September 2009 Archives

From MPR I-35W MnPass (HOT lanes) to open this week The entire article talks about MnPass without mentioning I-394 (the link includes animations).

The interesting bit from a transportation perspective is the variable priced shoulders, and how well that works.

Journal of Transport and Land Use Vol 2, No 2: Access, Aging, and Impairments Part B: Accessibility Planning is now out.

Table of Contents:

Access, Aging, and Impairments Part B: Accessibility Planning
edited by Jan-Dirk Schmöcker

Implementing accessibility in municipal planning -- planners' view
by Hanna Wennberg, Agneta Ståhl, Christer Hydén

Can measuring the benefits of accessible transport enable a seamless journey?
by Alice Maynard

Assessing the extent of transport social exclusion among the elderly
by Helena Titheridge, Kamalasudhan Achuthan, Roger L Mackett, Juliet Solomon

Older people and local public transit: Mobility effects of accessibility improvements in Sweden
by Anders Wretstrand, Helena Svensson, Sofi Fristedt, Torbjörn Falkmer

Urban Mobility Plans and Accessibility
by Maryvonne Dejeammes

Book Reviews
Book Review of the Code and the City
by Arthur Huang

Mayor orders Thames back on map

From BBC Mayor orders Thames back on map

The most recent TfL Tube map had deleted the Thames to simplify presentation.

Monitoring the Effectiveness of HOV-to-HOT Conversions

Speaker: Randall Guensler, Ph.D.
School of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Georgia Institute of Technology
Date: September 18, 2009
Time: 3:30 p.m.
Location: Civil Engineering Building Room 210

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A critical element of the planning process is the ongoing evaluation of consumer response to transportation strategy implementation. Ongoing evaluation is especially important for high-cost intelligent transportation system (ITS) deployments and value pricing initiatives involving economic incentives that may impact user groups disproportionately. For pricing strategies to be sustained economically and politically in major metropolitan areas, policymakers need hard evidence as to the actual costs and benefits of such strategies. Too often in the debate over converting HOV lanes to HOT lanes, sweeping generalizations are made by advocates in favor of and against pricing initiatives without sufficient evidence to back their positions.

To date, studies have provided pretty clear and convincing evidence that variable toll pricing on congested freeway facilities can reduce congestion on the priced facility. Studies also indicate that managed lane facilities are used by all income groups (although not at the same levels). Previous research efforts have focused primarily on the commute trips. However, the use of HOT lanes affects mode choice, departure time, and travel time for the journey to work, as well as supplemental trip-chaining activities and even the long distance travel made by a household. Ongoing value pricing studies in Atlanta and elsewhere have yet to provide solid evidence as to the impacts of congestion pricing on total household travel and emissions. The data collected to date are inadequate to draw solid conclusions. Ongoing household panel data collection efforts that would provide a detailed look at changes in household travel behavior and emissions before and after congestion-priced facilities are opened have not been implemented concurrent with managed lane introduction due to cost. In the proposal for federal funding support for the HOV to HOT conversion in Atlanta, Georgia committed to implementing a comprehensive study to quantify the effects of the implementation on congestion, travel behavior, emissions, and equity.

Dr. Guensler will provide some background on the Commute Atlanta Value Pricing study in which more than 1.8 million vehicle trips were monitored on a second-by-second basis. He will discuss the major research issues that the team identified in assessing consumer response to pricing and the problems encountered in conducting long term panel studies. He will also demonstrate some of the new instrumented fleet monitoring systems and online electronic travel diary tools developed for various research efforts. Finally, he will provide some information on the planned Atlanta deployment designed to quantify the impacts of HOV-to-HOT conversion.

Refreshments will be served in the rotunda following the seminar.

Rail down in Ohio

Via EP: Amtrak says 3C passenger plan to cost $500 million to get under way in the Plain Dealer.

Passenger train service between Cleveland and Cincinnati would carry nearly half a million passengers a year, but cost more than $500 million to get under way, according to a study released Tuesday by Amtrak.

Or in other words $1000 per annual passenger (divide by number of years to spread the total cost over all users) to get under way, without considering operating costs. Let's say 10 years, so $100 per passenger (ignoring discounting).

