Mobility Lab http://mobilitylab.org Moving People... Instead of Just Cars Mon, 02 May 2016 18:25:36 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Mobility Lab Express #85 – Housing/transit connection http://mobilitylab.org/2016/05/02/mobility-lab-express-85/ http://mobilitylab.org/2016/05/02/mobility-lab-express-85/#respond Mon, 02 May 2016 15:03:31 +0000 http://mobilitylab.org/?p=18136 We’ve often noted that the “transportation demand management” industry is overdue for something of a makeover. It’s an essential practice for improving our transportation networks, but it’s an equally difficult idea to communicate. With that in mind, we’ve produced a “What is TDM?” video that we hope transit agencies and others will use to further... Read more »

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We’ve often noted that the “transportation demand management” industry is overdue for something of a makeover. It’s an essential practice for improving our transportation networks, but it’s an equally difficult idea to communicate. With that in mind, we’ve produced a “What is TDM?” video that we hope transit agencies and others will use to further the cause of building a world of better transportation options for all. Watch it here.

Also in this edition: affordable housing, an extensive transit database, bicycle fix-it stations, and more.

Mobility Lab Express #85

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Affordable housing and transit should go hand-in-hand http://mobilitylab.org/2016/04/28/affordable-housing-and-transit/ http://mobilitylab.org/2016/04/28/affordable-housing-and-transit/#comments Thu, 28 Apr 2016 14:37:53 +0000 http://mobilitylab.org/?p=18118 The term “affordable housing finance” isn’t quite as catchy as “carshare,” “bikeshare,” or any of the other technology improvements helping promote transportation demand management. Yet for low-income members of our communities, who stand to benefit the most from those solutions, affordable housing finance should be considered, and put to use as, a TDM strategy. In... Read more »

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The term “affordable housing finance” isn’t quite as catchy as “carshare,” “bikeshare,” or any of the other technology improvements helping promote transportation demand management. Yet for low-income members of our communities, who stand to benefit the most from those solutions, affordable housing finance should be considered, and put to use as, a TDM strategy.

In the United States, housing and transportation costs are often the two largest expenditures for households. Unfortunately, for those who need affordable housing, it is often located outside of the urban core, driving up their transportation costs and negating the savings on housing.

For barriers both real (smartphones often required) and perceived (“the sharing economy is for yuppies”), many of the newer transportation solutions do not work for those in low-income housing. While some creative initiatives have arisen from this need, the real way to decrease transportation financial and time costs for low-income residents is to provide housing near transit. By providing housing near transit for low-income people, and allowing them to use public transit and use it more efficiently, both those residents and the community benefits.

According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Guidebook for Creating Connected Communities, typical households in auto-dependent neighborhoods spend about 25 percent of their income on transportation costs, but this number drops to 9 percent in neighborhoods with a variety of mobility options. The savings of both dedicated affordable housing and decreased transportation costs allows these families to save for homeownership or market-rate housing, spend more money in the local economy, and spend on essential services such as healthcare. These benefits are not just individual, but societal as well, as they place less strain on social services and resources.

The improved location of affordable housing also provides access to a wider job market, while taking more cars off the streets, from which even an SUV-driving CEO benefits. Appropriately scaled and distributed affordable housing, such as that near transit, prevents pockets of poverty, and has been shown to have no negative impacts on surrounding property values.

Locations of affordable units in Arlington County.

Locations of affordable units in Arlington County.

Higher land values near transit often make it difficult for affordable housing developers to purchase land in these locations. These two maps of Arlington County, Va., showcase this: one shows locations of committed affordable units, and the other maps the density of such units. It may appear that affordable housing is well spread throughout the county, but the density map shows that the largest concentrations are not in the county’s Metro corridors.

Affordable Housing Heat Map

Density of affordable units.

While Arlington does have a robust affordable housing plan, these patterns still exist due to the difficulties of acquiring land. However, several strategies to ensure the creation and preservation of affordable housing in close proximity to transit are in use in Arlington and in other jurisdictions across the country.

Making transit-oriented affordable housing happen

Tax credit points for transportation

Strategies for incorporating affordable housing near transit are varied, and can be accomplished from the federal level down to community development corporations. One way to promote this development on a national level is through the allocation of Low-Income Housing Tax Credits. These credits are provided to each state on a per-capita basis from HUD, and then distributed to projects via states’ Qualified Allocation Plans. Each QAP outlines various points that a proposed project earns based on a number of criteria, which, for this case, could include transportation solutions. Massachusetts is one of several states that have incorporated mobility into their QAPs by awarding points based on a project’s proximity to rail or bus.

Housing protection district

Despite a large concentration of affordable housing on the western end of Columbia Pike, Arlington County, is seen as an affordable housing success [PDF], and does have a method for preserving affordable units in its Metro corridors. In addition to the county’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund, Arlington’s main financing mechanism for affordable housing, the county also has a Special Affordable Housing Protection District included in its General Land Use Plan.

