grown as metropolitan areas consider the impact of congestion reduction efforts on induced demand, public health, and fossil fuel use and climate change. Although conventional practice among metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) is to simply expand roadway capacity to relieve congestion, many MPOs have also developed new solutions. This study qualitatively analyzes a national sample of 38 regional transportation plans to identify best practices among MPOs for increasing the capacity of regional transportation networks without inducing additional traffic or unnecessary emissions. It focuses on real-world examples of innova- tive practices such as the use of high-occupancy toll lanes on major free- ways, regulations and ordinances designed to improve the connectivity of minor streets, management of transit corridors, and the best locations for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.
Ewing, Proffitt 1
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IMPROVING DECISIONMAKING FOR 3
TRANSPORTATION CAPACITY EXPANSION: 4
A QUALITATIVE ANALYSIS OF BEST 5
PRACTICES FOR REGIONAL TRANSPORTATION 6
PLANS 7
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AUTHORS 10
Reid Ewing; University of Utah Department of City + Metropolitan Planning; 375 South 1530 11
East, Salt Lake City, UT 84112-0370; telephone: 801-581-8255; ewing@arch.utah.edu 12
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David Proffitt; University of Utah Department of City + Metropolitan Planning; 375 South 1530 14
East, Salt Lake City, UT 84112-0370; telephone: 801-581-8255; david.proffitt@utah.edu 15
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Submitted Nov. 13, 2015 18
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Word count: 7,165 20
Tables and figures: 1 21
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Ewing, Proffitt 2
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ABSTRACT 24
The need for innovative regional transportation planning has grown as metropolitan areas 25
consider the impact of congestion-reduction efforts on induced demand, public health, and fossil-26
fuel use and climate change. Though conventional practice among metropolitan planning 27
organizations (MPOs) is to simply expand roadway capacity to relieve congestion, many MPOs 28
have developed new solutions. This study qualitatively analyzes a national sample of 38 regional 29
transportation plans (RTPs) to identify best practices among MPOs for increasing the capacity of 30
regional transportation networks without inducing additional traffic or unnecessary emissions. It 31
focuses on real-world examples of innovative practices such as the use of high-occupancy toll 32
lanes on major freeways, regulations and ordinances designed to improve the connectivity of 33
minor streets, management of transit corridors, and the best locations for bicycle and pedestrian 34
infrastructure. 35
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Ewing, Proffitt 3
INTRODUCTION
Many states and regions address growing traffic congestion by increasing highway lane miles, to
little avail. Since 1982, the first year of data collection, each of the ninety metropolitan areas
assessed by the annual TTI Mobility Report show higher levels of congestion, despite trillions of
dollars in highway expansion. Even Houston, which temporarily reduced congestion for years
through a continuous program of highway construction, eventually succumbed to increasing
traffic (1).
Substantial evidence shows that roadway expansion, in all likelihood, encourages
vehicular traffic as travelers tend to converge on open road in a phenomenon known as “induced
demand” (2, 3). One study found that 50 percent of added capacity fills in five years, and up to
80 percent of added capacity fills over longer time periods (4).
As roads expand, so do vehicle miles traveled (VMT). Motorists tend to drive farther as
they are able to drive faster (5–8). They also drive more frequently, as discretionary trip making
increases (9–11). In addition to VMT, expanded roadways tend to attract additional auto-oriented
development, sometimes called induced development (12–14). Maintaining high level-of-service
standards thus leads to a spiraling cycle of auto-dependence, drastically reducing mobility for the
young, old, poor, and handicapped (15). While motorists may benefit from more travel, society
as a whole does not because the costs of auto travel are only partially borne by the traveler.
When other variables are considered, including traffic delays, highway maintenance, air
pollution, and parking costs, auto use is extraordinarily expensive. On average, each dollar
drivers spend on operating vehicles imposes about $2.55 in external social costs (16).
