Tag Archives: center for transportation studies

Access Across America: University of Minnesota ranks accessibility to jobs by transit

New research from the Accessibility Observatory at the University of Minnesota ranks 46 of the 50 largest (by population) metropolitan areas in the United States for accessibility to jobs by transit.

The new rankings, part of the Access Across America study begun last year, focus on accessibility, a measure that examines both land use and transportation systems. Accessibility measures how many destinations, such as jobs, can be reached in a given time.

“This project provides the most detailed evaluation to date of access to jobs by transit,” says Andrew Owen, director of the Observatory. “We directly compare the transit accessibility performance of America’s largest metropolitan areas.”

The findings have a range of uses and implications. State departments of transportation, metropolitan planning organizations, and transit agencies can apply the evaluations to performance goals related to congestion, reliability, and sustainability. In addition, detailed accessibility evaluation can help in selecting between project alternatives and prioritizing investments.

“It can help reveal how the costs and benefits of transportation investments are distributed,” Owen says.

Top 10 metro areas: job accessibility by transit (January 2014)

  1. New York
  2. San Francisco
  3. Los Angeles
  4. Washington
  5. Chicago
  6. Boston
  7. Philadelphia
  8. Seattle
  9. Denver
  10. San Jose

The report—Access Across America: Transit 2014—presents detailed accessibility values for each of the 46 metropolitan areas, as well as detailed block-level color maps that illustrate the spatial patterns of accessibility within each area. In addition, time-lapse map videos for each area are forthcoming and new analysis of the data from the accessibility to jobs by transit rankings will be published periodically. Upcoming reports in the Access Across America series will explore more detailed aspects of transit accessibility to jobs, including accessibility to jobs of different wage levels and a comparison with accessibility by car.

In the study, rankings were determined by a weighted average of accessibility, giving a higher weight to closer jobs. Jobs reachable within 10 minutes were weighted most heavily; jobs were given decreasing weight as travel time increases up to 60 minutes. Travel times were calculated using full transit schedules for the 7:00 to 9:00 a.m. period. The calculations include all components of a transit journey, including “last mile” access and egress walking segments and transfers.

“Accessibility is the single most important measure in explaining the effectiveness of the urban transportation system,” says David Levinson, University of Minnesota civil engineering professor and principal investigator on the project.

According to Owen, accessibility can be measured for various transportation modes, to different types of destinations, and at different times of day. “There are a variety of ways to define accessibility,” Owen explains, “but the number of destinations reachable within a given travel time is the most directly comparable across cities.”

The research is sponsored by the Center for Transportation Studies at the University of Minnesota. Accessibility Observatory reports, including the analysis of job accessibility by auto published last year and interactive maps, are available on the Access Across America: Transit 2014 web page.

CTS Transportation Research Conference Wrap-Up (Photo Gallery)

The 25th Annual CTS Transportation Research Conference successfully concluded earlier today, wrapping up a two-day whirlwind of more than two-dozen sessions showcasing a wide range of transportation research results and innovations.

Presentations and materials from the conference, including video of the keynote speakers, will be made available on the CTS website in coming weeks. In the meantime, here are a few photos from the conference.

Center for Transportation Studies Director Laurie McGinnis
Center for Transportation Studies Director Laurie McGinnis welcomes attendees to the 25th Annual CTS Transportation Research Conference in St. Paul, Minnesota, on May 21, 2014.
MnDOT Chief of Staff Eric Davis
MnDOT Chief of Staff Eric Davis: “Research is vital to our program. It’s vital to our success as a department.”
Joe Casola, staff scientist and program director for the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions
Joe Casola, staff scientist and program director for the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, gives the keynote address on Wednesday. Casola said transportation officials should begin incorporating the projected impacts of climate change, including more frequent extreme weather events, into their planning.
MnROAD Operations Engineer Ben Worel
On Wednesday, MnROAD Operations Engineer Ben Worel moderated a session, “Building the Future on a Solid Foundation,” focused on geotechnical research.
MnDOT Research Services & Library Director Linda Taylor and MnDOT Planning and Data Analysis Director Mark Nelson
From left: MnDOT Research Services & Library Director Linda Taylor and MnDOT Planning and Data Analysis Director Mark Nelson answer questions at a session on transportation pooled-fund research projects.
Jill Hentges, community outreach coordinator for Metro Transit
Jill Hentges, community outreach coordinator for Metro Transit, displays a tool used to help teach the public how planners optimize bus routes during a Thursday session on public engagement. Angie Bersaw, a transportation planner for Bolton & Menk, Inc., looks on.
Bruce Hasbargen, Beltrami County engineer and Local Road Research Board chairman
Bruce Hasbargen, Beltrami County engineer and Local Road Research Board chairman, answers a question at a Wednesday session on local agencies and stakeholder engagement.

