On March 4th, the UT Austin office of CM2 welcomed Dr. John Landis, Crossways Professor of City & Regional Planning at the University of Pennsylvania and CM2 researcher, as a guest speaker for the UT Austin Brown Bag Lunch Speaker series. Dr. Landis spoke about the progress made on his current CM2 project, “An Operational Platform for Modeling Multi-Modal Transportation Investments in the Northeast Corridor Megaregion“. The brown bag event took place during CM2 Director Dr. Zhang’s “Planning for Megaregions” class.
First, Dr. Landis provided some context to the Northeast Corridor Megaregion and the purpose behind the project. The Northeast Megaregion consists of 13 states (and D.C.) and 38 Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs), most of whom have their own planning and travel demand models. A typical travel demand model at the MPO level takes 2-3 year to set up and is very expensive. Creating a travel demand model that covers an entire megaregion has never been done before, making this research the first of its kind. Dr. Landis and his team are striving for ‘ballpark accuracy” with this project, with the idea that it is better to be “roughly right rather than precisely wrong”.
In creating this megaregional level travel demand model, the research team encountered three types of challenges:
- Institutional and Political Challenges: There is declining federal leadership and funding for transportation, which leads to a lot of internal competition.
- Modeling Challenges: There is very limited data available for modeling techniques at this scale. Determining the best geographic scale to use is difficult.
- Future Challenges: The team worked on the assumption of a 2030-planning horizon, which is a more useful time horizon that much farther in the future but also very soon.
The team’s preliminary results settled on a nested geography system, with 1 Inter-metropolitan multi-modal model (passenger trips greater than 25 miles), 4 intra-metropolitan models (passenger trips greater than 3 miles and less than 25), and 1 national scale freight commodity flow model. All the models used the traditional 4-step model design.
Based on their preliminary results, Dr. Landis’ had some tentative reflections for this project going forward. Primarily, that an overarching megaregional modeling scale was not necessarily useful (since no one travels from the suburbs of Boston, MA to the suburbs of Richmond, VA) but a nested approach across adjacent MPOs had great value. In addition, that the lack of coordinated freight and passenger planning models/tools is extremely problematic, since passenger trips and freight trips share networks. Finally, shared-ride services (such as Uber and Lyft) are different modes than typical automobile trips and need to be modeled as such.
Following the presentation, Dr. Zhang pointed out that many MPOs already have nested zone modeling systems, so why not use theirs? Dr. Landis responded that due to increasing losses in funding, many MPOs were losing their ability to study big, multi-jurisdictional projects. Along the same lines, CM2 GRA Paulina Urbanowicz-Pollock asked about several intra-metropolitan projects that several of the northeast MPOs are considering. Dr. Landis said due to declining funding levels, these MPOs don’t have the money to study the potential benefits/impact of these projects, so this CM2 research is providing that information for them. Finally, UT Austin CM2 researcher Dr. Sciara asked, if so many transportation projects end up being incremental and we’re far away from an era in which we’re investing in large transportation infrastructure projects, why do we even invest so much money in modeling? Dr. Landis responded that since federal money is not really on the horizon, private-public partnerships (PPPs) will be a big player in the future and having the knowledge from modeling will be important.
See Dr. Landis’ presentation here: