It’s the (political) economy, stupid: when it comes to urban transport, we’re doing it wrong

Political choices, not technological innovations, shape our urban transport systems. As long as governments continue to prize mobility over accessibility, those systems will remain unhealthy and ineffectual.

[This is an edited extract from A Political Economy of Access by David M Levinson and David A King, available now in paper and PDF. It was published in Foreground.]

It is hard to examine the state of transport and land use planning without a large dose of cynicism about motives, and skepticism about claims and priorities.

A Political Economy of Access: Infrastructure, Networks, Cities, and Institutions by David M. Levinson and David A. King
A Political Economy of Access: Infrastructure, Networks, Cities, and Institutions by David M. Levinson and David A. King

Transport engineering and land use planning are technical fields nominally grounded in rational thought. Yet level-headed analysis and calculations haven’t led to healthy and financially sustainable transport and land use systems. Part of what we see as the problem is a focus on mobility over accessibility. This focus prioritizes vehicular flows and speed over people and proximity. Our shared goals should not be how to maximize how much people and things travel about. Rather, our goals should be about how society can make it as easy as possible to reach opportunities and activities. A second part of the problem is privileging expansion over preservation. In a world where transport is new with few roads and no transit service, expansion is the critical phase of development; but in today’s world of mature networks, preservation is so much more important. We identify numerous problems, but the solutions are difficult to implement. That is not, we believe, because they are not good ideas, but rather because the institutions that make decisions are incapable of implementing them.

Our political economy analysis explains how access is shaped by law, culture, and governance. The issues we raise are not new, either. It was a century ago when Frederick Law Olmstead, Jr. said:

“There has been a decided tendency on the part of official street planning to insist with quite needless and undesirable rigidity upon fixed standards of width and arrangement in regard to purely local streets, leading inevitably in many cases to the formation of blocks and lots of a size and shape ill adapted to the local uses to which they need  to be put.”

This quote introduces many of our concerns. First, streets and road networks are more than just thoroughfares. They actively shape the location and function of the built environment, support or deter alternatives to automobility and substantially affect public safety. Second, in a system where transport networks and land regulations are designed and built separately, there are mismatched incentives. The most efficient road may contradict the needs of great places. Speed is not necessarily a characteristic of great cities – other than maybe Indianapolis, no city brags about being a raceway. Third, rigid roadway design is a hallmark of a focus on mobility.  The road itself is simply a conduit through which one passes, and the quality of destinations is diminished. Lastly, these are just some of the well-known problems that have persisted a century later, yet we have spent far less effort trying to understand why we keep building cities that many consider undesirable.

An additional issue is that transport systems require coordination across actors. The car you own is worthless without roads, and the capital and expertise required to build and maintain cars very much differs from the expertise needed for roads. The question remains how to integrate infrastructure, traffic flow, and land development. We advocate for coordination through prices, so people can account for the full cost of the actions of themselves and others when making decisions, whether as a traveler, developer, planner, or elected official.

The current state of transport and land use systems raises further concerns. New technologies are changing transport in fundamental ways. App-based services offer new taxi-type alternatives, which compete with and complement existing travel modes. These services are backed by deep-pocketed investors and despite their popularity are, as of this writing, not actually profitable. But there is little doubt that such services will persist in some form once the money runs out. If the history of taxicabs is any guide, a new era of regulation will protect Uber, Lyft, and others from their demise.

Private firms have reoriented transport planning priorities, for good and bad. Not long ago long-range transport plans largely set the course for policy and investment decades ahead.  Now everything from streetcars for real estate development to ridesharing through dockless bikesharingand, the flavor of  the week, electric scooters, are undermining the slow predictability of policy. With automated vehicles peeking over the horizon, the conventional approach to transport planning may be obsolete as no one knows what innovations and unintended side effects automation will bring.

The internal combustion engine is likely nearing the end of its century of dominance. These engines use fuel, which is taxed to pay for infrastructure across the US and in some other countries, and taxed for general revenue elsewhere. A shift to electricity affects the core relationship between user fees and public spending. New sources of revenue will have to be developed, including road tolls, road access charges, parking fees, and other sources. Of course, a loss of motor fuel taxes also will affect who pays for infrastructure. The role of central governments will likely diminish as fuel taxes decline. This devolution of authority pushes local and state or provincial governments to raise their own revenues. Voters will be asked to approve new taxes and fees, which introduces many concerns, including whether voters are adequately informed to assess the value of any package of taxes and spending.