Nonetheless, most regions will continue to expand roadway capacity in one way or
another. The question we explore is, what are the best practices that will help agencies make
better decisions about capacity expansion projects in metropolitan areas? To answer this
question, we focus mainly on metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs), the regional-level
transportation policy and decision-making organizations made up of representatives of local
governments and transportation agencies that make decisions about metro-scale transportation
infrastructure. While state departments of transportation determine the location and need for state
highways, MPOs prioritize funding for most regional-scale projects. MPOs also can influence
state transportation plans. Focusing on MPOs also allows us to make meaningful comparisons
among long-range transportation plans (also referred to as regional transportation plans or
RTPs), planning documents with time horizons of at least 20 years that MPOs are required to
develop according to federal guidelines. These plans prioritize transportation projects that
cumulatively cannot exceed identified revenues.
For this study, we reviewed 38 RTPs for qualitative information about capacity-
expansion projects. We review the literature and report on MPOs’ conventional and best
practices for four different types of projects: major highways, minor streets, transit systems, and
bicycle/pedestrian infrastructure. We find that best practice for capacity expansion is not to
abandon the idea of expanding roadways entirely; rather it is to prioritize new transit projects and
bicycle/pedestrian infrastructure over additions to regional roadway networks. Where new
roadway capacity is deemed necessary, the most innovative MPOs seek to provide it using a
combination of high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes on freeways and connectivity improvements on
minor streets.
Ewing, Proffitt 4
STUDY APPROACH
Sample Selection
RTPs are usually hundreds of pages – and occasionally thousands of pages – in length, often in
multiple volumes with multiple appendices. For this reason, we sampled from the universe of
RTPs rather than reviewing all of them.
We chose plans to include in this analysis using a deliberative selection method that
maximized both geographic and built-environment diversity. We shaped this convenience
sample by seeking representation from all parts of the country, both for political and
methodological reasons. Mainly, we wanted to be sure our results could not be dismissed as
atypical or biased toward one set of conditions or solutions over others. For the same reason, our
sampling strategy sought representation from older, more compact regions as well as newer,
more sprawling regions.
While we sampled a wide range of urbanized areas, our sampling strategy favored large
MPOs over small ones because an initial review suggested that bigger metros face bigger
challenges, have more resources, and often arrive at more innovative solutions.
TABLE 1 ABOUT HERE.
Analytical approach
To identify best practices, we employed a straightforward qualitative content-analysis approach
that built on a review of the literature and a separate analysis of more than 100 RTPs. This wide
familiarity of planning practices allowed us to identify plans that exhibited innovative best
practices. These best practices were recorded, and many are used as examples in this study.
CONVENTIONAL & BEST PRACTICES
Major Highway Expansion
When it comes to addressing traffic congestion, many RTPs focus only on the conventional
solution: expanding highways and major arterials. To some degree MPOs are following
precedent or habit, and to some extent they are conforming to federal transportation-planning
guidelines. Current federal guidelines in the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act
(MAP-21) set goals for the national highway system – including congestion reduction and
system reliability – that all projects using federal funding must achieve (17). Larger MPOs also
must adopt a Congestion Management Process with which they monitor mobility within the
region, obtain timely information about transportation system performance, and make
recommendations to correct deficiencies. While the emphasis on congestion management may
tilt the planning process toward capacity expansion, emerging guidelines that emphasize social
and environmental factors may have just the opposite effect, pushing MPOs instead to minimize
highway-induced traffic and contain VMT. The Kansas City RTP, for example, has appendices
on environmental justice, air quality conformity, and metropolitan planning factors (18). The
fact that RTPs lavish time and attention on these regulatory topics indicates that federal
regulations can shift the emphasis of RTPs toward emerging goals of state or federal policy.
Future performance measures that continue to emphasize congestion reduction may reinforce
conventional practice.
Ewing, Proffitt 5
One way to potentially blunt the VMT-inducing effect of additional highway capacity
and roadway expansion is to combine highway expansion with user pricing and HOV treatments.
Travel-time savings and reliability improvements underlie the attractiveness of HOV facilities
for users. However, HOV facilities do not appear able to counter long-term growth in travel
demand. A more realistic expectation is that HOV lanes may help reduce growth in VMT and
increase potential carrying capacity by inducing higher vehicle occupancies (19). Urban areas
that successfully reduce VMT growth typically have a population of over 1.5 million, HOV
service to major employment centers with more than 100,000 jobs (such as a CBD), and
geographic barriers that concentrate development and constrict travel. Furthermore, there should
be realistic potential for transit using the facility with 25 or more buses in the peak hour (19).
