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Time-of-Day Modeling Procedures: State-of-the-Practice, State-of-the-Art

1.0 Introduction

In recent years, there has been increasing interest in the ability of travel demand models to estimate travel not only for the average weekday, but for different periods within the day. In the past, travel demand models were mainly used for such purposes as determining the size or capacity of major new transportation investments or estimating travel demand and revenues for transportation projects such as new transit lines. Nowadays, models are required to be analysis tools for a much broader range of issues and transportation policy and project alternatives, including transportation demand management (TDM) policies, transportation systems management projects, and air quality analysis. These issues often require much more detailed analysis than in the large scale models of the past, not only spatially, but temporally as well.

This report provides documentation on methods used in U.S. urban areas to handle the issue of time-of-day in their travel demand models. Commonly used practices are described, and the most innovative methods used by metropolitan planning organizations and states are documented in detail. A range of time-of-day related issues are addressed, including disaggregation of daily travel estimates, peak spreading, and emerging approaches. The "Terminology" section of this report (Section 6.0) lists acronyms and technical terms with their definitions.

1.1 Background

In travel modeling, the simplest form of trip assignment is to assign a single peak period or daily vehicle trip table to the highway network. In the past, this procedure has provided adequate information for the development of long-range transportation plans, identification of required new facilities, and planning for major investments in alternative modes of travel.

These traditional uses of travel data from daily assignments are still valid objectives of travel demand modeling and work reasonably well for general planning purposes, especially if there is relatively little congestion in the planning region. However, increasing traffic congestion together with recent environmental and economic considerations have resulted in increased emphasis on the management of traffic systems and the development of capabilities to forecast congestion levels throughout the day.

All regions experience some peaking of travel demand in the use of the transportation system. As an example of this, Figure 1.1 shows the percent of daily trips by start time based on two household travel surveys in Colorado Springs, Colorado and Cleveland, Ohio. These two metropolitan areas are quite different in size, transportation system, and economic activity. While these cities are quite different in character, they exhibit strikingly similar patterns in tripmaking by time-of-day. Both cities are characterized by the morning peak period and the afternoon peak "plateau," along with a noon-time "mini-peak." While the total magnitude of trip making and transportation supply is substantially different for the two cities, both cities are similar in that they would strain the transportation systems during the peak periods.

Figure 1.1 - Percent of Trips by Time of Day

The time at which travel occurs and, more specifically travel peaking intensity and duration are critical to the estimation of a number of important travel performance measures, including speeds, congestion, and emissions. Yet peaking and time of travel are included in the traditional travel model in highly approximate ways, typically by developing peaking or time-of-day factors from observed data and assuming the same patterns will persist in the future. More robust, behavioral representations of the time-of-day of travel have only been recently introduced into the travel demand modeling practice, especially in large urban areas with significant levels of traffic congestion.

1.2 Need for Time-of-Day Modeling Procedures

During the past two decades, there has been a changing emphasis in transportation planning, resulting in travel demand models needing the capability of analyzing travel conditions at different times of day. A major focus is now being placed on traffic congestion and air quality issues as related to transportation planning. Typically, the transportation planner is asked to identify highway system deficiencies, develop plans for traffic management, and estimate traffic growth and air quality impacts related to new developments. Some of the emerging requirements are summarized below:

Updated: 3/25/2014
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