Transport referenda are generally popular with the public in the United States, for example, where more than 70 percent usually pass. But voters often don’t know the true details of what they are voting on. California has led the way in voter-led projects, including their high-speed rail (HSR) project that voters passed with 52.6% of the votes in 2008. Despite well-publicized concerns, proponents promised a train that would connect the state, “[C]arrying up to 117 million passengers annually by 2030, with the capacity to also carry high-value, lightweight freight.” Since then, the timeline has been extended, the scope scaled back, forecast recanted, and the costs have increased dramatically – at one point to nearly $100 billion. Stations have been delayed or cancelled, and now the train is promoted as a commuter service to open up housing markets away from the extremely expensive coastal cities. The project is substantially different from what voters were sold, and a very passive aggressive solution to the state’s housing affordability crisis. We expect more projects like this.

Lastly, the political economy of access must address issues of race and social justice. New transit investments tend to favor wealthier, whiter communities. Bicycle advocacy is dominated by young, white men, as are the technology companies developing micromobility, services and microtransit and taxi apps. As once-young, white men ourselves, there is nothing wrong with that, but we have learned it is but one perspective of many.

The value we wish to promote is access. Access is the ability for people and firms to interact, whether through employment, production, consumption or sales. Access is a value that differs from mobility. Where mobility improvements are a hallmark of recent decades of transport policy, our focus on mobility has led to auto dominated infrastructure that offers few other options about how to get around. With a focus on access, we can orient transport policy to connecting people to places they want to be, rather than accommodating driving at the expense of everything else.

The political aspects of transport policy shouldn’t be assumed away or treated as a nuisance. Political choices are the core reasons our cities look and function the way they do. Many of the transport and land use problems we want to solve already have technical solutions. What these problems don’t have, and what we hope to contribute, are political solutions.


This is an edited extract from A Political Economy of Access by David M Levinson and David A King, available now in paper and PDF.

Professor David Levinson joined the School of Civil Engineering at the University of Sydney in 2017. He taught at the University of Minnesota from 1999 to 2016 where he held the Richard P Braun/CTS Chair in Transportation (2006-2016). He was Managing Director of the Accessibility Observatory, and directed the Networks, Economics, and Urban Systems research group.

David A King is an Assistant Professor of Urban Planning at Arizona State University School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning. His research explores the impact of local transportation planning on the built environment, public finance, social equity and accessibility.

Passenger rail between the Twin Cities and Duluth: How a monster was born and raised | StarTribune

Ailene Croup writes “ Passenger rail between the Twin Cities and Duluth: How a monster was born and raised” in the StarTribune, and mentions my name …

David Levinson spoke to community members at that time, informing them that passenger rail does not make enough money to pay for itself. It is subsidized by tax dollars.

Levinson held the Richard P. Braun/CTS Chair in Transportation Engineering at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Transportation Studies from 2006 to 2016. He served as faculty in the school’s Department of Civil, Environmental and Geo-Engineering and was noted as a prolific transportation researcher. He specialized in rail transportation.

He said the environmental impact of putting a train on the tracks was significant, such as the proposed multibillion-dollar rail line in California, which would leave a carbon footprint for 150 years.

The NLX project was finally turned over to MnDOT in 2016, but the alliance continues as a lobbying group supported by tax dollars from participating counties and cities. The alliance consists of and is now funded by the Hennepin County Rail Authority; the cities of Duluth, Minneapolis, Cambridge, Sandstone and Superior, Wis.; and the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.

Through the years, private partnership with NLX was under discussion, but it never came to fruition.

The model for NLX has gone from high-speed rail to a less stressful ride from Duluth to Minneapolis where riders can tally “billable hours.” Or, a ride to college for students.

Levinson said it would take many hundreds of riders each day and many, many trips daily for NLX to even pay for itself.

The poor counties of central Minnesota do not need another transportation tax to take riders to Target Field. The rest of the state should not be responsible for subsidizing this luxury, either. Northstar Rail is the lesson, with taxpayers subsidizing $18 to $22 per rider since it was put on the tracks.

NLX has nothing to offer east-central and greater Minnesota other than the promise of higher taxes for subsidized transportation that does not serve them.

I have written about the NLX previously on the blog, and am surprised to see it alive, but I guess this confirms my thesis about zombies.

The Transportist: April 2019

Welcome to the April 2019 issue of The Transportist, especially to our new readers. As always you can follow along at the  transportist.org or on Twitter.

