What’s the Link Between Consumer Behavior and Travel Mode?

The conventional thinking for retail businesses such as convenience stores, restaurants, bars, and supermarkets is that customers will be traveling to the establishment by way of private automobile.  Unfortunately, this has also led to business owners fearing that they would lose business without adequate space for automobiles.

Recently, Professor Kelly Clifton, Christopher Muhs, Sara Morrissey, Tomas Morrissey, Kristina Currans, and Cloe Ritter of the Oregon Transportation Research and Education Consortium have published a study that examines the consumer preferences of pedestrians, bicyclists, transit users, and motorists to determine whether the mode of transportation significantly affects consumer behavior, particularly the frequency of visiting businesses and the amount spent during each visit.

Two charts compare the frequency of visits and amount of spending per transportation mode. (Courtesy Oregon Transportation Research)

Two charts compare the frequency of visits and amount of spending per transportation mode. (Courtesy Oregon Transportation Research)

The study used intercept surveys to ask restaurant, bar, convenience store, and supermarket patrons about their mode of transportation, how often they visit the establishment, and how much they spend on average.  The results showed that there are clear distinctions in the frequency of visits and the average amounts spent per trip, dependent on the customer’s mode of access.

There are two key findings from this study.  First, at restaurants, bars, and convenience stores, non-motorists (pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit riders) are competitive consumers, meaning that mode choice does not significantly impact consumer spending at convenience stores.  Further, over the course of a month, non-motorists actually spend more on average than motorists at convenience stores, bars, and restaurants.

A bike corral outside Reading Terminal Market.

A bike corral outside Reading Terminal Market.

Second, the built environment, including factors such as density, proximity to transit, and bicycling infrastructure, explain the use of non-automobile modes.  In particular, bike corrals and bike racks are significant predictors of bike use at nearby business establishments.

This research is important for Philadelphia in that it helps illustrate the link between mode choice and consumer spending.  Moreover, it empirically shows that removing a parking space for bicycle racks or pedestrian facilities will not adversely affect business at an establishment.  As Philadelphia continues to grow and redesign the streets for all modes of transportation it will be necessary to incorporate non-automobile infrastructure as an approach to encourage equitable transportation and activity in all neighborhoods.

Read the Full Report:

Consumer Behavior and Travel Mode Choices


Complete Streets Slow Traffic to Increase Activity

A comparison between a Conventional Auto-Centric Street and a Complete Street (Courtesy VTPI.org)

A comparison between a Conventional Auto-Centric Street and a Complete Street (Courtesy VTPI.org)

Last month, the City of Philadelphia passed a Complete Streets Bill, which mandates the use of the City’s Complete Streets handbook when developing property in order to design streets that will accommodate all transportation modes and increase safety. Complete Streets represent a shift from conventional street design in that accessibility is prioritized over mobility.  This means that the ability to reach destinations by multiple modes of transportation is given precedence over the ability to drive farther and faster.

A recent report by the Victoria Transport Policy Institute explores and identifies even more benefits of complete streets. In addition to greater safety and equity of transportation modes, Complete Streets can: improve the connectivity between streets, encourage active transportation mode shifts, reduce local air and noise pollution, promote smart growth land development, conserve individual energy use, improve neighborhood aesthetics, and increase activity of an area.  The report argues that complete streets and these benefits not only improve overall transportation, but also improve neighborhood livability.

Reducing traffic speeds increases roadway traffic capacity (Courtesy VTPI.org)

Reducing traffic speeds increases roadway traffic capacity (Courtesy VTPI.org)

A key component to achieving these goals is Complete Streets’ ability to lower the overall speed of traffic, which in turn increases roadway capacity.  This means that even though cars are moving slower, more vehicles can pass through an area.  Although this might seem counter intuitive, when vehicles are traveling at slower speeds, they also travel with less distance between each other, allowing for a greater total traffic.  In fact, the report shows that lowering vehicle speeds from 40mph to 25mph will increase total vehicles by approximately 400 vehicles per hour.  Additionally, a road analysis shows that a street which provides space for multiple modes of travel will increase the total number of people moving through an area simply because automobiles take up the most road space per person. Indeed, the analysis shows that automobiles take up approximately twice as much space as pedestrians and nearly five times as much space as buses on a per person basis.

Philadelphia has already taken the first step to creating more livable communities by passing the complete streets bill.  The Complete Streets Handbook uses a step-by-step process to help developers integrate Complete Streets into new projects.  First, the handbook is used to identify the street type that a particular project is located on, then the handbook describes the various street design interventions that will complete the street.  Finally, the Complete Streets checklist is incorporated into the review process, ensuring that development plans account for a project’s impact on the street and encourages safer and multi-modal transportation that meet the varying demands of Philadelphia’s neighborhoods.

