Recent Research: Urban Congestion Trends, High-Speed Rail Lessons & Travel Assistance Device Deployment

Is traffic congestion getting better or worse? The Federal Highway Administration collects various statistics each year to help us understand whether traffic is improving or increasing.

We wanted to take a closer look at a document titled 2009 Urban Congestion Trends: How Operations Is Solving Congestion Problems (8p. PDF).
Of course, we need to understand what we’re looking at. Congestion is defined as the amount of time when freeways operate below 50mph. The FHA statistics show that “whatever the day of the week, whatever the time of day, mobility has improved — almost across the board.” When looking at the three primary performance measures, improvement can be seen in at least one of them in 20 of 23 monitored regions.
But…how much? And why?
First off, there is less traffic on the road. Whether people are using public transit, telecommuting, combining trips, spending more time with family, consciously lowering their fuel consumption or are simply out of work, we see fewer cars on the roads travelling shorter distances.
Additionally, the economic downtown of the past few years has also played a role in congestion reduction in the United States.
Finally, traffic operations are playing a role in congestion management. The document contains a number of success stories detailing how state and local agencies reduced the effects of congestion in their locales.
As America moves toward construction of new high-speed rail networks in regions throughout the country, we have much to learn from experiences abroad.
In A Track Record Of Success: High-Speed Rail Around The World And Its Promise For America (53p. PDF), the U.S. PIRG Educational Fund reports on the wealth of information about what the United States can expect from high-speed rail and how we can receive the greatest possible benefits from our investment.

Indeed, the experience of high-speed rail lines abroad, as well as America’s limited experience with high-speed rail on the East Coast, suggests that the United States can expect great benefits from investing in a high-speed passenger rail system, particularly if it makes steady commitments to rail improvements and designs the system wisely.

High-speed rail systems in other nations have been able to dramatically reduce the volume of short-haul flights between nearby cities and significantly reduce inter-city car travel.
Some particularly interested examples include:
The number of air passengers between London and Paris has been cut in half since high-speed rail service was introduced.
High-Speed rail service between Madrid and Seville reduced the share of car travel between the two cities from 60% to 34%, and service between Madrid and Barcelona, once the world’s busiest passenger air route, has been cut by one-third.

The ability to travel where and when one desires is a basic requirement for independent living that most people take for

To travel independently, a transit rider practices at least 23 skills including finding the route, arriving at the correct stop on time, and determining when to exit at destination.

The University of South Florida’s National Center for Transit Research has published Travel Assistance Device Deployment To Transit Agencies (103p. PDF) which discusses the successful deployment of devices assisting those with cognitive challenges in these tasks.

Travel trainers who provide one-on-one instruction on public
transportation, report that recognizing a landmark near the desired bus stop, requesting a stop at the proper time, and exiting the bus at the destination stop are among the most challenging skills to master for individuals with cognitive disabilities.

Parents/guardians are often reluctant to encourage the use of fixed-route transit due to their own hesitations about a person’s abilities and well being.

Prior studies by the research team developed the Travel Assistance Device (TAD)
mobile phone software application that addresses these challenges and supplements the trainer’s instruction.

TAD provides various informational prompts including the audio messages “Get ready” and “Pull the cord now!” and vibrates to alert the rider to pull the stop cord. These prompts are delivered to the rider in real-time as he or she rides the bus using the embedded global positioning system (GPS) technology in off-the-shelf cell phones.

TAD’s real-time location of the rider can be viewed by the travel trainer or family member through a Web page.

This document reviews how the TAD application has been successfully deployed in the Hillsborough (FL) Area Regional Transit (HART) bus system.

They base their report on

the track record of high-speed rail lines that have operated for more than 45 years in Japan and for three decades in Europe — with some exciting conclusions.