Better Information Systems as a
Catalyst for Achieving New Measures of
Transportation System Performance.
by Barry Wellar, Wellar Consulting,
Geomatics and GIS Scientist
Applied Geomatics and Geographic Information Science
I am currently engaged as the Principal
Investigator for the Transport Canada project, Methodologies for Identifying
and Ranking Sustainable Transport Practices in Urban Regions. (Wellar, 2008).
As part of that research activity, I have had occasion to consult with veteran
URISA members (Urisans) William Garrison, Will Steger, and Ken Dueker, as well
as with researchers and practitioners in various fields about designing new
measures of transportation system performance.
The focus of the companion research
regarding new measures is “sustainability”. This concept has been the subject
of much discussion in the development domain for decades but, as of this
writing, it is still short on specifics in the transportation field. The intent
of the companion research initiative, therefore, is to accelerate the search
for measures which can be incorporated in decisions about identifying,
adopting, and implementing sustainable transport practices.
However, for reasons involving vested
interests, inertia, the difficulty of compiling compelling evidence, and other
factors which impede achieving change, breaking away from the old ways of
measuring transportation system performance in favor of a sustainability agenda
will not be easy. Indeed, I expect that the reader can quickly think of
attitudinal, ideological, institutional, political, and other barriers to be
overcome in order to move towards a new transportation order in which measures
of performance are based on sustainability criteria.
That said, and in the spirit of all Urisans
who embrace problems that beg for solutions, I believe that we are in fact on
the cusp of a new era in terms of how transportation system performance is
measured. To tilt matters in favor of the new order, one thing that is needed are
persuasive arguments to induce citizens, businesses, governments, etc., to let
go of the old order and grab onto the new one. This communication about
catalysts is a contribution to the body of persuasive arguments.
In the research paper, “Cutting to the
Chase in Designing New Measures of
Transportation System Performance”, five catalyzing influences are proposed
which may help Canada (and other countries) cut to the chase in deriving and
implementing a new set of measures which are energy-conserving, and are sound
ecologically, socially, economically, financially, and geographically (Wellar,
2008b). The five catalyzing influences are:
- The growing shift away from private motor vehicles for passenger
trips, and possibly for freight trips;
- Geographical limits to development;
- More regard for legacy systems;
- More concern about safety and security issues;
- The increased availability of better information systems and better
geographic information systems (GIS) in particular.
The section on Better Information Systems
may be of particular interest to URISA members, and it has been excerpted from
the larger paper (http://www.transport2000.ca/) along with the pertinent references.
Catalyst E: Better Information Systems
The final catalyst has many roots,
including the Steger (1966) paper, the Wellar (1975) newspaper column,
Garrison’s 1965 paper in the Journal of the American Planning Association and the
2007 Anderson Lecture (Garrison, 1965, 2007), and numerous other publications
on the topic of transportation measures over the past 40 years.
As Steger, Garrison, Wellar and other
commentators observe, creating transportation system performance measures is a
difficult and significant achievement. However, creating measures is just one
part of the applied measures activity, because operationalizing the measures
requires collecting, organizing, and processing the data needed to test and
re-test the measures, and then performing analyses, calibration, evaluation,
and so on using the measures in real-world engineering, traffic, planning,
health, public safety, and other operational environments (Wellar, 1998, 2002).
This point is emphasized by Schneider
(2008) who recently noted that the importance of having data available for
measures applications in the walking and cycling modes cannot be
over-emphasized: “Data collection
is critical for measuring pedestrian and bicycle characteristics over
time. This aspect of pedestrian and
bicycle performance measurement is often a barrier for transportation
agencies.” The comments by Schneider at the 2008 ACSP-AESOP Congress support
the position I took at the 2001 URISA conference regarding the critical
importance of having an information system/geographic information system
(IS/GIS) in place to support large-scale measures, such as those developed for
the Walking Security Index (Wellar, 2001).