The SPAHD protects affordable housing sites along Metro corridors by stipulating they be replaced on a one-for-one basis in most new developments (specifically, anything with a floor area ratio of 3.24 or higher). So if a new building knocks down a smaller one that had affordable units, the new one must include just as many. This initiative protects vulnerable committed affordable units as areas in the county’s Metro corridors become even pricier.

Denver LRT

Transit-oriented development fund

One of the most forward-thinking examples of not just preserving affordable housing, but getting ahead of the curve, is Denver. The city is in the midst of massive additions of light rail (above), commuter rail, and BRT within the next several years. In advance of these projects, the city, Enterprise Community Partners, and affordable housing developers worked together to create the Denver Regional Transit-Oriented Development Fund.

The fund provides developers a loan to purchase and hold land for five years for affordable housing developments within a half-mile of rail and a quarter-mile of high frequency bus stations. Provisioning land while the transit lines are still being constructed allows affordable housing developers to purchase parcels at more reasonable prices. Originally established just within the City and County of Denver, the TOD Fund has expanded to the entire seven-county metro area and has provided $24 million in funding. To date, there are 600 affordable units in the pipeline, with a goal to create more than 1,000 new units near transit.

The increasing number of transportation options are great, and do a good job of serving those already living in dense urban cores, but the best strategy for those who need it most may be affordable housing policy finance. Affordable housing creates more diverse and economically sustainable communities: working to focus affordable housing near transit will only serve to increase its benefits.

Photos, from top: Riders exit the Ballston Metro stop in Arlington, Va. (Sam Kittner for Mobility Lab, www.kittner.com). Arlington County affordable housing maps (Michael Ryan). Light rail in downtown Denver (BeyondDC, Flickr, Creative Commons).

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Slugging, D.C.’s original ride-sharing system, has its own app http://mobilitylab.org/2016/04/27/sluglining-ride-sharing-app/ http://mobilitylab.org/2016/04/27/sluglining-ride-sharing-app/#respond Wed, 27 Apr 2016 13:58:12 +0000 http://mobilitylab.org/?p=18085 Organized carpooling is a simple and longstanding congestion solution, and it can save money for commuters and space on the highways. However, for some it can seem too difficult to organize, making it unlikely to attract many people away from driving on their own. One option that offers commuters the flexibility of driving and the... Read more »

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Organized carpooling is a simple and longstanding congestion solution, and it can save money for commuters and space on the highways. However, for some it can seem too difficult to organize, making it unlikely to attract many people away from driving on their own.

One option that offers commuters the flexibility of driving and the benefits of carpooling is “casual carpooling,” or “slugging.”

“It is a combination of hitchhiking and carpooling,” according to Kalai Kandasamy, long-time slugger and creator of the Sluglines app, which crowdsources real-time data to assist participants, removing doubt from the process for both “slugs” and drivers.

In the U.S., beginning with the oil embargo in the 1970s and the introduction of High Occupancy Vehicle lanes, commuters began to grab rides with drivers going in the same direction. Since then, Kandasamy estimates some 10,000 to 15,000 “slugs” – the name for such commuters – have been using this as a transportation option every day in the region. Slugging also has strong followings in San Francisco, Houston, Pittsburgh, and a few other metropolitan areas.

Slugs line up at established pick-up points, and drivers going in the same direction stop by to pick up one or two riders, allowing them to take advantage of HOV lanes on highways during rush hour into and out of the region.

In addition to the app, Kandasamy hopes to build upon the already active slugging community, which exists across a smattering of forums and social media pages, within a Wikipedia-esque website. Here, Kandasamy concentrates information into one place, clarifying the slugging process and fostering the community. The site, which has existed for several years, also includes forums where members can share experiences and address any questions that arise.

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Screenshot of the slugging planning tool on Sluglines.com.

Though it’s worked informally for decades, it can be hard to tell where slugs or drivers are waiting, sometimes resulting in each congregating at different locations and wait times as long as 20 minutes for some people. The six-months-old Sluglines app, which crowdsources data from users actively seeking a ride or rider, helps bring users to the same waiting spot, cutting down on uncertainty. Through a check-in system, Sluglines users can see slugging demand and respond in a way that helps make the process much more efficient.

Kandasamy explains that what really sets slugging apart from newer ride-sharing modes, and Sluglines from other apps, is the fact that no money changes hands. All similar apps on the market involve payment, but this is entirely a community-based transit option meant to efficiently get people where they need to go.

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The Sluglines app, displaying pick-up and drop-off points.

“That’s the beauty of slugging,” says Kandasamy, in that slugs work together, making sure everybody has a ride in bad weather. It is a prime opportunity to build a community, and does so without any monetary transaction. “If it involves money, it’s not slugging,” Kandasamy emphasizes.

As commuters look for better options in getting to work, slugging presents a viable solution for many who live outside the Washington, D.C., Beltway. Kandasamy, who has slugged for the past 15 years, says that slugging is by far the most efficient mode to get into and out of D.C. from the outer suburbs. He hopes his app will make this interaction even more dependable and build the community into a major consideration as a transportation option.

Photos, from top: A line of drivers wait to pick up carpoolers in Rosslyn (photo by Adam Russell). A screenshot of Sluglines.com, above, and the Sluglines app, at right.

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Publicly visible transit info helps people make smart decisions http://mobilitylab.org/2016/04/25/transitscreen-info-smart-decisions/ http://mobilitylab.org/2016/04/25/transitscreen-info-smart-decisions/#comments Mon, 25 Apr 2016 14:21:47 +0000 http://mobilitylab.org/?p=18073 Displays make the process of taking transit easier A longer version of this post originally appeared on the TransitScreen blog. There’s a trillion-dollar trend called the ‘Internet of Things” – simply put, adding small computers to physical objects, and connecting everything together over the internet so useful information can be collected. When a recent McKinsey... Read more »

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Displays make the process of taking transit easier

A longer version of this post originally appeared on the TransitScreen blog.

There’s a trillion-dollar trend called the ‘Internet of Things” – simply put, adding small computers to physical objects, and connecting everything together over the internet so useful information can be collected. When a recent McKinsey white paper looked at every foreseeable application of this massive trend, one of the biggest impacts they found was:

People will know when public transit is coming so they won’t have to wait.

This is surprising. Catching a train on time doesn’t exactly seem futuristic, like the Internet of Things. And yet, according to McKinsey, the time people save from knowing exactly when transit is coming amounts to $60 billion in potential global savings.

How do we achieve that $60 billion potential? First, we have to get people the transportation information they need so they never have to waste time. We started TransitScreen to solve this exact information problem. We use public screens to inform people at a glance about all their transportation choices, just when they’re making travel decisions: in lobbies, offices, on the street. That way, a transit user knows exactly when to go catch a train.

The true impact of public displays can be much greater than the value of time savings. By making urban transportation work better, we can create new transit users and help convert people who drive by default into transit users, reducing pollution, CO2, and traffic, and improving quality of life in cities, all of which in turn brings additional economic benefits.

How real-time screens turn wasted time into economic benefit

Digital information screens change people’s behavior. The Canadian industry group OMAC found that 50 percent of people have taken an action after seeing an outdoor advertisement. Real-time information signs at bus stops and subway stations are used by 80-100 percent of transit users. And when transit users have real-time information, they spend less time waiting.

At TransitScreen, we aim to make information available where people are making a travel decision, at the start of their trip, before they’re stuck at a bus stop or subway platform and contributing to that $60 billion wasted. And we display all travel choices at a glance – public transit, bikeshare, or ride-hailing via Uber or Lyft – so if your first choice doesn’t make sense, other choices are always available. Now, if your bus is late, you don’t have to wait – you can find a bikeshare or Uber instead.

The payoff of putting screens at decision points like lobbies is the sheer number of people who use them to make decisions. In the most comprehensive study we’ve done, of six displays in commercial building lobbies in Toronto, 80 percent of people who saw TransitScreen used it. Over 85 percent of tenants found it useful or extremely useful, and 86 percent found it easy to use. In another study in 12 residential lobbies in San Francisco, where we took over only a small part of an existing screen showing messages, over 53 percent of tenants used TransitScreen – more than triple the 15 percent of tenants who had previously used the screen. So even though our users aren’t captive and are free to go, our usage numbers are comparable to “captive audience” numbers like subway stations, and much higher than on mobile apps.

We’ve begun to collect some amazing stories about how people change their behavior by using TransitScreen. At Seattle Children’s Hospital, we installed a TransitScreen display in a lobby near a bus stop. When we came back to visit two months later, the manager of the lobby’s coffee shop ran over. His afternoon sales had increased 33 percent, and he even had to hire another barista. Why? In his words:

“People who used to shoot right out the exit in order to not miss their shuttle would stop at the TransitScreen, see how much time they had, and instead grab a quick cup of coffee, tea, or snack for the road.”

TransitScreen in cafe

A screen in a cafe in Seattle’s Cherry Hill Swedish Hospital.

Not only did we make riding the bus more comfortable (people no longer had to sit on a bench waiting in the Seattle drizzle), we brought a significant economic benefit to a retail business as people turned wasted time into economic activity.

Overcoming defaults to attract new transportation users

The grand prize is to make an impact on cities and the environment by helping people shift away from unsustainable transportation choices (driving alone) to new, sustainable transportation choices like transit, bikeshare, and carshare.

In most U.S. cities, and a growing number of cities worldwide, the drive-alone car is the default — and the problem. Roads are crowded with cars, 90 percent of which are drive-alones, and cities are crowded as cars sit vacant in parking lots for 95 percent of the day. Last century’s response to this problem was to increase supply by building more roads. The new, more efficient, response is to reduce demand for driving by shifting demand to other transportation choices.

In the U.S., driving is embedded deep into our psychology in the form of “cognitive biases” (described by Nobel laureate psychologist Daniel Kahneman) that can work like reflexes to make snap decisions. Consider these three questions:

  • When you think about getting around the city, what comes to mind?
  • What do you picture when you think of a commuter?
  • How much work would it be to change how you commute?

If cars come to mind first when you think about “getting around”, that’s an example of availability bias influencing your perception of transportation choices.

