You are here

Livability/Focus on People and Communities

By focusing on livability, we can help transform the way transportation serves the American people - and create safer, healthier communities that provide access to economic opportunities.

DOT Secretary Ray LaHood
The Fast Lane
The Official Blog of the U.S. Secretary of Transportation, March 18, 2009

Urban Mobility Report - Detailed Analysis of Congestion in U.S. Cities

2007 Urban  Mobility Report publication cover

Texas Transportation Institute (TTI), Texas A&M University

The 2007 Urban Mobility Report addresses the issue of congestion, a problem shared by all of the nation's cities. The report gives a very detailed picture of a problem that is worsening. At a Washington, DC, press conference attended by national and international media, researchers announced that traffic congestion creates a $78 billion annual drain on the U.S. economy.

Congestion is far more complex than is immediately apparent. The better the data used to define the problem, the better the solutions used to address its root causes. Researchers spent two years revising their methodology, using additional sources of traffic information to provide more and higher-quality data for the current study. The study estimates the effects of congestion on all 437 U.S. urban areas and provides detailed information for 85 such areas.

In addition to aiding transportation professionals and the public, this analysis gives lawmakers accurate information on which to base policy decisions. Researchers have offered testimony to the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, on a solution framework for America's congestion problems. The report is available at

Additional funding for this project was provided by the University Transportation Center for Mobility. The project involved the collaborative efforts of the University Transportation Center for Mobility, Texas Transportation Center, Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University, American Road and Transportation Builders Association, and APTA.

UTC Website:

Transit-Oriented Development

Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI), San Jose State University

In the 1950s, young families were moving away from urban areas and creating new suburban communities. While suburbia offered them larger yards and more privacy, it also distanced them from neighborhood necessities. Instead of walking to the market or to school, people had to drive an increasing number of miles to access shops, recreation, schools, and jobs. The suburbs also isolated those who could not get around so easily.

Today the trend is reversing, with people moving back to urban centers and again being at the hub of community life. To support that movement, municipalities and transit agencies needed data on how to provide optimal access to public transportation. MTI researchers initiated 14 site-specific case studies. Based on the resulting data, they provided testimony to local governments, which in turn helped municipalities to plan significant transit-oriented developments.

One development consists of two 10-story condominium towers adjacent to the Tamien multimodal railroad and light-rail station in San Jose, California. The site includes a park-and-ride lot, bicycle lockers, airport parking, municipal bus stops, a CalTrain shuttle, bicycle and footpath access, and a childcare center - all aimed at connecting urban residents with necessary services while reducing automobile trips.

Many other housing developments resemble typical townhome neighborhoods. In Hayward, California, 763 residential units have been built within two blocks of the Bay Area Rapid Transit line, and none of these structures are taller than three stories. Most resemble period architecture, with streetscapes that include trees and historic-looking lightpoles.

UTC Website:

Travel Behavior as It Relates to Public Transportation

National Center for Transit Research (NCTR), University of South Florida

NCTR extensively examined the USDOT Surveys - National Personal Travel Survey and the National Household Travel Survey - which are regarded as the most detailed sources of information on ways that people travel nationwide, including their use of public transportation.

The knowledge gained from analyzing these surveys is central to understanding the public's needs and desires, designing transportation services to address them, marketing available services, and influencing policy and investment decisions regarding public transportation and competing modes. The results of this analysis will inform federal policy decisions on public transportation, influence transit-agency service and marketing strategies, impact thinking regarding the design of competitive public transportation, and support the development of planning and modeling tools.

NCTR Reports analyzing two major travel surveys:

  • Exploring the Availability of Public Transportation Services through Analysis of the National Household Travel Survey Appended Data
  • Public Transit in America: Results from the 2001 National Household Travel Survey
  • A Framework of Modeling and Forecasting Stop-Level Transit Patronage
  • The Case for Moderate Growth in Vehicle Miles of Travel: A Critical Juncture in U.S. Travel Behavior Trends
  • Transit Use Opportunities and Issues for Older Drivers Losing Driving Privileges
  • A Closer Look at Public Transportation Mode Share Trends
  • The Role of Density and Captivity in the Success of Public Transit: Observations from the 1995 NPTS
  • Mobility and Mode Choice of People of Color for Non-Work Travel

Information from these research efforts is being used in training and educational activities for public transportation professionals as well as in academic courses. Several student theses have focused on this research theme. The research findings have been presented at American Public Transportation Associations (APTA) conferences, in briefings to FTA and USDOT personnel, in numerous research forums, and to media outlets.