Read the Full Report –

Evaluating Complete Streets: The Value of Designing Roads for Diverse Modes, Users and Activities

Check-Out Philadelphia’s Complete Streets Handbook

Street Furniture

What will street furniture look like in the near future?

New York City is hosting a contest to reimagine the way that payphones work in the urban environment.  Reinvent Payphones, will ask teams of designers, urban planners, and technologists to innovate pay phones in the city in order to reflect the changing communication needs of the people.  Some ideas pitched so far include adding wifi and USB connections.  In addition to adapting the use of pay phones, the contest asks teams to redesign the look of payphones in order to improve their appearance as well as the user experience.

This Bike Rack / Street Bench designed by NY MTA also helps manage stormwater runoff (photo courtesy streetblog.net)

This Bike Rack / Street Bench designed by NY MTA also helps manage stormwater runoff (photo courtesy streetblog.net)

This contest introduces a new shift in the look and function in the design of street furniture.  Pay phones, benches, trash and recycling cans, bike racks, planters, street signs, and lampposts all are important pieces of street furniture that influence the way people interact with the urban landscape and it’s important that they need to meet the changing needs of people living and working in the city.

Section 4.4 of Philadelphia’s Complete Streets Handbook has an entire component to address furnishing, which aims to use street furniture to enhance the urban environment while ensuring comfortable passage for pedestrians.

What type of street furniture do we no longer need? Why type of furniture should we have?  What new needs do today’s residents have that can be met with new types of street furniture? Maybe USB charging outlets and WiFi?  Additionally, we need to consider the cost and maintenance of new street amenities.  How will new street furniture function in the city?

Want to know more?

Check out the Reinvent Payphones Contest

Section 4.4 of the Complete Streets Handbook

Red Light Cameras and Safety

An article posted on New Jersey Real-Time News explores traffic accidents that occur at intersections with red light cameras.  The article looks at a recent report by the New Jersey Department of Transportation that that keeps track of accidents, costs, and citations that take place at intersections with red light cameras.

A New Jersey Red Light Camera(Photo From NJ.com)

A New Jersey Red Light Camera
(Photo From NJ.com)

The newspaper article reports that since the introduction of the cameras, total accidents have increased from 577 to 582. Furthermore, same direction or rear-end collisions at the intersections increased 20%, from 286 rear-end collisions the year prior to the cameras to 343 rear-end collisions the year after the cameras.

However, the article doesn’t mention non-rear-end types of collisions.  The NJ DOT report shows that right angle collisions decreased 19% (from 231 to 188), and other types of collisions decreased 15% (from 60 to 51).  This is important to note, because non-rear-end accidents are more likely to cause injuries.

Secondly, most of the locations with red-light cameras have only been in place for one year or less.  At the two intersections with two years worth of data, there has been a greater decline in crashes of all types when comparing pre-installation conditions to the second year of experience.

A Graph from the NJ DOT Report. The number of citations decrease over time.

A Graph from the NJ DOT Report. The number of citations decrease over time.

Also, red-light camera citations declined after an initial rise – year two violations were lower than year one violations, this indicates that there is a driver education element associated with the cameras.  As drivers become more accustomed to the cameras they learn that a yellow light means caution, not speed up, and the number of collisions will decline even further.

Finally, the total number of accidents at red light camera intersections increased at a lower rate than at intersections without the cameras (0.8% compared to 1.3%).  This suggests that in terms of total accidents, the intersections with cameras are slightly safer.

Since the five-year program is only in its 2nd year, more data needs to be collected before determining the effectiveness of red light cameras and the NJ DOT report posits that it is too early to draw any significant conclusions.  Of course the increase in rear-end collisions need to be addressed in order to make all intersections safer, but there is not enough evidence to recommend ending the red-light camera program early.

Want to know more?

The NJ DOT Report: Report on Red-Light Traffic Control Signal Monitoring Systems

The NJ Real-Time News article: Accident Rate Rises at Intersections with Red-Light Cameras

Research Rest Stop – Sustainable Transportation

Recently there has been much discussion regarding the environmental sustainability of automobiles versus transit.  Stephen Dubner of Freakonomics Radio, interviews Eric Morris, a planning professor, who suggests that driving an automobile is friendlier to the environment than riding transit.

A SEPTA Hybrid Bus

Their argument rests on the (faulty) assumption that although single occupancy automobiles have high emissions, most buses do not run at full capacity and as such, emit more pollution  per person than automobiles.

