Michigan DOT Launches Household Travel Survey

The Michigan Department of Transportation has launched a statewide household travel survey, dubbed “MI Travel Counts,” to help the agency determine how travel behavior has changed over the past decade; helping the agency plan future changes and improvements to the state’s transportation system.

[Above photo by Michigan DOT]

Last conducted in 2015, the survey aims to help Michigan DOT planners account for the many changes in travel that have occurred, like the prevalence of remote work, the increase in online shopping, and greater use of ridesharing and delivery services. Data from the survey will also be used to plan out transportation infrastructure investments for the next 20 years, the agency added.

Michigan DOT noted in a statement that randomly selected households will receive an invitation to participate in the survey via U.S. mail and, upon accepting the invitation, household members will provide demographic data and then report their travel either via a smartphone application, the internet, or by telephone. The information provided to MI Travel Counts will be anonymized and aggregated to calculate statistics for study purposes, the agency added.

The agency added that the “MI Travel Counts” survey – conducted on its behalf by national research firm Resource Systems Group – will be conducted in three phases, with the first scheduled to run from April 15 through early June, with additional phases anticipated in spring 2025 and fall 2025.

Several other state departments of transportation are also in the midst of similar statewide travel survey efforts.

For example, in March, the Colorado Department of Transportation partnered with local and regional agencies across the state to conduct a “Colorado Travel Counts” household survey. The agency said insights gained from this survey – officially launched at end of February 2024 and slated wrap up in February 2025 – will help Colorado DOT and regional planning agencies prioritize local transportation projects, improve mobility, provide valuable transit services and reduce roadway congestion.

Households selected for participation will be offered up to $10 per person as compensation for the time and effort needed to join and complete the survey.

The survey results should help create a “snapshot” of how the transportation system is used statewide, Colorado DOT noted; enabling its planners to use that information as a foundation for future mobility planning and development efforts.

Michigan DOT Talks ‘Complete Streets’ Policies

For the first time in 12 years since its initial adoption by the State Transportation Commission, the Michigan Department of Transportation is reviewing the state’s “Complete Streets” policy.

[Above image by the Michigan DOT]

As part of that review, Amy Matisoff – the tribal liaison at Michigan DOT – is working on a survey to get as much public input and engagement as possible before making any changes to that policy.

As part of the outreach effort for that survey and the overall “Complete Streets” review effort, Matisoff recently sat down with the Michigan DOT’s “Talking Michigan Transportation” podcast.

“I explain ‘Complete Streets’ to folks as creating a transportation environment or transportation system that feels safe and is usable for everyone,” she said during the podcast interview. “It does get complex really quickly when you start talking about the concept of complete streets, because I think what people see in their mind is different than what actually ends up on the ground.”

Matisoff noted that ultimately “Complete Streets” is more an “iteration of a process” and involves a lot of community engagement.

“That’s the part I think sometimes we miss is the front end, which is the engagement component of it,” she pointed out. “People are just thinking about the end goal of whatever is constructed. But engagement is such a key element of finding out what communities and what people need from their transportation system.

Matisoff added that one of “misconceptions” regarding the state’s road network is that Michigan DOT is “supposed to be the one providing all of that to everyone,” whereas in reality the agency is only responsible for about 11 percent of all the roads crisscrossing the state.

“So it is in partnership with our local transportation agencies that we provide [for] every transportation user on the streets,” she pointed out. “Also it’s about doing little things that don’t have to be big and flashy; things that I think a lot of communities are realizing that they can do fairly easily, that doesn’t take a lot of additional cost. So you’re going to start seeing more bike lanes painted or, you know, brighter crosswalks with better lighting; those types of things.”

There is also the “economic development” side of “Complete Streets” that many people overlook, Matisoff added.

“For example, look at the connection to trail systems, particularly in those more rural areas,” she said. “That is critical to communities that need tourism. So the folks that look at a full system, and really include recreation and transportation and the overlap, I think see a lot more benefit.”

