Updates from the Public Lands Team - Spring 2018

Spring 2018 | www.volpe.dot.gov/publiclands

Updates from the 
Public Lands Team

Volpe Center logo.

Congestion Assessments Help National Park Units Solve Congestion Challenges

The National Park Service (NPS) is required by law (23 U.S.C. 201) to implement a congestion management system, along with bridge, pavement and safety management systems, to aid in data-driven decision making and sound asset management. As part of its Congestion Management Program, the NPS has a Congestion Management Toolkit, which outlines more than 50 congestion mitigation tools specifically selected for NPS congestion conditions and concerns. 

NPS has established Congestion Assessments as a way to provide short-term technical transportation support to parks regarding congestion. Parks with vehicular congestion have difficulty managing excessive traffic, which impacts visitor experience, resources, safety, asset management, and park operations. Every park is unique, as are each park’s congestion issues. Congestion Assessments use a structured approach to explore high-level park congestion issues and information then match those issues with the wide range of potential tools in the Toolkit. Volpe Center staff work with staff from NPS, Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), Federal Lands Highway (FLH), and individual park units to understand each park’s congestion issues and to help identify the tools that can be used to address their individual congestion challenges. In the past two years, Volpe has collaborated with the NPS and FLH to assist several parks with completing Congestion Assessments:

The covers of several Congestion Assessment reports that the Volpe Center has supported.
The covers of several Congestion Assessment reports that the Volpe Center has supported.

Assessments completed in 2016:

  • Cedar Breaks National Monument (Utah)
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site (Georgia)
  • Virgin Islands National Park (St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands)

Assessments completed in 2017:

  • Cuyahoga Valley National Park (Ohio)
  • Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine (Maryland)
  • Glacier National Park, Many Glacier, North Fork, and Two Medicine Areas (Montana)
  • Great Falls Park, George Washington Memorial Parkway (Virginia)

Volpe’s transportation expertise and experience working on a wide variety of transportation related challenges on Federal public lands has contributed to Volpe’s ability to help parks take the congestion issues they are experiencing and match them with potential solutions. Collaboration with Federal partners at NPS and FLH furthers the depth of knowledge within an assessment team. The Congestion Management Program team follows up with each park approximately six months after the assessment concludes to determine whether any additional assistance is needed as they move toward implementation. 

While the Congestion Assessments are not final decision-making documents or transportation plans, they complete the first three steps of the seven-step NPS Congestion Management process needed to move potential solutions into implementation. The remaining steps include (4) analyzing and selecting solutions, (5) implementing solutions, (6) monitoring the effectiveness of the solutions, and (7) revisiting the toolkit if congestion is not adequately resolved. Post-assessment technical support following these steps is available from regional transportation coordinators, the NPS’ Denver Service Center, FLH, and the Volpe Center. 

Project Contact: Heather Richardson

Army Corps Rolls Out Vehicle Meter Training Videos

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers continues to rely on a variety of vehicle counter (“meter”) technologies – magnetic loops, pneumatic tubes, and infrared meters – in order to obtain accurate visitation data for visitors arriving to its recreational lakes and sites around the country. Having an accurate representation of visitation patterns enables the Corps to better allocate its limited transportation funds. This enhances the transportation planning process by ensuring that these limited resources are assigned to areas of greatest need and highest visitation. 

The Volpe Center has performed site visits and in-person trainings for Army Corps field staff on vehicle meter best practices. In an effort to bolster its vehicle counter program, Volpe is developing a series of videos for the Corps aimed at educating field staff on best practices for counter selection, installation, configuration, testing, and maintenance. 

Magneometers in a Lockable Fiberglass Box Mounted to a Post
To ensure accuracy, magnetometers should be enclosed in a lockable fiberglass box buried underground or mounted to a post, as shown in the photo above.

