Handing out A’s to C students: How we measure our transportation’s usefulness - Metropolitan Planning Council

Skip to main content

Handing out A’s to C students: How we measure our transportation’s usefulness

Flickr user Erin Nekervis (CC)

Buses carry many more people than cars, but proposed U.S. Dept. of Transportation rules would privilege cars over buses.

Do you ride your bike to work? Take the train? Perhaps you moved closer so you could walk. Well, according to draft rules released today by the U.S. Dept. of Transportation, you don’t count.

Ok, that’s a little harsh, but the point is that our friends in the federal government are trying to develop new ways to measure the impact—or “performance”—of the dollars we spend on transportation in this country. Those of us who spend a lot of time thinking about what we get in return for our investment are underwhelmed after an initial review of the proposed rules.

We already know that the State of Illinois needs $43 billion over the next 10 years to make up for a lack of investment in the transportation system. What many of my friends (rightly) say is that they won’t give another dime to the government unless they can be assured it goes to projects that have a positive impact. They don’t want to see any more calls for tollways like the Illiana Expressway. It’s disheartening, then, that the federal rules would seem to support just such a project.

The rules focus primarily on the speed of traffic moving on a given road; the faster the traffic is moving, the better the road performs. This may make sense in vast swathes of the country where everything is moving by car. But in urban areas, with lots of traffic and where people have choices, this approach penalizes those of us who choose not to drive.

Ironically, it's urban areas where the majority of the population now lives and that trend is only expected to increase. So, as we build transportation infrastructure in Chicagoland today, that same infrastructure will be serving even more people in the future.

Rather than the speed of the vehicle, another approach to performance is to measure the number of people moving through a corridor. For example, if we are only concerned with the speed of traffic and every vehicle is a car carrying one person, then we will build more lanes for more cars. BUT, if every vehicle becomes a bus carrying 50 people we’ve dramatically increased the carrying capacity of the road without pouring another inch of concrete. Furthermore, if we are only focused on roadway congestion, we completely ignore the hundreds of thousands of people who avoid the roads altogether by getting on mass transit. Ideally, cities should be developing more mass transit, not less, so we need a system that values it.

I like living in Chicago because I get to choose how I get around. On any given day I take advantage of at least three different modes of travel and I’m not unique. We have an opportunity to led the Feds know that we count and that we should be valuing things other than speedy car travel. If you want to have your voice heard, you can email them your comments from their webpage. Transportation for America and Smart Growth America also have a comment option set up.

They’re waiting to hear from you for the next 120 days. Tell them you count.


No comments

More posts by Peter

All posts by Peter »

MPC on Twitter

Follow us on Twitter »

Stay in the loop!

MPC's Regionalist newsletter keeps you up to date with our work and our upcoming events.?

Subscribe to Regionalist

Most popular news

Browse by date »

This page can be found online at http://www.metroplanning.org/news/7305

Metropolitan Planning Council 140 S. Dearborn St.
Suite 1400
Chicago, Ill. 60603
312 922 5616 info@metroplanning.org

Sign up for newsletter and alerts »

Shaping a better, bolder, more equitable future for everyone

For more than 85 years, the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) has partnered with communities, businesses, and governments to unleash the greatness of the Chicago region. We believe that every neighborhood has promise, every community should be heard, and every person can thrive. To tackle the toughest urban planning and development challenges, we create collaborations that change perceptions, conversations—and the status quo. Read more about our work »

Donate »