Caltrans Unveils New Transportation Equity Tool

The California Department of Transportation – known as Caltrans – recently unveiled a new “equity tool” designed to ensure all state residents benefit from the agency’s transportation projects. The tool also identifies communities most negatively impacted by the state’s transportation system, especially in the cases of high rates of traffic, vehicle crashes, air pollution, and limited transit options.

[Above image by Caltrans]

Caltrans said its new Transportation Equity Index or “EQI tool” will help inform project selection, program evaluation, and policy decisions; better align the transportation system to state environmental and equity goals; and help address other transportation-related inequities.

The agency said data from this new tool will be used to identify transportation-based priority populations to help end harms created or worsened by the state’s transportation system. Caltrans added that it also aims to advance equitable outcomes during project planning, development, and design phases – for both the department and partner public agencies – through the use of its EQI tool.

“We will use this tool to help ensure all California communities benefit from our transportation projects,” noted Tony Tavares, director of Caltrans, in a statement. “We need to identify the ways our transportation infrastructure has negatively impacted our communities and neighborhoods. Better data lets us build equity into our transportation system from the ground up.”

“Establishing the EQI tool shows our serious commitment to embedding equity in our decision-making to improve the quality of life for all Californians,” added Toks Omishakin, secretary of the California State Transportation Agency and a former Caltrans director.

“By more easily identifying and prioritizing communities with the greatest transportation needs, there is tremendous potential in this tool to help achieve an equitable transportation future for all,” he said.

The new EQI tool includes three key data indicators. The first focuses on household income and federally recognized tribal lands; the second measures traffic proximity, volume, and crash exposure; and the final considers access to destinations, measuring gaps in the transit, bicycle, and pedestrian networks.

Caltrans said its new EQI tool – which began development in 2021 as part of the “equity commitment” built into the agency’s Climate Action Plan for Transportation Infrastructure – relies on both publicly available and internally developed datasets from public and private sources.

The department said the first application of its EQI tool will be to deepen the analytical capabilities within the Caltrans System Investment Strategy, which is a data and performance-driven system that guides transportation investments by Caltrans statewide. Additional applications for the new EQI tool are still under development, the agency added.

ETAP Podcast: Examining Reconnecting Community Projects

The third episode of a four-part Environmental Technical Assistance Program or ETAP podcast series focuses on the crucial connections required between planners, policymakers, and local communities to make active transportation systems more attractive, equitable, and inclusive for all users. (To listen to the first and second episodes, click here and here, respectively.)

[Above image by AASHTO]

The ETAP podcast – part of a technical service program for state departments of transportation provided by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials – explores a wide array of environmental topics that affect transportation and infrastructure programs.

This episode of the ETAP podcast delves into the recent “Reconnecting Communities Summit” that attracted representatives from 150 communities nationwide.

Photo by AASHTO

ReConnect Rondo hosted this event – held in St. Paul, MN, October 12-14 – which featured presentations by national and local transportation industry leaders and workshops discussing vital issues such as project fund development, transportation equity and environmental impact.

The AASHTO Center for Environmental Excellence – operated by AASHTO in partnership with the Federal Highway Administration – worked with the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials to help sponsor the “Reconnecting Communities Summit.”

This episode showcases interviews with summit attendees who have either secured grants, applied for them or are engaged in initiatives aiming to create a brighter future for their residents through community reconnection efforts.

The podcast features Heather McLauglin-Kolb with the Salt Lake City Division of Transportation and Cayce James with the City of Seattle.  Additional speakers include J.T. Flowers, representing the Albina Vision Trust; Gretchen Chavez with the California Department of Transportation; and Lauren Hood, co-chair of Detroit’s Reparations Task Force. To listen to the full podcast, click here.

State DOTs ‘Plow Ahead’ With Plow Naming Contests

For those transportation professionals who believe engaging with the public is tantamount to poking a stick at sleeping dogs and hornets’ nests, “Snowprah Winfrey,” “Alice Scooper,” and “Hans Snowlo” insist it really is “Snow Big Deal.”

[Pictured above: South Dakota DOT’s Bruce Thiewes at the wheel of “Control/Salt/Delete,” a truck/tow/plow unit based in the Watertown, SD, area. Photo by the South Dakota DOT.]