The presence of traffic congestion also is an essential factor.
Conventional Practice
The conventional practice is to expand highway capacity through general-purpose lane additions.
However, such expansion induces additional traffic and urban sprawl. If pricing is applied, it
comes in the form of general tolls that do not vary by time of day or congestion level. If lanes
are reserved for high-occupancy vehicles, they are not tolled and do not generate revenues.
Best Practice
The emerging best practice is to favor managed facilities over general-purpose highway
expansion. Although commonly employed by airlines, utility companies and others, using price
to avoid peak-period overload is the exception in surface transportation policy. But high-
occupancy toll (HOT) lanes — which allow non-carpool drivers to pay a toll to access
underutilized carpool lanes — can provide travel options for carpools, express buses and toll
payers. They also allow for more efficient use of freeway capacity and generate revenues for
other highway and transit improvements.
Express lanes, or HOT lanes, have been in operation for more than a decade in Houston,
Los Angeles, and San Diego, and opened in Denver, Miami, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City, and
Seattle in the past five years (20–26).
Surveys show most travelers use express lanes to bypass congestion when they are late to
pick up a child at daycare, to squeeze more working hours out of a day, or to catch a plane. For
this reason, and because revenue from express lanes often supports transit service, express lanes
are widely supported by travelers at all income levels (27).
The San Francisco 2035 RTP establishes and funds the Bay Area Express Lane Network,
extending the express lane concept to a regional network of express lanes spanning 800 miles
(27). The San Francisco MPO estimates it will cost $7.6 billion to build, finance, and operate the
network over the next 25 years. With gross express lane toll revenues reaching $13.7 billion over
the same period, the remaining $6.1 billion in net revenue would be available to finance
additional improvements in the express lane corridors. To keep express lane traffic flowing, tolls
during congested periods will be comparatively high so only a small number of non-carpoolers.
Tolls will be much lower during periods of lighter traffic. Non-carpoolers using the express lanes
will pay their tolls through the FasTrak® system, which allows drivers to pay without forcing
slowing down or stopping (27).
San Diego also has plans for an extensive network of HOT lanes on more than 200 miles
of highway. Pricing will be used to cover selected connectors and a network of ramp meters in
the region (21).
Ewing, Proffitt 6
Other regions with less ambitious plans to institute or expand express lanes include
Atlanta, Denver, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, and Seattle (22, 24, 26, 28, 29).
Minor Street Expansion
The design of minor street networks has slipped through the cracks between engineering and
planning. Yet, a meta-analysis of more than 200 studies of the built environment and travel
showed that street design and network connectivity are primary determinants of VMT, walking,
and transit use (14). The elasticities found by Ewing and Cervero (14) suggest that a 10 percent
increase in intersection density is associated with a 12 percent reduction in VMT, a 39 percent
increase in walking, and a 23 percent increase in transit use.
Adequate public facilities requirements that coordinate land use and transportation with
respect to roadway capacity are one way for communities to influence the design of local street
networks. A review of regulations in 14 U.S. communities provides examples of requirements
aimed at three network characteristics: (1) block size, (2) degree of curvature, and (3) degree of
interconnectivity (30). With block length limits, land development codes control the spacing of
streets, thereby creating relatively predictable and evenly distributed networks of streets. While
much less common, the ratio of travel distance via the network to straight-line distance between
points is also sometimes used to affect block size, curvature, and connectivity. With
connectivity requirements, land development codes require a certain ratio of street segments to
street ends, thereby effectively limiting the number of cul-de-sacs and loop roads.
Conventional Practice
Conventional practice is to focus attention and funding on freeways and arterials. If they are
projected to operate below some acceptable level of service, then the RTP includes road
widening or operational improvements among the funded projects. Seattle’s RTP is typical of
this emphasis:
Roadway capacity expansion projects include over 1,500 new miles of highway
and regional arterial lanes to address the region’s worst choke points, complete
projects that have been started, and anticipate future problems (26).
The problem with this focus is twofold. First, it ignores the role played by lesser
roadways in the functional hierarchy – roads classified as minor arterials, collectors, or local
streets. Another problem is the incontrovertible fact that improvements to higher-level facilities
induce additional VMT. This is apparent from the literature generally (8, 12).