A 2009 EPA report shows that when buses carry an average of 11 people (most people have seats for 40 people), they are more fuel-efficient than automobiles; a full bus is nearly four times as efficient.

This discussion asks the question, “What is the most sustainable form of transportation?”  In the book, Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air, David JC MacKay compares multiple modes of transportation by the energy needed to travel 100 kilometers.

Emissions per Vehicle Comparison Chart

This research shows that buses are more efficient that single occupancy cars and a full car is more efficient than a bus.  However, trolleys, subways, electric and diesel trains, and trams are more efficient than a full car.  The most sustainable forms of transportation are walking and bicycling.

In Philadelphia, 9.2% of people walk to work, and 2.5% use bicycles.  Furthermore, the recent Complete Streets Policies approved by the City Streets & Services Committee promotes the use of transit, walking, and biking, works towards more sustainable transportation of the entire City.

Want to know more?

Streets Blog Network Article

Freakonomics Marketplace Article

Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air

Chicago O’Hare’s Vertical Garden

Two months ago, the O’Hare International Airport in Chicago opened a 928 square foot vertical garden in terminal three.  The garden uses an aeroponic growing process and produces fresh basil, cilantro, lettuce, tomatoes, and peppers among others.

O’Hare Airport’s Vertical Garden
(Photo Courtesy of Kylee Baumle)

In addition to creating a pleasant atmosphere in the airport to enjoy while waiting for a plane, the vegetables grown in the garden are used in the airport’s restaurants.  With next to zero transportation costs, the restaurants are able to offer the freshest possible vegetables to travelers.

But why stop there?

A fresh and wholesome foods program for airport employees could help increase healthful eating habits among airport workers who may not have adequate access to nutritious foods.  Furthermore, a healthy eating program could be tied into employee health insurance policies, which would incentivize better eating habits, thereby improving overall general health.

Building a sustainable garden in the airport is an excellent way to improve the space in the airport, but this garden has the opportunity to innovate and improve the health and well-being of everyone at the airport.

Want to know more about O’Hare’s vertical garden?

Our Little Acre

Urban Gardens

Using GPS to Understand Bicycle Traffic

As bicycling increasingly becomes a viable transportation mode for commuting and not just a recreational activity, it is necessary to plan ahead and identify new and existing routes that can be seamlessly integrated into the transportation network without adversely affecting other modes, such as walking, transit, and driving.  By better understanding which routes bicyclists choose, and how those routes are chosen, city planning agencies can establish a new bicycling network that promotes safe and convenient transportation.

Part of Philadelphia’s Bike Network on
Ben Franklin Parkway
(Photo Courtesy of the Bicycle Coalition)

A recent study from Portland, Oregon used GPS trackers to identify the routes in the city that were taken by bicyclists.  This created a detailed network showing which specific roads were preferred by bicyclists, as well as the roads that were avoided.

The results show a few trends. First, bicyclists generally choose the shortest route unless that route has high levels of automobile congestion, many turns, or a high slope.  This means that bicyclists prefer traveling out of their way in order to avoid busy streets and streets with frequent signalized intersections.  Moreover, the study shows that bicyclists prefer using off-street bike paths or traffic-calming bike boulevards compared to roads with standard bike lanes, further suggesting that bicyclists prefer to avoid automobiles.  Finally, the results show that streets with bike lanes are more attractive than streets without bike lanes, but a high volume street with a bike lane is no more attractive than a low volume street with a bike lane.

The GPS technology provides a more accurate image of how the streets are being used, but identifying routes chosen by bicyclists is only one part of creating a safe and convenient traffic network in the city.  In fact, GPS trackers are already used in New York City in order to identify times and day and days of the year with the high levels of congestion.

A corresponding study would benefit Philadelphia by identifying which routes drivers, transit users, bicyclists, and pedestrians prefer.  For instance, if bicyclists in West Philly traveling to City Hall prefer using the bike lane on Spruce Street, then the city can plan appropriately by improving connections to that bike lane.  Similarly, if drivers prefer using Columbus Avenue to reach the WaltWhitmanBridge, Philadelphia can plan to separate the bicycle and pedestrian lanes to improve safety.  This type of study is dependent on using GPS that provides us better insight to each mode’s traveling behavior.  This technology will allow for creating a better network that promotes safety and convenience for everyone.

Which routes in the city do you think are most used?

Want to know more? Check out:

Portland Study – Where do cyclists ride? A route choice model developed with revealed preference GPS data.

Atlantic Cities Article – What’s the Best Way to Find Out What Bikers Really Want?

The Wall Street Journal – Decoding Traffic in a Jammed City

Walkability – What is it Worth?

