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Transportation Accessibility

Transportation Accessibility

Imagine that you have a list of tasks to accomplish that requires you to travel to a number of destinations in a day: work, shopping, daycare, and maybe a restaurant or entertainment venue. Unlike a typical day, today you have freedom to choose between two metropolitan areas to meet these ordinary needs. While both regions host the range of destinations you need to reach, the first region boasts more rapid surface travel—with less congestion, faster highways and more rapid transit—than the second. At first blush, region number one would seem to be the more amenable locale because of the superior mobility that it offers. But knowledge about travel speeds would be insufficient for you to assess your ability to meet your needs in that region; the relative locations of your destinations would matter as well.  The slower travel of the second region may be offset by the reduced distances between you and your destinations; notwithstanding its lower speeds, it gives you access to your list of destinations with a smaller investment of time and money. If you choose the second region because its closer destinations more than offset its slower travel, you are selecting the higher-accessibility option. But ironically, you have chosen the region that current transportation-planning method evaluates as less successful.  For over half a century, transportation outcomes have largely been evaluated—both prospectively and retrospectively—within a mobility-based framework. The Transportation Accessibility research cluster aims to provide the research outreach needed to shift transportation and land-use planning from a mobility- to an accessibility basis.


We recently sponsored an international conference on the topic in Ann Arbor, hosting the thirteenth biennial conference of NECTAR, the Network on European Communications and Transport Activities Research. Nearly 100 researchers and practitioners from 20 countries participated. The event featured a specialized one-day subconference entitled “Accessibility-Based Evaluation from Laboratory to Practice” in which researchers, practitioners, and decisionmakers from North America and Europe compared notes on the potential impact of accessibility-based transportation and land-use planning, obstacles to moving towards that goal, and potential approaches to overcoming those obstacles.

We are affiliated with SMART (Sustainable Mobility and Accessibility Research and Transformation), the Mobility Transformation Center (MTC), and NEXTRANS, which has been a significant sponsor of our research.

We offer a concentration in Transportation Planning through our Master’s of Urban Planning degree that builds an interdisciplinary set of skills, with two foundational courses – taught by Jonathan Levine and Joe Grengs – that emphasize the importance of the accessibility perspective on a range of topics. Recent graduates now work at state departments of transportation, transit agencies, regional planning agencies, consulting firms, and nonprofit organizations. 

Our students have organized a Transportation Students’ club which brings together students with transportation interests from departments across campus. Contact James Fishelson for more information.

Urban and Regional Planning faculty who do research related to transportation and accessibility: 

Recent and Current Ph.D. students’ research on Transportation and Accessibility:

Research themes include:

  • Measure Accessibility and Compare it Between Regions, Jonathan Levine, Joe Grengs and Louis Merlin research the components of accessibility and ways it can be analyzed between metropolitan areas. They are currently completing a book manuscript on transforming transportation and land-use planning from a mobility to an accessibility basis. 
  • Develop new planning tools based on accessibility: Current accessibility tools are generally regional in scale, while planning decisionmaking is often linked to the individual transportation or land-use project. Jonathan Levine, Louis Merlin, and Joe Grengs are developing and testing new tools for project-level evaluation of accessibility to link it closer to planning decisionmaking and practice. 
  • Implement accessibility concepts in planning projects worldwide: Susan Zielinski and SMART catalyze and collaborate in multi-disciplinary research that spurs and enhances implementation of sustainable transportation systems in communities and regions around the world. It concentrates on integrative approaches, new conceptual frameworks, new business models, and policies that support accessibility, livable cities, environmental sustainability, and social equity as well as New Mobility industry development and job creation.
  • Research the implications of the accessibility perspective: A shift from mobility to accessibility touches all aspects of transportation and land-use planning. Joe Grengs researches the intersection of accessibility and social justice, arguing that accessibility-based evaluation offers a more accurate reflection of current disadvantages than mobility-based evaluation, while providing a basis for identifying and prioritizing the people and places in greatest need of additional investments. Jonathan Levine advocates the adoption of an accessibility paradigm in guiding the future deployment of automated vehicles, arguing for policy reform to ensure that this emerging technology can be an alternative to—rather than just another kind of—private vehicle ownership.

Faculty books and other publications on Transportation and Accessibility:

Zoned Out:  Regulation, Markets and Choices in Transportation and Metropolitan Land Use
Author: Jonathan Levine
Published: Resources for the Future (2006)

Intermetropolitan Comparison of Transportation Accessibility: Sorting Out Mobility and Proximity in San Francisco and Washington, DC.
Authors: Joe Grengs, Jonathan Levine
Published: Journal of Planning Education and Research, 29(4), 427-443

Does Accessibility Require Density or Speed? A Comparison of Fast Versus Close in Getting Where You Want to Go in U.S. Metropolitan Regions.
Authors: Joe Grengs, Jonathan Levine
Published: Journal of the American Planning Association, 78(2), 157-172

Nonwork Accessibility as a Social Equity Indicator
Author: Joe Grengs
Published: International Journal of Sustainable Transportation, 9(1), 1-14

In the News:

Batterman quoted in Slate on regional transit issue
Levine on team charged with designing innovative, connected public transportation system
Levine Keynote Speaker at Transforming Urban Mobility Conference in Munich
Batterman Recognized as Unsung Hero at 2016 Regional Transit Awards
Biennial Transportation Conference, NECTAR, Hosted by Taubman College on June 14-16, 2015

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