Research Rest-Stop │ The Impacts of Congestion Pricing

Every Wednesday, the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities (MOTU) highlights some interesting research related to or innovations in transportation, sustainability, or energy.


Congestion pricing has been a widely discussed topic over the past few years. This pricing strategy works by charging automobile drivers traveling along certain roads of a transportation network during a particular time of day when the roads are typically most congested. Congestion pricing serves as a way to manage congestion without building more roads or expanding the transportation network. Many European cities like Stockholm, Milan, Singapore have explored implementing congestion pricing or are running pilot programs, while London and Paris have systems in place. In the United States, efforts to implement High-Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes, which charge single drivers to travel in carpool lanes, or peak-period pricing projects, which allow travel on tolled roads, bridges, and tunnels at a discounted rate during off-peak hours, are underway in several states, including California, Virginia, and Washington. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), the presence of traffic congestion costs the United States $200 billion annually. Congestion pricing is thus seen as one way to reduce the negative impacts of congestion.

While congestion pricing helps to manage congestion without additional road construction, it also adds another cost for users. This then brings the issue of equity into consideration. “Road Pricing Can Help Reduce Congestion, but Equity Concerns May Grow,” a recent report on traffic congestion from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (US GAO), looks into the relationship between congestion pricing and equity further. The report finds that pricing can generally help to reduce congestion and further investigates the impacts of pricing on equity.

In performing its evaluation, the study looked at how the projects have impacted congestion rates according to five performance measures:

  • Travel time and speed (how quickly vehicles travel and the time it takes for them to travel the length of the HOT lanes)
  • Throughput (how many vehicles travel through the HOT lanes)
  • Off-peak travel (whether congestion pricing encourages drivers to travel during off-peak hours when prices are lower)
  • Transit ridership (whether drivers switch modes to take transit instead)
  • Equity (how the benefits of congestion pricing revenues are spread among commuters of all income levels in a given transportation corridor [income equity] and whether drivers are likely to switch to an alternative, untolled route [geographic equity]).

Adding equity as a performance measure in the report demonstrates the holistic view that is being taken in regards to congestion pricing proposals. The report first looked at the issue of income equity in the congestion pricing projects. It found that, for SR 91 in Orange County, I-394 in Minneapolis, and SR 167 in San Diego, “drivers of all incomes used the HOT lanes, but high-income drivers used them more often than low-income drivers.” The report notes, however, that, since the sample sizes of the surveys performed were limited, “the results may not provide reliable estimates for the various subgroups they measured.”

The report also evaluated the geographic equity impacts of congestion pricing. The goal in performing this evaluation was to see if traffic on alternative, untolled routes would increase with the implementation of a congestion pricing system on an adjacent route. Of the cases studied, only a few evaluated traffic diversion to see if drivers would change their routes to avoid paying a congestion pricing fee.

As congestion pricing becomes more popular as a way to reduce congestion, its impacts on income and geographic equity will continue to grow as areas that require attention. Higher tolls will likely impact drivers of various income levels differently, and these impacts will need to be explored in greater detail before tolls are implemented or, in some cases, increased. The report specifically notes that “these concerns may be particularly acute in the future for projects designed to use pricing not only to manage congestion but also to meet toll revenue targets.” Developing strategies and implementing programs to reduce the impacts of congestion pricing on drivers of lower income will be crucial to ensure that equity remains a primary consideration in these congestion pricing projects.


MOTUnes Monday │ Where the Streets Have No Name

Every Monday, the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities (MOTU) showcases a transportation related song. This week, U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name” gets the green light.

Research Rest-Stop │ Bicycling at a Speedy Rate

Every Wednesday, the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities (MOTU) highlights some interesting research related to or innovations in transportation, sustainability, or energy.


According to a new study by the Brussels-based European Cycling Federation (ECF), Europe could potentially reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation vehicles by more than 25 percent if European nations had as high bicycling rates as the Danes. In Denmark, the average person bicycles almost 600 miles annually. The European Union bicycling average is 120 miles per person per year, while, in the United Kingdom, it is 46 miles per person per year.

A 2008 report done by researchers from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, Rutgers University, and the University of Massachusetts-Boston, finds that, as of 2000, Europeans bicycled roughly 120 miles per person annually, while United States residents bicycled approximately 25 miles per person per year. This report helps to put into perspective how incredibly high the Dutch numbers are. Compared to the rest of Europe, the Dutch, on average, bicycle many more miles than residents in other European countries. Compared to the United States, the Dutch demonstrate how staggeringly high their bicycle rates are.

