Prioritizing Transportation

Prioritization in Transportation Planning, Funding and Management


TDM Encyclopedia

Victoria Transport Policy Institute


Updated 2 January 2017

This chapter discusses principles that can be used to prioritize transportation activities and investments, and how this can help achieve TDM objectives.




Transportation planning and management involves countless decisions concerning the allocation of resources, such as money, road space, parking spaces, and priority in traffic. Current planning practices often allocate these resources inefficiently, such as devoting a relatively small portion of transportation funds to nonmotorized modes, allocating parking on a first-come basis, and giving no priority to space-efficient modes (carpools, vanpools and buses) in congested traffic. Transportation prioritization explicitly allocates resources to favor higher value trips and lower cost modes priority over lower value, higher cost trips in order to improve overall transportation system efficiency and support strategic planning objectives. For example:


·         Road Space Reallocation converts general traffic and parking lanes (which favor automobile travel) into HOV Priority lanes (which favor Transit and Rideshare vehicles), and Bicycle lanes and Sidewalk space (which favor Nonmotorized Travel). This is supported by Complete Streets policies, which refers to roadway design and operating practices intended to safely accommodate diverse users and activities


·         Basic Mobility and Accessibility recognizes that some transportation activity has particularly high social value and should be supported, including Special Mobility Services and Universal Design, which provide basic mobility for people with disabilities, adequate Transportation Options for non-drivers, and Location-Efficient Development to improve land use accessibility.  


·         Parking Management can use regulations and fees to favor higher priority trips, such as delivery vehicles, customers, taxis and rideshare vehicles.


·         Roadway design and management that increases motor vehicle traffic volumes and speeds tends to create environments that are less suitable for pedestrian travel (Evaluating Nonmotorized Transportation). Traffic Calming and Traffic Speed Reduction programs tend to benefit nonmotorized transportation but reduce automobile accessibility.


·         Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is a term used for a set of transit improvements that include grade-separated right-of-way and other priority measures to increase bus service speed, comfort and operating efficiency. Traffic signals can be adjusted to favor Transit, traffic rules can require automobiles to yield to buses entering traffic, and more curb space can be devoted to bus stops.


·         Efficient Pricing allows higher value trips to out-bid lower-value trips, increasing economic efficiency. For example, Congestion Pricing allows motorists who pay a fee to avoid congestion, and Parking Pricing tends to favor delivery vehicles and customers over commuters for the most convenient parking spaces.



Transportation resources are already prioritized in many circumstances. For example, it is common for emergency vehicles to have priority over general traffic, and for delivery vehicles to have the most convenient parking spaces. Tremendous resources have been invested in freeways, which favor longer-distance automobile travel, leading to automobile dependency and sprawl. Transportation Prioritization can be used to support mobility management objectives, such as improving the attractiveness of efficient modes, and applying Road and Parking pricing to reduce Congestion. Prioritization can support other planning objectives, such as creating better public spaces for commercial activities, social interactions and aesthetic features (Marshall, 2003).


Prioritization is often used to support a road use hierarchy that favors nonmotorized modes, high-occupant vehicles, public transit and service vehicles over single occupant private vehicles in policy and planning decisions, called a Green Transportation Hierarchy (TA 2001).


Green Transportation Hierarchy (TA 2001)

1.     Pedestrians

2.     Bicycles

3.     Public Transportation

4.     Service and Freight Vehicles

5.     Taxis

6.     Multiple Occupant Vehicles

7.     Single Occupant Vehicles

The Green Transportation Hierarchy favors more efficient (in terms of space, energy and other costs) modes.



Transportation Prioritization is not a single strategy; it is a planning approach that can affect various policy and planning decisions, and often involves specific TDM strategies. Transportation Prioritization changes the way public resources are used, including how public roads and parking facilities are designed and managed, traffic speed regulation, pricing, and investments. Transportation Prioritization involves two steps:


1.       Determine the basis of prioritization. This involves ranking trips, modes or users to determine which should have priority under various circumstances.


2.       Developing methods for prioritization. This involves allocating funding, road space, public land, traffic management or other resources to favor higher ranking trips, modes or users.