The first video describes the basic characteristics of TRAFx magnetometers, by far the most common meter type utilized by the Army Corps. The video provides instructions for meter installation, how to adjust delay and threshold settings depending on roadway configurations, and tradeoffs among different model types. In order to count vehicles accurately, TRAFx magnetometers require careful attention to settings. The default settings are typically not appropriate for Army Corps sites, where vehicles tend to drive more slowly than on other public roadways. Incorrect settings can cause vehicle counts to be off by a factor of two or more.

The TRAFx meter video is available for viewing at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yjafFy0jPQ4. Additional videos, expected to be developed in summer 2018, will address best practices for recording monthly meter readings, avoiding meter resets when changing batteries, and proper maintenance techniques.

Project Contact: Michael Kay

Transit in National Parks: Tracking System Impacts and Performance Measures

Now in its sixth year, the National Park Service (NPS) Transit Inventory collects data on transit systems operating in parks across the country, helping the NPS build a performance-based framework and communicate key system characteristics.

Transit in national parks takes the form of land, water, and air based systems and ranges from larger systems, like the 90+ bus system in Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska, to the single shuttle bus at Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield in Georgia. The NPS operates a small number of these systems, but largely partners with the private sector and a number of local transit agencies to provide these services to enhance the visitor experience. These services help reduce the impact of private vehicles on park roads and resources and also help address overcrowding as visitation continues to increase at many national parks.

Denali National Park Bus
Since 1972, Denali National Park and Preserve has limited access for private vehicles on its 92-mile Denali Park Road to reduce the environmental impact of vehicles. Visitors can access the Park Road through a number of transit services offered by the park concessionaire.

When the inventory began in 2012, it was the first comprehensive listing of transit in national parks since 1998. The Volpe Center worked with NPS staff to develop a working definition of what constitutes a transit system in a national park, thereby helping fulfill legal requirements and internal NPS needs. The Volpe Center Public Lands Team provides support for the inventory through coordinating the data collection with park units and working with the Washington D.C. Support Office to refine the data analyses and performance measures included in the yearly reports. The performance measures help the NPS track the environmental and operational impacts of the transit systems as well as recapitalization needs for transit vehicles on a service-wide level. Key statistics from the latest Transit Inventory and Performance Report (2016) include:

  • In calendar year 2016, 100 transit systems operated in 64 of the 417 NPS units. The majority of the transit systems are shuttle bus, van, or tram-based systems and private contractors in cooperation with public sector partners operated 81 of the 100 identified systems. These 81 systems, which are supported by user fees and fares as well as capital funding from the Federal Lands Transportation Program, account for approximately 99 percent of the 43.6 million transit passenger boardings. The remaining 19 systems are relatively small and are owned and operated by the NPS.
  • 29 of the 100 transit systems provide visitor access to parks and park sites that are not otherwise accessible by private automobile because of natural/cultural resource constraints, congestion, and geographic constraints (i.e., water bodies).
  • Of the 843 vehicles utilized in the 100 transit systems, the private sector provides over 67 percent or 565 vehicles. The remaining 278 vehicles are provided by the NPS to reduce contracting costs and make particular services affordable to visitors. These NPS-owned vehicles, which are typically operated and maintained by contractors and partners, will experience an estimated $40 million in recapitalization needs between 2017 and 2027. This includes $5 million to replace vehicles that have already exceeded their expected life.

The yearly data collected for the transit inventory provides a useful snapshot of transit operations in parks, allowing for longitudinal analyses and building towards a performance-based framework for NPS transit systems.

Project Contacts: Jessica Baas and David Daddio

National Park Service Wins National Planning Award!

The cover of the NPS National Long Range Transportation Plan

The Volpe Center Public Lands Team congratulates the National Park Service on winning a Gold National Planning Achievement Award in Transportation Planning from the American Planning Association for its National Long Range Transportation Plan. Volpe is pleased to have supported the Washington D.C. Support Office’s Facilities Planning Branch in developing this plan and managing the project in collaboration with a team from the Park Service’s Denver Service Center. Volpe continues to support NPS in tracking its national performance measures and goals, and the overall implementation of the plan.