While bicycling rates per person annually in the U.S. do not appear high in comparison to other European cities, they are growing. In Philadelphia, for example, bicycling rates are on the rise. According to a May 2011 report released by the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, “over the last decade, significant numbers of Philadelphians have shifted to bicycle commuting and positioned Philadelphia as an excellent big city for biking.” Philadelphia is continuing to add numbers of bicyclists to the streets. Between 2000 and 2009, rates for bicycling as a commuting mode increased 151 percent. These rates are likely to increase even more in the coming years, as cities across the United States, including Philadelphia, look to support a mix of transportation modes.

MOTUnes Monday │ Joe Metro

Every Monday, the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities (MOTU) showcases a transportation related song. This week, “Joe Metro” by the Blue Scholars is our mode of choice.

Research Rest-Stop │ A Scientific Look at How We Walk

Every Wednesday, the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities (MOTU) highlights some interesting research related to or innovations in transportation, sustainability, or energy.


When’s the last time you ever thought about how people walk or the science of walking in general? Chances are this motion of putting one foot before the other often goes unnoticed, as we focus on other activities and as research typically addresses pedestrian safety rather than the science of walking.

As a recent article in The Atlantic Cities highlighted, a new study out of the Max Planck Instit for Human Development in Berlin explores how pedestrians react to each other and sidewalk traffic. Mehdi Moussaid, the study’s author and a crowd scientist, argues that people, when walking straight towards each other, often select the appropriate side to take (left or right) through implicit social understanding. His conclusions discuss that the preference to walk on the left or right side of the sidewalk is often determined by the way others are using the space and that, in many cases, the preference to choose the left or right side “may be interpreted as a cultural bias.”

Since we drive on the right side of the road in the United States, it’s interesting to think about how our walking preference for the left or right side of the sidewalk may be determined by the way we travel when we drive. Next time you’re out and about and traveling down a sidewalk, think about how you’re moving and how others are moving around you. The coordination of how people travel around each other, especially on busy sidewalks, may surprise you.

MOTUnes Monday │ When the Ship Comes In

All aboard! Every Monday, the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities (MOTU) showcases a transportation related song. This week, the Pogues’ “When the Ship Comes In” is pulling up to the dock.


Research Rest-Stop │ What Makes an Area Walkable?

Every Wednesday, the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities (MOTU) highlights some interesting research related to or innovations in transportation, sustainability, or energy.


The term, “walkability,” often conjures up a variety of images and perspectives, but most people would agree that walking through a vibrant and bustling neighborhood or business district is much more attractive to pedestrians than a corridor created mainly for automobile travel. According to the 2009 National Household Travel Survey, 10% of all trips made nationally are by foot. Walking is also an important mode of travel for accessing transit facilities and stations. The American Public Transportation Association notes that, according to its analysis of more than 150 on-board transit surveys conducted between 2000 and 2005, roughly 60% of transit trips were taken by people who had walked to the stations.

A new University of California at Irvine study appears to agree with this assessment. Using the South Bay area of Los Angeles County as its case study, the report explores the connection between pedestrian-friendly areas and walking rates. The report finds that neighborhoods in the area that have a central business district or core encourage walking at nearly three times the rates of areas where shops and businesses are located along corridors that primarily support automobile travel. Residents in the neighborhoods with central business cores are also more likely to make shorter trips, which demonstrates the importance of proximity. People are more likely to walk to a shop if they know it’s relatively close than far away or inconvenient to reach.

As we mentioned in our Research Rest-stop post last week, Philadelphia was recently named one of the top five cities in the nation with the highest walk scores. These scores indicate how friendly an area is to pedestrians, including how easy it is to walk around and how safe people feel in doing so. With a compact street network (not to mention a street grid system that helps to orient pedestrians), walking around Philadelphia can be a fun way to take in the sights as well as travel to your destinations in the city easily.

With this in mind, we ventured to Walk Score to see how Philadelphia stacks up. Walk Score ranks Center City as having a 98 out of 100 for its proximity to schools, shopping, restaurants, parks, entertainment, and transit options, all within walking distance. North, South, and West Philadelphia also rank well in these categories, especially on their transit scores, meaning that they provide several different transit options within walking distance. For example, in West Philadelphia, Walk Score notes that one has access to seven nearby routes, including five bus stops and two trolley stops, all within walking distance.