Best Practice
Minor arterials, collectors, and local streets can either relieve some of the pressure on arterials or
add to that pressure depending on how complete the network is. They also can make walking and
cycling either attractive or nearly impossible. A few RTPs acknowledge the importance of a
dense network of interconnected minor streets, including Cincinnati’s:
The curvilinear cul-de-sac street pattern typical of recent subdivision design in the
OKI region usually has very long blocks and many dead end streets. This pattern
offers few route options since all traffic is typically funneled out onto a small
number of arterial roads, which can cause congestion. ... Improving street
connectivity by providing parallel routes and cross connections, and a small
Ewing, Proffitt 7
number of closed end streets, can reduce traffic on arterial streets and reduce
travel time (31).
Few MPOs include funding for minor roads in their plans, budget resources for them, or
establish street connectivity guidelines. The Denver RTP is an exception:
While local streets are not depicted as part of the regional roadway system, they
are important for providing access to and through local developments and
neighborhoods. The costs to build and maintain local streets, including collectors
and minor arterials, are included in the 2035 MVRTP (22).
The City of Charlotte has established a connectivity policy that emphasizes a system of
streets providing multiple routes and connections between origins and destinations.
Connectivity is important because a highly connected street network can greatly
reduce trip lengths, thereby reducing vehicle miles travel which in turn results in
reduced emissions (33).
In one notable example of minor street regulation on a broad scale, the state of Virginia
maintains secondary street acceptance requirements. Virginia is one of a few states that manage
the maintenance and operation of local streets, providing an opportunity for direct influence on
street design.
Before the Virginia Department of Transportation will accept responsibility for
maintaining local streets, they must meet certain connectivity requirements. The connectivity
requirements aim to link adjacent developments and undeveloped parcels, thus improving the
overall capacity of the transportation network, reducing vehicle miles traveled, and improving
emergency response times. As a way of quantifying connectivity, the rules use a “connectivity
index” which takes the number of street segments and divides it by the number of intersections.
Index requirements vary with area type, with more connections required in compact areas than in
suburban or rural areas. However, all new developments must have multiple transportation
connections. Furthermore, compact and suburban area types must provide block layouts allowing
reasonably direct pedestrian connections through the development and to adjoining property.
Developers can choose not to tie into the provided connections per the new rule; however this
will result in the inability of the neighborhood to be accepted into the state system.
Transit Expansion
For many transit riders, transit is a choice. For these discretionary riders, transit comfort and
convenience improvements determine whether or not they will choose transit (3, 34). Pricing
can make transit a competitive mode, especially if the tripmaker can reduce trip costs by using
transit. In TCRP Report 95, Turnbull et al. (35) concluded that if the overall cost of the trip,
including transit fare and cost to get to the facility, is less than the cost of the trip using the
automobile only, demand tends to be higher.
Park-and-ride facilities make transit an easier decision for many commuters. Four travel
surveys from San Jose, San Francisco, Chicago, and Delaware showed that time and costs
associated with all components of the trip, including the availability of parking spaces at the
desired mode change location, are the primary incentives in choosing to take transit (36). In
Connecticut, the commuter rail line increased ridership by 0.74 to 0.77 people for every new
parking space added to its park-and-ride facilities, including 0.11 to 0.6 “new riders” presumed
to have switched to commuter rail as a result of parking improvements (35). A study of
Ewing, Proffitt 8
commuter rail in New Jersey found that non-resident parking restrictions at stations reduced
ridership (37). Heavy rail systems have some of the largest and most used park-and-ride
facilities. Demand is highest at stations in the suburbs with good highway access. Atlanta’s
MARTA offers 26,000 parking spaces with over 50 percent concentrated near the end of the line
(19).
Studies of bike accommodations at rail stations show similar results. Ewing (38) noted
that people will ride a bicycle 2-3 miles to a transit stop, eight times the typical walking distance,
which means a service area 64 times larger for bicyclists than pedestrians. Bike carriers on
transit vehicles also allow bicycles to be used for “last-mile” connections, something even the
automobile (in a park-and-ride mode) cannot match.