Bicycle and pedestrian-counting project wins CTS partnership award

(Feature image courtesy Michael McCarthy, Center for Transportation Studies.)

Earlier this year, we wrote about the Minnesota Bicycle and Pedestrian Counting Initiative, a project that developed guidelines and protocols to help transportation planners accurately count non-motorized traffic. This groundbreaking research involved a diverse partnership of state and local officials, University of Minnesota faculty, and private and nonprofit organizations.

On Wednesday, April 23, the project team (photo above) was honored with an award from the Center for Transportation Studies. Team members accepted the CTS Research Partnership Award in a ceremony at the McNamara Alumni Center in Minneapolis. The award is given each year to projects that have resulted in “significant impacts on transportation” and that draw on “the strengths of their diverse partnerships” to achieve their results.

The video below, produced by CTS, explains the importance of the project. MnDOT is now in the process of implementing the research results by installing permanent counters and using portable counters in select locations around the state. MnDOT plans to use the information for a variety of purposes, including planning, safety analysis, investment planning and quality-of-life analysis.

Project team members will present their research findings at the North American Travel Monitoring Exposition and Conference in July. The conference’s focus is on “Improving Traffic Data Collection, Analysis, and Use.”

*Bonus: Read about last year’s Research Partnership Award-winner, a MnDOT-led, multi-state effort to reduce low-temperature cracking in asphalt pavements.

Learn more about the project:

Bicycle and pedestrian research roundup

Judging by the response we get whenever we post anything bicycle- or pedestrian-related on MnDOT’s social media channels, people seem to be hungry for research into this area. We recently had several new reports arrive on the topic, and I thought I’d share them here for those who missed them, along with links to any related webinars or news articles.

The Minnesota Bicycle and Pedestrian Counting Initiative: Methodologies for Non-motorized Traffic Monitoring

This study examined ways of counting non-motorized traffic (bicycles and pedestrians), with the goal of helping planners and engineers better incorporate these modes into our transportation systems. The report discusses the pros and cons of various counting methodologies (i.e. manual field observation, active and passive infrared systems, magnetic loop detectors, etc.) and looks at how Minnesota agencies are using them. The project also included a webinar, workshops and a coordinated statewide pilot count in dozens of communities around the state.

Best Practices Synthesis and Guidance in At-Grade Trail-Crossing Treatments

At-grade trail crossings have frequently been the sites of bicycle, pedestrian and snowmobile crashes in Minnesota and throughout the nation. The goal of this document is to synthesize best practices observed statewide and nationally in order to provide engineers and other transportation professionals with guidance on safety treatment applications at trail crossings.

Minnesota’s Best Practices for Pedestrian/Bicycle Safety

This Local Road Research Board-funded guide is designed to be used as a resource to assist local agencies in their efforts to more safely accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists on their systems of roads and highways. It discusses the relative merits of a wide range of strategies to reduce crashes involving bicycles and pedestrians.

Complete Streets Implementation Resource Guide for Minnesota Local Agencies

In this project, investigators developed a guide to help local agencies implement Complete Streets programs, including sample policy language from agencies in Minnesota, systems for classifying roadways that are appropriate for use in context-sensitive planning and a worksheet to help develop specific project plans.

Bike, Bus, and Beyond: Extending Cyclopath to Enable Multi-Modal Routing

Researchers incorporated multimodal routing into the Cyclopath bicycle route-finding tool to allow users to find routes that combine biking and transit for journeys where biking alone is impractical. Increasing the percentage of trips made by methods other than cars is a MnDOT priority, and providing route information can help to make alternative transportation options more viable.

Minnesota hosts annual meetings of transportation librarians

Last month, the Center for Transportation Studies and the MnDOT Library hosted the joint annual meetings of the Transportation Library Connectivity & Development Pooled Fund Study TPF-5(237), the Midwest Transportation Knowledge Network (MTKN), and the Western Transportation Knowledge Network (WTKN). Librarians from fourteen state DOTs, several universities, the Portland Cement Association, and the National Transportation Library met on the University of Minnesota campus and at MnDOT’s Central Office building, with some members attending portions of the meetings remotely.

