By 2030, the Office of the State Demographer predicts Texas will support a population of 33.9 million. That’s up from 25.2 million in 2010—about a 35 percent increase. That means that, for every three people we have in the state today, we’ll have four tomorrow. And they’ll all be trying to use the same transportation system.
Here in El Paso, it can take an hour to cover 20 miles at peak travel times. The problem’s not just about drivers frustrated by bumper-to-bumper traffic; it’s about their idling vehicles contributing to the region’s air pollution. In fact, it’s gotten so bad that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has declared El Paso a non-attainment area, meaning the region fails to meet the EPA’s air-quality standards and risks losing federal funding until it does.
El Paso’s Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) is developing a multimodal plan to help relieve area congestion and pollution in the future. Part of the solution is finding other travel modes that El Pasoans will embrace, such as biking, walking, or taking the bus. But before the MPO can make the case for using those modes, they need the best system in place possible. Hence, the need for an effective multimodal plan.
My team and I came up with a new methodology for rating the relative benefits of each mode in relation to the other. Though other methodologies exist, none was able rate the level of service (LOS) of bikes, walking, or transit compared to the single car-single driver option. By relating the LOSs across modes, we’ve come up with qualitative measurements for assessing their efficiency relative to one another, as well as providing the MPO with a complete, multimodal trip-based evaluation.
For example, for a local resident to choose to ride a bike to the bus stop, take the bus to a destination, then return to the stop and ride the bike home, he or she wants to know the system is reliable—that they can get where they’re going on time, every time. Our research is helping the MPO determine where gaps currently exist between modes and how to fill them. Creating a reliable transportation network that holds the confidence of residents is, ultimately, the goal of the MPO’s multimodal plan.
Our methodology isn’t just the product of thinking outside the box for evaluating modes; it’s a tool for measuring the modal box in a whole new way. Once our approach is refined for El Paso, any community wanting to find a multimodal solution to its congestion problems can adapt it, tweaked of course to meet local needs.
The framework we’re providing will help El Paso’s MPO analyze and prioritize multimodal projects as they implement their plan to reduce congestion and pollution region-wide. They’ll also be promoting healthier traveling choices, like biking and walking, to help improve El Pasoans’ quality of life. And that could lead to less societal costs associated with conditions like respiratory disease, obesity and cardiovascular health. It’s an approach that acknowledges that the most important factor in the transportation equation is the human factor.
Alfredo Sanchez is an associate research engineer with TTI’s Center for International Intelligent Transportation Research.