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SWUTC Research Project Description

Identifying the Local and Regional Travel Effects of Activity Centers in the Austin, Texas Area

University: University of Texas at Austin

Principal Investigator:
Ming Zhang
Community and Regional Planning Department
(512) 471-0139

Project Monitor:
Daniel Yang
Program Manager of GIS, Demographic Forecasting and Travel Demand Modeling
Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization

Funding Source: USDOT and State of Texas General Revenue Funds

Total Project Cost: $61,900

Project Number: 600451-00088

Date Started: 1/1/13

Estimated Completion Date: 12/31/13

Project Summary

Project Abstract:
The capital area metropolitan planning organization (CAMPO) in the Austin, TX region is making effort to incorporate the “Activity Centers” concept into its long-range transportation plans. The basic idea of Activity Centers is to promote focused developments around designated urban nodes throughout the region as an alternative to the business-as-usual trend development. It is expected that the guided development lead to reduction in driving and driving-related negative consequences such as congestion, pollution, and energy waste. Many other metropolitan areas in Texas and the rest of the country have similar initiatives. However full incorporation of these ideas into the established transportation planning process faces a common challenge — the lack of sufficient local empirical knowledge on the effects of the alternative development on travel outcome.  Activity Centers presents land use attributes different from the conventional car-oriented and use-separated development. To what extend would travel behavior such as trip rates, average trip length, and vehicle occupancy change in response to variations in land use design? The behavioral parameters for transportation planning cannot be extrapolated simply from those calibrated with conventional land use. Furthermore, MPOs such as CAMPO do not accept plans that are done using borrowed information. To capture the potential local and regional effects of Activity Centers, the travel behavioral parameters need to be calibrated with local empirical data.

Project Objectives:
The objectives of the study are: 1) to derive empirically travel behavioral parameters for the Austin, TX area as they relate to the attributes of Activity Centers; 2) estimate the potential local and regional transportation effects of the land use initiative; and 3) draw methodological lessons transferable to other regions.

Task Descriptions:
Task 1:
Delineate the boundaries of Activity Centers. Currently the Centers exist mostly in circles on the CAMPO maps. They need to be delineated with input from local planners, experts, and the general public.

Task 2:
Derive typical measures, including: population and job density, entropy of land use mix, street density and connectivity, block size and sidewalk continuity, transit supply (stop/route density and service frequency), along with others.

Task 3:
Geocode in GIS the locations of trip ends/activity destinations of the sample from the 2005 Activity Travel Survey in the Austin area. Calculate travel behavioral parameters, including trip generation rates, internal trip rates, trip length (time and distance), and others inside and outside Activity Centers.

Task 4:
Specify Activity Centers scenarios based on local land use controls and desired land use attributes. Estimate travel demand models for the scenarios with use of TransCAD GIS.

Task 5:
Compare model outputs with the base model focusing on the following indicators: average travel time, average travel distance, total vehicle miles of travel (VMT), and travel time congestion indices at the link level and for different functional classes of roadways.

Task 6:
Prepare the final technical report and presentations. Discuss transferability of the study method and the findings to other metropolitan areas in Texas.

Implementation of Research Outcomes:
Metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) have become increasingly interested in incorporating innovated land use planning and design into transportation plan-making. Many design ideas are recommended under the umbrella of the New Urbanism; yet in practice they hardly get fully implemented in the standard transportation planning procedures. The project includes two parts. Part one refines the analysis of trip generation as it relates to mixed use development (MXD), with a focus on trip-chaining behavior, an approach taken by Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO). Part two looks into the potential of and challenges facing land use intervention as an emission reduction tool. Through the Austin case study, it investigates the regional and local distributional effects of vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and Green House Gas (GHG) emission changes pertaining to recommended land use and design innovations.

Results from this research allow urban planners and designers to work together with engineers to help improve the professional practice for a better living environment.

Products developed by this research:

Poster Presentation:  Bridging the Gap between the New Urbanist Ideas and Transportation Planning Practice, Ming Zhang, H. Pang and A. Kone, University of Texas at Austin, poster presentation to the 94th Annual Transportation Research Board Meeting, Washington, D.C., January 2015.

Publication:  Bridging the Gap between the New Urbanist Ideas and Transportation Planning Practice, Ming Zhang, H. Pang and A. Kone, University of Texas at Austin, published in the Journal of the Transportation Research Record:  Journal of the Transportation Research Board of the National Academies.

Presentation:  Bridging the Gap between the New Urbanist Ideas and Transportation Planning Practice, Ming Zhang, University of Texas at Austin, presented at the AESOP/ACSP Joint Congress, Dublin, Ireland, July 15-19, 2013.

Impacts/Benefits of Implementation:
This research will inform MPOs and local governments on ways to improve transportation planning and land use planning.

Web Links:
Final Technical Report