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Creating Livable Communities

Chapter 9: Monitoring System Performance

Key Strategies for Addressing Livability Objectives in Performance Measures

  • Track system performance against livability indicators across multiple time horizons
  • Set up a process for regularly gathering data and analyzing information that quantifies progress on livability goals
  • Prepare regular performance reports targeted to the public and policymakers relative to achieving livability objectives

Bike Walk Twin Cities is one of four pilot programs funded by the 2005 Federal transportation funding authorization (SAFETEA-LU) and is administered by Transit for Livable Communities for the greater Minneapolis/St. Paul area. The program provides information to practitioners and the public on the 5 E's of engineering, education, enforcement, encouragement, and evaluation. Their annual reports describe progress on engineering projects, identify observed trends in biking and walking activity related to those projects and other encouragement efforts, and are helping to build a transferable database on information such as seasonal and weather-related effects on biking and walking.

How have we made progress towards our long term livability goals? If we are going to vote for a renewal of the tax referendum on transportation, how do we know if the dollars are getting spent in the right way? Monitoring and evaluating transportation system performance against livability goals is essential. It not only helps inform decisions about maintaining and enhancing the transportation system, but it also can provide information to constituents about whether their tax dollars are being used wisely.

Tracking transportation system performance can take on many forms and occur over different time horizons. It can include providing real time information to transit riders by letting them know whether their bus or train is arriving on time, or monitoring how much fuel, productivity, and time is lost in congestion. Longer term system monitoring is equally important for livability; this involves tracking performance relative to community change. Goals such as reducing VMT or increasing transit accessibility result from long term incremental changes in both land use and transportation systems. Monitoring against livability goals requires setting up the process for regularly gathering data and analyzing information that quantifies progress.

Within the transportation sector, much of this data is readily available, but it might require summarizing and analyzing it in different ways. For instance, many communities monitor congestion levels through annually collecting traffic counts on major roadways. This data can provide information relative to average VMT and congestion levels in a given year, but can be expanded to include other livability-related measures. These can include measures such as the number of new miles of bikeways or sidewalks, or the percent of bicycle and pedestrian improvement projects completed near an affordable housing project or a community redevelopment area (see MARC annual performance report in chapter 6). They can also measure data related to freight system performance that would improve livability, such as percent increase in goods moved by rail.

Annual Performance Monitoring

The Minnesota DOT gathers data and summarizes performance against ten Statewide Plan transportation policies to help identify investment needs and priorities, track progress toward achieving results, and calculate future fiscal needs to meet performance targets. One of the major policy areas tracks progress on statewide Community Livability indicators.

Gathering, analyzing and synthesizing livability-related data can also be aided by interagency agreements to share information. With housing partners at the table, transportation agencies can begin incorporating annual information concerning housing affordability, employment, poverty, and homelessness, and geographically relating those to transportation system performance. Likewise, if the regional vision requires changes to local land use plans and policies, the transportation agency can help monitor progress on this update process. Establishing livability indicators and performance targets against those indicators early in the transportation decisionmaking process creates the framework for long term performance monitoring.

This data can then be used to help communicate the benefits of livability on a regular basis. Livability indicator reports are especially helpful for elected officials to regularly communicate progress on achieving quality of life goals to their constituents. This regular monitoring and communications loop helps to reinforce support for the community vision and ultimately the policymaker support needed to continue funding or support livability projects.

White Flint, Maryland Travel Demand Monitoring

The White Flint Sector Plan encompasses a 430-acre suburban employment center oriented toward the White Flint Metrorail Station in Montgomery County, MD. The County Council adopted a 2009 Sector Plan that will transform White Flint into a more urban, 24-hour activity center. The Plan's implementation process includes replacing traditional, site-specific traffic impact studies with an alternative review procedure that includes a special taxing district and a three-tiered staging plan. Rather than exacting incremental transportation improvements from each development, the special taxing district funds will be used to implement a robust local street network, reconstruct auto-oriented MD 355 to incorporate bus priority treatments, and initiate an area-wide transportation monitoring program that measures progress toward achieving shifts in commuting mode share goals.

Today, three out of four employees who work in the plan area drive to work. The goal is to achieve 50% mode share for non-auto trips – meaning more than half of the employees are getting to work by means other than an automobile. Incremental progress towards this goal is monitored by the Montgomery County Commuter Services through biennial surveys. The County has made the approval of subsequent phases of development contingent upon continued progress towards these goals. This monitoring strategy has already been used successfully in Montgomery County to coordinate public and private investment in the Bethesda Central Business District (CBD). Increasing the percentage of work trips made by walking, biking or transit is a major indicator of livability in this context. Increasing density and diversity of land uses (e.g. clustering multiple destinations closer together) and implementing physical and programmatic public transportation improvements to encourage commuters to change their travel behavior will ultimately help to create a more livable community.

Updated: 01/03/2014
HUD-DOT-EPA Interagency Partnership | DOT Livability | FTA Livable & Sustainable Communities
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