Aside from facility improvements, transit networks must be convenient, safe, and
reliable. Wait and transfer times are particularly important. An examination of over 50 work
purpose travel demand models from throughout the United States found each minute of transit
wait time was 2.12 times as important as each minute of in-vehicle travel time. Increasing transit
frequency reduces these wait times and makes transit a more attractive travel mode (39). Transit
reliability is rated by tripmakers as one of the most important factors for work trips. Evans (39)
cites attitudinal studies of commuters in Baltimore and Philadelphia that found “arrival at
intended time” to be the second most important travel attribute for work trips after “arrival
without accident.”
Providing information and promotional materials can inform citizens about their travel
options and the impacts of their choices. Promotions such as free or reduced fares entice
consumers with an extra incentive for riding transit. Turnbull & Pratt (40) examined seven mass
market promotions with incentives and found ridership increased during the promotional events
in all but one instance.
Perhaps the ultimate enhancement to transit accessibility is placing more residences and
activities within reasonable walking distances of transit stations and stops. This is the thrust of
transit-oriented development (TOD), which generally refers to higher density development
located around a major transit station or stop. A national survey conducted for Smart Growth
America and the National Association of Realtors found that 56 percent of respondents
expressed a preference for communities with a mix of denser housing, sidewalks, shopping and
schools within walking distance, commutes of less than 45 minutes, and nearby public
transportation (41). Hedonic studies of housing prices back up these findings. Houses in
neighborhoods with improved internal connectivity, pedestrian access to commercial
destinations, better transit access, and less external connectivity command a price premium (42,
43).
Conventional Practice
Conventional practice is to fund highways heavily and transit lightly, then lament the fact that
travelers seem to prefer the automobile. Consider the following passages from the Kansas City
RTP.
Kansas City’s system of roadways is among the most extensive in the nation.
Recently, new statistics made available from the Federal Highway Administration
confirm that Kansas City continues to possess the most freeway miles per person
of all urbanized areas with populations greater than 500,000 (p. 2-12).
It should be noted that the sharp drop in the KCATA’s [transit] ridership during
the early 1980s is in part due to the significant reduction in service implemented
Ewing, Proffitt 9
at that time. … Ridership has decreased slightly since 2001, mostly due to a
reduction in scheduled service miles resulting from decreased funding support (p.
10-9).
It is a self-fulfilling prophecy that transit cannot compete with the automobile if transit
service is cut and freeways are expanded. Only 1.3 percent of commute trips in Kansas City are
by transit, one of the lowest shares for a large urbanized area in the U.S (18).
Best Practice
The best practice gives transit investments a higher priority than highway investments because
transit investments can ease traffic congestion without inducing additional VMT and the social
costs that accompany it (GHG emissions, for example). The Texas Transportation Institute
estimates that in the Boston region, annual person-hour delay on roadways is 54 percent lower
than what it would be without public transportation (44). TTI has performed similar
calculations, with similar results, for other large regions.
Because it represents a win-win for congestion and VMT, some MPOs shift more funding
to transit than its relatively low mode share might suggest. In San Francisco,
Almost two-thirds of plan expenditures are spent on public transit … in an effort
to reduce vehicle miles traveled, congestion on Bay Area freeways, and
greenhouse gas and particulate matter emissions (27).
In Boston, the MPO voted to “flex” $208 million in highway funding for transit projects
(44). This means the MPO is spending approximately two dollars on transit projects for every
three dollars on highway projects.
Even in Los Angeles, with its autocentric culture, more is now being spent on transit than
on highways.
Beginning in the 1980s, a major shift occurred away from building roadways and
into transit projects and services. Between 2000 and 2005, regional transit use
increased by more than 16 percent, and in 2005, our region reached the highest
ridership per capita in about 20 years (29).
These RTPs illustrate two other principles of the transit oriented planning. First, a full
range of transit service types should be provided, including the newest addition to the transit
family, bus rapid transit (BRT). Second, land use changes that encourage TOD should be
planned for transit station areas in order to boost transit productivity.
On the range of services provided, Denver, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Portland, Salt Lake
City, and others now have it all (22, 24, 25, 45). Take Salt Lake City. Its plan calls for extending
the region’s commuter rail line by 22 miles, expanding the streetcar and light-rail network by 32
miles, and adding nine new BRT lines (25). In smaller urbanized areas, “having it all” may mean
something different. In Tucson, for example, the RTP proposes new BRT and streetcar services,
and possibly commuter rail at some point, but no light rail (46).
