U researcher rates MN’s travel accessibility

Brian Edwards

A University of Minnesota researcher is using travel data to rank the best areas in the state to live based on access to vital destinations.
The University’s Accessibility Observatory is evaluating transportation destinations, such as jobs, schools and hospitals in the state in order to measure accessibility.
The data could shape how entities like the Minnesota Department of Transportation plan future transit projects.
Andrew Owen, lead researcher and director of the observatory in the University’s Department of Civil, Environmental and Geo-Engineering, said the research identifies where jobs are concentrated.
“Focusing on accessibility gives a way to look at how well we are achieving the goals of transportation systems,” he said.
The program uses bus, rail, car and pedestrian travel times combined with census data to measure the number of jobs that can be reached within 30 minutes of a person’s home, Owen said. The data can be adjusted to give information about any type of destination from anywhere in the state.
MnDOT and Owen are negotiating a contract to use the data to improve the state’s transportation plans, he said. 
He said they could compare proposed changes to transportation infrastructure and ways to alter the accessibility of a specific area. 
Deanna Belden, director of performance, risk and investment analysis at MnDOT and a technical liaison for the project, said adding accessibility measurements to the transit agency’s existing data would provide another way to measure the effectiveness of transportation and help guide decisions on future projects.
“We like this [research] because it would expand our suite of performance measures,” Belden said. “People are trying to travel to destinations and not travel quickly to nowhere.”
David Levinson, a professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Geo-Engineering, said this information can also explain why people choose a certain mode of transportation.
“In places with higher transit accessibility, people are more likely to use [public] transit,” he said.
Levinson said the research also focuses on how frequently public transportation is available at a certain location.
“Transit accessibility varies by time of day,” Levinson said. “If the bus just left and won’t be back for another 30 minutes, you can’t reach very many places.”
While Owen said his research has examined the state’s transportation accessibility, he said the research could be adapted for cities and states nationwide.
Last fall, the researchers ranked the travel accessibility in 46 different metropolitan areas. Owen said many cities have already contacted him in order to use the data for their own projects.
“For us, that report was a prototype to demonstrate what we could do at a national level,” he said.