Last week I attended the TRB Transportation Planning Applications Conference in Portland, OR. To those familiar with the TRB Annual Meeting, TRBAppcon (as it’s called) is a smaller and less formal event with a greater emphasis on showcasing practical techniques and approaches to transportation planning.
In keeping with the conference’s emphasis on real-life applications, I kept a list of some of the most useful data sources and analysis/visualization tools presented at the conference:
- StreetLight Data: StreetLight provides real-world transportation data collected from smartphone location services. Throughout TRBAppcon, presenters demonstrated several novel applications of StreetLight data, such as: analyzing park visitors’ origins; understanding which vehicle trips are external to a region; validating traditional models; and identifying mismatch between bicycle use and cycling facilities. Elsewhere, EDR Group has applied StreetLight data to estimate the effects of proposed mileage-based road user fees on urban and rural households respectively.
- National Performance Management Research Data Set (NPMRDS): NPMRDS is a free source of data provided monthly by FHWA that provides average travel times on the National Highway System for use in performance management. One presentation demonstrated the use of NPMRDS data for a before-and-after analysis of transportation impacts in the Dallas-Fort Worth region.
- Census Transportation Planning Products Program (CTPP): CTPP offers tabulations of American Community Survey (ACS) data useful for policy and planning efforts, such as demographic characteristics, home/work locations, and journey to work travel flows. One helpful TRBAppcon tutorial demonstrated strategies for visualizing this data in R.
- American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) Commercial Truck Data: ATRI provides large samples of truck GPS data helpful for understanding truck travel patterns and forecasting truck demand. Presentations at TRBAppcon dealt with sampling raw ATRI GPS data and cleaning it for use – including how to understand whether a truck stops for a delivery or for a rest!
- VisionEval: VisionEval is a strategic modeling framework useful for developing and analyzing large numbers of scenarios (>100!). A tutorial at TRBAppcon demonstrated the use of VisionEval software by the Atlanta Regional Commission to run scenarios, analyze the results, and present findings.
- Shiny: Shiny is an easy-to-use package for R that supports interactive web apps. Shiny is particularly useful for building reporting dashboards and one helpful TRBAppcon tutorial demonstrated the use of Shiny to build interactive transit data visualization websites.
Naturally the exchange of ideas at TRBAppcon is a two-way street and EDR Group offered its own experience and techniques to the conference participants. In my podium presentation Transportation & the Economy: Drawing Conclusions Instead of Drawing Blanks, I presented an overview of our approach to freight planning using readily available economic tools and data such as:
- Moody’s Analytics (economic forecasts)
- IMPLAN (input-output matrices for inter-industry, buy-sell relationships)
- Freight Analysis Framework (domestic commodity flows)
- WiserTrade (customs data on imports and exports)
Beyond learning about data and analytical tools, TRBAppcon also offered engaging policy debates. In that vein, one major highlight of the conference for me was the “Great Debate.” During lunch on Tuesday, four speakers from the public and private sectors debated the proposition “Ride-hail services such as Uber and Lyft are beneficial to society.” What ensued was a lively conversation with strong audience engagement and compelling points on both sides of the argument. Attendees were asked to vote on the proposition after the debate, with the majority of planners in the room ultimately disagreeing with the statement. While the content of the debate was of great interest to me as a shared mobility researcher, what I enjoyed most was seeing planners engage in such a fun, lively context – something I highly recommend for future conferences and events!