Those are just some of the winning entries from citizens in “Name the Snowplow” contests that state departments of transportation have staged this winter. So far, at least seven states – Colorado, Connecticut, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Vermont – are holding contests that have produced gems such as “The Scrape Gatsby,” “The Big Leplowski,” and “Snowbegone Kenobi.”

While the contests may seem frivolous, there is a serious purpose behind them, according to Jake Loesch of the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

Minnesota Department of Transportation

“We’ve been able to have fun with a lighthearted contest but deliver an important message along the way about safety and driving tips when snowplow drivers are out working,” said Loesch, Minnesota DOT’s director of communications and public engagement.

The agency recently wrapped up its second-ever “Name a Snowplow” contest. After plowing through nearly 60,000 votes, the Minnesota DOT noted in a statement that it selected eight winners based on vote totals: Betty Whiteout; Ctrl Salt Delete; The Big Leplowski; Plowasaurus Rex; Scoop Dogg; Blizzard of Oz; No More Mr. Ice Guy; and Edward Blizzardhands.

The snowplow-naming contest trend appears to have begun in Scotland, where every year since 2006, annual public contests come up with names for what the Scots call “gritters,” which explains why “Gritney Spears” is a past winner.

Inspired by the Scots, the Michigan Department of Transportation held its first snowplow-naming contest in 2021, and Jeff Cranson – the agency’s communications director – said the public reaction proved tremendous.

“Levels of community engagement are always difficult to gauge, even if you have the resources to commit to truly scientific surveys,” he noted. “But I would say any [state] DOT initiative that prompts more than 15,000 responses, and counting demonstrates a connection with some part of the audience.”

Sometimes, the connection is an unexpected one. When a South Dakota Department of Transportation crew took a snowplow to an elementary school as part of the contest, they did not know that the teacher was the daughter of a recently deceased South Dakota DOT snowplow driver. The connection resulted in warm memories for the teacher and a favorable article in the local newspaper.

“That’s why we do the contest,” said Julie Stevenson, South Dakota DOT’s strategic communications coordinator. “We use the contest as a way to share vital information. The ultimate goal is to humanize the snowplow operators.”

The New York State Department of Transportation aimed for a similar goal with its first snowplow-naming contest in 2021. The winning name, “Howe’s Plow,” honors Dennis “Matt” Howe, a highway worker killed in a work zone in 2019. Now, one plow truck in each NYSDOT region will bear the name “Howe’s Plow” in his memory.

New York State Department of Transportation

“It’s a fitting tribute to Matt’s memory that more than two-thirds of the votes cast in this contest went to Howe’s Plow,” said NYSDOT Commissioner Marie Therese Dominguez in a statement. “I hope it serves as a reminder to drivers to slow down and move over for the safety of the mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters driving plows and doing other essential road work year-round to keep travelers safe.”

Other state DOTs are using snowplow-naming efforts in roadway safety campaigns. For example, amid a dramatic spike in snowplow strikes statewide in 2021, the Idaho Transportation Department launched a safety campaign centered on a caricature dubbed “Mr. Snowplow.”

“We were concerned with what we were seeing on the roads, with four hits in the span of just 10 days, so we began a short-term campaign to raise awareness,” explained Justin Smith, the agency’s public information officer for districts 5 and 6 in East Idaho, in a statement.

The campaign included multiple social media posts, press releases, interviews with local media, and a poem written by the spouse of one of the department’s snowplow drivers entitled “Mr. Snowplow, you are loved.” The poem went viral, with shares across the country and in Canada, and helped the agency’s safety campaign not only raise motorist awareness of snowplows and the dangers of passing them but reduced snowplow strikes dramatically as well.

The Wyoming Department of Transportation is conducting a similar campaign, issuing a “top 10 list” of things its snowplow operators want motorists to know in regards to driving around snow removal equipment, along with video highlighting how the agency gears up to “fight” snow and ice on the roads every winter.

Michigan DOT’s Cranson said snowplow-naming contests demonstrate that “the majority of people appreciate important work, like clearing roads of ice and snow to assure safe passage.”

