An Alternative to Congestion-Based City Rankings

The Texas Transportation Institute’s “Annual Mobility Report,” which rates highway congestion in major urban areas across the United States, probably gets more press attention than any other piece of transportation research.

A new tool for measuring the efficiency of urban transportation systems takes into account the distance between destinations. Image: ##http://www.cts.umn.edu/Publications/catalyst/2013/november/accessibility/## CTS Catalyst##
A new tool for measuring the efficiency of urban transportation systems takes into account the distance between destinations, not just driver delay. Image: ##http://www.cts.umn.edu/Publications/catalyst/2013/november/accessibility/##CTS Catalyst##

These city rankings assume that urban transportation policy should aspire, first and foremost, to eliminate motorist delay. Many press outlets pick up the report’s findings and rush to the conclusion that urban areas need wider roads or more highways. In recent years, critics of the report have convincingly argued that the absence of congestion is a poor benchmark for urban transportation systems. It doesn’t even take into account the total amount of time that people spend driving.

An alternative was put forward earlier this year University of Minnesota engineering professor David Levinson. Levinson has developed a system based on “accessibility” rather than congestion. The benefit of Levinson’s metric is that it takes into account the distance between destinations, and how that affects the ease of getting where you want to go. This overcomes a crucial weakness in the TTI report, although one drawback of Levinson’s measure, currently, is that it only factors in accessibility by car.

Now Levinson’s system will come out in a very media-friendly form: annual rankings. Earlier this month the University of Minnesota’s “Accessibility Observatory” announced that it will release these city rankings, with support from the Minnesota Department of Transportation and the McKnight Foundation. Hopefully it will get as much attention as TTI’s.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Sober Non-Partisan Analysis: America Wastes a Ton of Money on Highways

|
A good deal of the $46 billion the federal government pours into highway spending each year is going to waste, according to a new Congressional Budget Office report [PDF]. The conclusion won’t surprise regular Streetsblog readers, but it’s the source that’s interesting. The CBO is not an advocacy group or an ideologically-minded think tank. It’s a non-partisan budget watchdog charged […]

U.S. DOT Blows Chance to Reform the City-Killing, Planet-Broiling Status Quo

|
The Obama administration purportedly wants to use the lever of transportation policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx recently said he’d like to reverse the damage highways caused in urban neighborhoods, but you’d never know that by looking at U.S. DOT’s latest policy prescription. U.S. DOT has drafted new rules requiring state DOTs to track their […]

Highway Boondoggles: Widening I-95 Across Connecticut

|
Last year Congress passed a multi-year transportation bill. Like previous bills, it gives tens of billions of dollars to states every year to spend with almost no strings attached. How much of this federal funding will state DOTs devote to expensive, traffic-inducing highway projects that further entrench car dependence and sprawl? In a new report, Highway Boondoggles 2 (the […]