At the November 15 TPB meeting the board received an hour long briefing to go over the results from an analysis of 10 transportation improvement initiatives it had selected for study earlier in July.
In July, the TPB approved the 10 task force recommended initiatives to be analyzed to assess how well each initiative could help the region overcome its transportation challenges. Now, the task force is reviewing the results to determine the potential of the initiatives to improve the region’s transportation system and decide which ones, if any, it should recommend to the TPB to endorse in December, for future action.
Here are some observations from the study presentation:
No silver bullet
The region faces more than one challenge in achieving its transportation goals. Early in its work, the task force identified 14 transportation challenges the region needs to address in the future. These challenges drew upon earlier TPB plans like the Regional Transportation Priorities Plan. Many initiatives address multiple challenges.
The analysis indicates that no single initiative will address all the region’s transportation challenges. And, most initiatives have a negative impact on some challenges while at the same time actually benefit many others. So, to move the region closer to overcoming its challenges, many ideas represented by more than one initiative would need to be pursued.
Considerations beyond performance
A variety of performance measures like travel time, hours of delay, rail crowding, or access to jobs was used to assess the impact of the initiatives. The analysis shows how many initiatives had a mixed performance – meaning they positively improved some measures while negatively affected others. That means there could be tradeoffs between improvements in alternative performance measures when making a choice between one or more initiative.
Beyond the specific performance measures assessed by the analysis, there are also other considerations the task force may keep in mind during their deliberations. One example is costs. Some initiatives would be costly to build, others would cost more for the people who use them. Still other initiatives could be lower in cost but would take more time to implement and/or require significant policy changes. These factors weren’t studied for this analysis but are worth some consideration.
Grand but feasible assumptions
One interesting aspect of this exercise was deciding on the assumptions to make for the analysis. It needed to be grand but feasible.
Of the many examples to choose from, one example was the assumption about emerging technology. How ambitious should this assumption be? While it’s true that there very well could be driverless vehicles in 2040 talking to each other and moving smoothly, there’s a lot of uncertainty about what that future could look like.
The initiatives in the analysis assumed using technology that is currently in use but not widely used. This is technology that can be integrated with the transportation system we have today without significantly upgrading it.
Most of this technology is focused on traffic operations – making it safer and more efficient. Some examples are real time traffic information systems, smart traffic signal systems, and the ability to use reversible lanes. This is all technology that’s available today but has not been widely implemented.
Another grand assumption centered on telework. While there’s been a rise in people being able to work from home, researchers wanted to know what if this significantly expanded. If more people could telework, what would happen? The reality is not every worker will have that option, and not every job can be done from home, but what if we doubled the number of people who are teleworking today?
How this study was done
The analysis used sketch planning which is a kind of general analysis that may use spreadsheets or Geographic Information System (GIS) tools and doesn’t rely on detailed inputs like traditional, in-depth travel demand models do. So, this isn’t the same as many other TPB reports and can’t be compared to them. It was used to stimulate conversation and identify areas that might warrant further study.
Sketch planning analysis is typically used when a wide variety of diverse ideas are being evaluated. This kind of analysis provides a comparative sense of how much more or less an idea could improve on a problem. This is useful for selecting a limited set of ideas with the greatest improvement potential for further study.
In this case, the analysis helps the task force understand how different kinds of land-use or transportation changes could perform relative to the current Constrained Long-Range Transportation Plan (CLRP). And it’s useful to compare how much impact each initiative could make on the region’s transportation system.
The analysis used a combination of qualitative and quantitative measures to evaluate each initiative. Quantitative measures were those that could be measured using numbers like travel time, hours of delay, or transit options for households or jobs.
Qualitative measures were those that for this particular study were evaluated using the technical team’s professional judgment. Those measurements included crowding on rail, development on open space, or roadway repair needs.
The Task Force has been asked to do some homework and review the results presented at the last meeting. There is an opportunity to provide questions to TPB staff which will help them prepare for the next meeting when task force members have to make some decisions. The Long-Range Plan Task Force meets on December 6 to begin its process of choosing which initiatives, if any, it will send to the TPB for endorsement. The TPB would then take up those recommendations at its December 20 meeting.