Saturday, March 12, 2011

Driven Apart by Joe Cortright and CEOs for Cities to visit Portland in April

I was watching the PSU Friday Transportation Seminar webcast of Joe Cortright's presentation on DRIVEN APART and surfed over to the CEOs for Cities website. Joe presented on Driven Apart Report. The premise of Driven Apart was to analyze the validity of the Texas Transportation Institute's Urban Mobility report written by my old friend Tim Lomax and David Schrank among others. I always found it odd that the UMR was produced in a very non urban place (College Station), where the researchers really have no daily perspective on multimodal transportation in an urban setting. College Station, Texas is not indicative of the urban areaas that are reported on in this report. Complaints about congestion are not based on daily experiences. The multimodal options that are commonplace in these communities are not possible in a college town of around 100k population. I did however find Texas to be a fine place to bike because there was always an extra travel lane somewhere in the system because it was largely overbuilt to accommodate a Level of Service B. It's consistent with my walk the walk, talk the talk philosophy, but I appreciate that it is something that shouldn't be imposed on everyone.

Joe Cortright digs into the data for the old model, which I found flawed based on my experience, and the new data from Inrix (which is also flawed data). He makes the point that in every single City that congestion is getting worse. He calls that misleading because he believes that there have been changes. The key finding is: "Secret to reducing time Americans spend in peak hour traffic has more to do with how we build our cities than how we build our roads." He's also quick to point out that "Longer trip distances and sprawl shape travel times". He goes on to say that the UMR is not technically sound (yikes!), that the data isn't sound, the methodology is flawed, the errors haven't been fixed, the core findings should be able to be corroborated with independent sources of data, and finally he doesn't believe a debate will sway the authors (he notes that they didn't even acknowledge his work). He goes so far to say that they didn't try to meet the tests of scholarship, which is harsh.

On an unrelated story, I found that the CEO for cities group is coming to Portland and it seems like a great agenda to broaden the exposure to the policies that we're moving forward with in our fair city. I am not sure how much transportation research shapes that group's agenda, but it is clear that there is a significant amount of money spent by DOTs that listen to the Urban Mobility Report and continue to try to build our way out of congestion. I am hopeful this research moves us forward as a nation, making cities greater than they are today.

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