ModeScore Rates Accessibility of Buildings to Multiple Transportation Options

Brett Metro

Here I am looking at a map of Arlington’s transportation options.

A “transit premium” can increase property values by anywhere between a few percentage points up to more than 150 percent.

As the business development manager of Developer Services at Arlington Transportation Partners, I spend a lot of time thinking about sustainable development, and how transportation access can improve building performance, sustainability and marketability.

For my capstone project for my master’s degree in Sustainable Urban Planning at George Washington University, I decided to explore this issue, looking at how transportation demand management (TDM) improves access to buildings.

TDM focuses on shifting travelers away from single occupancy-vehicle modes like biking, walking, bus, and rail. In many cases, however, TDM solutions and programs may address only a single alternative mode, or ignore the increasing diversity in how people – particularly younger generations – are traveling.

There is strong evidence of this narrow focus occurring frequently. Residential buildings may tout their Walk Score as a measure of pedestrian-friendliness. Or a commercial building may earn a Bicycle Friendly Business’ designation from the League of American Bicyclists. While these tools and designations are certainly valuable, sustainable buildings should have an an equitable distribution of transportation options and opportunities.

ModeScore logoMost property owners and managers (and the business leaders who operate within buildings) can find ways to better promote and encourage a range of multi-modal options.

My contribution to helping them do so is the Multi-Modal Transportation Score (or what I like to call ModeScore for short). It measures the total accessibility of a given building, taking into account all possible sustainable transportation modes. My overarching goal is that building users will create and embrace programs to encourage and increase alternative travel.

Using 200 buildings in Arlington County, Virginia as a laboratory, the development of ModeScore has allowed for a unique comparison between:

  • buildings already with rigorous TDM programs, and
  • buildings that are in potentially advantageous locations but could be doing more to support alternative transportation programs.

ModeScore was developed using a two-tiered measurement approach:

  • The first tier is location-based, including the inherent amenities and options available in a building’s location.
  • The second tier includes value-added amenities, often through a property’s involvement with a TDM agency to enhance access to and use of transportation options.

Put simply, ModeScore is a function of TDM interventions added to location-based characteristics of a site:

Location + TDM = ModeScore.

Of the 150 total ModeScore points available, location-based characteristics account for up to 100 points, while TDM value-add characteristics make up the remaining 50. The full version of the paper (see it embedded above) includes the variables, weighting, and scoring methodology.

Chart ModeScore

ModeScore tiers

The 16 location-based characteristics include variables such as Walk Score, bus-stop density, and access to bikeshare and carshare services. Nineteen TDM variables look at building-specific programs such as secure bike parking, transportation-information displays, and discounted parking for carpool or vanpool vehicles. Additional points are also awarded as “innovation” points, for a property implementing a program not currently covered by ModeScore.

Here is a sample image of how a building’s final ModeScore could look:

Sample Score

In Arlington, when applied to 200 existing commercial and residential buildings, the average ModeScore is 78.6. Several buildings in Arlington – particularly newly constructed properties that are subject to Arlington County’s site-plan development requirements – score above 100. For example, newly constructed 1812 N. Moore in Rosslyn (pictured below) scored a 107.4, the highest score of any of the buildings in my analysis.


I suspect marketing a strong ModeScore could help attract tenants to that new building.

This initial analysis was meant to build the ModeScore tool and apply it to an existing data set. Areas of future research could include:

  • Measure the impact that ModeScore has on attracting and retaining building users
  • Examine the role of ModeScore as a tool for TDM agencies like Arlington Transportation Parners to engage with building-level clients, and
  • Arlington – and any other cities that want to use it – could work to incorporate employer-level TDM programs that exist for specific tenants of commercial office buildings.

Traditional TDM outreach works to create value at the employer level – individual companies offering transportation programs for employees traveling to the site. Arlington County has recognized a need, and opportunity, to incorporate residential properties and commercial buildings in our outreach efforts, creating dedicated outreach programs for both markets. By creating better buildings, real-estate developers will be better equipped to attract commercial office tenants and residents.

ModeScore data can show developers what TDM elements are available at any given property. Outreach personnel can then work directly with property managers and developers to set strategies for ModeScore improvement. While the location baseline score cannot be improved in most cases (at least, not without government intervention), the adoption of TDM strategies can enhance transportation options that already exist for the site. Once a ModeScore analysis has been performed for a building – the score can be displayed on the building’s website, in materials for journalists, in flyers, in the lobby, and elsewhere.

ModeScore could be one of the keys in helping developers and property managers find the “transit edge” for people who might use their buildings.

Photos by M.V. Jantzen and Arlington Economic Development

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This is the type of good work we need for the ultimate in the goals to reach the best in trying to work with given conditions and infrastructure. It is a great pleasure to see so much work going into the right direction. Congratulations and keep up the good work.

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It’s hard to come by well-informed people about this subject, however, you seem like
you know what you’re talking about! Thanks



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