Traffic Congestion and Reliability:
Trends and Advanced Strategies for Congestion Mitigation
6.0 Concluding Thoughts: Where Do We Go from Here?
Success against congestion requires not only attacking it on multiple fronts with strategies from the Congestion Relief Tool Box (Section 4.0). It also requires cooperation between transportation agencies, public safety agencies, businesses, and the public. Since we are all affected by congestion, it is important that we all work together to address the congestion problem. Here are some ways that transportation agencies, businesses, and the public can collaborate to mitigate congestion.
The first step is for all parties to recognize they have a stake in the congestion problem. Public agencies are in the business of serving customers the same way that any private firm is—except that the customers (the public and businesses) are buying efficient and safe travel. The public, elected officials, and businesses are more than just consumers—they are shareholders too. These consumers also should examine their own decisions and policies to identify changes that can improve their quality of life while recognizing that the agencies cannot solve the problem by themselves. The ongoing transportation planning process, which has been successfully used in major metropolitan areas for at least the past 40 years to address transportation problems, provides an excellent framework for promoting ownership of congestion problems. A major part of the transportation planning process is establishing a Vision that outlines what the future transportation system should look like. The Vision leads to more specific statements of desired actions to achieve these states or characteristics. The Vision is also an opportunity to educate all stakeholders on the nature of congestion in your area and the importance of mitigating it.
Identify Where the Congestion Problems and Opportunities Are
Both technical analyses and anecdotal information from the public are useful in identifying where the major congestion problems currently are and what causes them. Discuss where the problems are likely to occur in the next five, 10, and 20 years. The existing transportation planning process in metropolitan areas can be tapped as a resource for this purpose. Provide realistic assessments on what can reasonably be done in each case, and what the expected improvements might be. FHWA supports a wealth of information on expected improvements from operational strategies, such as the ITS Benefits and Cost Database.39 The process should include considering:
- Strategies – What types of treatments should be considered?
- Coverage – How much area does the treatment cover?
- Density – How well is congestion treated?
- Congestion Target – What aspect of congestion is treated?
- Effect – What is the delay reduction effect? Are there secondary effects, such as on safety? What are the spillover effects on other facilities and neighborhoods?
Develop Plans, Programs, Policies, and Projects
Solutions that effectively address congestion can take a variety of forms, as shown in the Congestion Relief Tool Box (Section 4.0). Think broadly—no single tool will be highly effective against the congestion problem. But when used in combination—and tailored to specific circumstances—congestion mitigation strategies can be successful. The strategies should be action-based—things we can actually accomplish in a reasonable timeframe and at a reasonable cost. Consider all types of strategies including adding new highway and rail capacity, improved operations, and better demand management and land use planning. For congestion, both immediate and long-term actions should be developed. Recognize that many transportation and community plans already exist and should be tapped as mechanisms for carrying out the Vision. In fact, acting on a list of "things we can do now" will help galvanize support for congestion mitigation over the long term.
Operate the Transportation System Proactively and Regionally
Focus on addressing system reliability by targeting capital and operations strategies to specific conditions. Anticipate problems and take corrective actions early. Also, regional and multimodal cooperation is key to the success of deploying effective operations —many different agencies have a stake in the congestion problem. Therefore, a broad perspective should be taken in applying capital and operations strategies—avoid a narrow, facility-oriented view.
Use Performance Measures to Track Progress
One of the main actions that transportation agencies can contribute to the process is the tracking of congestion trends over time. Trends provide a basis for determining how well actions are working and can identify changes in the underlying congestion problem (e.g., traffic incidents may become more important in your area). Use of performance measures also brings an element of accountability to the process—what we are really getting for our investments—just as private firms do. The performance measures should track progress toward achieving program goals and objectives. Several principles may be followed in establishing a performance monitoring program:
- Sound Information Leads to Sound Decisions. By their nature, operational strategies require continuous involvement in the day-to-day, hour-to-hour activities of the transportation system. Continuous involvement in the transportation system requires feedback at a detailed level so that strategies can be adjusted. In the era of TSM&O, we can no longer afford to be "flying blind."
- When You Measure, Measure Like You Mean It. Production of congestion trends is a valuable tool for self-assessment and public relations. However, to realize its full potential, performance measurement must be taken to the next level: active use in decision-making. Once performance measurement is embedded in agency culture and procedures, increased attention will be focused on the data, yielding higher quality and greater coverage. Evaluate projects you've done using your measurement process. Determine if the project produced the expected improvements in congestion and if not, why not? Identify aspects of the project that could be improved next time.
- Measure Where You Can, Model Everything Else. Performance measurements based on real-time operations data represent the best combination of accuracy and detail, but they do not cover all major roads in urban areas. However, transportation agencies have many other data and modeling resources that could be used in performance monitoring. Do not wait for perfect data—start performance monitoring now and improve data as you go.
Future Reports on Congestion Trends
This report is the second in a series of planned annual reports on congestion trends, effects, and solutions. Several years ago, FHWA embarked on a support and outreach program to address the many causes of congestion and to improve highway safety through increased use of operational strategies. We are constantly learning more about the basic nature of congestion, where it is going, its impacts, and what can be done about it. As we learn more, additional information will be woven into future reports. Some of what we are learning will come from programs as outlined below.
Congestion Monitoring Activities
Part of the effort to improve support and outreach for operations was establishing national-level performance programs. The programs started small and have built to the point that enough data exists for enough cities to report trends; this report has presented some of these data. Future reports in this series will continue to use these sources.
Congestion Resources and Research
FHWA continues to develop and compile information for transportation agencies and the public on how improved operations can effectively manage congestion. Table 6.1 provides an overview of these activities, which are organized around the components of congestion as identified in this report. By addressing congestion by its root causes, both overall congestion levels and reliability are targeted. For further information, visit the FHWA Office of Operations web site: http://www.ops.fhwa.dot.gov/.
|Congestion Strategy||Action||Example Resources|
|Reducing Nonrecurring Congestion||Traffic Incident Management||
|Work Zone Management||
|Road Weather Management||
|Special Events Traffic Management||
|Reducing Recurring Congestion||Freeway Management||
|Corridor Traffic Management||
|Travel Demand Management||
|Improving Day-to-Day Operations||Operations Asset Management Real-Time Traveler Information Traffic Analysis Tools||
|Creating a Foundation for 21st Century Operations||Planning for Operations||
|Facilitating Integrated ITS Deployment||
|Improving Global Connectivity by Enhanced Freight Management and Operations||Freight Analysis||
|Freight Professional Development||
|Intermodal Freight Technology Truck Size and Weight||
|Improving Mobility and Security through Better Emergency Management||Emergency Transportation Operations (internal)||
|Emergency Transportation Operations (external)||