Most road and parking space is currently allocated on a first-come basis, which tends to be inefficient, particularly in congested conditions. Appropriate regulations and pricing can increase efficiency. HOV Priority can be justified on efficiency and equity grounds, since it allows space-efficient vehicles to avoid congestion delays. Pricing is often criticized as unfair, since it allows higher-income people to purchase a higher service quality (for example, uncongested traffic lanes and convenient parking spaces), but the overall equity impacts depend on the quality of options available to users (such as the quality of alternative modes and parking spaces) and how revenues are used (Pricing Evaluation).


Table 1            Allocation Options





First arrival gets the resource.

Generally, least efficient.

Consumption limits

First arrival gets the resource, but the quantity of resources that each user is allowed to consume is restricted.

This can reduce excessive consumption, such as all day use of a convenient parking space.


Regulations give priority to certain types of users (delivery vehicles, high-occupant vehicles, people with disabilities, etc.)

This may increase efficiency if regulations are well designed and enforced.


Scarce resources are allocated by price.

Tends to be most efficient by allowing higher value uses to out-bid lower value uses, and by providing revenue. However, it also allows wealthier people to purchase higher service quality than less wealthy people.

This table describes various ways of allocating resources such as road and parking space. Improved prioritization can increase efficiency.



Table 2 compares how urban road space is prioritized by conventional planning with prioritization that emphasizes more efficient transportation. Current practices tend to devote more public road space to an automobile trip than to travel by other modes. More efficient management could give priority to modes that require less space per passenger-mile, or which serve particularly high-value trips (such as emergency and freight vehicles).


Table 2            Prioritizing Urban Roadspace

Conventional Roadway Priority

Efficient Roadway Priority

Emergency vehicles

General motor vehicles (cars, trucks, taxis)

Automobile parking

Public transit



Emergency vehicles/trips



Public transit

Service/freight vehicles

Rideshare vehicles (car and van pools)


Single Occupant Automobiles

Automobile parking



The table below lists some ways that transportation activities can be prioritized.


Table 3            Transportation Prioritization Methods


Road Space

Traffic Management


Investment Practices


General Approaches

Increase the amount of road space devoted to priority modes.

Restrict lower priority modes, reduce motor vehicle traffic speeds, improve nonmotorized modes.

Reduce fees for higher priority modes and increase prices for lower-priority modes.

Provide more funding for higher priority modes.




Specific TDM Strategies

Access Management


Complete Streets


Road Space Allocation


HOV Priority


Freight Vehicle Lanes


Sidewalk Management


Parking Management


Taxi Parking


Universal Design

Vehicle Use Restrictions


Traffic Calming


Speed Reductions


Carfree Planning


Pedestrian Improvements


Cycling Improvements



Parking Pricing


Road Pricing


Fuel Tax Increases


Transit Funding


Commuter Financial Incentives


Smart Growth Fiscal Reforms

Comprehensive Transportation Planning


Institutional Reforms


Least Cost Planning


Multi-Modal Level-of-Service Indicators


Location Efficient Mortgages


Pedestrian and Cycling Improvements


Context Sensitive Design



Conventional Transportation Planning and funding practices tend to favor investments in automobile transportation, and tend to undercount and undervalue alternative modes (Measuring Transportation). More Comprehensive Transportation Planning tends to recognize greater benefits from alternative modes, and so tends to give them higher priority when allocating public resources. For example, a major portion of urban arterial road space is devoted to on-street parking, yet few streets have HOV or bicycle lanes, and sidewalks are often crowded. Road Space Reallocation often involves changing parking lanes into special lanes for transit, HOV or cycling lanes, or widening sidewalks. This tends to support equity and efficiency objectives, since it improves mobility for non-drivers and encourages the use of more space-efficient modes, particularly since automobile parking can be provided off-street or on nearby roads. However, conventional planning practices tend to emphasize automobile traffic over other transportation improvement options.


The greater the degree of conflict the more explicitly prioritization must be applied. For example, in suburban areas it may be sufficient to perform road shoulder maintenance and enforce traffic laws to insure that cyclists may safely use public roads. In crowded urban areas it may be necessary to dedicate a special lane to bicycles, or to apply and Complete Streets and Traffic Calming and close some streets to through automobile traffic to create a network of “bicycle boulevards” where non-motorized travel has priority over motor vehicle traffic. 



How It Is Implemented

Transportation Prioritization is usually implemented as part of Transportation Planning. It may require Institutional Reforms to allow more resources to be shifted to higher priority modes.



Travel Impacts

Transportation Prioritization can have major impacts on travel behavior, depending on the specific strategies that are used. It is particularly effective at shifting single occupant automobile travel to alternative modes.


Table 4            Travel Impact Summary




Reduces total traffic.


Depends on the specific strategies employed.

Reduces peak period traffic.



Shifts peak to off-peak periods.



Shifts automobile travel to alternative modes.



Improves access, reduces the need for travel.



Increased ridesharing.



Increased public transit.



Increased cycling.



Increased walking.



Increased Telework.



Reduced freight traffic.


May improve freight transport.

Rating from 3 (very beneficial) to –3 (very harmful). A 0 indicates no impact or mixed impacts.



Benefits and Costs

Transportation Prioritization tends to create a more efficient transportation system, and so can help achieve all TDM objectives. It is particularly important during Emergencies and Special Events. It may increase administrative and enforcement responsibilities.


Table 5            Benefit Summary




Congestion Reduction


Depends on the specific strategies employed.

Road & Parking Savings



Consumer Savings



Transport Choice



Road Safety



Environmental Protection



Efficient Land Use



Community Livability



Rating from 3 (very beneficial) to –3 (very harmful). A 0 indicates no impact or mixed impacts.



Equity Impacts

Transportation Prioritization can help achieve transportation equity objectives. Current prioritization practices result in transit and rideshare passengers being delayed by traffic congestion equally with single occupant automobile passengers, although they require less road space per passenger-mile and so impose less congestion on other road users. Transportation Prioritization allows space efficient modes to avoid congestion, which is more horizontally equitable: travelers that impose less congestion on others bear less congestion delay.


Similarly, current transportation planning practices can be considered unfair to people who walk or bicycle, who bear significant transportation costs, but receive relatively little benefit. Transportation Prioritization that favors nonmotorized modes can increase horizontal equity by allowing people who impose lower costs (road space, parking requirements, crash risk and environmental impacts) to have a greater share of public resources than they do now.


Transportation Prioritization gives alternative modes priority over general traffic, and helps create a less Automobile Dependent transportation system, which tends to benefit people who are transportation disadvantaged (who tend to rely heavily on alternative modes), and provide Basic Access.


Pricing is often considered an unfair way to prioritize, since it allows higher-income traveler to purchase priority over lower-income travelers. For example, a high-income motorist might be able to pay for convenient parking at their club, while a low-income commuter cannot afford to pay for parking at their worksite next door. However, the overall equity impacts depend on the quality of travel options available and how revenues are used.


Table 6            Equity Summary




Treats everybody equally.


Depends on the specific strategies employed.

Individuals bear the costs they impose.



Progressive with respect to income.



Benefits transportation disadvantaged.



Improves basic mobility.



Rating from 3 (very beneficial) to –3 (very harmful). A 0 indicates no impact or mixed impacts.




Transportation Prioritization can be implemented in virtually any geographic area and by any level of government, although it tends to be most appropriate in areas where there is moderate to large demand for alternative modes (transit, ridesharing, cycling and walking).


Table 7            Application Summary





Large urban region.


Federal government.


High-density, urban.


State/provincial government.


Medium-density, urban/suburban.


Regional government.




Municipal/local government.


Low-density, rural.


Business Associations/TMA.


Commercial center.


Individual business.


Residential neighborhood.




Resort/recreation area.


Neighborhood association.


College/university communities.




Ratings range from 0 (not appropriate) to 3 (very appropriate).




Policy And Institutional Reforms



Relationships With Other TDM Strategies

Transportation Prioritization supports most alternative modes (Transit, Ridesharing, Cycling, Walking, Universal Design, HOV Priority, Taxi Service) and transportation management programs (Road Space Reallocation, Freight Transport Management, Traffic Calming, Complete Streets, Parking Management, Access Management, Tourist Transport Management). It should be incorporated into Emergency and Special Event planning. It is supported by transportation planning reforms (Comprehensive Transportation Planning, Institutional Reforms, Least Cost Planning, Context Sensitive Design). It can help achieve Basic Access and Equity objectives.




Stakeholders include virtually any transportation system planners and users. Emergency service providers, freight transport users, transit and rideshare users, and people who use nonmotorized modes are likely to experience direct benefits and so tend to support changes. Automobile associations, and public officials accustomed to current prioritization practices, and so may oppose changes.



Barriers To Implementation

There may be opposition from automobile associations, and public officials accustomed to current prioritization practices. There may be opposition from people who consider current practices most equitable, and prioritization that favors alternative modes to be unfair. There may be institutional barriers to overcome, including planning and funding practices that favor automobile use, such as dedicated highway funding that is unavailable for other types of facilities.



Best Practices


  1. Establish explicit principles for prioritizing transportation, taking into account the social value of different types of transportation activities and their social costs.


  1. Use Comprehensive Transportation Planning to evaluate and implement Transportation Prioritization.


  1. Involve stakeholders in planning and implementing Transportation Prioritization. View efficiency and equity impacts from various perspectives.


  1. Give higher value trips and lower cost modes priority over lower value, higher cost trips.


  1. Consider a variety of prioritization strategies, including Road Space Allocation, HOV Priority, Traffic Calming, Parking Management, Least Cost Planning, etc.


  1. Be flexible when developing Transportation Prioritization programs. For example, HOV Priority or Speed Reductions can be implemented at certain times to deal with peak-period congestion, but not at other times.



Wit and Humor

A pious minister died and went to heaven, where Saint Peter gave him a small golden harp. Just then, another angle flew by with a much larger harp. Envious, he asked why his own harp was so much smaller.

“That was a New York cab driver,” Saint Peter explained. “While you preached, people slept. While he drove, people prayed. Up here, we reward performance.”



Examples and Case Studies

Perugia Policy Favors Pedestrians (

Perugia, Italy is a city with a well-known cultural wealth and history. It has a mountainous location, which forms a barrier between the upper, older part of the city and the lower, more modern part of the city. The growth of car traffic experienced in Perugia led to environmental problems and posed a risk to the city's historical heritage. A travel plan for Perugia was conceived in 1971 by Fabio Ciuffini, then Deputy Mayor. This involves the development of a pedestrian network, the establishment of a parking guidance system, and the establishment of a transport assessment system to consider the externalities of different transport modes.


The main objective of Perugia's travel policy is the enhancement of the city's historic heritage by reducing the space occupied by vehicles and eliminating vibrations caused by vehicles. This has been accomplished by developing a pedestrian network, and encouraging use of public transit and other alternative transport modes. The pedestrian network has been developed through the establishment of a pedestrian zone in the historic centre; the establishment of controlled traffic zones authorizing access to residents only; and the creation of mechanized pedestrian ways, including elevators, escalators, and pedestrian walks of special design. Perugia was the first city in Italy to pedestrianize its historic centre and could be viewed as the prototype of the 'car-free city' in Italy. The pedestrian network has been successfully implemented, and there is already demand for its extension.


Actions aimed at inducing alternative use of conventional transport modes have included the introduction of the 'Buxi' mini-bus operating as a privately-run collective taxi for central neighbourhoods; the introduction of the 'Telebus' serving an urban corridor to peripheral zones of the conurbation; and the introduction of a computer-based traffic and safety management system.


The pedestrian network has proven popular. Most trips to the city centre are made on foot. The escalators, which provide comfortable and continuous route ways, are the most popular. The elevators, which serve discontinuous route ways, are also generally accepted. Studies have shown that 50 % of the local population in Perugia consider 600 meters or more to be an acceptable walking distance. A considerable proportion of the local population prefers to combine public transport with other modes of transport. Peripheral car parks, which in the past were little used and which were originally designed to serve modal split points through a shuttle service, are increasingly being used in combination with the pedestrian network.



A New Deal for Transport

The Government’s Transport White Paper ‘A New Deal for Transport: Better for Everyone’ signalled a change in the policy framework within which roadspace can be reallocated and highlighted how in appropriate cases roadspace can be used to accommodate, even facilitate, the renaissance of urban areas.  Indeed, the Government (in its recent ‘Guidance on Provisional Local Transport Plans’, (DETR, April 1999)) has indicated that it is now keen to “encourage local authorities to take a radical look at the options” for reallocating roadspace (paragraph 49). 