March was notable for the launch of A Political Economy of Access

Book: A Political Economy of Access

Now available: A Political Economy of Access: Infrastructure, Networks, Cities, and Institutions by David M. Levinson and David A. King, in paper and PDF.

ABOUT THE BOOK

Why should you read another book about transport and land use? This book differs in that we won’t focus on empirical arguments – we present political arguments. We argue the political aspects of transport policy shouldn’t be assumed away or treated as a nuisance. Political choices are the core reasons our cities look and function the way they do. There is no original sin that we can undo that will lead to utopian visions of urban life.

The book begins by introducing and expanding on the idea of Accessibility. Then we proceed through several major parts: Infrastructure Preservation, Network Expansion, Cities, and Institutions. Infrastructure preservation concerns the relatively short-run issues of how to maintain and operate the existing surface transport system (roads and transit). Network expansion in contrast is a long-run problem, how to enlarge the network, or rather, why enlarging the network is now so difficult. Cities examines how we organize, regulate, and expand our cities to address the failures of transport policy, and falls into the time-frame of the very long-run, as property rights and land uses are often stickier than the concrete of the network is durable. In the part on Institutions we consider things that might at first blush appear to be short-run and malleable, are in fact very long-run. Institutions seem to outlast the infrastructure they manage.

Many of the transport and land use problems we want to solve already have technical solutions. What these problems don’t have, and what we hope to contribute, are political solutions. We expect the audience for this book to be practitioners, planners, engineers, advocates, urbanists, students of transport, and fellow academics.

PURCHASE

Transport Findings

The new open access journal Transport Findings continues to add articles. Follow the journal on Twitter. Visit the journal. Read. Submit. Cite. This month’s articles include:

Posts at the Blog

My Posts at WalkSydney

News

Elections

And the winner of the NSW State Parliamentary Elections is … the COALition (the Liberals and Nationals)

Transit and Microtransit

Automated, Autonomous, Driverless, and Self-Driving Vehicles, and Semi-Autonomous Systems 

Human-Driven Vehicles, Signs, Signals, Sensors, and Markings, and Roads

Shared Vehicles/Ride-sharing/Ride-hailing/Taxis/Car Sharing

Micromobility: Human-Powered Vehicles/Bikes/Pedestrians/Scooters/eBikes/Last-Mile/First-Mile/Last-Meter/First-Meter/etc.

Electrification

Land Use

Retail, Wholesale, Logistics, Supply Chain, Freight

Intercity Trains

Maps

Science Fiction

Fantasy

Professoring

Research

Papers by Us

  • Yokoo, Toshi, and Levinson, D. (2019) Measures of Speeding from a GPS-based Travel Behavior Survey. Traffic Injury Prevention. [doi]
  • Carrion, Carlos and David Levinson (2019) Route choice dynamics after a link restoration. Transportmetrica B: Transport Dynamics [doi]

Books by Others

Books

Route choice dynamics after a link restoration

Recently published:

Figure 4 of 4 Figure 4. Baseline functions. (a) Baseline cumulative hazard – fixed thresholds 2. (b) Smoothed baseline hazard function – fixed thresholds 2. (c) Baseline survivor function – fixed thresholds 2.
Figure 4 of 4 Figure 4. Baseline functions. (a) Baseline cumulative hazard – fixed thresholds 2. (b) Smoothed baseline hazard function – fixed thresholds 2. (c) Baseline survivor function – fixed thresholds 2.

The original I-35W bridge collapsed on 1st August 2007, and the replacement bridge opened to the public on 18 September 2008. This study explicitly considers the day-to-day behavior of travelers after that bridge reopening. Subjects react to day-to-day travel times on a specific route according to thresholds. These thresholds help discriminate whether a travel time is within an acceptable margin or not, and travelers may decide to abandon the chosen route depending on the frequency of travel times within acceptable margins. Subjects’ previous experience, and perception of the alternatives, also influence their decision to abandon the chosen route.

KEYWORDS: GPS, route choice, I-35W bridge, duration, hazard, survival

Traveling backwards into the future

backwardsSWIn a world of AVs, cars can in principle as easily go backwards as forwards … What does that do to street  and vehicle design?

Streets in suburbia often are designed as cul-de-sacs with a loop at the top so cars can turn around while going forward. Streets are designed to be wide so firetrucks can turnaround instead of backing out. But in the future, none of that is necessary. The familiar lollipop shape of cul-de-sacs can be rethought, we might see more stubs.

Further, the need for through streets for vehicles on roads with the functional purpose of land access also is mitigated, when cars can easily backup in a second lane, the street can be cul-de-sac-ified.