On the promotion of transit-oriented development around stations, many previously
autocentric cities have followed the lead of Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and Portland.
Charlotte’s 2025 Integrated Transit/Land Use Plan redirects development from auto-oriented
wedges to transit-served corridors. When completed, the network will serve four times as many
transit riders as the present system and will include 14 miles of BRT, 21 miles of LRT, 16 miles
Ewing, Proffitt 10
of streetcar, 25 miles of commuter rail, and an extended network of bus service. Over the next 30
years, growth is expected to intensify centers, corridors, and transit station areas (33).
Bicycle and Pedestrian Improvements
The presence of bicycle facilities has consistently correlated with higher rates of cycling (47–54).
In a study of 42 cities, Dill and Carr (49) found that every additional mile of bicycle paths and
lanes correlated with a 1 percent increase in bicycle ridership when controlling for factors such
as weather and spending on infrastructure.
In terms of facility type, there is a clear preference for shared-use bicycle paths and
separated bicycle lanes, also called cycle-tracks, over riding in lanes shared with auto traffic.
People will bicycle out of their way in order to use dedicated paths and lanes (55–59). In a large
study of 92 cities, Buehler and Pucher (50) controlled for a variety of demographic, weather and
built environment characteristics and found that a 10 percent increase in the supply of dedicated
bike lanes is associated with a 3.1 percent increase in the level of bicycle commuting, while a 10
percent increase in the supply of separated bicycle paths is associated with a 2.5 percent increase
in the level of bicycle commuting.
The design of the built environment also affects the use of bicycle infrastructure. In a
study of 3,280 utilitarian bicycle and car trips in metropolitan Vancouver, Canada, cycling trips
were positively associated with less hilliness; higher intersection density; less highways and
arterials; presence of bicycle signage, traffic calming, and cyclist-activated traffic lights; more
neighborhood commercial, educational, and industrial land uses; greater land use mix; and higher
population density (60). Additionally, Handy and Xing identified high monthly parking costs, the
social environment of the workplace and a residential preference for a good environment for
cycling, a measure of self selection, as positively impacting bicycling travel behaviors (61).
According to research by the Portland Bureau of Transportation and subsequent research
by the Initiative for Bicycle and Pedestrian Innovation, existing and potential bicyclists can be
categorized into a few distinct categories. Approximately 1 percent of the population is strong
and fearless when bicycling, 7 percent is enthused and confident regarding bicycling, 60 percent
is “interested but concerned” regarding cycling, and 33 percent will never bicycle regularly (62,
63). These categories provide some guidance for targeting investments to encourage bicycling.
According to this model, places that have achieved bicycle mode shares over 30 percent have
started to successfully accommodate this “interested but concerned” demographic.
Regarding design standards, cities are pioneering new guidelines that emphasize
separation and protection of bicycles in an effort to encourage the interested but concerned
demographic. The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), a coalition
of transportation professionals from major cities throughout the U.S., has released two editions
of a manual that incorporates separated facilities such as cycle tracks, bicycle-priority designs
such as bicycle boulevards, and traditional bicycle lane designs (65). In contrast to the new
standards adopted by major US cities, the latest national-level guidance, the AASHTO Guide for
the Planning, Design and Operation of Bicycle Facilities, focuses solely on conventional bike
lane designs adjacent to automobile traffic (66).
Conventional Practice
The conventional practice is to treat bicycle and pedestrian travel as somewhat incidental to the
regional transportation system. “While many of the denser parts of the region have
comprehensive sidewalk networks, the more rural and recently developed suburban areas have
Ewing, Proffitt 11
been designed primarily for the automobile, as pedestrian facilities such as sidewalks and
crosswalks are not consistently included in roadway projects.” (67).
In most regions, bicycle and pedestrian travel is not forecast along with auto and transit
travel. Most regions do not have “complete streets” policies to guarantee that new roadways
accommodate bicycle and pedestrian users, nor do they plan for closing gaps in the existing
bicycle and pedestrian networks.