And if a commuter sounds like someone driving their personal car during rush hour, that’s an example of representativeness bias — viewing a diverse set of people and choices through the blinders of what’s “typical.”

And finally, if it seems daunting to change how you commute – it’s true that some people don’t have workable transit options. But it’s equally likely to be status quo bias: people get personally attached to their existing choices, and perceive change as a disproportionate risk.

The good news is we have options for fighting cognitive biases. One is to attract new transit users (like millennials) before they acquire biases. This works well because transportation is like any other business: new customers are created every day as people move, are born, enter the workforce, and age.

Attracting new transit users is something TransitScreen is built to do. In Washington, D.C., and San Francisco where we have offices, 88 percent of new households are car-free, and thousands of new residents are living in transit-oriented apartments and condominiums featuring TransitScreen, like those developed by our partners AvalonBay and JBG. Once people know about their choices, the next step is to persuade them to try them out – making TransitScreen an example of “persuasive technology.”

Changing behavior with transportation demand management

The set of tools that governments, employers and developers use to reduce driving demand and achieve more sustainable outcomes is called transportation demand management. TDM incorporates a variety of tactics, including information (TransitScreen, personal commute plans), financial incentives (tolls or congestion pricing, offering benefits for transit or removing subsidies for parking), and behavioral incentives (ridesharing programs).

A recent TDM success shows that sometimes information is all you need to change behavior. The Barclays Center, in Brooklyn, NY, was built in 2012 for the Nets basketball team to move from Newark, NJ — on the opposite side of the city. And while the old stadium had plenty of parking, the new stadium had almost none. New York-based transportation planning firm Sam Schwartz Engineering was brought in to develop a plan that would help the team avoid a parking and traffic disaster. In a survey of Nets fans likely to attend games, they found that “information about the exact location of Barclays Center and the transportation options available to reach it” increased the number of fans taking public transit by 20 percent. After the firm aggressively provided information to fans through media and at the game (including real time transit information displays installed in the stadium), nearly 60 percent of fans arrived using transit while only 25 percent came by car.

Subway ad with map to Barclays Center in Brooklyn

It’s not surprising that TDM can influence behavior — after all, the advertising industry does $600 billion of yearly business because of its ability to influence behavior. Imagine what a fraction of that amount could do to make sustainable transportation attractive?

Research on TransitScreen and behavior change is in its early stages. The evidence from real-time bus information suggests that by giving transit riders better information, they are more satisfied with transit, and this leads to increased ridership.

We have seen some evidence of behavior changes from TransitScreen, for example, drive-alone commuters decreased by 5 percent in the San Francisco residential towers we studied. Follow-up behavioral studies are in progress, and our expectation is that TransitScreen information can be effective by itself, but will be most effective combined with other interventions as part of a larger TDM program, such as our work with our partners Wells + Associates in Tysons Corner, Virginia, a dense suburban “edge city” which is trying to change from 95 percent car usage to a more sustainable, healthier mix of cars, transit, biking and walking.

Conclusion: Informing smart decisions

Hundreds of cities worldwide are planning to become smart cities. But smart cities are smart because they create smart citizens – they make citizens more informed and able to achieve a better quality of life.

Part of being a smart citizen is having the information you need at a glance to make better choices – so you can avoid waiting and save time. Another part of being a smart citizen is knowing what choices are available, so you can avoid falling into traps like cognitive biases. Tools like TransitScreen give people the “nudge” they need to think outside their default boxes, and act more sustainably. To put it another way, TransitScreen displays aren’t just sensors, passively collecting data and sending it to a computer somewhere; they’re actuators, changing the world by using data to change people’s behavior.

Transportation is vital to the economy and the way we live. It’s also responsible for 25 percent of global CO2 emissions, essential to the productivity of cities, and critically linked with issues like housing that are essential to quality of life. By focusing on how to get people in cities the information they need, we can improve their individual quality of life, but more importantly, we can get everyone acting together. And it’s the power of smart citizens acting together that makes sustainable, livable, thriving cities.

TransitScreen first began as a part of Mobility Lab.

Photos, from top: TransitScreens unveiled in a downtown Seattle building (Seattle DOT, Flickr, Creative Commons). A TransitScreen in a Starbucks in Seattle’s Cherry Hill Swedish Hospital (Seattle.gov).  A subway ad demonstrating the many subway connections to the Barclays Center (Chris Devers, Flickr, Creative Commons).

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Where Pac-Man meets shared rides http://mobilitylab.org/2016/04/22/pac-man-meets-shared-rides/ http://mobilitylab.org/2016/04/22/pac-man-meets-shared-rides/#respond Fri, 22 Apr 2016 14:31:45 +0000 http://mobilitylab.org/?p=18062 This post originally appeared on Split’s blog here. Remember feeding quarters into the classic arcade game Pac-Man? Do you have fond memories of maneuvering a chomping yellow pie chart around two-dimensional mazes, gobbling up cherries and avoiding Blinky, Pinky, Inky, and Clyde? How about that joyous, joy-stick-filled day when you finally mastered that last level,... Read more »

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This post originally appeared on Split’s blog here.

