Induced demand. It’s a concept that used to be popular only among the wonkiest transportation experts, and now gets covered by outlets ranging from the Washington Post to the Wall Street Journal. Governing calls it “the almost universally accepted concept” that almost no one understands, while Strong Towns calls ignorance of the concept “professional malpractice.” With new tools and a better understanding emerging, some transportation agencies are now beginning to wrestle with the implications.
The Seattle DOT, in seeking to improve pedestrian mobility, is installing marked crosswalks in areas with anticipated demand, which is an important shift away from the conventional warrant-based system. The final form that these installations take—paint alone, or paint with enhancements such as medians or flashing beacons—will depend on the location, and ultimately still be a matter of engineering judgment and available funding.
Government agencies sometimes face the criticism that they have difficulty coordinating between various silos. In the transportation sector this may stem, in part, from the historic approach of separating modes into different funding, maintenance, and development streams. While barriers still exist, some agencies are developing coherent multimodal policy to combat this. In other cases incoherence can occur when different segments of the same network fall under the jurisdiction of different agencies, each with its own priorities and maintenance approaches.
Many transportation agencies throughout the U.S.—some working directly with SSTI—are beginning to think about service in terms of access to destinations. A few, like the Washington and Virginia DOTs, are measuring accessibility in planning and project selection. New research suggests that accessibility analysis can also be helpful in predicting travel outcomes like transit ridership.
With the passing of the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act in November, state DOTs will soon see around 50 percent more annual transportation spending over the next five years. U.S. DOT has outlined its vision for spending under the IIJA, first in a memo from FHWA, and more recently in a series of “Innovation Principles.” The message to state DOTs is that they should focus on preserving existing infrastructure, ensuring safety for all road users, protecting the environment, and reconnecting communities, all while embracing experimentation, adaptation, and collaboration. Many states are now positioning themselves to get a decent slice of the pie and to make the most of what they get.
The death of a well-known cyclist in Phoenix, Arizona, persuaded the city DOT to scrap changes it had proposed for an essential local street, in favor of protected bike lanes. As the Phoenix New Times reported, the death of a cyclist and downtown ambassador in central Phoenix galvanized supporters to call for protected bike lanes in the area of the crash. The city Street Transportation Department moved away from installing lanes shared by drivers and bicyclists, to painted, buffered bicycle lanes, and, on some blocks, fully protected bike lanes.
Culture change at large agencies like state DOTs is slow but steady. In California’s case, the agency has taken several important steps, prompted partly by SSTI’s 2014 external review. The agency started by updating its mission, vision, and goals—shifting its focus from strictly “mobility” to “a safe, sustainable, integrated and efficient transportation system.” It is now formalizing that mission in its design process through a Complete Streets policy directive.
Transportation agencies historically have sought to cut congestion by adding capacity. Alternatively, modest pricing signals could be more cost effective and efficient at managing demand, saving public agencies much more in the long run.
Transit agencies across the country are weighing the potential impacts of lowering transit fares or making transit free to passengers, but riders and transit advocates are concerned the fare cuts could translate into worse service. Research suggests there may be better ways to improve service and increase ridership, including leaning on partners to help cover costs.
The much-anticipated Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) was finally signed by President Biden on Monday, and state DOTs are preparing for what will amount to around 50 percent more transportation spending than originally planned for over the next five years. The act includes an additional $110 billion for roads and bridges, $11 billion for safety, $39 billion for public transit, and $66 billion for freight and passenger rail (a five-fold increase).