Wednesday, October 31, 2012

How-To Guides for Multimodal Results

Recent reports are exploring how to accomplish multimodal results, whether for large metropolitan areas or rural states. Whether talking transit, road maintenance, ridesharing or walkable streets where children and seniors can feel comfortable and safe, the emphasis is on sharing what strategies are making differences in communities across the country. While some are purely practical guides, others include performance measurement, with an acknowledgement that touting success is part and parcel of encouraging transportation investments.

Statewide Transportation Approaches

The Innovative DOT, a handbook produced by Smart Growth America, concentrates on examples of state progress in multimodal and performance-based funding, financing, and mode-neutral policies. The handbook covers mode-neutral funding, with statutory examples, taxing options, interagency coordination efforts, economic development, complete streets, maintenance of roads and much more.

Case studies are offered on every topic. Multiple examples are from Oregon and Maryland. Oregon uses lottery proceeds, transportation utility fees, and mode-neutral performance measures, and even conducted a VMT pilot project. Maryland's examples include mode-neutral funding, a transit-oriented development (TOD) law and staffing for TOD efforts.

Performance measures touted go beyond the usual number of riders in seats  and costs overall or per passenger, with the guide advocating for use of some outcome measures tied to goals. Goals such as economic development, job creation, safety and coordination with land use policies are woven throughout the guide.

Careful attention is paid to a balance of urban and rural contexts as well as discussing the accomplishments of Republican and Democratic gubernatorial administrations, particularly that of Governor Romney in Massachusetts. 

Also highlighted are bureaucratic structures that allow for change to happen, such as inter-agency coordination and leadership of multi-agency efforts. A piece of advice for those states that have not ventured into coordinated mode-neutral transportation planning and funding is to start small, achieve success and grow. Another nice tidbit, this one on the topic of complete streets, is to redefine the term "highway" to allow for multimodal uses, such as walking and bicycling, making sure to include intersections that promote the safety for different types of road users.
[Union Station, Kansas City]

Coordination Key to Rural Livability
Another report explores some of the same issues as the Innovative DOT, advising rural public transportation agencies on how they can contribute to and lead livability initiatives.  Research Results Digest 375, from the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP), is entitled Rural Public Transportation Strategies for Responding to the Livable and Sustainable Communities Initiative.

The report addresses common concerns of rural public transportation efforts, including local match and coordination, while acknowledging small staff sizes and the importance of partnerships.
In the nationwide survey, state DOTs identified “lack of resources to complete application,” “lack of technical expertise,” and “initiatives too small to be competitive” as the most significant challenges that rural communities and transit providers face in competing for federal livability funding.

Respondents to the survey identified partnerships as one of the most successful ways that rural communities have made themselves competitive for federal livability funding. In particular, partnerships with other local organizations or with a state agency were both mentioned by more than 40 percent of respondents. In many areas, an RPO, an MPO from an adjacent metro area, a large private employer, or a local university could be a potential partner for a rural community. Rural communities can leverage funding, staff time and resources, and expertise from these types of partnerships, thereby reducing the burden on agency staff while making for a stronger project or plan. State DOTs can potentially provide the forum for regional or statewide collaboration by putting a process in place for regional or statewide meetings, providing funding, or providing other technical assistance.

Though the report does not concentrate on shared-ride modes or public transportation, it offers helpful coordination advice. 

[View from the back of Amtrak's Empire Builder out west.]

Incredible Results, Creative Solutions

What's not to like about a government program that accomplishes its goals and ushers in significant change in a range of communities from pastoral to densely populated? The report to Congress on the outcomes of the nonmotorized transportation pilot program, formally entitled Report to the U.S. Congress on the Outcomes of the Nonmotorized Transportation Pilot Program SAFETEA-LU Section 1807,  demonstrates that a little funding can go a long way. Results were mode-share increases in the four pilot communities for biking and walking beyond the national average, with average increases of 49 and 22 percent, respectively, between 2007 and 2010. And this significant shift cost a total of $10.1 million dollars.

According to the report, the results likely underestimate mode shift as well as lives saved, injuries averted, and health benefits from a diverse array of infrastructure investments, education and outreach, and training for planners and engineers. In addition to the $6.9 million saved from one measure alone, the many fatalities that did not occur (offsetting the aforementioned cost of $10.1 million previously mentioned), was the increases in transit use in every pilot community - with the notable exception of the one in which there had been significant transit service reductions.

[Walkers and biker in Chicago between the Loop and the Chicago River.]

Also notable are the detailed discussions of the different performance measures the pilot communities employed and why the benefits and return on investments realized were likely low-ball estimates of the returns actually realized and to be accrued in the years to come.

Menu of Rideshare Programs

Ridesharing as a Compliment to Transit, TCRP Synthesis 98, offers a menu of ridesharing programs, their funding sources, marketing strategies, amenities and costs for passenger use. At the level of a synthesis for options and strategies in the rideshare universe, the report is worthwhile. However, as the report expressly acknowledges, there is not much data about whether people employ ridesharing as a compliment to transit in contrast to being used as a compliment to driving or walking to the rideshare source. 

A Bargain Found in Intercity Bus Service

Evaluating the Competitiveness of Intercity Buses in Terms of Sustainability Indicators appears in the Journal of Public Transportation, declaring the bargain of intercity buses for taxpayers and the effectiveness of this transportation mode for rural and urban travelers alike.

[Bike passing through Victoria Station, London, England, with the Olympic welcome evident.]

In whatever way it is understood, intercity bus transportation has seen growing usage in rural areas and smaller communities as part of the public transportation network. Intercity buses link smaller communities within a region and also link rural communities to larger urban areas. The industry is also known to provide service for communities where access to car ownership is limited. Although U.S. cities lost a significant amount of their scheduled intercity service over the last several decades, recently, the industry is experiencing noteworthy growth. Despite this recent growth, intercity bus services are having this success without public subsidy, unlike Amtrak, municipal transit systems, and a few specialized programs that receive federal or state assistance. Services rely on passenger fare revenue to cover operating and capital costs and to generate an adequate return on investment to attract capital for growth (Fravel 2003).
Editor's Note:
Wherever you find yourself this Halloween, whether handing out treats, accompanying a trick or treater, or waiting for power and other amenities to return to normal after the huge Sandy storm, have a safe and fun evening with lots of costumes.

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