Remember feeding quarters into the classic arcade game Pac-Man? Do you have fond memories of maneuvering a chomping yellow pie chart around two-dimensional mazes, gobbling up cherries and avoiding Blinky, Pinky, Inky, and Clyde? How about that joyous, joy-stick-filled day when you finally mastered that last level, Pac-Man ate his ultimate dot, and, at long last, Ms. Pac-Man was introduced?

The answers to these questions are likely: of course, sort of, and definitely not.

As it turns out, Pac-Man is pretty hard. In fact, mathematicians have proved that the game is not just hard, it’s “NP-hard,” meaning that winning Pac-Man is as challenging as some of the hardest problems that optimization scientists spend their careers trying to solve. More than that: Pac-Man is impossible to beat – after 255 successful rounds, a bug in the original computer code unceremoniously ends Pac-Man’s gluttony.


Split, as Pac-Man: a game constructed from a real driving route.

At Split, where I am the science team lead, we work every day to invent, refine, and deploy computer algorithms to solve the “traveling salesperson problem,” seeking the shortest path through a series of set points. Just as Pac-Man seeks the fastest, most-direct path to eat as many dots, power-ups, and 8-bit fruit as possible, Split is constantly directing its fleet of cars and vans through city streets. Routes are optimized to pick up and drop off as many riders as possible and to avoid slow-moving traffic, like Pac-Man dodges ghosts. It’s impossible to know exactly when and where the next pickup will be or next pocket of roadway congestion will emerge, so the routes are recalculated to respond in real time, similar to how you choose Pac-Man’s movements based on the random nature of cherries and Blinky.

Computers are really good at solving such hard problems. They don’t get tired or bored when they are asked to systematically search through a seemingly endless set of possibilities. IBM’s Deep Blue trumped Kasparov in chess. Google’s DeepMind recently bested the world’s top Go player, a game that is a googol (that’s 10 to the 100) times more challenging than chess. And artificial intelligence can handily win Pac-Man.

Split’s algorithm is tuned to find routes that maximize the use of vehicles’ seats and swiftly get riders where they need to go. It’s like toggling a massive matrix of joysticks, each controlling one of many Pac-Men with each moving around a maze of city streets. Each Pac-Man doesn’t simply eat cherries, but instead moves them from where they are to where they have to go. This is where Split and the real Pac-Man differ: while Pac-Man’s motivation is strictly more and more points, Split’s motive is sustainability. Split selects smart routes that reduce miles traveled, move people quickly, and use up all the seats. Winning Split means moving more people with fewer resources.

To visualize a Split car’s journey around Washington, D.C., we’ve animated a typical morning commute, Pac-Man-style (above). One Split driver scoops up riders, moves them, and drops them off, navigating a labyrinth of streets and avenues along the way. Unlike Pac-Man, this game never ends: there’s always another rider to move from point A to point B.

Photos, from top: Pac-Man street art in Bilbao, Spain (Roberto Latxaga, Flickr, Creative Commons). A Pac-Man pick-up and drop-off route (Split).

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Different needs throughout U.S. complicate Congressional transportation policy http://mobilitylab.org/2016/04/21/different-needs-congressional-transpo-policy/ http://mobilitylab.org/2016/04/21/different-needs-congressional-transpo-policy/#respond Thu, 21 Apr 2016 15:26:39 +0000 http://mobilitylab.org/?p=18047 City, suburb, and rural differences present policy dilemmas No matter how divided politicians are across the U.S., Republicans and Democrats can still agree that sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic is something worth fixing. That said, the recently passed, five-year FAST Act transportation bill does represent a slight increase in funding, but has been largely criticized by... Read more »

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City, suburb, and rural differences present policy dilemmas

No matter how divided politicians are across the U.S., Republicans and Democrats can still agree that sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic is something worth fixing.

That said, the recently passed, five-year FAST Act transportation bill does represent a slight increase in funding, but has been largely criticized by transit advocates as remaining, according to Eric Jaffe in CityLab, “centered on the sort of highway spending and road expansion that has historically worsened traffic and sprawl for U.S. metro areas.”

ACT logo

Within that context, a cross section of representatives from the House of Representatives recently spoke to members of the Association for Commuter Transportation during its 2016 Public Policy Summit in Washington, D.C., revealing the competing interests and priorities for the limited pot of funding.

And the differences between the interests of rural areas, the suburbs, and the cities could mean that the FAST Act and the typical Congressional approach is too traditional and slight to forge major changes in how the nation’s transportation system works.

A rural focus on roads

Rep. Sam Graves, a Missouri Republican representing rural and suburban sections of northern Missouri, understandably spoke of having his mind set on the $305 billion FAST Act and how that funding could make roads less congested and fix aging infrastructure.

Graves said he doesn’t like the thought of raising the gas tax or increasing tolls, but a vehicle miles traveled user fee (he was careful to note it was not a tax), like the one being piloted in Oregon, might be a mechanism to bring transportation funding up to what is needed to fix infrastructure.

“Obviously, transportation and infrastructure in this country is vital. It is the lifeblood of business and commerce,” he said.

