TRANSREPORT

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  • Destination 2040: Moving into Action with Changes to Transportation Project Evaluation Criteria

    June 26, 2020

    This is Part 4 of a series about Destination 2040, the Boston Region Metropolitan Planning Organization’s (MPO) new Long-Range Transportation Plan (LRTP). Destination 2040 establishes a​ vision for the region’s transportation system and funds both capital investments and research studies to support that vision. Parts 1, 2, and 3 of this series presented different stages of the new plan’s development, prior to its endorsement in August 2019. This installment explores how the new plan is being put into action.

    Graphic with woman's head and speech bubble reading: The main goal of reducing emissions and pollution is the overarching top priority. This can be accomplished by better bike networks, and bus-only lanes...It's most important to me because climate change seems to be getting more dire and we need to make drastic changes to how we commute and rely on our cars. -Comment by online survey respondent

     

    Destination 2040 includes new investment programs for transit modernization, dedicated bus lane infrastructure, and climate resiliency. These programs are intended to help municipalities and agencies design the kinds of transportation projects the MPO wants to fund in its rolling five-year capital plan—the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP).

    To better reflect these new programs and ensure it is funding projects that will meet its goals for the region, the MPO is reimagining the criteria it uses to evaluate TIP projects. The new criteria will be developed throughout 2020 and used for the first time in federal fiscal year (FFY) 2021 to score projects eligible for funding in the FFYs 2022–26 TIP. The Graphic of a person's head with speech bubble that reads: Promoting equity and justice need to undergird all the rest, both due to historic injustice in transportation planning and because solutions need to be crafted through an equity lens for each of these priorities.criteria are categorized to correspond to the goal areas in Destination 2040: safety, system preservation and modernization, capacity management and mobility, transportation equity, clean air and sustainable communities, and economic vitality.

    When developing the new criteria, the MPO plans to

    • create separate criteria for each investment program,
    • more heavily weight negative impacts,
    • add health metrics,
    • expand safety metrics,
    • use access to jobs and non-work necessities as economic measures, and
    • explore cost-effectiveness measures.

    To build on the public input received while developing Destination 2040, MPO staff set out to hear more about residents’ priorities for transportation investments.
     

    What We Heard

    To make sure the new criteria reflect the concerns of residents of the Boston region, MPO staff conducted both online and in-person outreach between September and December 2019. Staff released an online survey and hosted seven focus groups with transportation advocacy groups and organizations that primarily serve communities of color, low-income populations, people with disabilities, people with limited English proficiency, young people, and older adults.

    A table showing the dates, locations, and number of attendees for focus groups held by MPO staff in the fall of 2019.

    The first question of the survey stated, “Transportation projects are constructed to achieve the following goals. From the options below, please select the five goals that are the most important to you or your community.” The following chart shows the results of the 462 responses.

    A chart showing the top goals chosen by respondents to an MPO staff survey soliciting priorities for TIP Criteria revisions.

    A total of 93 focus group participants were asked to select and rank their top three priorities. The following chart shows these results.

    A table showing the share of respondents who chose each issue as their first, second, or third priority.

    Promoting more equitable transportation mobility and improving pedestrian safety were the two most frequently selected priorities identified from the online survey and focus groups.

    A graphic of a woman's head with a speech bubble that says: Improving pedestrian safety is the most important to me...A system that works for pedestrians is a more equitable system.

    In the online survey, many respondents also gave priority to both reducing emissions and reducing congestion. Respondents recommended achieving these goals by investing in multimodal transportation facilities such as separated bike lanes, dedicated bus lanes, and expanded pedestrian infrastructure, as well as by investing in both the maintenance and expansion of the rapid transit and commuter rail systems.

    A graphic of a person's head with a speech bubble that says: I'm a cyclist but my priority for the Boston region is for the transportation network to be less auto dependent. I think dedicated bus lanes provide the best return on investment toward this goal because...dedicated lanes increase ridership and do so in ways that can be centered on equity...

    Many respondents emphasized the gravity of climate change and the need to think about climate mitigation and adaptation strategies. Many also supported the idea of encouraging mode shift to reduce pollution.

    A graphic of a woman's head with a speech bubble that reads: Climate should be on the top of all of our action lists/to dos/minds. We need to reduce the number of cars traveling and increase biking, walking, mass transit. That transition will be healthier for all of us (wasting less funds later) and increase jobs and services at the same time.

    Many stressed the importance of improving pedestrian and bicycle safety to encourage more sustainable and active transportation, and reduce injuries for all users, especially youth, older adults, and people with disabilities.

    A graphic of a person's head with a speech bubble that reads: I currently ride a cargo bike with two children...If we had better connecting bike lanes, more families would ride. For instance, my five-year old daughter is determined to rider her bike, however, I'm stuck walking/running on the sidewalk with her, as her riding in the bike lane on a major street is much too risky.

    Respondents urged the MPO to prioritize investments in primarily low-income and minority communities that have been underserved and whose residents may be more reliant on transit.

    A graphic of a woman's head with a speech bubble that reads: Promoting more equitable transportation mobility. Differential access to employment, health care, and recreation based on what transportation is available to you makes class and race differences in the Boston metro region worse.

    They also asked the MPO to heavily weight the negative impacts of projects and focus on reducing emissions in high-pollution areas to improve public health. While the connection between proximity to emissions and higher incidence of respiratory and cardiovascular disease has long been known, preliminary data on the impact of the current COVID-19 public health crisis in areas with higher emissions elevates the need to address this issue. This concern was already on MPO’s radar–the initial proposed changes to the transportation equity and clean air and sustainable communities criteria presented to the MPO board in January and March included adding metrics for assessing particulate matter (PM 2.5), more heavily weighting all emissions, and using a multiplier to provide more points to projects that benefit equity communities.

    A graphic of a person's head with a speech bubble that reads: Making transit cheaper than driving...Include new dedicated transit/bike/ped corridors in all new developments with connections to existing infrastructure...Stop giving any MPO money to communities that refuse to permit density near existing transit.

    Respondents suggested strategies such as increasing urban tree canopy coverage and increasing bike and pedestrian connections to transit stations and mobility hubs. They asked the MPO to evaluate access to jobs and encourage smart growth, transit-oriented development, and transportation investments near affordable housing.

    To learn more about what staff heard, read Public Engagement for the TIP Project Evaluation Criteria Revisions Memo.
     

    What comes next?

    The MPO board began to discuss proposed criteria changes for the transportation equity and clean air and sustainable communities goal areas in December 2019. At the meeting on June 25, 2020, MPO staff presented proposed criteria changes corresponding to the System Preservation goal area, as well as an overview of the public outreach process and feedback discussed in this blog. View the meeting recording including the TIP Criteria presentations on the MPO's YouTube channel. The next presentations by MPO staff relating to criteria revisions are expected to take place in July. To keep informed about upcoming presentations, visit the Creating New TIP Criteria page on the MPO website, subscribe to the mailing list, and follow @BostonRegionMPO on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

    Once the MPO has developed a complete list of proposed new criteria, staff plan to host virtual workshops with stakeholder groups, host an open house, and release an online survey to gather input. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, staff plans to host all outreach virtually until at least September 2020. If you are interested in having MPO staff speak at your virtual meeting or event, contact Kate White, Public Outreach Coordinator, at kwhite@ctps.org.