Another good reference is the Philadelphia Pedestrian & Bicycle Plan, which is divided into two phases. Phase One (2008-2010) looked at Roxborough/Manayunk, Germantown/Chestnut Hill, Upper North Philadelphia, Lower North Philadelphia, Center City, and South Philadelphia as its study areas. Phase Two (2010-2012) will focus on West Philadelphia, Southwest Philadelphia, Olney/Oak Lane, River Wards, and Northeast Philadelphia. The Phase I Report notes that the overall plan looks to develop a framework for pedestrian and bicycle planning that will “increase the number and frequency of people walking and bicycling in the City by improving the connectivity, safety, convenience, and attractiveness of the pedestrian and bicycle networks.” The Plan also serves as a landmark in being Philadelphia’s first Pedestrian Plan as well as an update to the City’s Bicycle Network Plan, prepared in 2000. To learn more about the Plan, check out the related reports.

MOTUnes Monday │ Cruisin’

Every Monday, the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities (MOTU) showcases a transportation related song. This week, we’re cruising into February with Motown legend Smokey Robinson’s “Cruisin’.”

Research Rest-Stop │ Current Bicycling and Walking Trends in the United States

Every Wednesday, the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities (MOTU) highlights some interesting research related to or innovations in transportation, sustainability, or energy.


In “Bicycling and Walking in the United States: 2012 Benchmarking Report,” a new report released by the Alliance for Bicycling & Walking, all 50 states and the 51 largest U.S. cities are ranked on elements like bicycling and walking levels, safety, and funding.

The report finds that promoting bicycling and walking serves as a good way to reduce obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes levels. Increased rates of bicycling and walking also support better bicycle and pedestrian safety and more physical activity. Encouraging bicycling and walking through local initiatives and policies can help communities improve the overall quality of life for their residents. While progress is happening, there is still room to expand these efforts.

The report notes that, while bicycling and walking rates are growing, most of the trips in the United States are still made by car. From 1990 to 2009, the percent of commuters who bike to work grew to 0.6%, while the percent of commuters who walked decreased to 2.9%. According to the 2009 National Household Travel Survey, 1.0% of all trips made by Americans are by bicycle and 10.5% of all trips can be considered walking trips. These statistics demonstrate that, at a national level, the rates of bicycling and walking are relatively low. Travel by automobile continues to be Americans’ most popular choice.

In major U.S. cities, however, the rates of bicycling and walking are growing quickly. The report mentions that “residents of major U.S. cities are 1.7 times more likely to walk or bicycle to work than the national average.” As part of its analysis, the Alliance provides a ranking of major U.S. cities and their bicycling and walking levels. According to the report, the top ten cities with the highest bicycling and walking levels are as follows:

  1. Boston
  2. Washington, DC
  3. San Francisco
  4. Seattle
  5. New York
  6. Portland, OR
  7. Minneapolis
  8. Philadelphia
  9. Honolulu
  10. New Orleans

The report points out that Philadelphia is also leading the way in many other categories. Here’s a brief breakdown of where Philadelphia ranks among other cities in the nation:

  •  Ranked in the top five among cities with high walk scores, which are awarded according to how pedestrian-friendly a city is
  • Ranked in the top five among cities for bicycle facilities per square mile
  • Named as one of the top six cities for the number of commuters who walk to work and one of the top twelve cities for the number of people who bike to work
  • One of the top ten safest cities in the nation for bicyclists and pedestrians
  • Among the top twenty cities for the amount of funding dedicated to bicycling and pedestrian programs on a per capita basis

As Philadelphia looks to expand its bicycle network and encourage policies that promote use of the streets for all users, including bicyclists, pedestrians, and drivers, these numbers have the potential to grow. With recent pilots along 10th Street and 13th Street, MOTU is working to encourage bicycle trips and expand and enhance the city’s bicycle network. In addition, MOTU is promoting pedestrian-friendly initiatives such as its Parklets and Pedestrian Plaza programs.

To learn more about MOTU’s initiatives, check out our website. If you’re interested in finding out more about Philadelphia’s bicycle network, be sure to visit the Streets Department website, which provides information about bicycle routes and bike maps of Philadelphia and Center City.

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