Using GIS in Transportation Mobility Analysis

By Louis CutaiaAICP, CNU-A

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Understanding and determining what infrastructure improvements are needed to facilitate the movement of all users and goods across a city, region, and state is vital to a healthy economy. Traffic congestion and the integration of alternative modes of transportation have become an important topic of discussion in planning and engineering departments—especially in the time of COVID—as roadways are being utilized differently, and more and more people are looking for interaction while social distancing. Being able to visualize your assets and surrounding environment as well as overlay future and proposed projects will help prioritize projects and allow the public to understand the implementation process. The use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) allows that and more. 

GIS is an analysis tool that allows you to integrate data management, analysis, reporting, and presenting of relevant information to make informed decisions. This paper outlines three examples of GIS tools used for analysis, as well as information-gathering, during the public engagement process. 

Local Analysis
Providing a safe and accessible route for all users within a community to access nearby stores, transit locations, and public facilities—such as schools and libraries—can enhance a community for all users. Creating a walkshed analysis through GIS lets planners, engineers, and the public better assess connectivity taking into account pedestrian barriers. GIS helps users understand the necessary infrastructure improvements needed to support this mobility. It also allows the overlay of different types of infrastructure such as the condition of roadway network, availability and condition of sidewalk infrastructure, crosswalks, and ADA accessible ramps to determine what improvements need to be made and what entities or agencies need to be involved. 

Walkshed Analysis, Westchase District Livable Center

City Analysis
An important infrastructure component in many cities is the Capital Improvement Program, which identifies large-scale reconstruction and new construction projects including roadway, drainage, water, and waste-water facilities. To identify necessary improvement projects, information such as age and condition of the roadway, crash information, utility lines, and other adjacent projects need to be considered. This information may also be compared to demographics, economic factors, flood risk, or other community characteristics. GIS allows this analysis to occur seamlessly as layers and information are overlaid to identify the highest priority projects based on performance metrics.

Existing and Proposed Neighborhood Connections Performance Metric, Southeast Mobility Plan

Region Analysis

Planning at the regional level requires many different agencies to be involved as well as getting feedback from multiple municipalities and stakeholders. Regional projects include comprehensive plans, major thoroughfare plans, mobility plans, corridor studies, and infrastructure projects such as major highway projects or transit projects. GIS provides the ability to pull multiple datasets to better understand the current needs as well as design for the future needs of the region. As population and employment continue to grow and spread, the ability to pull together vast amounts of data to balance competing priorities and provide necessary improvements benefits all users. GIS provides the means to synthesize information from multiple sources, model outcomes, and provide recommended alternatives within complex projects.  

Data Gathering
Input from the public is an important part of any planning project, whether at the local or regional scale. It has become especially important during COVID-19 as social distancing measures have required many city and state agencies to engage the public differently while still gaining valuable feedback. GIS has several tools that can be implemented throughout a project to gather feedback and inform the project benefitting all users. The interactive map feature through the ArcGIS Online platform allows the public to view the same information the public agency or consulting firm is using to make their recommendations. Public feedback can be received throughout the project as the online GIS tool allows users to provide comments and identify locations of concern outside of a public meeting setting. This GIS tool is also available through mobile devices which allows the user to provide feedback at any time, even while out on an evening walk. 


GIS Mobile Public Gathering Tool, Southeast Houston 

The use of GIS in infrastructure projects at the local, city, and regional level allows planners, engineers, and the public to identify recommended projects through an analysis tool that compiles all necessary information. The integrated approach GIS provides a holistic approach to plans and studies that make an impact on many communities.