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Appendix: Common Performance Measurement Terms

Appendix: Common Performance Measurement Terms

In This Article:

This article is a section in the 2014 NADO Research Foundation report Moving toward Performance-based Transportation Planning in Rural and Small Metropolitan Regions.

Each state or agency develops its own vocabulary for planning, both the strategic planning process and the planning-related deliverables that RTPOs and others complete within the state. Similarly, performance measurement can occur at various levels, such as determining the direction of a plan and what its vision and goals look like, identifying specific priority projects to apply for or allocate resources for completion, or determining design alternatives for a particular project. Although the level at which performance measurement is utilized and the terminology that is used in a particular region may differ or overlap, some common performance concepts are described below.

Performance-based planning and programming connects a strategic planning effort of defining the desired outcomes for a region’s transportation network and travel experience, strategies to achieve outcomes, and the programming, or allocation, of resources. This process of setting strategic direction and allocating resources identifies measures and analyzes performance information about the transportation system.

Vision, goals, and objectives are often elements included in any kind of strategic plan, and they may appear in a long-range transportation plan. A vision statement is typically high-level and is often just one sentence that encapsulates what the region desires in its transportation system, such as a transportation network that provides for the safe, efficient movement of goods and people. A goal describes a condition to be achieved or a broad approach; a plan might include goals that drill down into the themes, like safety or efficiency, that are mentioned in the vision statement. Objectives are specific strategies that lead to achieving a goal, such as reducing highway fatalities and serious injuries or bicyclist fatalities and injuries. Depending on the plan and terminology, the goals and objectives are sometimes combined into statements that include both the desired condition and

A measure, indicator, or metric generally refers to the characteristic of the transportation network that is being measured in performance-based planning and programming. They may be determined through a two-pronged approach: what information tells whether the strategies are effective, and what information is available that tells something meaningful about transportation. The traffic fatality number and rate per million vehicle miles traveled are two possible measures for a safety objective that involves reducing fatalities.

In performance-based planning and programming, measures might be quantitative or qualitative, but they should refer to outcomes as much as possible. Quantitative data might include level of service or volume-capacity ratio, number or rate of fatalities and serious injuries, while qualitative data might include impact on communities or link to economic development. Some data may not be readily available or easy to start collecting, so agencies might measure an output, such as number of projects addressing safety, as a proxy. The output metric does not actually tell whether safety has improved; instead, it assumes that the right kinds of safety improvements were selected to make a dent in preventing deaths and injuries. In performance-based planning, outcome measures work best to tell the story about the results of investment, while in an evaluation of an agency’s planning program, output measures can be useful to gauge the level of planning work completed.

Targets assign numeric values to the measures that an agency selects. This could include a target number of fatalities by a certain year, or identifying a percentage decrease to occur over a period of time. Analyzing past trends can be helpful in starting to think about desired targets.

A performance standard defines the minimum level of performance for a particular measure. For example, MAP-21 required that the U.S. Secretary of Transportation set a minimum standard for certain measures, such as the condition and performance of the Interstate and National Highway Systems pavement and bridges. A performance standard may also function as a threshold or criterion for accessing funds to direct funding to the places with the highest need or that meet a policy goal.

Monitoring refers to the collection of data related to transportation system performance, and through the process of evaluation, agencies determine what the monitoring data mean and whether the region’s policy priorities and recommended projects are meeting the vision and goals, or if a change in the region’s strategy is needed.


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