USDOT Under Secretary Polly Trottenberg Visits the Rudin Center


by Nolan Levenson, photos by Marilyn Lopez

Polly Trottenberg, Under Secretary of the US Department of Transportation, visited with the NYU Rudin Center and Wagner students, faculty, transportation professionals, and representatives of the media last week to discuss timely issues in federal transportation policy. Her talk focused on financing transportation, the successes of the TIGER grant program, and the increasing role of technology and data in government.

She also addressed how the Sequester will impact USDOT. Since the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) composes about 75% of the USDOT’s budget, they will bear the burden of the spending cuts. Airports with less traffic may lose their funding. There will also likely be impacts to the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) budget, but about half of USDOT will be unaffected.

Ms. Trottenberg also highlighted the increasing difficulty of financing transportation as the gas tax no longer covers the nation’s transportation infrastructure needs. She pointed to tools such as gas sales taxes and Vehicles Miles Traveled (VMT) taxes, and emphasized tolling of highways as a potential significant revenue source. She acknowledged that while federal transportation law prevents the tolling of existing road capacity, state law and legislators have also failed to initiate policies that would change this limitation, which creates a political block on a potential new revenue source for transportation. In general, she said, she believes that state transportation policy must be pushed in a more progressive direction.

Many in the room were happy to hear Ms. Trottenberg’s support for more open data and advanced technology use at the federal government. She said that USDOT should tap into the resources of the private sector to better understand and analyze transportation issues throughout the country. She pointed to a moment when her staff was on the phone with Google employees in Stuttgart, Germany, when the USDOT staff asked about the reliability of real-time traffic data. After a pause of a few seconds, the Google employees responded, “well it’s not like it’s more than 60 seconds off,” a response met with laughter by USDOT staff considering that to be, of course, extremely reliable. The story was also received with laughter during our discussion, and the audience appreciated the example for government’s need to tap into existing technological resources.

Workshop on New Data for Bicycling Research: Crowdsourcing, DIY Sensing & Apps


On March 12, Anthony Townsend of the NYU Rudin Center and Aaron Naparstek of MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning convened a workshop on New Data for Bicycling Research: Crowdsourcing, DIY Sensing & Apps to assess the demand and availability for a wide range of data about bicycle ownership and use in New York City. There was active participation from a broad range of stakeholders including the city’s transportation and IT agencies, leading bicycling advocates, and civic tech and hacker groups. In the coming months, the Rudin Center will be developing a research plan devoted to improving the supply and quality of data for bicycle research in New York City.

A Prezi of the workshop proceedings can be found at
http://prezi.com/w6sxxqt7bsgt/new-data-for-bicycling-research/
Workshop Participants

Neil Bezdek, New York City Department of Transportation
Justin Brandon, Harvard Graduate School of Design
Wendy E. Brawer, Green Map System
Alison Cohen, Independent consultant
Neil Freeman, New York City Department of Transportation
Melinda Brooke Hanson, NYU Rudin Center
Frank Hebbert, OpenPlans
Noel Hidalgo, Code for America
Mike Infranco, Transportation Alternatives
Charles Komanoff, IGC
Dan LaTorre, Project for Public Spaces
Stephanie Levinsky, New York City Department of Transportation
Aaron Naparstek, MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning
Andrew Nicklin, New York City Department of Information Technology and Telecomunications
Brian Riordan, Strava
Caroline Samponaro, Transportation Alternatives
Dani Simons, Independent consultant
Claudio Silva, NYU Center for Uurban Science and Progress
Anthony Townsend, NYU Rudin Center
Chris Whong, NYU Rudin Center
Matthew Willsee, Cyclee
Susi Wunsch, Velojoy

Super-Commuting vs. Mega-Commuting


Carson Qing & Sarah Kaufman

Earlier this week, The U.S. Census released a report announcing the proliferation of “mega-commuters,” 600,000 Americans who travel at least 90 minutes and 50 miles each way. It’s slightly different from the “super-commuters” we at the NYU Rudin Center defined last year, who are individuals who work in one county (usually of a major metropolitan area), but live in another, usually commuting more than 90 miles each way.

The most pressing difference between the terms “mega-commuter” and “super-commuter” is that the former focuses on the individuals traveling long distances regularly to their workplaces, while the latter also includes people who make these journeys once or twice or week, at most. These long-distance, low-frequency super-commuters may travel to the office only once or twice per week at most, or maintain similarly unconventional schedules. Our definition of a super-commuter, estimated to be 3% to 10% of the workforce depending on the city, includes both “mega-commuters” and low-frequency, long-distance commuters who were not captured in the mega-commuter definition. The graphic below illustrates the differences between these two types of super-commuters in their travel behavior.

 

The U.S. Census Bureau provides two data sources to define origins and destinations of commuter flows. To define the mega-commuter, the Census Bureau used American Community Survey (ACS), which measures data from only 7.5% of the working population, then extrapolates the data for a larger population based from that sample. But the Census Bureau’s OnTheMap tool (OTM), used in our super-commuter report last year, extracts employment data directly from state employment insurance records and represents coverage of nearly all employees and their work locations, with the exception of self-employed individuals. Because of this difference between ACS and OTM, the “mega-commuter” figure is most likely an undercount of long-distance commuters.