Fortunately, a concerted
effort has been made by professional organizations such as the Urban and
Regional Information Systems Association (http://www.urisa.org/) to address various data problems that confront
researchers, consultants, professional staff, elected officials, and members of
the public who undertake transportation and related studies at the local and
regional scale. Further, there is a large North American industry of private
corporations which have also been active as data providers, and as sources of
information system hardware, software, services, and, most notably for this
report, of geographic information systems (GIS) software, peripherals, and
As participants in the evolution of GIS
are acutely aware, tremendous steps have been taken in the last decade, indeed,
last half-decade, to dramatically increase the functionality, scope, and ease
associated with using GIS in transportation studies.
Evidence in this regard is illustrated,
for example, by the ten websites that
were selected for each of GIS Day and Transportation Day during Geography
Awareness Week 2007 hosted by the Canadian Association of Geographers. (http://www.cag-acg.ca/en/geography_week.html.) And, as further evidence of the
growing popularity of GIS, witness the rapidly growing number of comfortable
users of Google Maps and global positioning systems (GPS).
That progress notwithstanding, however,
the use of GIS for developing, testing, implementing, and evaluating new
measures of transportation system performance still faces several major
challenges. First, although the concepts
and measures introduced by the Walking Security Index project 1994-2002 spawned numerous follow-on projects and
studies, it appears that only limited progress has been made in developing the
IS/GIS capabilities that were discussed in several WSI publications a decade
ago (Wellar, 1998, 2002).
Second, IS/GIS applications in the walk
mode involve issues of scope, scale, and functionality which are very different
from the private motor vehicle experience, and evidence of lessons learned
seems slow to materialize. Third, it appears that in a number of
municipalities, only very limited progress has been made in applying geographic
information systems and geographic information science to address issues
involving the cycle mode. And fourth, there appears to be very little published
work describing how GIS is being used to analyze and improve the connections
between and among active transit modes, that is, walking, cycling, and transit.
Those challenges are significant, but
they are more the result of lack of regard and action in support of active
transportation, than they are measures of technical or technological
shortcomings in GIS. Consequently, given the need for new measures on the one
hand, and the rapid advances in how GIS technology can be used to produce
better transportation system performance information across all modes, it is
expected that within the next several years GIS will play a major role in
advancing efforts to design and implement new measures of transportation system
Garrison, W. 1965. Urban transportation
models in 1975. Journal of the American Institute of Planners, May, 156-158.
Garrison, W. 2007. Increasing the
flexibility of legacy systems.
Lecture in Applied Geography. Proceedings of the 2007
Anderson Lecture in Applied Geography.
Editor, B. Wellar. http://agsg.binghamton.edu/, (Anderson Lecture, 9-20).
Schneider, R. 2008. Pedestrian and
bicycle performance measures in practice: Lessons learned from communities that
are measuring human-powered transportation. Designing
New Planning Measures of Transportation System Performance. Joint Congress,
ACSP and AESOP,
Illinois, July 6-12, 2008. http://www.transport2000.ca/
Steger, W. 1966. Transportation output
measures: Needs for decision-making. Papers,
Transportation Research Forum.
B. 1975. Taking steps towards the end of the automobile era. Citizen Forum, Ottawa Citizen, December 9, page 6.
Posted at http://agsg.binghamton.edu/ and http://www.transport2000.ca/.
Wellar, B. 1998. Walking
Wellar, B. 2001. Strategies for designing
IS/GIS strategies to implement Walking Security Indexes. In URISA 2001 Proceedings.
Chicago: Urban and Regional Information Systems
Association, CD-ROM publication.
Wellar, B. 2002. Walking Security Index Pilot Study.
Ottawa: City of
Wellar, B. 2008a. Methodologies for Identifying and Ranking
Urban Regions. Project Synopsis.
B. 2008b. Cutting to the Chase in Designing New
Measures of Transportation System Performance. www.transport2000.ca
Source: URISA News,
November/December 2008, pages 10-11