TPB News

In-Depth Travel Surveys Provide Baseline for Assessing Impacts of Major Transportation Improvements

Jun 4, 2012

New information gathered from in-depth surveys of household travel behavior in ten strategically chosen areas around the Washington region will help planners and officials better understand neighborhood-level travel patterns and aid in assessing the impacts of major transportation improvements in the region.


List of Geographically-Focused Household Travel Survey Study Areas



The first phase of Geographically-Focused Household Travel Surveys, which were conducted by the Transportation Planning Board in 2010 and 2011, are a follow-up to a similar but broader survey of the entire region that was conducted by the TPB in 2007 and 2008. The results of the more recent in-depth surveys will provide a level of detail that neither the regional survey nor any of the surveys available through the U.S. Census Bureau are able to provide.

Officials from the local jurisdictions in which the surveys took place were responsible for choosing the specific neighborhoods to be studied during the first phase of the survey. Six of the areas, which were featured in a previous issue of this publication, were chosen for the purposes of better understanding the relationship between development patterns and travel behavior, or to learn more about how the availability of various transportation facilities interact with one another in shaping daily travel patterns.

The remaining four areas, which are described below, were chosen in order to inform efforts to plan major transportation projects or new development in the coming years and to measure the impacts of those improvements on travel behavior and household characteristics in the study areas over time. In all four cases, the information gathered during the most recent phase of focused surveys will be used as a baseline of current conditions against which the results of future surveys in the same areas can be compared to show the changes that result from the improvements.

In Arlington County, planners chose the Columbia Pike corridor because the County is planning a new streetcar line that is currently slated to be operational in 2016. The 4.7-mile transit line will run from the Fairfax County line to Pentagon City at a projected cost of $135 million. Information from the in-depth surveys will help planners understand existing travel patterns and household characteristics in the corridor, which should help them identify, among other things, who might use the new streetcar when it opens, where those people might go, and how often they might ride, all of which helps determine the best routing, locations of stops, and schedule frequency.

The other main use of the data will be to set a baseline of current conditions against which the results of future surveys three, five, or ten years after the streetcar line opens can be compared to see what effect the new service has had on travel patterns and household characteristics in the corridor. Did ridership meet expectations? Did new development in the corridor attract younger, higher-income households, as it has in other areas in the region well-served by transit? These are the kinds of questions that local planners in Arlington County as well as planners in other jurisdictions and at the regional level will be interested in answering with the "before and after" results of the in-depth surveys in the corridor.

In a similar vein, the University Boulevard corridor in Montgomery and Prince George's Counties in Maryland -- where the future Purple Line is planned -- will be studied both for current planning purposes as well as to set a baseline for future comparisons. The 16-mile, $1.8 billion light rail line connecting Bethesda and New Carrollton is currently planned to be complete in 2020. Of particular concern in the corridor that was recently studied -- which is centered on the Langley Park neighborhood -- is the possible displacement of lower-income, immigrant households by new development and rising housing costs. The data provided by the surveys can help planners figure out how to preserve as much affordable housing in the area as possible, and to track the effects of the new transit line on travel patterns as well as household characteristics.

The other area chosen because a major new transportation project is expected to change travel patterns is Reston, Virginia, which will be served by the new Silver Line Metrorail extension to Dulles Airport. Although Reston is a planned community, with a higher-density, mixed-use town center, new Metrorail service is expected to attract even more development in the years to come and to give local residents new options for getting around. Future surveys will tell planners whether the forecasts of future effects were right and could inform planning efforts in other parts of the region.

Finally, in Prince George's County, Maryland, the area around the Largo Metrorail station on the Blue Line, which opened in late 2004, was chosen because the county is anticipating a significant amount of new development near the station in coming years. Still, almost eight years after the station opened, the share of trips made on transit by local residents for work purposes or for other daily activities is below regional averages, and very few households -- only 3%, compared to a regional average of 7% -- are without access to a personal vehicle. Attracting more transit-oriented development to what is seen now as an underutilized station area could change travel patterns and household characteristics in significant ways.

The TPB's first phase of Geographically-Focused Household Travel Surveys will provide much-needed information about neighborhood-level travel patterns in the region. Additional surveys, which are currently underway or planned for the future in a variety of neighborhoods throughout the region, will provide an even greater understanding of travel patterns and equip planners with information that will help them better plan for future growth and meet future transportation needs.

* * *

Read more: Last week's "TPB Weekly Report" featured the six other study areas in the first phase of surveys, which were chosen for the purposes of better understanding the relationship between development patterns and travel behavior or to learn more about how the availability of various transportation facilities shape daily travel patterns.

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