Performance Measures

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The Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA) is a United States federal law that posed a major change to transportation planning and policy. It presented an overall intermodal approach to highway and transit funding with collaborative planning requirements, giving significant additional powers to metropolitan planning organizations. Based on the ISTEA Planning Factors, metropolitan transportation plans are required to reflect a more comprehensive vision and understanding of the role of and impacts resulting from transportation investments. Concomitantly, the performance measures have also broadened as have the capabilities of analytic tools, data resources, and the application of this information in the planning and decision making process.

ISTEA ushered in a new planning ethic where transportation policies, plans, and programs were required to demonstrate a stronger link with economic and societal goals that transportation is used to better evaluate how transportation is tied to economic vitality and competitiveness and therefore taking us back to the concept of “Cool Cities” or “New Economy” investment. Were:

he role of transportation infrastructure on economic vitality of communities is understood to improve connectivity of communities to other communities and markets that can enhance their economic vitality and competitiveness. Of particular importance to long term community vitality and competitiveness is, however, how the health and quality of life attributes of communities are affected by transportation systems. Mainly, the distributional impact of transportation related pollution and health impacts on minority groups could be of significant concern and an area future transportation system design and implementation can seriously consider mitigating and balancing economic vitality against environmental justice.

2.) Disparity in transportation funding to communities due to preference for certain mode of transportation or certain locations can adversely impact the ability of particularly minority dominated locations to improve their transportation systems. Consideration need to be given to distributional equity in transportation funding to prioritize funding on the bases of key factors that are relevant for all communities.

3.) The distributional impact of environmental problems associated with a given transportation system management is of particular interest. Certain locations and minorities can be adversely impacted by pollution related health problems. Transportation policy needs to consider this concern and its geographic and demographic biases to bring about overall improved health benefits from well-managed transportation systems.

4.) Transportation generated pollution and health risks can also affect community quality of life. Concentration of pollution and health risks can impact quality of life in communities in many ways (1) directly affects individual and community heath, (2) significantly impacts property values and local sources of funding, and (3) places such communities in long-term disadvantage by limiting growth in economic opportunities and population.

As such the ISTEA now includes the following objectives:

§ Support economic vitality and competitiveness;

§ Safety and security for motorized and non-motorized travelers;

§ Increase accessibility and mobility options for people and freight;

§ Protect the environment, conserve energy, and improve quality of life;

§ Enhance connectivity and integration across modes for people and freight;

§ Manage existing transportation system for maximum efficiency; and

§ Preserve the existing transportation system

Based on the ISTEA Planning Factors, metropolitan transportation plans are required to reflect a more comprehensive vision and understanding of the role of and impacts resulting from transportation investments. Concomitantly, the performance measures have also broadened as have the capabilities of analytic tools, data resources, and the application of this information in the planning and decision making process. Fittingly, it seems these comprehensive transportation-planning goals should also serve as the policy framework for evaluating environmental justice needs and concerns in the context of both metropolitan planning as well as more perfunctory or topical issues and concerns.

The Inter-modal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) of 1991 shaped this process with its recommendations for the adoption of various planning factors into the state and metropolitan planning organization (MPO) transportation planning process. The intent of the planning factors was to draw into consideration the many objectives that transportation either supports or influences when framing the goals and objectives of a comprehensive transportation plan. Prior to ISTEA, all too often transportation plans, policies, and spending priorities were guided by a narrower set of performance criteria and political concerns.

The issues and concerns elicited from the Baltimore community during Phase I of the BREJT project speak to this breadth of coverage and specificity that will be required of the Toolkit and the tools and performance measures it contains. A perusal of the concerns summarized in Exhibit 1 suggests an abundance of concern in the following major areas:

§ Delivery of transit service: frequency, proximity, reliability, quality, professionalism;

§ Access and mobility: ability to reach jobs, health care, other needs, particularly by transit;

§ Funding parity: priorities in poor versus affluent areas; bus versus rail transit; condition of transportation infrastructure, inclusion in decision-making;

§ Environmental: exposure to traffic, noise, air pollution;

§ Quality of Life: community health, individual health, safety

Reflection on these issues also suggests a spectrum of factors that may be contributing to the concerns that could occur at all levels of planning, funding or operations. Many of the voiced concerns may simply be the result of a change in operating policy that had more deeply reaching effects than anticipated or recognized. In this case, it may be sufficient to simply reestablish the communications link between the community and the agency. In other cases, however, the problems may not be simple in nature or scope and a higher level of assessment and intervention may be required, particularly if the problem is widespread or is the result of shifted funding or program priorities. In such cases, it may likely be necessary to deepen the assessment and intervention to better understand the nature of the problem or to investigate alternative solutions.

