Economic Development Research Group Blog

Rural Accessibility

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There are more remote regions in the country, but the Appalachian Region with its population of 25 million is unique in the way that it is comparatively populous, within reach of large metropolitan areas of the East and yet is still isolated in many parts. Poverty in Appalachia was ubiquitous when President Johnson signed legislation to make federal funds available to develop the Appalachian Region. The construction of the Appalachian Development Highway System (ADHS) has since been one of the major efforts to overcome economic distress in the region. The relationship between poor access to markets and the lack of economic opportuni-ties has been well known for a long time. With the ADHS nearing its completion and highway accessibility widely improved, economic distress and its consequences remain a prevalent issue in some parts of Appalachia, reinforced by the nation’s evolving economy. The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) has therefore started a...
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Defining Geographic Zones for Spatial Analysis

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Zones Blog Graphics
Spatial data is at the core of transportation analysis. Land use patterns, including the density of jobs and homes, and the locations of transportation infrastructure, such as stops, stations, and intersections, are frequently used to answer transportation planning questions. It is often useful to generate metrics at for a geographic zone. Not only does this allow for mapping and visualization, it often reflects the way that people use a transportation system – while a bus stop or rail station is located at a single point, passengers access it from the surrounding zone. In multi-modal analysis, considering zone-to-zone rather than point-to-point travel allows performance and accessibility assessments to compare or combine different modal options that serve the same areas. Given the importance of zones in transportation analysis, the next question is: which zones should be used? There are many existing zonal schemes including zip codes, census tracts, and transportation analysis zones...
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Recap from the APTA Annual Meeting

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In September, I attended the APTA Annual Meeting in Nashville, Tennessee. Following the defeat of Nashville’s transit referendum in May, the local transit agency is pressing ahead by investing in its bus fleet and changing its name to “WeGo”—a brand that speaks to transit’s role in building community. A highlight of the conference was a session covering transit ballot measures and how they can succeed. The panelists represented a successful ballot measure (Los Angeles), failed ballot measure (Nashville), and upcoming ballot measure (Las Vegas). The panelist from Nashville shared that many voters were willing to pay for transit but were concerned about how the plan would be implemented after the city experienced an abrupt change in leadership two months before the vote. Organizers from Los Angeles attributed their success in passing Measure M , a 2016 referendum, to several factors. These included a public input process following the release of...
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AMPO 2018: Planning for an Uncertain Future

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Uncertainty was a common theme at at AMPO’s annual conference , held in September in San Antonio, Texas. It was an opportunity to share strategies for dealing with an uncertain transportation future, ranging from scenario planning to collaboration and data-driven and technical solutions. I presented on cross-agency information sharing in the context of project prioritization, sharing lessons learned from EDR Group’s work with MassDOT on evaluating economic impact. My take home message was that information sharing across agencies makes planning and prioritization more effective and efficient.  In the Boston region, CTPS (the Boston region MPO) and the MBTA (the transit agency) each develop metrics and data products around accessibility that can be used for data-driven evaluation of potential projects. Rather than re-inventing the wheel, agencies can use interactive platforms to consolidate data products and make them usable across agencies. Throughout the conference, I learned about other planning efforts across the...
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On-Demand Ride Services: A Compelling Case for Research

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Scott Middleton is the newest member of the EDR Group team. Before joining, Scott worked as an analyst and planner at the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Volpe National Transportation Systems Center and completed graduate studies at MIT.  At MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning, he completed a master’s thesis that investigated rider behavior and preferences in on-demand ride services (e.g., Uber, Lyft, Waymo). He plans to contribute to EDR Group’s growing body of work in this exciting new discipline.  In July, EDR Group released a new report that measured the economic impact of Uber at national, state, and metropolitan scales. The report generated media attention as the first study to quantify both the economic impacts and benefits of on-demand ride services offered by transportation network companies (TNCs) such as Uber. This work pioneered new methods for putting numbers to intangible features of this emerging industry, including reliability, access, flexibility,...
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Brand New National Travel Behavior Data

On August 8th and 9th, I had the opportunity to attend the 2018 National Household Travel Survey Workshop (NHTS)  in Washington, DC. I presented a poster called  Evaluating Alternative Transportation Revenue Regimes Using the NHTS Transferability Statistics , based on work EDR Group has done for the Western Road User Charge Consortium (RUC West). This NHTS data product from the 2009 survey allows us to estimate the travel behavior of households at a census tract scale across the U.S. To date we’ve examined 10 states to understand how revenue-neutral conversion from a gasoline excise tax to a road usage charge would affect different groups of households.   While I’ve used the NHTS for several different analyses at EDR Group—from comparing modal choices and trip characteristics to constructing time of day and weekly travel distributions—having only 2009 survey results was starting to be limiting. This conference was a great opportunity to discuss innovative uses of the data with other experts in the travel behavior field and learn about what’s new in the 2017...
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A Summer in Zurich