Project Contact: Kevin McCoy

Public Lands Team Spotlight: Michael Kay

What public lands projects are you working on now?

I am assisting the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) in meeting the planning requirements of the Federal Lands Transportation Program.  This includes supporting the development of investment strategies, accomplishments reports, policy white papers, and eventually their first National Long Range Transportation Plan. I also support the National Park Service with implementation of its Capital Investment Strategy. Lastly, I am working with various agencies to complete the Pacific Northwest Collaborative Long Range Transportation Plan.

What types of projects outside of public lands do you work on?

I work with the Federal Highway Administration Office of Transportation Performance Management to implement rulemakings related to performance management, ensuring that requirements are met and performing outreach to key stakeholders such as State DOTs and metropolitan planning organizations. Performance management is a fairly new, yet critical, element of transportation planning, and it is our expectation that these entities will be better positioned to improve decision making through active quantification of certain key performance metrics. Additionally, I support the Federal Railroad Administration in the development of regional planning guidance.

Michael Kay at Acadia National Park
Michael used the Island Explorer shuttle bus on a trip to Acadia National Park.

What are your fondest memories of public lands?

Growing up, I almost never visited public lands aside from a rare visit to a local or state park. My family tended to prefer being by a pool or a beach rather than being in the forest or mountains.  But I am making up for lost time!  In the dozen or so years since I’ve been at Volpe I have visited most of the major national parks, as well as various national wildlife refuges, national forests, and Army Corps recreation sites. My favorite trip was to Arches National Park, where I got up at 3:00 in the morning to arrive in time to secure a same-day reservation at the lone campsite within the park itself. Another memory, though an embarrassing one, was while at Yellowstone.  Feeling out of touch due to minimal cell phone service, I came upon an outpost that had a sign that looked like the standard semi-circular Wi-Fi icon. When I went inside to inquire, they laughed at me and said the symbol I saw was actually indicating the presence of an amphitheater, not Wi-Fi!  I suppose the lesson there is that there’s more to life than Wi-Fi, especially while at a place like Yellowstone. 

What new public land have you discovered since working at Volpe?

I have become quite fond of the USACE recreation sites. In many parts of the country, there is little to no access to water-based recreation, but the Corps helps to fill that void by creating man-made lakes that exist as a result of locks and dams built nearby.

What’s the most unique, interesting, or strangest job you had before working at Volpe?

Back during the 2000 Presidential election, I worked for a company in charge of aggregating official election results and entering them into a database that fed into all major news outlets.  Having direct access to the returns, I can honestly say I was among the first to know how close that election was going to be!

If you were to have a job that wasn’t transportation or public lands related, what would it be?

Since my dream of being a major league baseball player died fairly soon after joining Little League, I would say I’d most likely still be an urban planner but in a different related field, such as housing or urban design.

Contact: Michael Kay


Welcome to our newsletter!

The Public Lands Team shares Updates twice a year to highlight recent activities and news.

In this newsletter

About the Public Lands Team

Primarily organized within Volpe's Center for Policy, Planning, and Environment, our team helps federal land management agencies resolve complex transportation challenges at both the program and project levels.

Our work draws on expertise in a variety of fields, including policy and program development, multimodal systems planning, alternative fuels and vehicle selection, environmental compliance, and climate change mitigation and adaptation.

You can read more about our team here.

About the Volpe Center

The Volpe Center, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, develops transportation innovations for the public good. Part of the U.S. DOT’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology, Volpe partners with public and private organizations to assess the needs of the transportation community, evaluate research and development, assist in the deployment of transportation technologies, and inform decision- and policy-making.

Contact the Public Lands Team

For questions, general information, or to speak with us about getting started on a new project, please contact Ben Rasmussen at (617) 494 - 2768 or benjamin.rasmussen@dot.gov.