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Got Budget Woes? How Departments of Transportation Are Managing Into 2021

By November 17, 2020 February 1st, 2021 No Comments
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Budget issues were on everyone’s mind at our October StreetLight Summit. Hundreds of StreetLight InSight “power users” from DOTs, MPOs, consulting firms, and other organizations met online to discuss 2020’s rapid changes for transportation, and how to navigate them.

The biggest budget-related takeaways were:

  1. When actual construction is up in the air, double down on planning.
  2. Capture project-critical O-D details without commissioning surveys.
  3. With budgets shrinking, get more value from existing resources.

Here are specific examples collected from panels and discussions that illustrate how shrewd practitioners are using Big Data analytics to support these budget-related best practices. 

1. With Spending On Hold, Planning Continues

At a time when many projects are in limbo, transportation professionals told us they are ramping up on planning. That way, when budgets are settled and projects begin again, planners will be confident they’ve analyzed and prioritized the most important work. 

At the StreetLight Summit, planners shared examples of running multiple analyses for each project, and studying before-and-after results to measure impact of existing projects.

For example, FDOT needed to decide where to install 11 continuous bike and pedestrian counters along thousands of miles of bike trails and lanes in Florida. Planners instinctively felt that the University of Florida in Gainesville would be a prime location, and took the time to verify that instinct. 

“If we are going to invest in putting up count stations that cannot be moved, we need to be confident there will actually be activity at that count station,” explained Eric Katz at FDOT.

Fig. 1 Map

Figure 1: A Zone Activity analysis marking potential location for a continuous bike counter on University Avenue in Gainesville, Florida. 

Katz confirmed a steady stream of bike/ped travel in the area, plus trip duration and trip speed, by running a StreetLight Zone Activity analysis. The study pinpointed additional Florida locations for short-term counters, including a popular bike trail in the Panhandle. 

2. O-D Can Be Pricey; Get Metrics Without Surveys

At the Summit, Lucile Kellis of Steer shared an origin-destination analysis designed to help a transit client size unmet travel demand. First Steer used StreetLight to identify where transit users were ultimately going to and coming from, to highlight strategic travel corridors. 

Then they went further by gleaning additional insights about the travelers themselves. But rather than incur what would be an additional survey expense, Steer leveraged the StreetLight InSight platform. 

“Typically our clients have a good understanding of who their customers are, but not the people who they want to attract,” Kellis explained. “Surveys are a good tool to collect that information, but we all know that good surveys are expensive and they return results with low sample size and biases. StreetLight helps us solve these issues at a much cheaper cost.”

Fig 2. Chart

Figure 2: Using demographic information from StreetLight InSight Steer’s analysts built a dashboard capturing transit persona data.

Layering in StreetLight’s traveler demographics, including age, income, and family status, helped Steer build several personas for potential transit use. The persona groups included “Inner City Cosmopolitans,” “Hard Pressed Living,” and “Metro Suburbs.” 

3. Budgets Might Shrink; Eke Out More Value 

Planners at our Summit emphasized the importance of putting existing resources to best use. Many StreetLight users have regional subscriptions, with unlimited access to our on-demand analytics platform for running as many analyses as desired.

Fig 3 Chart

Figure 3: MnDOT’s analysis confirmed that Dodd Road’s traffic was primarily made up of local trips, not cut-through traffic. 

“We normally wouldn’t answer this community question because the survey spend wouldn’t be cost effective,” says Michael Corbett at MnDOT. Corbett’s team was receiving complaints about cut-through traffic in a particular neighborhood. But with unlimited analyses via the agency’s StreetLight InSight subscription, MnDOT was able to identify the source of neighborhood traffic, and share results with constituents.

The Ultimate Cost-Benefit Analysis

Transportation is an exciting industry at this moment in history because it figures largely in topics affecting the entire planet, including environmental justice, climate change, and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

Planners at our Summit are responding by experimenting, and finding creative ways to do more with less. Our online chat was filled with inspiring comments like, “Just try things out and see what makes sense,” and, “It’s easy to iterate.” 

Last year, one DOT ran a cost-benefit analysis to compare StreetLight’s platform to traditional methods and found a 50:1 benefit-cost ratio (click here to learn more about cost-benefit analyses). That kind of savings is paying off for our Summit attendees.