However, Graves said congestion and transit are simply not transportation priorities for the rural areas he represents. “Traffic in my home town is two cars and a stop sign. We have more of an issue with traffic in the form of slow-moving farm equipment on the road and backing up cars and lanes not being wide enough to get around.”

To Graves, the focus in these areas needs to be on fixing crumbling bridges and roads and incentivizing more carpooling.

T commuter, akoktsidis

Commuters ride the Boston area’s commuter rail system into the city.

A suburban focus on commuters

Rep. Jim McGovern is a Massachusetts Democrat who represents the central part of the state, including its second-largest city, Worcester. He frequently rides the train 40 miles into Boston and has been a leading advocate for making the tax benefit for transit riders equal to the benefit drivers can get for parking costs.

The tax parity for transit and driving just passed in January, and Rep. McGovern told the ACT members, “In this town, easy things are difficult. It’s so unusual we can celebrate passing anything that I don’t want to leave the podium.”

Making it easier and more sensible for people to ride transit is crucial, he said, noting that, “I’ve concluded that it’s good for peace of mind. As one who has to go back and forth from Worcester to Boston all the time, if I’m in a car [on the highway], I might as well be in a parking lot. I don’t take my blood pressure, but I’m sure it’s going through the roof. By contrast, being able to ride on the train, I can do my work or talk to people or get up and walk around.”

An urban focus on new modes

Rep. Eric Swalwell, a California Democrat and the youngest member of that state’s delegation, is emerging as one of Capitol Hill’s hopes for the future of transportation.

Citing a recent PricewaterhouseCoopers survey that noted a rise in revenue for the travel and carsharing industries, Rep. Swalwell said he hopes to help government evolve along with the fast-changing and disrupted transportation industry.

Virginia’s Rep. Don Beyer, who represents Arlington County and Alexandria, also spoke positively during the conference of the potential for sharing and on-demand options. Beyer noted that the FAST Act was the first transportation funding bill to include a title on innovation, adding that our “[transportation] system will look very different five, 10 years from today.”

While Swalwell’s bi-partisan sharing economy amendment to the DRIVE Act – which would make it easier for transit agencies to work with bikesharing, carsharing and on-demand ride companies by using federal funding – failed 181-237, he is glad it set a standard for future votes on the issue.

Swalwell also worked with Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) in drafting a letter for the General Services Administration to allow federal employees to be reimbursed for using services like Uber, and the GSA actually wrote back with approval.

Swalwell hopes the federal government can play a role in:

  • piloting programs to discount the use of sharing-economy options
  • establishing first- and last-mile solutions from existing transit hubs, and
  • ushering in autonomous vehicles, about which he joked that he is so far the lone – or “autonomous” – member of Congress’s autonomous-vehicle caucus. “I have a three-year-old nephew, and my prediction to my family over Easter was that he will never have to learn how to drive a car. I really believe that,” he said.

But even with these exciting potential plans, Swalwell admits that the government may mostly be playing catch-up on transportation issues. “We can’t forget our role in the federal government to fund transportation projects and to start thinking big again.”

Photos, from top: A view of the U.S. Capitol from busy North Capitol Street in Washington, D.C. (Mike Maguire, Flickr, Creative Commons). Boston commuters boarding a train in Norwood, Mass. (akoktsidis, Flickr, Creative Commons)/

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What is TDM? Shaping a new era of transportation options http://mobilitylab.org/2016/04/20/what-is-tdm-video/ http://mobilitylab.org/2016/04/20/what-is-tdm-video/#respond Wed, 20 Apr 2016 15:25:36 +0000 http://mobilitylab.org/?p=18032 Here at Mobility Lab, we throw around the term “transportation demand management,” or “TDM” for short, as the core concept that unites our research and coverage. But the idea itself is one that is often not present in the widespread public understanding of and discussions about transportation and transit issues. Hence the purpose of our... Read more »

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Here at Mobility Lab, we throw around the term “transportation demand management,” or “TDM” for short, as the core concept that unites our research and coverage. But the idea itself is one that is often not present in the widespread public understanding of and discussions about transportation and transit issues.

Hence the purpose of our new video:

Put broadly, TDM is the outreach, design and education that informs all the mode choices commuters make on a daily basis. Some of these — office carpool matching programs, for example — are more explicit, while other pieces are harder to spot, like the allocation and pricing of parking.

It’s easy for many to see a congested highway and think, “we need to build the subway out to here,” but more difficult to imagine the behavior changes that make daily crowds and traffic functional and sustainable. Nevertheless, TDM works closely within existing infrastructure to ensure that everyone can easily access more efficient modes of traveling. And in the case of transit-system closures or massive events, TDM can be an essential tool in minimizing the potential disruption to an entire region.

In our latest video, we spoke with several leaders in the transportation industry, and staff at Mobility Lab, about what TDM really is, how it works, and why it’s a key part of the transportation discussion.

For more background on how TDM works, visit our “What is TDM?” page.