Best Practice
One best practice with respect to bicycle and pedestrian travel is to adopt ambitious mode share
targets. The Seattle MPO has set a goal of 20 percent of all trips by biking and walking by 2030
(26). The current mode share is 5 percent.
Another best practice is to adopt a complete streets policy so all new roadways
accommodate bicyclists and pedestrians. Some MPOs, like New York’s, have no formal policy
but rely on state and local governments to pursue complete streets:
The region is at the forefront of designing and operating transportation
infrastructure that supports all types of travel. NYMTC members continue to
develop what have been called “complete streets,” streets that are open and safe
for all users. Benefits include improved access to the transit system, which
encourages higher transit ridership and discourages auto use (69).
Other MPOs, like St. Louis’s, try to cajole constituent governments into providing
complete streets:
In 2006, the Council launched the Great Streets Initiative to expand the way
communities think of transportation. Rather than viewing a roadway project as
solely a way to move more cars and trucks faster, the goal of the St. Louis Great
Streets Initiative is to trigger economic and social benefits by centering
communities around interesting, lively and attractive streets that serve all modes
of transportation (70).
Going a step further, the Sacramento MPO, in coordination with the local Complete
Streets Coalition, has developed a Complete Streets Resource Toolkit. The toolkit is part of
SACOG's complete streets technical assistance program. The toolkit includes fact sheets, case
studies, presentations, and photo simulations that put resources at the fingertips of any advocate,
community member, planner, or engineer.
A third best practice involves the retrofitting of existing streets with sidewalks and bike
lanes. Sidewalks are currently provided on only 70 percent of arterial roads within the Denver
urbanized area. An additional 500 linear miles are needed to complete the system (22). Even the
Portland region has major gaps in its pedestrian network. In 2001, the region had 1,230 miles of
potential pedestrian facilities in transit/mixed use corridors and pedestrian districts. However,
only 821 miles of those 1,230 potential miles had sidewalks, for a pedestrian system that was
only 66 percent complete (45).
In this regard, the best practice is to develop bicycle and pedestrian master plans for
completing these networks and to fully fund these plans. For instance, each New York City sub-
area has developed its own pedestrian and bicycle plans to guide future investments in non-
motorized transportation (69). The Reno MPO has a Regional Bikeways Plan that will place bike
lanes on nearly all roadways in the central area. The RTP anticipates that 80 percent of the plan
will be completed by 2020 and that 100 percent will be completed by 2040 (71).
Ewing, Proffitt 12
However, among regions earmarking funds for bicycle and pedestrian facilities, none
spends as much on those facilities as the mode share would seem to justify. In Sacramento, for
instance, 3.36 percent of total funds ($2.4 billion in escalated costs) are earmarked for exclusive
bicycle and pedestrian improvements, including bicycle trails, sidewalks, ADA retrofits, and
supporting facilities. In addition, 25 percent of the road capital projects have a bicycle or
pedestrian feature that is not included in the $1.4 billion total (32). That is one of the highest
percentages among featured RTPs, but it is still far less than the bike-ped mode share.
A fourth best practice is to forecast bicycle and pedestrian travel as available mode
choices, accounting for mode shifts as facilities are improved and land use patterns become more
compact. The common failure to even acknowledge the possibility of nonmotorized trips puts
these modes at a competitive disadvantage vis-à-vis motorized modes when it comes to funding
decisions.
CONCLUSIONS
A wealth of research over the past few decades has linked roadway capacity expansions
to increasing levels of VMT. An even larger body of research shows that more time spent behind
the wheel has deleterious effects on the health, economic well-being, and the environment of
people and the places they call home. But this does not mean that MPOs should never pursue
capacity expansion projects. Most Americans still depend on automobiles to get them where they
need to be, a situation that is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future. While it is clear that
MPOs can no longer simply follow the predict and provide model of adding new freeway and
arterial lanes whenever traffic projections show congestion increasing, the direction they should
go is less obvious.
The 35 RTPs analyzed for this study offer some answers to this question. Many U.S.
MPOs are employing innovative approaches to transportation capacity expansion that minimize
the threat of induced demand and the negative outcomes associated with high rates of VMT.