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Kyle Schroeckenthaler of EDR Group is on assignment to the offices of our parent company, EBP, in Zurich for the summer months.  While in Zurich, Kyle is working closely with the Resources, Energy and Climate division as well as the Transportation group to identify European and global best practices that could be beneficial to our US-based clients.  Kyle’s visit will especially support EDR Group’s ability to provide a range and depth of services to clients on new mobility topics such as vehicle electrification and automated and connected technologies effect on transportation systems.     Last month, I arrived in Zurich, Switzerland to start a two-month long visit, and I am working in the offices of EBP (our parent company) for the summer. I am working a lot with existing US-based projects and clients, but also have many other exciting opportunities to support our Swiss colleagues and build relationships that will...
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The Evolution of Transportation + Economic Development: Ten Takeaways from I-TED 2018

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The I-TED Conference on Transportation and Economic Development has now concluded. Judging by the reaction of all the participants with whom I’ve spoken, it was a tremendous success.  Here are some personal observations. The field of Transportation and Economic Development has really matured.  I’ve been going to this conference series since they started in 1989, and we’ve come a long way since then.  A dominant focus of presentations at the 1989 conference was showing how transportation investment supports jobs.  At this conference, in contrast, we had speakers talking about how economic development is (or should) factor in transportation decision processes for asset management, right sizing, maintenance and repair, finance, operations and programming, prioritization, long term planning and resilience evaluation. The speakers and poster session offered a substantial set of examples of how various transportation agencies are now carrying out such processes. The conference was also organized in a way that...
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Using New Data to Improve Transit Networks

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The transportation ecosystem is changing rapidly. Individuals have new transportation options, and nationwide trends show transit ridership in decline . New technologies, such as automated vehicles, are expected to continue to reshape mobility in the future. In this environment, transit system owners and operators are seeking to adapt their network design and services. Improved data availability and new processing methods can identify ways to improve transit service. Compared to rail systems, bus networks can be altered at relatively low cost to accommodate changes in demand. Bus network revisions include large-scale overhauls, such as recent redesigns in Houston and Columbus , as well as incremental approaches to bus network change, such as route additions, deletions, and realignments. To make these changes, planners need to understand how the current system is used and where there is potential for improvement. In recent years, contactless smart card-based automatic fare collection (AFC) systems have become...
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Project Update - Economic Gems: Hidden in Plain Site


A couple of weeks ago, Steve Landau and I visited Columbus to start up a new project with the Columbus Regional Airport Authority. Over the next few months, EDR Group will be investigating, quantifying, and (perhaps most importantly!) describing the myriad ways in which the Columbus airport system contributes to the economy of the city, region, and state. One of the most significant and rewarding parts of these types of studies is uncovering what might be called “economic gems” hidden in plain sight. Most people only ever experience airports from the perspective of commercial passenger aviation. But really there is so much more going on. You have air cargo operations making sure time-sensitive goods get in and out, general aviation allowing local businesses to be more efficient that they otherwise would be, and oftentimes clustering of related businesses that benefit from airport access on nearby real estate—just to name a...
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New Data and Techniques for Transportation Economists

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Highway link speed data from vehicle GPS probes has become the standard for performance measurement, available free to state DOTs through the National Performance Management Research Data Set (NPMRDS). This data can add value across transportation planning and policy-making. At EDR Group, we think it extends the potential for informed economic analysis. For Missouri DOT, EDR Group conducted benefit-cost and economic impact analysis of an Incident Management System (IMS) on the rural sections of I-70 and I-44. To evaluate the impact of MoDOT’s proposed IMS, we needed to understand the pattern and costs of incidents along the rural highways. To do so, we used vehicle speed data from HERE. We queried 5 years of speed records at 15-minute intervals for every link on rural I-70 and I-44: approximately 143 million rows of data in total. That’s a lot of data!  Figure 1 Schematic of incident identification. Using heuristics and a...
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Planning for Rapid Technological Change in Transportation and Mobility Services

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Hardly a day passes without websites, newspapers, and TV news trumpeting our entry into an era of “self-driving cars” and “smart everything.” More and more, our everyday lives are digitally connected and facilitated, enabling us to shop from our phones, have up-to-the-minute travel information, and instantly share information with anyone, anywhere. As the digitization of our society grows and computing power becomes more portable and affordable, we continue to rush headlong into a future of both technological promise and societal challenges. Within this context of technology-enabled and driven innovations and opportunities, the nation’s transportation needs are similarly rapidly evolving. The advances in information technologies and business processes are enabling new forms of integrated transportation services that span multiple modes providing both passenger and freight services. At the same time, planners and researchers need to recognize that the rapid pace of technological change and digital information systems in transportation is occurring...
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