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Mobility Lab Express #84 – Rethinking sidewalks http://mobilitylab.org/2016/04/15/18021/ http://mobilitylab.org/2016/04/15/18021/#respond Fri, 15 Apr 2016 17:05:24 +0000 http://mobilitylab.org/?p=18021 Cities, suburbs, and even rural areas are thinking creatively about what gets people out of driving alone to work, and into a shared ride or different mode. This week, Mobility Lab joined transportation demand management professionals from across the U.S. converged in Washington, D.C., for the Association for Commuter Transportation’s 2016 Policy Summit, which covered... Read more »

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IMG_9042Cities, suburbs, and even rural areas are thinking creatively about what gets people out of driving alone to work, and into a shared ride or different mode. This week, Mobility Lab joined transportation demand management professionals from across the U.S. converged in Washington, D.C., for the Association for Commuter Transportation’s 2016 Policy Summit, which covered everything from transit benefits to smarter thinking on parking. Stay tuned for our coverage.

In this issue, we take a look at how sidewalks could adapt to new transportation modes, how people rode Capital Bikeshare during the Metro shutdown, and more.

Mobility Lab Express #84

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When it comes to traffic safety, fun beats fear http://mobilitylab.org/2016/04/15/traffic-safety-fun-beats-fear/ http://mobilitylab.org/2016/04/15/traffic-safety-fun-beats-fear/#comments Fri, 15 Apr 2016 14:31:35 +0000 http://mobilitylab.org/?p=18002 Being a pedestrian is, unfortunately, an increasingly dangerous proposition in many communities throughout the United States. A recent report from the Governors Highway Safety Association shows that, just between 2014 and 2015, pedestrian deaths grew 10 percent. In many regions, public safety campaigns are a go-to tactic to address the widespread issue of pedestrian safety. But... Read more »

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Being a pedestrian is, unfortunately, an increasingly dangerous proposition in many communities throughout the United States. A recent report from the Governors Highway Safety Association shows that, just between 2014 and 2015, pedestrian deaths grew 10 percent.

In many regions, public safety campaigns are a go-to tactic to address the widespread issue of pedestrian safety. But the current, most prevalent approach of “fear appeals” – attempting to scare people into safer behaviors – has not been effective. Changing human behavior is no small task.

Routine tasks involved in commuting develop into automated habits, undermining the belief in many campaigns that road users make rational safety choices based on logic, information or fear. Such an approach tends to place the safety burden on the most vulnerable road users and remove it from drivers.

In the D.C. region, the Street Smart campaign, for example, has come under fire in the past as being counterproductive for its use of fear-based messages directed at pedestrians and bicyclists.

Fear-based messaging can function as victim-blaming, placing fault on the most vulnerable road users, while further entrenching attitudes that discourage biking and walking and implying a lack of accountability for those most responsible. Recently, Toronto residents critiqued the Toronto Transit Commission’s use of signage that implied pedestrians and bicyclists were to blame for crashes.

Additionally, fear-based approaches are indirect messages that focus on the consequences of unsafe actions, rather than the specific actions that can make people act more safely. Such an approach hardly accounts for the fact that people, using any mode, behave in predictable – though not necessarily rational – ways.

Rather than an indirect, over-the-top, fear-inducing approach, more direct and positive messages that bring safety to mind combined with changes in infrastructure design that make safe actions the easiest would bring road users naturally towards safer travel habits.

Safety through humor

In Arlington County, Va., traffic officials saw potential to bring drivers back to the basics at the Washington Boulevard exit onto Route 50, one of the county’s most troublesome intersections. The lane’s short merge space had drivers looking to the left and backwards as they tried to fit into the traffic, failing to account for whether or not the car in front of them managed to move ahead.

In August 2013, the dynamic message board at the intersection, which had previously warned drivers of the dangerous merge, changed its message to something simple that pointed directly at drivers’ immediate actions: “Do not hit the car in front of you.” Though it seems laughable, accidents at that intersection actually dropped significantly in the following weeks.

Experiments like these have popped up in other states in the past couple years, with state departments of transportation using humor on their highway dynamic message signs. Iowa has been posting humorous messages for two years and has seen a drop in road deaths since the campaign began. They can’t directly attribute the improvement to the safety campaign, but officials behind the idea are optimistic that it at least gets people talking about safety, an important first step.

Using a sense of humor, such as riffing on Bostonians’ accents or paying homage to Star Wars on May 4, sounds less like the actions of a government agency and is novel, making drivers more likely to notice the signs and think about their message, at least drawing attention to the biggest of safety reminders. Growing this approach into a full safety campaign, with frequently changing messages to which the community contributes, such as in a contest from the Illinois Tollway, can help engage road users in road safety and keep it in their consciousness while traveling.

Funny – but not distracting – signs can be effective in changing behaviors. The message is direct, and positive, making it much more likely for commuters to apply it to themselves. Proper signaling that engages the target audience can provide a good supplement to nudge road users toward better behavior. However, these can only have limited effectiveness without changes to the physical environment that can directly influence habits.

Signage can only do so much

While a positive, engaging and well-placed sign on the road or in the subway may remind people of their behavior in otherwise automated modes, it will likely not permanently change their behaviors. In the long run, doing so requires redesigning the environment to promote the ideal response.