In recent years, Walkability has become one of the most important goals that cities and communities strive for and with the increasing popularity of new metrics like walkscore and walk appeal, it is easier than ever for people to identify and determine walkable neighborhoods.  Many people moving to new homes or apartments often look at the walkscore of their potential new neighborhood but what makes a walkable neighborhood valuable?  How valuable is walkability?

Intuitively, Walkability is important as a part of sustainable growth for an area. Walkable neighborhoods promote active transportation (thus better public health), aesthetically better shopping areas (compared to strip malls), and are more environmentally friendly by limiting automobile emissions.  Finally, walkable neighborhoods promote higher densities as less space is needed for automobiles.  Although these characteristics of walkable neighborhoods are desirable, they are not financially quantifiable and thus make it difficult for developers invest in.

A Walkable Neighborhood in Philadelphia
(Photo courtesy of VisitPhilly.com)

A recent report by the Brookings Institute examines the economic value of walkable neighborhoods.  The report, “Walk this Way: The Economic Promise of Walkable Places in Metropolitan Washington, DC” shows that neighborhoods with greater walkability perform better economically, and have higher property values for office, retail, and residential properties.  Moreover, the property values of walkable neighborhoods increased more than automobile dependent neighborhoods.

Simply put, walkable neighborhood development is economically feasible and improves the quality of a place.

The City of Philadelphia is increasing the walkability of its neighborhood through the Complete Streets Campaign.  Incorporating a Complete Streets approach to Philadelphia neighborhoods will ensure that pedestrians can easily and safely reach all their destinations.

For more information:

“Walk this Way: The Economic Promise of Walkable Places in Metropolitan Washington, DC”

New York Times: Now Coveted: A Walkable Convenient Place

Do Red-Light Cameras Work?

A Red Light Camera in Philadelphia
(Photo Courtesy of Newsworks.org)

Many cities in the United States use automated red light enforcement cameras.  The theory behind it is quite simple – since traffic police cannot be at all intersections at once, set up cameras at particular intersections to photograph drivers who drive through intersections without stopping at red lights, then mail those drivers traffic tickets.

About ten percent of all intersection fatalities in the United States are the result of running red lights, so it is important for cities to use all methods possible to increase traffic safety.

Although this practice is widely used, there is some controversy surrounding whether or not red light cameras actually increase safety, so much controversy that some cities have actually turned off their cameras.

Recent research in Virginia investigates whether or not cameras at intersections actually benefit traffic safety.  The study examined eight intersections – four intersections where red light cameras were turned off for ten months and four intersections without any red light cameras.  At each intersection, researches recorded whether the last car to enter the intersection did so on a green, yellow, or red light.

The results showed that when the red light cameras were turned off, 12% of the last cars to enter the intersection did so by running the red light, but when the cameras were on, only 3% did. This suggests that drivers are less willing to run a red light if they know they will receive a ticket, which in turn means that red light cameras reduce unsafe driving behavior.

Like many US cities, Philadelphia uses red light cameras among many tools to promote safe driving habits.  It’s important that all drivers, transit users, bicyclists, and pedestrians follow the traffic laws in order to make transportation in the city efficient, convenient, and safe (and to avoid getting a ticket!).

Find out more:

The Atlantic Cities Article

Read The Full Study

Research Rest-Stop — Americans Favor Transit

According new a recent Poll by the National Resources Defense Council, over two thirds of Americans favored local government investment on buses, trains and light rail projects.  This finding presents a new development in public opinion for the expansion of transit in cities and towns across the country.  In Philadelphia, there was found to be even more support for transit, by a ratio of 82% to 13%.

Commuters Board a SEPTA Train
(Photo courtesy of NEastPhilly.com)

When asked to grade the quality of transit service, only one-third of survey respondents ranked their transit service as an ‘A’ or ‘B’.  Furthermore, a majority of respondents (59%) agreed that the transportation infrastructure is ‘Outdated, Unreliable, and Inefficient.’

This perceived shortfall in transit service is seen as an opportunity for municipalities to invest in public transportation as an approach to solve long-term transportation problems.  In fact, the survey found that Americans are twice as likely to favor improving public transportation over building new roads as a method to solve these long term transportation goals.

Although the survey identified positive feedback for investing in new transit, it did not find an acceptable method to finance new transit investment.  Survey participants were apprehensive of raising sales or gas taxes.

Philadelphia survey respondents particularly disapproved of raising the gas tax, as most automobile drivers feel gas is expensive enough and state government opposes increasing the gas tax.

Despite financing difficulties, the results of this survey show that there is an increasing amount of support for the expansion of public transit as a way to  make commuting easier.

How would you pay for it?

Philadelphia Inquirer Article

NRDC Poll Results Memo

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