Using OTM, we found nearly 650,000 long-distance commuters in the top five U.S. super-commuting metropolitan areas who commute to the core county from a county outside the metropolitan area. OTM is more successful at capturing low-frequency commuting trips than the ACS, because the ACS’s line of questioning focuses on frequent trip-making, asking respondents where did they work for the majority of the past week and how did they travel to work, and assumes that the sample data applies to a larger population[1]. Low-frequency commuters are coded as “working from home” in the ACS, even though in reality their link to the workplace is not severed: the trips are made less frequently, due to the impediments of travel time, distance, and cost.

The rise of “tele-commuters,” who now represent 10% of the total workforce (or in the case of Aetna, 47% of its workforce, up from 9% in 2005[2]), and low-frequency, long-distance commuting has created a fundamental shift in the way people travel between home and work. The traditional “Journey to Work” survey methodology used in the ACS does not fully capture new patterns of commuting or the growing distances between home and work locations in metropolitan regions. It neglects the large and growing number of Americans who do not travel exclusively between home and work on a regular basis. Thus, transportation planners and researchers should not overly rely on the “Journey to Work” methodology to analyze and understand transportation flows: a more nuanced data source that captures a greater variety of trip purposes is increasingly necessary to analyze travel behavior in this new era of commuting.


[1] Spear, Bruce. “Improving Employment Data for Transportation Planning.” Cambridge Systematics. September 2011. http://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/nchrp/docs/NCHRP08-36(98)_FR.pdf

[2] Miller, C. & Rampbell, C. “Yahoo Orders Home Workers Back to the Office.” The New York Times. 25 February 2013.

Open Transportation Data in NY


As part of the Open Transportation Data Meetup, we’ve created a Google Doc to centralize all available transportation data for the NY region in one place. The document is publicly editable and ready to be populated and discussed (wishlist items accepted as well). Check it out here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AoNd04_Ge-SpdGFwSWtpa0F1ZGVzS19oZGxNektSVnc&usp=sharing

Your contributions and suggestions are welcome!

Smart Transportation and Sustainability


Rudin Research Associate Sarah Kaufman spoke at yesterday’s Transportation Equity Conference in Albany to discuss the role of smart transportation in environmental sustainability. The topic is more complex than it seems: as driving becomes easier with tools like autonomous cars, traffic sensing and self-aware parking spots, how can we continue to reduce car use, a major source of greenhouse gas emissions? In the United States, commutes are growing ever-longer, as the NYU Rudin Center showed with our Super-Commuter report last year: fast-growing numbers of Americans are traveling more than 90 minutes or 90 miles each way, usually by car.

We can use technology to make transit more enticing:

- Open data lets travelers see schedules before they reach a station

- Social media informs them of delays, so they can re-route

- Open source planning tools, like NYC DOT’s Fourth Avenue project, give travelers a say in future developments

- Advanced fare payment systems, like MBTA’s mobile payments, make it easy to board even when the right fare is unavailable

- Walkability measures, like those provided by Walkscore, allow us to choose our housing locations by the ability to run errands on foot or use transit for a commute, saving money and waistlines.

These are just some basic tools to make transit a more pleasurable and efficient experience (several, like augmented reality, are on the horizon, and will shift our mobility patterns even further). For environmental and economic needs, these foundational technologies must be in place to bring riders over to transit and mitigate automobile dependence.

This Month at The Rudin Center – February 2013


In the Press:

Blog Posts:

Event Recap: NY Open Transportation Data Meetup


Last night, the NYU Rudin Center co-organized the kickoff meeting of the NY Open Transportation Data Meetup group, with Noel Hidalgo of Code for America and Cate Contino of Straphangers Campaign. The event was held at the great ThoughtWorks space. Presentations by Neil Freeman of NYC DOT and Mike Frumin of MTA showed the variety of data sets currently available.

The event also featured community announcements by NYU Wagner students promoting an upcoming design challenge surrounding Chinatown Bus regulations, Frank Hebbert of OpenPlans showcasing the IfWeKnew tool, and the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA previewing its upcoming report on data visualizations.

The group also discussed its wishlist for future data sets and projects, which will be posted on the group’s site shortly.

Hope to see you at the next event!

Tomorrow night: Kickoff meeting of Open Transportation Data Meetup


Tomorrow night, join the NYU Rudin Center, Code for America and the Straphangers Campaign to discover and discuss open transportation data in the New York City region. We’ll have presentations from MTA and NYC DOT, plus an open mike session.

The event is free and open to all. Sign up here: http://www.meetup.com/NYOpenTransport/events/102323472/

Wagner Transportation Association Visits the NY Transit Museum


This weekend the Wagner Transportation Association (WTA) visited the NY Transit Museum in Brooklyn. Here are some pics!

Did you know that the Court Street station (originally an IND station) where the museum is located accommodates both IRT and IND/BMT trains? Because IRT trains are about a foot narrower than IND/BMT trains, the platform needed to be extended out so that museum customers could safely board the trains.