Transportation engineering is a highly skilled job. Not only does it require the obvious technical expertise, but it also requires working closely with the public, speaking their language, and knowing how to assess tough tradeoffs in meeting their needs. Most engineers only learn these skills on the job, which raises important questions about how the educational system can leave them better prepared.
With the recent passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, many advocates, community members, and even the federal government are asking state DOTs to deliver more projects geared toward improving multimodal safety and travel options, while addressing harmful environmental impacts and climate change. Some were hoping to see larger pots of money dedicated specifically to achieving those goals, but the reality is that recipients of federal funds already have considerable latitude to fund projects that do just that.
Congestion pricing seeks to better manage the capacity of urban highways by shifting some travel away from peak periods in order to improve traffic flow. For drivers who are low-income, have no alternative but to drive at peak times, and would be financially burdened by paying tolls, this has the potential to be regressive and inequitable. However, a new report from the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA suggests that the establishment of congestion pricing affords an opportunity to design the system from the ground up in an equitable way. The authors state that, “Congestion pricing can be introduced with a mechanism in place to protect the most vulnerable drivers.”
Gasoline prices have clear impacts on development patterns, according to recent research that adds new evidence for the long-term impacts of transportation pricing signals. The new study shows that wage growth and low gas prices contributed to high rates of suburban growth in the 1980s and 1990s, measured in terms of deforestation. Those trends have reversed as gas prices have risen.
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.
The consumption choices and lifestyle preferences of Millennials—those born between 1981 and 1996—and their differences from those of the previous generations have repeatedly piqued academic and policy makers’ interests. Although some suggest they might just be slower in adopting previous trends, a recent study from the University of Texas at Austin suggests that they are a generation that prefers to drive about 8-9 percent less than Generation X and Baby Boomers, and that they might continue to drive less as they get older.
Although, there are many platforms and companies offering bike-ped travel data acquired through smartphone apps, location-based services, fitness apps, etc., the choice can be very confusing and at times expensive. A recent paper from Texas A&M Transportation Institute discusses the top sources for this travel data. This could help us understand how to solve the complexities of incorporating active transportation modes into traditional planning practices.
Many observers see the transportation profession—and other professions, when examined in the light of current knowledge—as being built on a foundation of exclusion. Now, the three E’s of ethics, equity, and empathy are emerging to guide the standard E’s of engineering, education, and enforcement.
NCHRP has released a new guidebook to help state DOTs systematically integrate a right-sizing approach into their decision-making. The practice of “right-sizing” involves modifying the size, extent, function, and composition of existing or planned infrastructure and services to better reflect current needs, goals, and economic realities. While right-sizing has gained popularity, few agencies are doing right-sizing routinely. NCHRP’s new guidebook may help bridge that gap.
A study evaluating municipal planning for autonomous vehicles found that an overwhelming majority of cities have done little to prepare for their arrival. At the same time, many of those cities have concerns about the negative impacts AVs could bring along with the substantial benefits, from increased vehicle miles traveled and congestion to reduced transit ridership and increased sprawl.