Parking lanes can be reduced in size General with AVs, but especially with easier back-in maneuvers.

On vehicle design, people don’t like moving backwards. (Though arguably it might be safer, it’s what we do with child safety seats.)  Sydney trains have reversible seats so people can face forward when the train reverse direction. Car design might be similar, so people don’t suffer the discombobulation of backwards movement. A rotating seat in a narrow vehicle may be tricky, but why not?

Other vehicles that can move backwards (like ferries) generally operate forward. What optimizations does a preferred direction present?

Priority for trams will likely make crossing Northbourne even worse | Canberra Times

Jasper Lindell and Steve Evans write “Priority for trams will likely make crossing Northbourne even worse” in the Canberra Times. I am quoted:

Professor of Transport at the University of Sydney David Levinson said people on foot and bike should get longer to cross, giving cars shorter times on a green light.

“You don’t have to surrender to the automobile. Walking conditions for pedestrians should be better, and in a city like Canberra where distances are so great the conditions for pedestrians will never be perfect but that doesn’t mean you can’t get more than you currently get,” Professor Levinson said.

He believed Canberra could do more to make life easier for pedestrians. Some cities, for example, have crossings where all vehicles stop at the same time and people on foot can cross in all directions – they’re sometimes called “scramble crossings”.

Livability – a definition

Sustainability – The Brundtland Commission of the United Nations on March 20, 1987 wrote what is perhaps the most famous definition of sustainability:  “sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” While we can critique this definition in many ways, from this post’s perspective, the most salient point about it is its temporality. It is about future vs. present. We need a similar definition for here vs. there. 

livable-streets-first-edition-hardcover-book-donald-appleyard_02
Livable Streets by Donald Appleyard

I have been working with Bruce Appleyard on some issues around Street Justice and Livable Streets. He has written extensively on the issue, see e.g. Appleyard et al. on Livability Ethics. This got me interested in Livability definitions. I think the most useful would be something that spatially mirrored the definition of sustainability.

 

Livability, a definition (by me): (Livable development): “meets the needs of members of the local community, without compromising the ability of non-members to meet their own needs

 

To be clear, there is a natural tension between here and there, just as there is a tension between now and then. The job is to balance these, to differentiate between needs and wants. Within transport it is in many questions a case of through traffic vs. local movement. But how much of that traffic is necessary, as opposed to optional. Some traffic must traverse the neighborhood, and without a proper hierarchy of roads, uses streets designed in a different era for different purposes with different numbers of cars in mind. Every car moving on the street moving east-west is a barrier to someone attempting to walk north-south. The faster the cars, the fewer gaps in the barrier, the longer the delay for the pedestrian.

However in contrast with sustainability, where the balance needs to re-focus on the needs of the future relative to the present, discussion about livability in transport implicitly aims to focus on the needs of the members of the local community at expense of the wider region. In contrast with transport, housing discussions concern the needs  for a local area to accept more housing for the sake of the region, these are the debates about NIMBYism and zoning.

When travelers do not pay their full cost, the overconsume … they travel too much. This causes them to travel too far, traversing too many streets through too many neighborhoods, making neighborhoods less livable. They also thus consume too many resources (energy, clear air, safety) making them unavailable for future generations, making human life on earth less sustainable.

One solution is obvious, if politically difficult: charge travelers their full cost to society, the cost of the congestion they impose, the cost of pollution, the cost of energy, the cost of hazard, and even, if it can be quantified, the cost of disrupting social networks in local neighborhoods, which may be in part capitalized in the cost of real estate. We discuss this more in A Political Economy of Access.

 

 

Now Available: A Political Economy of Access: Infrastructure, Networks, Cities, and Institutions

Now available: A Political Economy of Access: Infrastructure, Networks, Cities, and Institutions by David M. Levinson and David A. King, in paper and PDF.

A Political Economy of Access: Infrastructure, Networks, Cities, and Institutions by David M. Levinson and David A. King
A Political Economy of Access: Infrastructure, Networks, Cities, and Institutions by David M. Levinson and David A. King

About the Book

Why should you read another book about transport and land use? This book differs in that we won’t focus on empirical arguments – we present political arguments. We argue the political aspects of transport policy shouldn’t be assumed away or treated as a nuisance. Political choices are the core reasons our cities look and function the way they do. There is no original sin that we can undo that will lead to utopian visions of urban life.

