Transportation Demand Management: Taking Wheels Off the Road

Planners Make It Easier to Travel Without Driving

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Eric Sundquist is managing director of the State Smart Transportation Initiative at the University of Wisconsin.j

Laura Loges is director of marketing and public affairs for the Miami Valley, Ohio, Regional Planning Commission.

Kimberly Burton is president of Burton Planning Services in Westerville, Ohio.

Posted: Wednesday, December 5, 2018 2:00 pm | Updated: 5:33 pm, Wed Dec 5, 2018.

Eric Sundquist, managing director of the State Smart Transportation Initiative at the University of Wisconsin, said we have been going about the problem of traffic congestion all wrong.

Instead of “destroying the village to save it” – making roads wider and development more auto-centric – we should approach traffic from the demand perspective. That means figuring out how to reduce traffic and reduce the number and length of car trips, especially single-occupancy vehicle trips.

That’s more complicated, but it may be less expensive than widening roads. And it is likely more effective in the long term. Cities and drivers alike have seen areas where there’s a short period of relief after roads are widened, only to see the wider roads just as clogged six months or a year later.

There’s another problem with focusing on the supply part of traffic management.

“When you put in wider roads, that squeezes out other modes of transportation,” said Sundquist. “Let’s put a thumb on the scale (to favor other modes).”

That’s transportation demand management, which focuses on reducing the number and length of auto trips, especially in peak travel times. TDM includes a variety of measures, ranging from subsidized carpooling apps run by the city to make carpooling easier, to incentives such as subsidized transit passes, to bicycle and pedestrian facilities.

California led the way in 2013

City planners have focused more on TDM in the past five years. Pasadena, Calif., led the effort when it passed a new set of planning metrics in 2013.

“(The city was) responding to this notion that they kept widening the roads but it didn’t make things better,” said Sundquist. “It made it harder to walk, and there was more traffic because of that.”

Pasadena was responding to a new California law, SB 743. The state law changed the focus of the environmental review process from measuring cars’ wait time at intersections and their ability to drive at the speed limit, to instead measuring vehicle miles traveled (VMT).

The change was made largely because VMT “is a better indicator of vehicle emissions – the true environmental impact – and to better support active transportation modes” such as walking and biking. The quote is from Modernizing Mitigation: A Demand-Centered Approach, published in September 2018 by the Mayors Innovation Project and the State Smart Transportation Initiative. Sundquist is a lead author.

In California, “the new law prompted several cities to broadly rethink supply-side mitigation and reorient their mitigation framework toward demand management,” the report says. In this context, mitigation means “actions taken to address transportation impacts from land use changes.”

Pasadena, for example, adopted a set of metrics that all large new developments must adhere to, including maximum VMT per capita (22.6 daily), maximum vehicle trips per capita, and other metrics such as bicycle facilities, transit facilities and the city’s Pedestrian Accessibility Score.

“Meeting the requirements is relatively easy in the urban core,” the report says. “For developers that are farther from the urban core, developers may need to add a mixed-use component, build a bike facility, or improve transit access by providing shuttle service or paying for a route modification.” All of those measures are less costly and less disruptive than widening roads.

From employer-run to city-run mitigation measures

“There are a fair number of TDM measures that are run through employers,” Sundquist said. Large employers may offer subsidized transit passes or bike lockers. “What’s less common is to push that notion to the way the city operates as a whole.”

For example, as part of an effort to lower VMT, a city can change the traditional parking requirements for new developments. Historically, cities have required new residential developments to have a minimum number of parking spaces per residential unit. But a plan being developed in Los Angeles takes the opposite approach, requiring mitigation measures to “offset” parking spaces they provide as part of a development.

In some cities, such as San Francisco, developers can earn mitigation points or credits by implementing a variety of measures. These can include improvements in bicycle infrastructure and amenities, a bikeshare program, a carpooling program (more on that below), and improvements to the pedestrian network, among others. The aim is to involve developers in the effort to lower the city’s VMT.

More broadly, “a city can try to reduce the need to travel for all kinds of things, or reduce the number of single-occupancy vehicles,” he said. “What congests the roads the most, for travelers and governments, is single-occupancy vehicles.”

Setting up carpools to decrease VMT

One way to cut the number of single-occupancy vehicles is to encourage carpooling. Many large employers organize carpools for their workers. City and regional governments have started to do the same. Some, such as Miami Valley, Ohio, use a centrally run computer program, and others, such as Palo Alto, Calif., use carpooling apps such as Scoop and Waze.

Nearly 40 years ago, the Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission started a region-wide carpooling program in response to the oil embargo of the mid-1970s. The RIDESHARE program now uses a software program, RideAmigos, that allows users to fill in information about where they live and work so it can look for carpool matches.

Users receive a list of carpool matches, and the rest is up to the individuals. Organizers encourage people to meet ahead of time in a neutral location and figure out the route and timing.

“It’s a way to try to eliminate the uncertainty of getting in a car with a stranger,” said Laura Loges, director of marketing and public affairs for the Miami Valley RPC.

Members of the carpool can decide if they want two or three people in the group.

“If it’s over four, we try to get them into a vanpool,” Loges said. RIDESHARE has several vanpools that go to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, the largest employer in the area. RIDESHARE provides a $700 monthly subsidy to encourage the vanpools.

The efforts are paying off. In 2010, the Brookings Institution found that while carpooling declined nationwide in the 2000s, of the 100 largest metro areas, only Dayton saw an increase.

Carpooling – There’s an app for that

Many urban dwellers are accustomed to using an app for transportation, to call an Uber or Lyft. But some research has shown that such ride-hailing companies increase the number of cars on the road. So what about using an app to create carpools? Miami Valley RIDESHARE looked into that and was dissuaded by research showing that people don’t want to download one more app.

But some do. And Google is ready to serve them with its new Waze Carpool smartphone app, which rolled out nationally in October.

Like RideAmigos, users type in their home and work location and commuting hours to look for a ride or offer one. One advantage to users is that they can then drive in the carpool lane in large urban areas.

Cities are starting to sign up. Palo Alto uses both Scoop, another carpooling app, and Waze. It’s another tool for the Palo Alto Transportation Management Association, which was formed in January 2016 to reduce the number of single-occupancy vehicles downtown. Besides carpooling, it also uses transit subsidies and bicycling incentives.

Users who download the city’s free Scoop app are guaranteed a price of just $2 — subsidized by the city – for pickup from their home (within a 40-mile radius of downtown Palo Alto) to their job in the city. In third-quarter 2018, Scoop had 207 active users a month, with a slight increase in each of the first three quarters of the year. Waze Carpool, which was being tested in California before being rolled out nationwide, had 90 active users a month in the third quarter.

What are the downsides to carpooling apps? Safety and reliability may be two.

“Do you want to get in a car with a complete stranger?” said Kimberly Burton, president of Burton Planning Services, Westerville, Ohio. She notes that young people are more trusting and perhaps more willing to take such a risk. Waze does offer the option for women to request a female driver.

Another potential downside is the social equity component, Burton said. Lower-income urban residents may not have smartphones and cannot download a “free” app.

Transportation demand management measures such as city-organized carpooling and subsidized transit may require a change in priorities for many cities.

“None of these things are brain surgery,” said Sundquist. “The hardest things are the requirements you’re under as a developer to provide a lot of parking and make it easier to drive. We can’t make everything super-car-accessible and expect people to walk. They’ll drive because it’s easier.”

The job of cities that care about sustainability is to make it just as easy to use other modes of transportation.

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