Photo of a group of librarians in the MnDOT Library
MnDOT Librarian Qin Tang leading a tour of the library. Photo by Nick Busse

The packed agendas included:

  • Business and committee meetings
  • A presentation on bridge inspection by David Hedeen, P.E., from MnDOT’s Bridge Office
  • A copyright workshop led by Nancy Sims of the University of Minnesota Libraries
  • Tours of the MnDOT Library and the Minitex Document Delivery area and MLAC (Minnesota Library Access Center) Cavern at the University of Minnesota

“Each individual library cannot collect everything. Filling these gaps from our partner libraries is one of the benefits of transportation libraries networking. Our customers and ultimately our agencies benefit from this relationship-building.” – Sheila Hatchell, MnDOT Library Director

About Transportation Knowledge Networks

Transportation knowledge networks (TKNs) are organized groups of transportation libraries and others that collaborate to share their information resources and improve information access. There are currently three regional TKNs in the United States. The ultimate goal of sharing resources and working together cooperatively is to help transportation practitioners find information they need, when they need it—saving time and money, and getting better results for their organizations. The MTKN’s DOT State Stats is one example of a collaborative tool developed by TKN members.

Emerging topics

A few topics emerged as common themes for members:

  1. How to value library services: Sheila Hatchell from the MnDOT Library shared her recent experiences with developing a valuation methodology. The Library Connectivity Pooled Fund study is considering a proposal for multiple libraries to conduct valuation studies. Last year, the Library Connectivity and Development Pooled Fund Study developed Proving Your Library’s Value: A Toolkit for Transportation Librarians (PDF), led by members A.J. Million (formerly of Missouri DOT), Sheila Hatchell, and Roberto Sarmiento (head of the Northwestern University Transportation Library). This is a terrific resource for all libraries to use in developing their own valuation studies.
  2. Data curation: The ubiquity of data, large size of data sets, and stronger requirements for data management plans for federal research grants mean that skills in data management and curation are more important than ever. Librarians can help researchers understand and comply with open data requirements as well as help our organizations manage data. Leighton Christiansen of Iowa DOT will take the lead to assist TKN members in this area.
  3. TKN planning: The National Transportation Library and the AASHTO RAC TKN Task Force are working with the regional TKNs and the Library Connectivity and Development Pooled Fund Study to develop a national transportation knowledge network. (See the business plan for TKNs: NCHRP Report 643: Implementing Transportation Knowledge Networks)

Introducing new CTS blog: Conversations

CTS Conversations blog iconCTS is pleased to announce a new blog—CTS Conversations—that will highlight the full spectrum of transportation research, education, and outreach at the University. Supplementing the Catalyst newsletter and the Crossroads blog, the Conversations blog will share timely updates on research publications, events, and training from CTS and its programs.

Also, the blog will feature topical questions to spark conversation and interaction with our readers. Check out the current question and join the conversation!

What happens when you incentivize transit use during construction projects

In 2010, MnDOT began a three-year long, $67 million repair and upgrade project on I-35 in Duluth. Dubbed the “Mega Project,” it created a serious disruption for Duluth-area commuters. To help mitigate the impact, the Duluth Transit Authority stepped up its bus services, offering free rides in newly established bus-only express lanes as well as access to new park-and-ride lots and various other enticements. Perhaps not surprisingly, many area residents took advantage of their new transit options to avoid construction-related travel delays. But what’s really interesting is what happened after the construction ended.

As described in a recently published MnDOT/University of Minnesota study, commuters who started taking the bus to avoid traffic caused by the construction ended up continuing to ride the bus even after the construction ended. Researchers surveyed riders during and after the 2010 and 2011 construction seasons and found that, even after bus fares went back to normal levels, only 15 percent of the new bus users switched back to driving. Researchers concluded that once riders developed a habit of using transit, the habit tended to stick.

The report author sums up the phenomenon quite nicely in her executive summary:

Human beings are creatures of habit. Most of us travel the same route every day to the same destination. Sometimes, however, something comes along to push us to examine our habits and possibly change them. A major highway construction project can be such an event. (…) This provides a very good opportunity to examine our travel patterns and possibly change our habitual modes.

Of course, this change didn’t just happen on its own. As the technical summary notes, the DTA marketed its services aggressively during this period. (The above photo is just one example.) The study also noted that the elimination of expanded bus services in the winter had a negative impact on ridership.

Read more:

Bridging the gap between research and implementation

The end goal of transportation research, broadly speaking, is to see the results implemented — that is, to transfer the knowledge generated through research to those who can put it to good use. Research Services and the Center for Transportation Studies use a variety of tools to help disseminate research results: our respective websites, email lists, social media, newsletters and this blog, to name a few. But what do we know about how our audiences actually interact with these various channels of communication?

At the Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting earlier this year, researchers from Nebraska presented the findings of a very interesting survey on how engineers and other transportation practitioners prefer to learn about research results. Their presentation, entitled “What Engineers Want: Identifying Transportation Professionals as an Audience for Research,” is available via Slideshare. (Unfortunately, WordPress won’t let me embed it.)