The book begins by introducing and expanding on the idea of Accessibility. Then we proceed through several major parts: Infrastructure Preservation, Network Expansion, Cities, and Institutions. Infrastructure preservation concerns the relatively short-run issues of how to maintain and operate the existing surface transport system (roads and transit). Network expansion in contrast is a long-run problem, how to enlarge the network, or rather, why enlarging the network is now so difficult. Cities examines how we organize, regulate, and expand our cities to address the failures of transport policy, and falls into the time-frame of the very long-run, as property rights and land uses are often stickier than the concrete of the network is durable. In the part on Institutions we consider things that might at first blush appear to be short-run and malleable, are in fact very long-run. Institutions seem to outlast the infrastructure they manage.

Many of the transport and land use problems we want to solve already have technical solutions. What these problems don’t have, and what we hope to contribute, are political solutions. We expect the audience for this book to be practitioners, planners, engineers, advocates, urbanists, students of transport, and fellow academics.


Table of Contents

Preface

1 Accessibility

  • 1.1  The duty of the sovereign
  • 1.2  Access as efficiency
  • 1.3  Access as equity
  • 1.4  Why A Political Economy of Access?

I Infrastructure Preservation

2 Hierarchy of Needs

  • 2.1  The nature of need
  • 2.2  The state of infrastructure
  • 2.3  Infrastructure triage
  • 2.4  Report cards
  • 2.5  Infrastructure heal thyself

3 Road Revenues

  • 3.1  From Snicker’s Gap to funding gap
  • 3.2  How the gas tax may fail
  • 3.3  Fix-it-first

4 Subsidy

  • 4.1  Car subsidies
  • 4.2  Bicycle subsidies
  • 4.3  Transit subsidies
  • 4.4  Subsidize users not systems
  • 4.5  Refactoring subsidies

5 The Solution to Congestion

  • 5.1 Welcome to the club
  • 5.2  Supply-side solutions
  • 5.3  Demand-side solutions

6 Pricing

  • 6.1  Temporal variations
  • 6.2  Spatial variations
  • 6.3  You can toll some of the roads some of the time
  • 6.4  You can toll some of the cars some of the time: Phasing in road pricing one vehicle at a time
  • 6.5  Billing systems
  • 6.6  Road service providers
  • 6.7  What about the revenues?
  • 6.8  Planning with prices
  • 6.9  Congestion is over! If you want it

7 Externalities

  • 7.1  Pecuniary and technical externalities
  • 7.2  Negative externalities
  • 7.3  Positive externalities
  • 7.4  Are reductions of negative externalities positive externalities?
  • 7.5  Pollution ethics
  • 7.6  The art of noise
  • 7.7  Safety vs. speed

8 The Solution to Pollution and Greenhouse Gases

  • 8.1  Global warming
  • 8.2  Supply-side solutions
  • 8.3  Demand-side solutions
  • 8.4  Pollution trust funds
  • 8.5  Domain alignment

II Network Expansion

9 Hierarchy of Wants

  • 9.1 Transport costs too much
  • 9.2 Transport benefits too little
  • 9.3 Transport takes too long to build
  • 9.4 Benefit/cost analysis
  • 9.5 Big infrastructure

10 Macroeconomics: Is Transport Stimulating?

11 The Magic of Streetcars, the Logic of Buses

  • 11.1 Ride quality
  • 11.2 Speed
  • 11.3 Operating costs
  • 11.4 Navigability
  • 11.5 Payment and boarding times
  • 11.6 Nostalgia
  • 11.7 Novelty
  • 11.8 Conspiracy
  • 11.9 Amenity
  • 11.10 Sexuality
  • 11.11 Respect
  • 11.12 Status
  • 11.13 Pedestrian accelerator
  • 11.14 Traffic calming
  • 11.15 Superstructure
  • 11.16 Feedback
  • 11.17 Congestion reduction
  • 11.18 Transportainment
  • 11.19 Permanence and directness
  • 11.20 Development-oriented transit
  • 11.21 Discussion

III Cities

12 Clustering

  • 12.1 Multi-sided markets
  • 12.2 Clustering and economic development
  • 12.3 Constraints drive growth
  • 12.4 Simpli-City
  • 12.5 Beyond density
  • 12.6 Competing centers

13 Zoning

  • 13.1 Zoning tries to solve the externalities problem
  • 13.2 Height limits
  • 13.3 Should the Bay Area have 11 million residents?