The recent case of multiple drivers crashing into a D.C. gelato factory provides a clear case study. The adjacent street’s design allows drivers to speed toward the curve, and a safety campaign would be unlikely to override such a setting. Writing on Greater Greater Washington, Edward Russell suggests that a number of design changes, from sharper corners to traffic circles, could naturally cause drivers to slow down.

For towns seeking safer streets, one idea gaining traction is that of “naked streets,” where lane markings and signs are removed entirely. This has worked well in certain situations due to the concept of risk compensation. Traditionally, centerlines and traffic signals make drivers think they are safer, therefore causing them to drive more dangerously. In contrast, naked streets feel less secure to drivers, leading to lower speeds, more cautious actions, and better communication with other road users.

Taking naked streets to another level is shared streets (or woonerfs), where cars share the road with bicyclists and pedestrians. CityLab’s Eric Jaffe explains that, due to the lack of “traditional safety infrastructure … everyone is forced to become more alert and therefore more cooperative.” Though not without concerns of drivers resisting adaptation, the shared streets concept has proven successful in multiple cities and can provide lessons in how to redistribute ownership of the road and to make it safer for everybody who uses it.

Empowering future road safety

Determining how officials pursue safer streets requires a serious study of the effectiveness of various approaches, as well as considering ideas that might seem counterintuitive. Messaging should reflect our cultural priorities in protecting and prioritizing vulnerable users. Understanding how people do or do not react to various stimuli, from safety campaigns to street designs, can have surprising effects in addressing traffic safety.

Properly placed and engaging signals with direct, positive messaging can bring safety back to the forefront of people’s minds and have them actively consider their behavior. However, to change the roots of bad driving and long-standing, culturally ingrained habits, planners will have to shift the built environment itself in order to encourage the best possible actions from road users.

Photos, from top: A woman crosses a crosswalk in Pentagon City, Va. (Sam Kittner for Mobility Lab, www.kittner.com). A humorous traffic sign in Iowa (Iowa Department of Transportation).

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Where did people ride Capital Bikeshare during the Metro shutdown? http://mobilitylab.org/2016/04/11/day-without-metro-bikeshare-map/ http://mobilitylab.org/2016/04/11/day-without-metro-bikeshare-map/#comments Mon, 11 Apr 2016 20:35:28 +0000 http://mobilitylab.org/?p=17978 The sudden Metrorail shutdown on March 16 took nearly everyone by surprise, and was a nearly unprecedented move by WMATA. While the decision disrupted the commutes of hundreds of thousands of commuters, it did provide agencies with an opportunity to observe how the other components of the D.C. region’s transportation system handled the new demand.... Read more »

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The sudden Metrorail shutdown on March 16 took nearly everyone by surprise, and was a nearly unprecedented move by WMATA. While the decision disrupted the commutes of hundreds of thousands of commuters, it did provide agencies with an opportunity to observe how the other components of the D.C. region’s transportation system handled the new demand.

Capital Bikeshare data from that day informed a mapping tool and several animations by Mobility Lab’s senior tech advisor Michael Schade, which provide some insight on how the bikeshare system fits within the broader regional network.

The map gives an idea of which bikeshare stations had major jumps in ridership (such as those downtown and in NoMa), and which ones were negatively affected by the lack of Metro riders.

Bikeshare comparison chart

Looking broadly, the overall bikeshare ridership grew by 21 percent compared to the previous Wednesday, March 9. (It’s worth noting, for comparison purposes, that both days had unseasonably warm and sunny weather.) Almost all of this increase came from a more-than-doubling of casual bikeshare trips: registered trips grew by only 1 percent.

One possible explanation for the low increase in registered trips could be the higher likelihood that registered riders own personal bikes. In an effort to make more bikeshare bikes available, those with their own bikes were encouraged to ride those instead. Additionally, Capital Bikeshare made casual trips, normally $8 for 24 hours, free for the day.

While tourists and visitors to the D.C. area are typically the ones considered as “casual” bikeshare riders, on the “day without Metro,” the category grew to include a massive number of residents trying out the system for the first time.

On a station-by-station scale, 223 (or 63 percent) of all 354 stations, saw a jump in traffic on March 19. Trip decreases from certain bikeshare stations could offer a possible insight into where Capital Bikeshare riders typically connect to Metrorail. Some stations near Metrorail, such as a few in the Golden Triangle area of D.C. near Farragut West, saw decreases, but the decrease was not uniform or widespread enough to show any particular relation to Metro. Other factors, such as schools canceling classes or employers allowing telework, would have had a major impact on bikeshare ridership as well.

Given the multitude of factors, and the unique situation of the shutdown, it is difficult to determine some of these exact patterns behind ridership. But the overall jump in casual ridership does make clear: without Metro, many commuters explored a new transportation option through bikeshare.

Related: for more Capital Bikeshare-based data projects, come check out Mobility Lab’s upcoming Transportation Techies meeting on April 28.

Bike counts in the interactive map courtesy of the BikeArlington Counter Dashboard.

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