When it comes to highway expansions, the emerging best practice is to add HOT lanes
rather than general-purpose lanes. These facilities not only temper demand and VMT growth by
encouraging carpooling and off-peak travel, they bring in valuable revenue in the form of tolls
from single-occupant vehicles. Many MPOs have used these revenues to expand their network of
HOT lanes or plug budget holes for transit and other programs. Similarly, minor roadways can
play a role in improving regional transportation if new projects focus on improving connections
between key origins and destinations for all modes. This includes “complete streets” that
encourage walking, biking, and transit.
Many plans frame transit improvements as capacity expansions if they are designed to
attract riders who otherwise would drive. Best practices for planning transit involve setting
ambitious mode-share targets and funding frequent, reliable, high-quality service. Marketing
programs and incentives can also increase transit ridership significantly, especially in regions
that experience regular road congestion during peak commute times. Improving bicycling and
pedestrian infrastructure can also draw people out of their cars. Increasing the network of bike
lanes, especially protected bikeways, and sidewalks are the best strategies here, so best practices
are simply planning for and funding these expansions.
A range of factors influence how – and whether – MPOs adopt best practices. Federal
planning guidelines, such as MAP-21’s national highway system performance goals that
emphasize congestion reduction and system reliability, systematically bias MPOs toward
capacity expansion. Updated rules and guidelines that emphasize emissions reduction and
Ewing, Proffitt 13
encouraging active transportation as well could balance the scales. Congressional action on a
new transportation bill to replace MAP-21 will bear watching.
Future research also should look more in-depth at the MPOs that have adopted innovative
best practices and how they managed to move beyond an exclusive focus on roadway expansion.
Do non-structural programs such as marketing or other incentives, for instance, affect demand
for highway and roadway expansion? Answering these questions would require an approach that
goes beyond an analysis of RTPs and is therefore beyond the scope of the current study.
However, by identifying innovative practices, the current work provides a foundation for
exploring these important questions.
Ewing, Proffitt 14
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Ewing, Proffitt 20
TABLE 1 MPOs and Urbanized Areas Included in The Study
Urbanized Area
Metropolitan Planning Organization
1
Atlanta, GA
Atlanta Regional Commission
2
Austin, TX
Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization
3
Baltimore, MD
Baltimore Regional Transportation Board
4
Boise, ID
Community Planning Association of Southwest Idaho
5
Boston, MA
Boston Region Metropolitan Planning Organization
6
Burlington, VT
Chittenden County Metropolitan Planning Organization
7
Charlotte, NC
Mecklenburg-Union Metropolitan Planning Organization
8
Charlottesville, VA
Charlottesville Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization
9
Chattanooga, TN
Chattanooga Transportation Planning Organization
10
Chicago, IL
Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning
11
Cincinnati, OH
OKI Regional Council of Governments
12
Colorado Springs, CO
Pike's Peak Area Council of Governments
13
Columbus, OH
Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission
14
Dallas-Ft. Worth, TX
North Central Texas Council of Governments
15
Dayton, OH
Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission
16
Denver, CO
Denver Regional Council of Governments
17
Des Moines, IA
Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization
18
Durham, NC
Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro Metropolitan Planning Organization
19
Eugene, OR
Central Lane Metropolitan Planning Organization
20
Honolulu, HI
Oahu Metropolitan Planning Organization
21
Indianapolis, IN
Indianapolis Metropolitan Planning Organization
22
Kansas City, MO
Mid-America Regional Council
23
Lansing, MI
Tri-County Regional Planning Commission
24
Los Angeles, CA
Southern California Association of Governments
25
Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN
Metropolitan Council
26
New York, NY
New York Metropolitan Transportation Council
27
Philadelphia, PA
Delaware Valley Regional Planning Council
28
Portland, OR
Portland Metro Regional Government
29
Raleigh, NC
Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization
30
Reno, NV
Regional Transportation Commission
31
Sacramento, CA
Sacramento Area Council of Governments
32
Salt Lake City, UT
Wasatch Front Regional Council
33
San Diego, CA
San Diego Association of Governments
34
San Francisco, CA
Metropolitan Transportation Commission
35
Seattle, WA
Puget Sound Regional Council
36
St. Louis, MO
East-West Gateway Council of Governments
37
Tallahassee, FL
Capital Region Transportation Planning Agency
38
Tucson, AZ
Pima Association of Governments
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