Given this “hierarchy” of issues, their sources, and the potential responses, the analysis tools and the measures in the toolkit must have enough dexterity to permit an analysis which is appropriate and credible for the issue at hand, but which leaves open the option to “dig deeper” if the problem proves to be more complex or difficult to resolve with simplistic methods. Ultimately, the EJT Toolkit will attempt to provide its users with the ability to identify the most appropriate measures and analyses to address a particular issue.

Performance Measures should be capable of looking at a broad range of issues and concerns that have environmental justice implications. Since the original intent of the EJT Toolkit project was to develop a mechanism for improving the voice of disadvantaged populations in the regional planning and programming process, presumably the measures of impact should bear some identity with the goals and objectives that are addressed by the metropolitan planning process.

Closely related to the use of particular measures to address issues of a particular scale or nature is the notion of measuring performance “outcomes” or results. Early attempts to adopt performance-based methods to transportation were planning or program evaluation focused more heavily on gauging the “effort” taken to achieve an objective or the initial results of that effort in terms of the product delivered. The former is regarded as a measure of “input” and might be measured in terms of dollars spent, while the latter is generally regarded as an “output” and might be expressed in terms of bus route miles or average headways. However, if one tries to focus on what impact the policy or investment is having on the customer or on some primary social, economic or environmental goal, then it is necessary to try to define and measure the practical “outcome” that occurs. In the case of transit, outcome-based measures might include:

§ Changes in transit rider-ship;

§ Changes in transit modal share in a particular travel market; or

§ Changes in the time or cost to reach particular destinations by transit.

These measures are often harder to quantify, but provide more useful information to support decision-making on projects or programs. Fortunately, the gradual movement of the profession to adopt meaningful measures of performance has been met with improvements in the analytic tools and data needed to create them. The Toolkit will be able to take advantage of these improvements in tools and data, as well as a developing body of research on defining and using these techniques in transportation-related situations in general and in application to environmental justice questions in particular.

Outcome-based performance measures place more stringent requirements on the analytic tools and data used for conventional transportation planning. This is particularly true with regard to measures that require accounting for geographic location or proximity, which, of course, is a central concern with environmental justice analyses.

For example, a very revealing measure in evaluating the effectiveness of a transportation investment is the concept of “accessibility”. Accessibility can be measured in different ways, but essentially it represents the number of opportunities that are made available to an individual or a group through the transportation system, as well as the change in those opportunities as a result of a change in the transportation system (or some related policy). To measure accessibility, the task is to determine the number of opportunities that are within a specified travel time from a selected origin point. That travel time can be in relation to a given mode, say auto or transit, or it can be some combination of various modes providing service to the same user. This measure can be rather easily calculated with information from a standard four-step transportation planning model, and is very effective at demonstrating how well the transportation system–or a proposed change to that system–actually helps people travel. As a measure of outcome, it is much more meaningful than, say, measuring distance to the nearest bus stop (since the bus may not go to particular destinations) or average speed on a given roadway.

At the same time, these traditional transportation planning tools have numerous identified shortcomings when applied to more complex, but typical, modern planning and impact questions. Because of the structure of conventional planning models, the level of analysis is restricted to the traffic analysis zone or TAZ. This scale of geography is generally much greater than a neighborhood and at this level of aggregation many important characteristics of households, land use and the transportation system are “lost in the average.” This not only restricts the types of policies that can be looked at, but casts doubt upon the accuracy of those situations where it is used for such an application.

Advances in GIS methods offer to expand the flexibility and capability of conventional travel analysis methods. Through use of “layers”, GIS makes it possible to superimpose data on different variables, even supplied from different sources, upon one another such that they can be viewed and manipulated in a common geographic frame. This frame may be a TAZ or it may be a census tract, zip code, or some other geographic level, down to individual households if desired. A particular strength is the ability to overlay features that have the characteristics of “lines” onto the spatial layers and derive relationships from the subsequent identities. This is particularly valuable in relation to transportation system features, be it highways, transit routes, or point features like terminals, since it allows relatively efficient calculation of the proximity of populations or activities to these facilities. Moreover, since the transportation facilities constitute a “network” of links and nodes that provide connecting paths to places and activities, this complexity can be relatively easily recast into measures of travel time to reach particular destinations. With this capability to slice demographic and land use features into smaller units, and conveniently interrelate transportation system elements and changes, GIS presents an ideal capability for transportation planning and policy evaluation. And this value is particularly apparent with regard to environmental justice, where it is necessary to identify and isolate particular population subgroups and then ascertain the degree to which they are currently served or impacted by transportation service or programs, as well as to study the most effective ways to impact those conditions.