Some key takeaways from the survey:

  • Practitioners overwhelmingly prefer one- or two-page technical briefs to other types of research communication products. (Other popular formats include presentations, video highlights and webinars.)
  • By a wide margin, practitioners use search engines like Google or Bing to seek research results (compared to other options like contacting a colleague or university faculty).
  • Practitioners are mostly interested in information on how to implement findings, as well as cost-benefit analyses of implementation.

The survey results present what I think is a fairly realistic and nuanced picture of the audience for transportation research; they’re also consistent with our (Research Services) own internal research on the issue. The bottom line is that research results need to be condensed into usable bits of information and made easily accessible in a variety of formats. People want information they can use, without having to dig for it. More importantly, they want it in whatever their preferred format is, whether it be print, email, Web, RSS, social media or in-person presentations.

Interestingly, Research Services already produces the kind of two-page technical briefs described in the survey. We call them “technical summaries,” and they are among our most popular products. We generally produce a technical summary for each research project we manage, and post them on our website alongside the full research report. Reading a two-page summary, written in layman’s terms, is certainly easier than poring over research reports that oftentimes number in the hundreds of pages, so it’s not surprising that even those with a strong engineering background prefer the format.

As a side note, last Friday we published a batch of 10 new technical summaries — along with two new transportation research syntheses, which are a type of literature review. Topics range from pedestrian and bicycle safety in roundabout crossings to the effect of intelligent lane control systems on driver behavior. You can check the full list on the Research Services main page.

Now it’s your turn: What forms of communication do you think are most effective at reaching transportation practitioners? Which ones do you prefer? Let us know in the comments.

Portable weigh-in-motion system demonstration

Weigh-in-motion (WIM) systems consist of sensors placed in road pavements to measure the weight of vehicles passing over them, along with other data such as speed, axle load and spacing, and vehicle type. This data is used to enforce weight limits on trucks and is also useful in a wide range of other applications, such as pavement design and traffic analysis.

However, constructing and maintaining permanent roadside WIM stations is expensive, so these systems are installed primarily on roadways with heavy traffic, such as interstate and trunk highways, and rarely used for rural local roads. Meanwhile, heavy truck volumes on local roads are increasing, significantly shortening their lives. A less costly, portable WIM system is needed for such roads so that collected data can be used to better design these roads to accommodate heavy truck traffic.

One solution for bringing WIM technology to local roads is to implement a portable, reusable system similar to pneumatic tube counters used to conduct traffic counts. With funding and technical assistance from MnDOT and the Local Road Research Board, Professor Taek Kwon of the University of Minnesota—Duluth has developed a prototype system that has already proven to be nearly as accurate as the more expensive, permanent systems.  MnDOT Research Services staff drove up to MnROAD this week to observe a live demonstration of the technology, and made this short video.

The research being conducted here is part of an implementation project based on Kwon’s original study, the results of which can be found in this research report and its accompanying two-page technical summary from MnDOT Research Services.

White House honors MnDOT traffic boss for work on rural intersection safety

The White House named Minnesota Department of Transportation State Traffic Engineer Sue Groth one of its 12 transportation “Champions of Change” for her role in implementing life-saving technology to help prevent collisions at rural intersections. The rural intersection conflict warning systems, which use sensors and lights to give motorists real-time warnings about traffic conditions, were developed by MnDOT’s Office of Traffic, Safety and Technology.

It’s worth noting that MnDOT Research Services and the University of Minnesota are also currently working on a project to develop a low-cost version of these systems using LEDs and solar panels. The ongoing research, being conducted by University of Minnesota— Duluth Professor Taek Kwon, is a continuation of the Advanced Light-Emitting Diode Warning System project completed in 2010.

Here’s the press release from MnDOT:

ST. PAUL, Minn. – On Wednesday, May 8, 2013, the White House honored Sue Groth, Minnesota Department of Transportation’s state traffic engineer, as one of 12 people who are Transportation “Champions of Change.” The Champions event, “Transportation Technology Solutions for the 21st Century,” focused on individuals or organizations that have provided exemplary leadership in developing or implementing transportation technology solutions to enhance performance, reduce congestion, improve safety and facilitate communication across the transportation industry at the local, state or national level.

“These Champions represent the very best in American leadership, innovation and progress,” said Secretary Ray LaHood. “I’m proud to recognize these transportation leaders who work every day to grow our economy and help us reach our destinations more quickly, efficiently and safely.”

The MnDOT Office of Traffic, Safety and Technology has been selected as a Champion of Change for their work to reduce fatal and life-changing crashes on Minnesota roadways, while enhancing mobility for all users. OTST is being honored for designing, testing and helping to deploy dozens of life-saving rural intersection conflict warning systems throughout Minnesota, while leading a national effort to do more of the same throughout rural America. These systems save lives at rural intersections that might otherwise not warrant or afford more traditional traffic control devices or geometric improvements.

See also: