Incorporating New Data Needs into Travel and Activity Surveys

Jennifer Dill, Portland State University


  • Asha Weinstein Agrawal, San Jose State University


This project aims to answer the following question: How can regional and national travel and activity diary surveys be modified to collect the new types of data needed to meet today's planning needs? In particular, how can the surveys be modified to: (1) begin to collect data on transportation expenditures; (2) collect more accurate data on bicycle and walking trips?; and (3) begin collecting data on health indicators?  These improvements would allow travel diary surveys to collect the data needed to plan for sustainable transportation systems, defining sustainability in terms of both the natural environment and social equity. 

Travel and activity diary surveys have been a valuable tool in the US for transportation planning, collecting detailed information on all the trips that a person makes during the course of a day. However, there are some serious weaknesses for today’s planning needs, including the relatively inaccurate and limited data on bicycle and pedestrian trips, lack of data on transportation expenditures, and lack of data on health indicators.

When travel surveys emerged as the primary data collection method for regional transportation planning in the 1950s, these various types of data were of little interest to planners, so of course the data was not collected or collected only poorly. Today, there is growing interest in promoting nonmotorized travel to improve public health and reduce the impact of vehicle travel on the environment. Reflecting these new priorities, the travel and activity surveys have changed to better collect bicycle and pedestrian data, but the data is still of relatively suspect quality. In addition, in some areas bicycle travel in particular occurs only sporadically, so the typical one-day diary often misses such travel.

Another weakness with travel diary surveys is that they collect no or virtually no information on how much households spend on transportation. This knowledge gap leaves today’s policy makers lacking critical information that would help improve their work in many policy areas. For example, expenditure data would help policymakers to better understand the equity impacts of policies such as congestion pricing. In addition, the information would allow policy makers to better pin-point the most effective policies to improve mobility for low-income people. 

The proposed research project would investigate how travel and activity diary surveys can be modified to overcome the weaknesses described.   The research would have two major phases.  The first phase would identify and document the current weaknesses with the way bicycle and pedestrian trip data is collected and also document the lack of data on expenditures and health indicators. The second phase would investigate different options for designing questions to collect the needed data on transportation expenditures and bicycle/pedestrian trips.

Project Details

Project Type:
Project Status:
In Progress
End Date:
March 31,2011
UTC Grant Cycle:
OTREC 2010
UTC Funding: