67 Congress Members Tell Feds: Measure the Movement of People, Not Cars

A proposed rule from U.S. DOT could undermine transit. Image: Transportation for America
If U.S. DOT doesn’t change its proposed congestion metric, 50 people riding in a bus will count as much as one person in an SUV. Image: Transportation for America

The federal government hands states about $40 billion a year for transportation, money they can basically spend however they want. The result in many places is a lot of expensive, traffic-inducing highways that get clogged with cars soon after they’re finished. Can measuring the effect of all this spending lead to better decisions?

U.S. DOT is developing a metric to assess how well states address congestion. This is a minefield — if the new congestion rule only measures the movement of cars, it’s going to entrench 60 years of failed transportation policy. Unfortunately, the first draft of the DOT rule left a lot to be desired.

Reformers have been pushing the agency to revise the rule so it takes a broader, multi-modal view of congestion. Stephen Lee Davis at Transportation for America reports 19 senators and 48 U.S. representatives have written a letter to U.S. DOT [PDF] demanding a healthier approach.

The Congress members write:

If we focus, as this proposed rule does, on keeping traffic moving at high speeds at all times of day on all types of roads and streets, then the result is easy to predict: states and MPOs will prioritize investments to increase average speeds for cars, at the expense of goals to provide safe, reliable, environmentally sensitive, multi-modal transportation options for all users of the transportation system, despite those goals being stated in federal statute. This singular focus on moving vehicles undermines the progress this Administration has made on multi-modal planning and investments through the TIGER program. Encouraging faster speeds on roadways undermines the safety of roads for all users, as well as the economic vitality of our communities.

The excessive congestion performance measure should be amended to assess people hours of delay and not just vehicles. This change is critical to account for the many non-single occupancy vehicle users, including transit bus riders and bicyclists and pedestrians traveling along the corridor, which provide critical congestion relief and could be undercounted or even penalized under this measure.

The letter also insists that U.S. DOT require state and regional transportation agencies to assess the impact of projects on greenhouse gas emissions.

U.S. DOT is currently accepting comments about the rule change. You can weigh in and help promote a better policy.

Elsewhere on the Network today: The Transport Politic offers a side-by-side comparison of the Republican and Democratic transportation platforms. Bike Portland highlights a study that found streetcar tracks cause a large number of cyclist injuries in Toronto. And The Fifth Square wants Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney to enforce parking rules on South Broad year round, like the city is during the DNC.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

A crowded 38 bus in San Francisco

Transportation Agencies Will Finally Measure the Movement of People, Not Just Cars

|
Hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent in the quest for free-flowing vehicular traffic. The result is wider highways, more sprawl, and more people stuck in congestion. But this week U.S. DOT took an important step to change course, releasing new standards to guide how transportation agencies measure their performance. Advocates for transit and walkability say the policy is a significant improvement.

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 […]

The Feds Want to Reform the Cult of “Level of Service”

|
“What you measure is what you get,” the saying goes. That’s certainly true for transportation policy. And for a very long time one metric has reigned supreme on American streets: “Level of Service,” a system that assigns letter grades based on motorist delay. Roughly speaking, a street with free-flowing traffic gets an A while one where […]

The Highway Era Is Over. When Will Our Institutions Catch Up?

|
The highway era is over. The construction of the Interstate Highway System is essentially complete. Americans will continue to log lots of miles on highways, but for the most part, the job of building them is over. We’ve already connected the places worth connecting by highways. The problem is that transportation agencies — especially state DOTs — haven’t caught up. In their training, organizational […]

Engineers to U.S. DOT: Transportation Is About More Than Moving Cars

|
A trade group representing the transportation engineering profession thinks it’s high time for American policy makers to stop focusing so much on moving single-occupancy vehicles. U.S. DOT is currently deciding how it will assess the performance of state DOTs. Will it continue business as usual and equate success with moving huge numbers of cars? That’s […]