Minnesota is just starting its contest this year. Minnesota DOT’s Loesch – who said his agency’s snowplow naming contest received more than 13,000 entries on its first day – would “strongly recommend” that other agencies hold such contests of their own.

“It’s a fun, simple way to engage the public that doesn’t present much risk to the agency,” he noted.

Video Highlights Michigan DOT Diversity Recruitment Program

The Michigan Department of Transportation recently put together a video reviewing the benefits of its Transportation Diversity Recruitment Program or TDRP, which the agency is using to “educate and inspire” the next generation of transportation professionals.

[Above photo by the Michigan DOT]

“This program, its structure, the fact that it’s been around for eight years and it’s only getting bigger and better, is really incredible,” noted Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist II (D) (seen above) in a statement. “As someone who’s benefited from having just thoughtful and conscientious mentors who helped to make me successful, that’s what we want for every young person who’s looking to pursue careers in whatever field.”

The Michigan DOT said it has been working with students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities and colleges throughout Michigan to offer valuable on-the-job training and job shadowing to undergraduate students pursuing degrees in engineering or other transportation-related careers.
The TDRP began with four students eight years ago and has grown to include 59 students this season. The Michigan DOT said this 10-week program allows students to work alongside other on-the-job training program participants, internal staff and external professionals who provide engineering, technical, inspection, and project management services for state road and bridge projects.

The agency also recently created a new executive-level position to help the agency incorporate equity and inclusion in all aspects of its business.

The Michigan DOT’s new position of chief culture, equity, and inclusion officer or CCEIO oversees areas within the Bureau of Transportation Planning, the Office of Organizational Development, the Office of Business Development, the Equal Employment Opportunity Office, and the Office of Economic Development.

The agency noted that it designed this new CCEIO position to help it make “meaningful progress” optimizing its organizational culture, aligning equity and inclusion goals with business outcomes while responding to changes or policies that affect employee and customer populations.

Nevada DOT Offering “Water-Smart” Advice to State Residents

The Environmental Division of the Nevada Department of Transportation is offering state residents landscaping advice on pesticide and herbicide use as well as “water-smart practices” when conducting residential landscaping activities.

[Above photo by the Southern Nevada Water Authority]

“Most people are surprised to learn that homes can be a source of pollution,” explained James Murphy, the Environmental Division’s program manager within Nevada DOT, in a statement – noting that his division oversees disciplines such as stormwater, air quality, noise, wildlife biology, environmental engineering, and cultural resources.

“We encourage Nevada residents to take steps to avoid polluting our waterways, such as avoiding overwatering and applying pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers sparingly, with caution, and per product labeling,” he said.

Murphy explained that, in Nevada, sewer systems and stormwater drains are separate systems. Water that goes down the drain inside a home via toilet or sink goes to a wastewater treatment plant where it is treated and filtered. Conversely, water that flows down driveways and streets into gutters goes directly into a storm drain that flows untreated into lakes, rivers and streams.

Thus runoff from landscaped areas may contain fertilizers, pesticides or other materials that are harmful to lakes and streams, stressed Charles Schembre, an environmental scientist with the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection.

He explained that the most important thing residents could do to prevent stormwater contamination from landscaping activities is to avoid watering the sidewalk. Installing a buffer between the lawn and sidewalk – such as rocks, woody mulch or plants – will prevent runoff onto the sidewalk. This is a critical component in reducing runoff of pollutants into storm drains, he said.

Other tips include:

  • Use “healthy soil” practices and use organic fertilizers and pesticides sparingly; make sure to follow product label instructions.
  • Consider planting trees, seeds and plants that are native to Nevada, which require less water.
  • Use “selective” herbicide applications to target just weeds and avoid affecting desirable plant species. Avoid spraying during conditions where herbicides may drift to non-target plant species – specifically when wind speeds are greater than 15 mph.
  • Use organic mulch or other pest control methods whenever possible.
  • Install a buffer between the lawn and sidewalk to prevent irrigation runoff onto the sidewalk.
  • Pick up pet waste and dispose of it properly.
  • Use a commercial car wash or wash your car on the grass so the water infiltrates into the ground instead of spilling into storm drains.