In addition, the potential road traffic reduction impacts of novel capacity reallocation measures such as High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) Lanes and No-Car Lanes may also warrant further investigation.  However, at a more general level, it is clear that the reallocation of roadspace will form a crucial element in any strategy for road traffic reduction. There are two important reasons for this. Firstly, by reallocating road space to buses, pedestrians and cyclists, road capacity released by the restraint of certain car-based trips (for example, through road user charging) will be prevented from being taken up by suppressed demand, which is known to exist on large parts of London’s congested highway network. Secondly, it is likely that significant increases in vehicle speed may occur in areas where road user charging schemes are implemented. 


For example, the previous Government’s London Congestion Charging Research Programme found that if a high level (£8.00 per day, one-way) road user charge was introduced in Central London, traffic speeds in the area would increase by 27%.  Similarly, Halcrow Fox’s recent work for London First, found that the imposition of a £5.00 road user charge in Central London would result in an increase in vehicle speeds of 20%.  The ROCOL Report indicates a 12.5% increase in average traffic speeds over a 14-hour period in Central London with a £5.00 road user charge.  Such speed increases will need to be carefully checked if one of the strategy’s main objectives - to reduce the number of road accident casualties - is to be achieved.  Clearly, the reallocation of roadspace to buses, pedestrians and cyclists, and sensible traffic calming measures are likely to be critical in checking such speed increases.  It is, however, worth clarifying that LPAC’s strategy aims to deliver improvements in journey time reliability rather than increases in speed for vehicles paying road user charges, hence, bringing greater certainty of travel for all road users.


During the consultation exercise on the draft Supplementary Advice, a number of concerns were raised, particularly in Outer London, that a reduction in general highway capacity on the secondary network through the reallocation of roadspace to buses, pedestrians and cyclists, could result in the transfer of traffic onto local residential roads.  Whilst this may occur in certain circumstances, if roadspace reallocation is co-ordinated with traffic calming measures on neighbouring local roads, the problem should be avoided in most cases.  Of relevance to this, research carried out jointly for the DETR and London Transport in 1998 into the ‘Traffic Impact of Highway Capacity Reductions’ (Summary Report) found that “the negative effects of reducing capacity exist, but are, on balance, less significant than has sometimes been feared” (paragraph 4.1.1).  The report concludes that “measures which reduce or reallocate road capacity, when well-designed and favoured by strong reasons of policy, need not automatically be rejected for fear that they must inevitably cause unacceptable congestion” (paragraph 4.1.5).



Zürich Transit Speedup Program (Ott, 1995)

The speed-up programme concentrated on three separate objectives:

·         Unhindered trips between junctions, without hold-ups caused by private traffic, to be achieved by building special (tram) lines and separate bus lanes.

·         Zero' waiting time for public transport at light-controlled junctions, by developing a fully flexible control philosophy.

·         Extension of the data-controlled operational control system, so that the operational control centre is always informed about deviations from the timetable and other programmes, and can remedy the situations or help by putting previously-designed measures into effect.



References And Resources For More Information


Rahman Paul Barter and Tamim Raad (2000), Taking Steps: A Community Action Guide to People-Centred, Equitable and Sustainable Urban Transport, Sustainable Transport Action Network for Asia and the Pacific (


Stephen Burrington and Veronika Thiebach  (1995), Take Back Your Streets; How to Protect Communities from Asphalt and Traffic, Conservation Law Foundation ( Guide provides justifications and information on implementing Traffic Calming.


CATSIP (California Active Transportation Safety Information Pages), Case Studies: Complete Streets (


Center for Livable Communities (, provides practical tools for innovative land use and transportation planning.


Center for Urban Transportation Research ( provides TDM materials and classes and publishes TMA Clearinghouse Quarterly.


Citizen Planner Institute ( trains average citizens, public officials, business people, and kids in the basics of neighborhood and town design.


Tina Collier and Ginger Goodin (2004), Managed Lanes: A Cross-Cutting Study, Operations Office of Transportation Management, Federal Highway Administration (


Complete the Streets ( is a campaign to create streets that accommodate all modes, including walking, cycling, automobile and public transportation.


FHWA, Management and Operations Toolbox, ( provides information and techniques for evaluating transportation systems management strategies.


Mayer Hillman (2001), “Prioritising Policy & Practice to Favor Walking”, World Transport Policy and Practice, Vol. 7, No. 4 (, pp. 39-43.


Information and Publicity Helping the Objective of Reducing Motorized Mobility (INPHORMM) ( is an organization that supports TDM marketing efforts.


InfraGuide (2005), Strategies for Implementing Transit Priority: National Guide to

Sustainable Municipal Infrastructure, Federation of Canadian Municipalities and National Research Council, Centre for Sustainable Community Development (; at


Institute of Transportation Engineers ( has extensive technical resources on complete streets and multi-modal planning.


ITDP (2011), Better Street, Better Cities: A Guide To Street Design In Urban India, Institute for Transport and Development Policy and Environmental Planning Collective (


Peter Lagerwey, et al. (2015), Pedestrian and Bicycle Transportation Along Existing Roads—ActiveTrans Priority Tool Guidebook, NCHRP Report 803, Transportation Research Board (; at


William Lennertz and Laurence Qamar (1995), The Principles of a Balanced Transportation Network: Implementing the Oregon Transportation Planning Rule, Oregon Transportation and Growth Management Program (


Todd Litman (2015), When Are Bus Lanes Warranted? Accounting for Economic Efficiency, Social Equity, and Strategic Planning Goals, presented at Threadbo 14 Conference (; at


Stephen Marshall (2003), “The Street: Integrating Transport and Urban Environment,” Handbook of Transport and the Environment, Elsevier (, pp. 771-786.


NJDOT (2012), A Guide To Creating A Complete Streets Implementation Plan, New Jersey Department Of Transportation (; at


NJDOT (2012), Making Complete Streets A Reality: A Guide to Policy Development, New Jersey Department Of Transportation (; at


NYCDOT (2009), New York City Street Design Manual, New York City Department of Transportation  ( at


OECD (1995), Urban Travel and Sustainable Development, OECD (, pp. 114-115.


R. Ott (1995), “Conurbation Transport Policy in Zurich, Switzerland.” Proceedings of the Institute of Civil Engineers, Transport, #111, Aug, 1995, pp 225-33.


Michael K. Park (2013), “Livable Streets: Lee’s Summit (Part I and II),” ITE Journal (, November and December; at and


PPS (2008), The Quiet Revolution in Transportation Planning: How Great Corridors Make Great Communities, Project for Public Spaces (; at


SACOG (2011), Complete Streets Resource Toolkit, Sacramento Area Council of Governments (; at


Marc Schlossberg, John Rowell, Dave Amos and Kelly Sanford (2013), Rethinking Streets: An Evidence-Based Guide to 25 Complete Street Transformations, University of Oregon's Sustainable Cities Initiative (; at


Carol H. Tan (2011), “Going On A Road Diet: Lane Reduction Can Increase Safety For Pedestrians, Bicyclists, And Motorists While Improving The Quality Of Life In Downtowns Across The Country,” Public Roads, U.S. Federal Highway Administration (; at


TGM (2000), Neighborhood Street Design Guidelines; An Oregon Guide for Reducing

 Street Widths, Transportation and Growth Management Program (


TA (2001), The Green Transportation Hierarchy, Transportation Alternatives Magazine (


Katherine F. Turnbull, Herbert S. Levinson and Richard H. Pratt (2006), HOV Facilities – Traveler Response to Transportation System Changes, TCRB Report 95, Transportation Research Board (; available at


WSDOT (2011), Washington’s Complete Streets and Main Street Highways: Case Study Resource, Washington State Department of Transportation ( at

This Encyclopedia is produced by the Victoria Transport Policy Institute to help improve understanding of Transportation Demand Management. It is an ongoing project. Please send us your comments and suggestions for improvement.




Encyclopedia Homepage

Send Comments


Victoria Transport Policy Institute

1250 Rudlin Street, Victoria, BC,  V8V 3R7,  CANADA

Phone & Fax 250-360-1560

“Efficiency - Equity - Clarity”