But a one-way ticket from Cleveland to Cincinnati would cost $25.50 at the Amtrak average of 10 cents per mile, said Ken Prendergast, executive director of All Aboard Ohio, a nonprofit agency that promotes rail travel.

So it won't cover costs, how disappointing.

Varner said ODOT is studying ways to find more funds for bus service. But the state has to invest in all modes of transportation. The Amtrak report shows Ohioans support passenger rail and nearly 6 million people live within 15 miles of the 3C route, he said.

"What we are seeing is the pent-up demand," he said.

Sure, Ohioans support the rest of the country paying for their service at a subsidy exceeding $75 per trip, why wouldn't they? And of those 6 million people near the route, only 500K per year are going to use, or one trip per person every 12 years.

But, wait, there is the economic development potential, according to this article: Passenger rail service brought $7B in investments, jobs, developer says in the Dayton Daily news.

Now I am convinced. Rail magically turns $100M to $7B, what a great investment.

Women only trains in India to reduce sexual harassment. From NYT: On India's Railways, Women Find New Peace in Commute

Timelapse USA

Driving North America, from San Francisco to DC, in 4:36 with time lapse photography (via DailyKos):

See also London to Glasgow in five minutes by train

Bob Johns goes east

Since it is now official.... Congratulations to Bob Johns for his appointment at Volpe. Good luck to Laurie McGinnis as acting director in his stead.

Subject: New Volpe Center Director

I am very pleased to announce the appointment of Robert C. Johns as the Director of the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center(

As you know, the Volpe Center is a jewel in the DOT family and a global leader in transportation research. Selecting a leader for the Center was among the most important decisions we have had to make, and we took this decision very seriously. We launched a broad national search, proactively reaching out to a wide range of individuals at leading organizations in the private and public sectors. Our search team included representatives from Volpe, RITA headquarters, and the customers of Volpe across the modal administrations. We were very pleased with how many very senior and knowledgeable individuals applied; this strong applicant pool is testament to Volpe's 40-year reputation as the leading institution of its kind.

Bob Johns stood out among the applicant pool as a leader who brings a strong combination of deep transportation knowledge, research experience, management skills, and extensive ties within the national and global transportation communities. He brings entrepreneurial leadership in building multimodal and interdisciplinary research programs along with his strong management and organizational development expertise.

Bob has been director of the Center for Transportation Studies (CTS) at the University of Minnesota since 2001. During this period, he more than doubled the revenue attracted to the University for transportation research, education, and outreach, leading CTS to the top echelon of university transportation centers in the U.S. Prior to joining the University in 1988, Bob held research and management positions with the Santa Fe Railway, the Minnesota Department of Transportation, and the Metropolitan Council of the Twin Cities. He also has over 20 years of experience in leading Transportation Research Board committees and currently is chair of the Technical Activities Council, which oversees TRB's 200 technical committees. He received a B.S. in Engineering Operations from Iowa State University and an M.B.A. and M.A. from the University of Iowa.

I have had extensive discussions with Bob about how strong a team we have up at Volpe, and the tremendous opportunities we have to leverage this talent to address the transportation challenges that we face as a nation. I want to thank the acting Volpe Director, Dr. Richard John, for his excellent stewardship of this team during an extended interim period. The Volpe Center has never missed a beat in delivering high-quality results for its clients, and Dick has been a critical leader in ensuring this continuity and success.

Bob will be joining us on Monday, September 28. Please join me in offering him a warm welcome to Volpe and the extended RITA and DOT family.

Best regards,


Peter H. Appel
Research and Innovative Technology Administration
U.S. Department of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
Washington, DC 20590
Office: (202) 366-4180

Recently published:

Zhang, Lei and David Levinson (2009) The Economics of Road Network Ownership: An Agent-Based Approach. International Journal of Sustainable Transport Sept. 2009 3(5) pp. 339-359. [doi]

This paper explores the economic impact of alternative ownership structures on transportation system performance, social welfare, and regulatory needs. Road pricing, investment, and ownership decisions are jointly considered in an agent-based evolutionary model applicable to large networks. Results suggest that a centralized public regime with average-cost pricing is far from socially optimal with even moderate demand growth. When properly regulated, a completely privatized transportation network could achieve net social benefits close to the theoretical optimum and distribute a high percentage of welfare gains to travelers. But an unregulated private road economy would suffer from higher-than-optimal tolls and overinvestment.