14 Fielding Dreams

  • 14.1 Defining induced demand
  • 14.2 Induced demand can be a good thing
  • 14.3 Forgetting faster than we learn

15 Trains, Planes, and Automobiles

  • 15.1 Mapping high-speed rail
  • 15.2 A national high-speed rail network
  • 15.3 Nationalize the rails
  • 15.4 Supercities

16 Value Capture and the Virtuous Cycle

  • 16.1  Infrastructure create saccess
  • 16.2  Access creates value
  • 16.3  Value can be captured
  • 16.4  Captured value can fund infrastructure
  • 16.5  Policy implications

IV Institutions

17 Devolve Responsibility

  • 17.1  Subsidiarity
  • 17.2  Ending the federal surface-transport program .
  • 17.3  Transport finance without the feds: The Canadian model
  • 17.4  Transit federalism
  • 17.5  Whose values?
  • 17.6  ‘Dogfooding’: Ensure managers use the system
  • 17.7  Should voters have full information when voting on transport projects?
  • 17.8  Coordinate local transport and land use policies
  • 17.9  Department of Accessibility
  • 17.10  Metropolitan Department for Transport
  • 17.11  The lump of government mistake

18 Private | Public

  • 18.1  Ownership and network size
  • 18.2  Public-private partnerships
  • 18.3  Tender routes
  • 18.4  Thought experiment: Auctioning green time
  • 18.5  Asset recycling

19 Utility Models for Transit and Roads

  • 19.1  What is a Utility?
  • 19.2  TransLink: organizing transport like a utility
  • 19.3  Transit should focus on core markets
  • 19.4  Think of transit like a club
  • 19.5  Enterprising roads
  • 19.6  Minnesota Mobility: A scenario
  • 19.7  Takeaways

20 Politics and Politicians

  • 20.1 Political parties, three axes, and public transport
  • 20.2  Trust as a positive externality
  • 20.3  Lying as a vicious cycle
  • 20.4  It’s a success
  • 20.5  Mischief in Minnesota
  • 20.6  Taking credit
  • 20.7  Expertise
  • 20.8  Frontiers or values as instruments

21  Transport Poverty

22  Pretexts of Safety and Justice

  • 22.1  Safe Streets for All
  • 22.2  Racial Bias in Traffic Enforcement
  • 22.3  US police interactions are needlessly violent
  • 22.4  Why is traffic safety used as a pretext?
  • 22.5  Not in our name

V Conclusions

23 Jam Today, Access Tomorrow, or Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast

Appendices

A Goods Framework

  • A.1 Rivalry and excludability
  • A.2 Goods and roads
  • A.3 Goods and transit
  • A.4 Anti-rivalry and anti-excludability

B Network Economies, Supply and Demand

C The Price of Privacy

D Governance and Performance

  • D.1 Introduction
  • D.2 Governance
  • D.3 Performance of state highway systems
  • D.4 Analysis
  • D.5 Conclusions

E Long Range Funding Solutions

Postscript: Homo Gridicus

Bibliography


Features

  • 470 pages.
  • Color Images.
  • ISBN: 9780368349034
  • Publisher: Network Design Lab

Purchase

Measures of Speeding from a GPS-based Travel Behavior Survey

Recently published

speedlimitAbstract

Objective: Lacking information about actual driving speed on most roads in the Minneapolis–St. Paul region, we determine car speeds using observations from a Global Positioning System (GPS)-based travel survey. Speed of travel determines the likelihood and consequences of collisions. We identify the road segments where speeding occurs. This article then analyzes the relationship between link length, traveler characteristics, and speeding using GPS data collected from 152 individuals over a 7-day period as part of the Minneapolis–St. Paul Travel Behavior Inventory.

Methods: To investigate the relationship, we employed an algorithm and process to accurately match the GPS data with geographic information system (GIS) databases. Comparing actual travel speed from GPS data with posted speed limits, we measure where and when speeding occurs and by whom. We posit that link length and demographics shape the decision to speed.

Results: Speeding is widespread under both high speed limits (e.g., 60 mph [97 km/h]) and low speed limits (less than 25 mph [40 km/h]); in contrast, speeding is less common at 30–35 mph (48–56 km/h). The results suggest that driving patterns depend on the road type. We also find that when there are many intersections, the average link speed (and speeding) drops. Long links are conducive to speeding. Younger drivers and more educated drivers also speed more, and speeding occurs more often in the evening.

Conclusions: Road design and link length (or its converse, frequency of intersections) affect the likelihood of speeding. Use of increasingly available GPS data allows more systematic empirical analysis of designs and topologies that are conducive to road safety.