Ask the Experts–Linking Performance Metrics to Livability and Sustainability Goals and Objectives

How can my transportation agency use performance metrics to support our livability and sustainability goals?

Sustainability and livability are fluid and expansive terms for complicated, complex, and overlapping/interelated concepts.  The 1987 United Nations Brundtland Commission report sets out the classic definition of sustainable development as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” One commonly used method to operationalize the sustainability concept is the triple bottom line approach, which measures impacts or success in relation to three dimensions:  economic, environment, and equity. 

Livability is best defined by the six livability principles put forth from the Interagency Partnership, representing U.S. DOT, EPA, and HUD.  These principles include:  1) Providing more transportation choices; 2) Promoting equitable, affordable housing; 3) Enhancing economic competitiveness; 4) Supporting existing communities; 5) Coordinating policies and leveraging investment; and 6) Placing value on communities and neighborhoods.

However, even with a standard set of acknowledged principles, there is varying understanding and acceptance about the ways in which these concepts apply to transportation agencies – their missions, their goals, and their everyday activities.  Performance measurement can provide a tool that will help translate the complicated concepts behind livability and sustainability (and the agency’s established goals and objectives) into individual activities, program areas, and progress. 

Many transportation agencies are already tracking metrics that could be used for measuring the concepts of livability and sustainability.  Many agencies are also linking performance metrics to established strategic goals and objectives.  The following steps can help leverage existing agency practices, and build a comprehensive livability and sustainability framework to improve both performance measurement and livability/sustainability programs:

  • Link the principles to the activities – identify the ways in which your livability and/or sustainability goals and objectives should relate to your agency’s functional areas.
  • Create inventory of existing data and measures – pull together all data sources and performance measures in current use throughout the agency’s functional areas.
  • Organize existing measures under sustainability umbrella – by matching up data with livability and/or sustainability goals, identify the ways in which your measures can support your goals and objectives.
  • Identify what is missing – you may find gaps in your existing data and measures, and may need to add more.  This can be done over time, as your agency has the resources and capacity.
  • Track progress and respond – over time your ability to understand trends and the impacts of your decisions will change.  Your priorities may shift.  Be responsive and allow for flexibility in your performance measures.

There are a number of excellent examples from transportation agencies around the country that have established a strong livability and/or sustainability performance measurement program.  Cambridge Systematics has evaluated a number of these programs for use in NCHRP research, FHWA projects, and work for state, regional, and local clients.   For illustrative purposes, the following list of candidate measure for livability are presented.

Candidate Livability Measures

Performance Measure
Provide Transportation Choices
Multimodal Level of Service
Walkability Rating
Transit Accessibility
Mode Share
Promote Equitable, Affordable Housing
Jobs/Housing Balance
Location Efficiency
Housing and Transportation Index (Housing and Transportation Cost/Affordability)
Enhance Economic Competitiveness
Travel Time Reliability
Workforce Accessibility
Job Accessibility
Travel Time Index
Support Existing Communities
Multimodal Accessibility to Essential Destinations (e.g., store, healthcare, schools)
Safety (Accidents by Mode)
Speed Suitability
Coordinate policies and leverage investment
Consistency with Local Land Use and Transportation Plans
Return on Investment
Value communities and neighborhoods
Connectivity Index
Community Character (e.g., resident satisfaction)
Partnerships and Public Involvement