Keywords: network economics; privatization; road pricing; simulation of network evolution; transportation financing

Problematic plank road to be repaired

In the news ... Problematic plank road to be repaired . This road is next to the very nice Minneapolis Mill City Museum (for those interested in the history of breakfast cereal). The interesting thing is that the 6 year old road needs repairs, which is exactly why plank roads were abandoned the first time they were laid during the plank road boom of the mid 1800s. (Repairs were required too quickly, so total cost > total benefit).

Ref: J Majewski, C Baer, DB Klein (1993) Responding to Relative Decline: The Plank Road Boom of Antebellum New York Journal of Economic History

Security lines at airports

James Fallows on Security lines at airports, which I complained about years ago.

From FiveThirtyEight: Do Americans Really Hate Flying? Or Really Love Driving?, an amateur analysis of inter-city travel statistics that includes a discussion of gravity models. The comments are worth reading as well.

From Green Car Congress via EP: Univ. of Delaware Researchers Conclude Cash for Clunkers Cost Exceeded Benefit

2 September 2009
Burton Abrams and George Parsons of the University of Delaware evaluated the efficiency of the recently concluded Cash for Clunkers (CARS) program and concluded that the cost exceeds the benefit by approximately $2,000 per vehicle, or close to $1.4 billion in total. Their paper appears in the online journal The Economists' Voice.

Abrams and Parsons calculated the average national cost per vehicle turned in to be scrapped under CARS at $2,600. There is a $4,200 loss to the taxpayer (the average subsidy), but the CARS participant gains $1,600 per vehicle ($2,600 in the value of the price subsidy less the $1,000 loss of the clunker).

Assuming 12,000 as the average miles driven per year and using the average mpg of the retired vehicles (15.8 mpg) and the newly purchased vehicles (25.0), they calculated that the program cut gasoline consumption by some 280 gallons per year per vehicle. Assuming the average clunker would have lasted 3 more years (at which time a new, higher mpg vehicle would have been purchased), the gasoline savings works out to 804 gallons per vehicle on average.

Using an estimated cost of $0.71 per gallon for CO2 and criteria pollutant costs (Jason Hill et al., PNAS), Abrams and Parsons calculated the environmental benefits of the clunker program (ignoring discounting) at about $596 per vehicle.

With per vehicle environmental benefits at $596 and the costs at $2,600 per vehicle, the clunker program is a net drain on society of roughly $2,000 per vehicle. Given the approximately 700,000 vehicles in the program, we estimate the total welfare loss to be about $1.4 billion.

The welfare loss would be even greater if we fine tuned our estimate of the social cost per gallon to account for the spatial mix of clunkers...Even if the environmental gains were double our estimate, the net drain would still be close to $1 billion. While a more rigorous analysis would no doubt adjust these figures, we doubt that the basic conclusion would change.

--Burton and Paarsons (2009)

Congratulations to University of Minnesota Civil Engineering and Nexus Group Alumnus Ning Li (now Senior Highway Safety Engineer, Virginia Department of Transportation, Richmond, Virginia) for receiving the ITE
Past Presidents' Award for Merit in Transportation Engineering
in recognition of the paper titled "Improving Data Accuracy of Roadway Departure Crashes: Virginia Practice and its National Implications."

I was interviewed by Ina Jaffe for the NPR story: California Edges Ahead In High-Speed-Train 'Race' Of course a half-hour interview by Ina Jaffe was distilled into 2 soundbytes.

The story is fascinating ... not enough demand for air travel therefore we need HSR.

It is followed by an interview with Eric Morris. I am pleased to be no longer the only official California HSR skeptic.

David Levinson

Network Reliability in Practice

Evolving Transportation Networks

Place and Plexus

The Transportation Experience

Access to Destinations

Assessing the Benefits and Costs of Intelligent Transportation Systems

Financing Transportation Networks

View David Levinson's profile on LinkedIn

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