Additional funding for this work was provided by Florida DOT.

UTC Website:

Mitigating the Impact of Highway Development on a Community

Google map of the Martindale-Brightwood community
NEXTRANS researchers analyzed the impacts of the I-70 renovation on the Martindale-Brightwood community.

NEXTRANS, Purdue University

The Martindale-Brightwood community on the east side of Indianapolis has a long history of heavy-industry and railroad activities in the setting of minority residential population. The neighborhood is traversed by four thoroughfares, each carrying heavy volumes of car and truck traffic. In 1965, construction of the I-70 route divided portions of the established community, causing disruptions to residents and businesses. The community was further compromised when residents were moved to accommodate the Rural Street and I-70 Industrial Park. Much of the area lacks either a major grocery or a drugstore within walking distance, and many blocks of street and sidewalk are in need of repair.

In partnership with the NEXTRANS Center, Martin University undertook a community research, education, and outreach project to explore the negative impacts of the I-70 renovation project, with particular focus on the neighborhood's senior citizens. In the first phase of the project, data were analyzed to identify key issues resulting from the highway construction project. In the second phase, the results were used to facilitate focus-group discussions. Results from both phases were disseminated to the local community, the general public, and business leaders through workshops and outreach events. The project's ultimate goal was to derive innovative solutions for mitigating the impacts of the I-70 renovation while providing opportunities for Martin University students to learn about transportation research methodologies and to engage in community development efforts.

Additional funding for this project was provided by Purdue University.

UTC Website:

Introducing WiFi on Commuter Rails in Utah

Utah Transportation Center (UTC), Utah State University

In April 2008, the Utah Transit Authority (UTA) began full service of the FrontRunner commuter rail line, running from Ogden along a 38-mile route south to Salt Lake City. A major feature of this new rail line is WiFi service onboard the train along the entire route. Researchers provided expertise to assist UTA in having a functioning WiFi system on board the FrontRunner on Day One. This is the most significant application of WiFi technology on a commuter rail line in this country to date and among the few that have been implemented globally.

UTC contributed to the success of this venture by assessing the technological options available to provide wireless broadband service on the commuter rail in Utah. Researchers identified and evaluated technologies for realizable wireless architecture capable of handling large volumes of voice, video, and data communications in a highly mobile setting. Several existing WiFi deployments were examined and compared in terms of in-train WiFi service and train-to-ground backhaul communication. Newly emerging technologies were also considered and evaluated.

The resulting report, Evaluation of the Technological Options Available for Providing Broadband Wireless Service on Commuter Rails in Utah, is available at

This project was additionally funded by Utah Transit Authority.

UTC Website:

Driver-Assistive Technologies for Bus Rapid Transit

Bus on congested highway
ITS Institute, University of Minnesota
Lane-assist technology will increase the operational safety of BRT vehicles in narrow lanes, allowing them to operate at higher speeds while maintaining the safety of passengers and the public.

Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) Institute, University of Minnesota

FTA has identified Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) as an efficient form of public transportation that uses buses to provide capabilities usually associated with rail transit systems. BRT is both less expensive to implement and more flexible than rail systems. According to the FTA document located at, "BRT combines the quality of rail transit and the flexibility of buses. It can operate on exclusive transitways, high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, expressways, or ordinary streets. A BRT system combines intelligent transportation systems technology, priority for transit, cleaner and quieter vehicles, rapid and convenient fare collection and integration with land use policy."

Because of the limited right of way available to build new (and possibly dedicated) lanes for BRT operations, FTA has identified lane assist as an emerging technology that will enable deployment of BRT systems. The premise behind lane-assist technology is that it will increase the operational safety of BRT vehicles in unique environments such as narrow lanes. It will also allow BRT vehicles to operate at desired higher speeds while maintaining the safety of passengers and the motoring public.

In the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area, transit agencies provide BRT-like services on a network of narrow, bus-only highway shoulders. Institute researchers have focused on the technologies needed to help buses operate safely and efficiently in these narrow lanes. Specific driver-assistive systems developed at the University of Minnesota include differential GPS receivers and radiofrequency identification readers, used in conjunction with high-accuracy geospatial databases, or "digital maps;" head-up displays that provide information on lane boundaries and nearby vehicles even in low-visibility conditions; rear-end collision-avoidance systems; and lane-departure warning systems that use haptic feedback mechanisms. These technologies are now being deployed on a fleet of buses operated by the Minnesota Valley Transit Authority (MVTA), which will go into BRT service by late 2009.

A final report on this work can be found at 12Vol1.pdf.

Additional funding for this project was provided by the University of Minnesota Intelligent Transportation Systems Institute, Hennepin County, and MVTA.

UTC Website:

Travel Assistant Device Aids Transit Riders with Special Needs

National Center for Transit Research (NCTR), University of South Florida

The goal of the Americans with Disabilities (ADA) Act is to provide equal opportunity, full participation, and independence to persons with disabilities. USDOT supports this goal by promoting accessible transportation for all, including nearly 50 million Americans with disabilities and the increasing elderly population who can no longer drive. Simple tasks, such as knowing when to pull the cord to indicate the need to exit a bus, can be challenging for people with cognitive disabilities.

The Travel Assistant Device (TAD) that was developed for this project is a prototype software system that can be installed on off-the-shelf, GPS-enabled cell phones to provide informational prompts, such as the recorded audio messages "Get ready" or "Pull the cord now" and to vibrate to further cue the rider. The rider's real-time location can also be viewed by a trainer or a family member through a website while the rider is traveling independently. To facilitate deployment, TAD utilizes stop and route data provided by transit agencies in the de facto industry standard, Google Transit Feed Specification format.

TAD increases the mobility of the special-needs population, permits transit agencies to train these travelers more efficiently, and reassures their families. Field-test results with cognitively disabled young adults demonstrated that, of 23 skills that a trainee needs to travel independently by bus, TAD supports three: watching for landmarks, recognizing a landmark near the desired bus stop, and signaling to exit at the proper time. TAD also provides confidence and security to individuals using the fixed-route transit system.

Additional funding for this project was provided by the National Science Foundation's Research Experience for Undergraduates program and the Transportation Research Board's IDEA program.

UTC Website:

Educational Booklet for Widowed Drivers

New England University Transportation Center (NEUTC), Massachusetts Institute of Technology

In many traditional marriages, the husband does most of the driving. Consequently, a husband's death severely reduces a widow's mobility. This is a critical issue because mobility is essential to managing the necessities of life and maintaining social ties.

Based on a study of widowed drivers, researchers wrote a booklet designed to help widows cope with possible anxieties about becoming their household's primary driver. The booklet Your Road to Confidence: A Widow's Guide to Buying, Selling and Maintaining a Car will soon be available. The contents were derived from the responses and comments of widowed drivers who participated in a series of focus-group sessions.

Study participants were women who had great difficulty transitioning to their new role as primary driver, those who experienced little trouble with the transition, and some who relished their newfound independence. The women expressed common concerns about driving, ranging from questions of buying a car to issues of safety. Previously, if they were driving instead of riding as passengers, they could call their husbands if anything went wrong. To manage these stresses, many of the widows said, they bought cell phones or joined AAA or another automobile club.

Many study participants said that they felt empowered by taking charge of their mobility that driving helped them to cope with their grief and reestablish their lives.

Additional funding for the project was provided by The Hartford Financial Services Group.

UTC Website:

North American Older Adult License Policies

Michigan Center for Advancing Safe Transportation Throughout the Lifespan (M-CASTL), University of Michigan

To inform policymakers in the driver-licensing community about best practices for policy, practice, and research relative to older drivers, and to guide the development of a robust, long-term research agenda on older-adult safety and mobility, a two-day workshop with experts in traffic safety and other relevant disciplines was held in Washington, DC. M-CASTL was responsible for managing and coordinating the workshop as well as for editing proceedings papers and summarizing outcomes. The workshop had three primary objectives: to summarize the present state of knowledge regarding older-driver safety as it relates to screening and assessment, to develop a consensus-based set of recommendations that could be used by policymakers and stakeholders, and to identify the most important knowledge gaps and research needs related to older-driver safety.

Workshop planners wanted the event to build on recent knowledge amassed in the field. To that end, findings from several past efforts were reviewed and incorporated into the workshop's framework, and 12 new papers and presentations relevant to older-driver licensing were commissioned. These papers discuss the roles of licensing agencies, clinicians, law enforcement, and families, as well as research needs, the current state of the practice, and best practices.

Participants were a diverse group of internationally recognized experts in older-adult licensing policy, practice, and research. Workshop topics included screening and assessment, license renewal and physician reporting, interventions for at-risk drivers, and elements of model driver-license systems. A list of more than 40 general themes, policy recommendations, best-practice guidelines, and research needs was developed at the workshop. The results are available at

Additional funding for the project was provided by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety (AAAFTS).

UTC Website: