Objective: Broad understanding of what an equity-centered transportation planning process looks like.
As of April 2023, this initiative is being led by our new Committee member Aditi Misra. Please stay tuned for more news about our plans soon!
Equity in transportation remains among the most central of topics in the transportation industry. Historically, aggregate predictions of travel demand have limited the ability to understand and promote fairness in the design and evaluation of transportation infrastructure and policies. Many transportation planning processes begin with a “deficiency analysis” of future conditions which is based on aggregate travel demand forecasts produced from a travel demand model and is based on existing travel behavior. This process perpetuates an ongoing cycle of highway construction, expansion, and traffic congestion oriented towards the anticipated future needs of those who can most easily travel (and pay to travel) now – while essentially ignoring the needs of those who aren't easily able to. The impacts of transportation infrastructure expansion have disproportionately fallen on communities with high numbers of people of color, people with disabilities, and other disadvantaged communities while failing to prioritize their needs to address their disproportionate lack of accessibility. With a growing awareness of inequities in transportation outcomes and the emergence of travel demand models that recognize travel choices, preferences, and circumstances at the individual level, we have opportunities to evaluate connections between transportation infrastructure and policies and the expected distribution of transportation outcomes, as well as design transportation infrastructure with specific community needs and equity goals in mind.
This call for papers intends to capture this shift in perspective. We invite papers focusing on the following topics: experienced or anticipated roadblocks in addressing equity in travel demand forecasting, identifying the planning processes which supports equity, data needs, scalability of solutions, improvements in modeling structure, approaches and designs, case studies and emerging analytic methods. We especially encourage papers from practitioners and agencies actively engaged in developing, managing and updating small, medium or large-scale transportation analyses supported by analytical tools such as travel demand models. Submitted papers can address any or multiple areas mentioned below but are not required to do so if they address the broad concept of equity in travel demand forecasting.
Data Needs in Addressing/Incorporating Equity: Papers submitted under this area could examine the role of data in addressing equity in transportation demand forecasting, including how data availability, biases and data gaps can impact outcomes of transportation models (e.g., the use/availability of certain demographic attributes), scalability of solutions, intersectionality, new and innovative data collection methods etc.
Advancing Equity Analytics in Transportation Demand Forecasting: Papers submitted under this theme should ideally explore methods and analytics for advancing equity in transportation demand forecasting, including new modeling strategies and tools, approaches for integrating qualitative data/metrics, methodological advancements (e.g., use of new predictive models) in addressing the intersectional nature of equity, data fusion, imputation and aggregation.
Equity considerations in Investment Decision-Making: Papers submitted in this area could examine how transportation demand forecasting can be used to inform transportation investment decisions that prioritize equity, including strategies for identifying and addressing existing transportation inequities.
Equity and the Future of Work: Papers under this theme could explore how changing work patterns, (e.g. remote/hybrid work and flexible schedules), are impacting demand and how transportation demand forecasting can incorporate these changes in a way that promotes equity and accessibility.
Transportation Demand Forecasting and Environment: Papers under this theme could explore the intersections between environmental justice and transportation demand forecasting, including how transportation models can be used to identify and address environmental inequities in transportation systems.
Before I assumed the role of chair in April, I interviewed many dozen committee friends, members, and people from adjacent fields to learn about their needs*. The number one need that I heard was How do I incorporate equity into travel forecasting and the processes that it supports (uncertainty was the runner up – more on that one next time). The very concept of equity is by definition not universal across projects, people, or historical contexts. While equity is a challenge to ‘analyze’ compared to more traditional metrics like congestion, we shouldn’t shy away from the challenge of providing insight to the best of our abilities.
Transportation infrastructure and policies truly shape our communities, and in this process travel forecasting plays a critical role. In order to be relevant now and in the future, we as the travel forecasting industry must provide insights that planners and decision-makers can use to make decisions. Discretionary Federal funding programs have been, and will even more so in the future, be placing an increased emphasis on evaluating proposed projects using equity and climate. Most regional transportation planning processes are using equity as a key factor in project prioritization – going beyond the minimum requirements and wanting to dive in as far as they can reasonably go. But how does one use our current set of forecasting tools to provide additional insight about equity?
We are up for the challenge. One of the strengths of our field is that it is rooted across many physical and social science disciplines (so much more interesting than building bridges IMHO!). While some problems may lean more heavily on economics or mathematics, equity likely exercises our linkages to anthropology and sociology – through the lens of history.
So what should we do as the Travel Forecasting Committee? What can we do? Thanks to the countless volunteer hours of many, we have several current tools at our disposal that enable us to broadly draw attention, incentivise research, and disseminate knowledge. We can also look in the mirror and examine the equity of how we conduct our committee business: we have done some initial work on this, and will continue to do more.
However, most aspects of equity in transportation planning precludes a narrowly scoped problem that researchers can go back to their labs and ‘solve’ in response to an NCHRP project or call for papers. It also may be the case (as has been suggested by many of those I interviewed) that sincere insight about equity will likely require a dramatic rethinking of how to do travel forecasting with equity at the center. It will require creativity, compassion, and collaboration.
I’m open to ideas as to how to approach this task, but I know that we will need a few shepherds to guide it, and a core group to participate. This core group will hopefully expand to include our friends with deep roots in relevant social sciences as well as partners on the planning and decision-making side of things. I am also very aware that we must not place the sole burden of righting past wrongs on those who have been historically disenfranchised; but we should involve and engage them on their terms.
Will you help re-imagine travel forecasting with equity at the center?
We need people who are ready to pitch in where needed and asked. Is this you?
We need connections to relevant social science partners. Can you connect us?
We need to involve planning and decision-making partners. Is this you? Can you connect us?
We need the voices and input from people and groups with diverse backgrounds whose lives are affected by how our analyses have affected decision making. Is this you? Could you connect us with somebody?
We need a passionate task leader (or two!) who can lead and organize our efforts. Is this you?
Special thanks to Billy Charlton and Zabe Bent for helping shape this piece.