Surveys to help build smarter border & transportation network

By: Elliott Smith
If you’re crossing the border between the Lower Mainland or Fraser Valley and Whatcom County soon, you may be asked a series of research questions about your trip.
Students from Western Washington University will be conducting origin & destination surveys at all five area border crossings as part of a project directed by the Whatcom Council of Governments (WCOG) and conducted in partnership with the Border Policy Research Institute (BPRI) at WWU. Starting the week of June 17, 2013 and continuing through the end of July, they will be rotating between the Aldergrove/Lynden crossing, Sumas, Point Roberts, Peace Arch and Pacific Highway. A second data collection outing will be completed in February to better understand seasonal differences in travel characteristics.

Crews will be surveying cross-border travelers at area border crossings, including Peace Arch, pictured here.

The goal of this project is to collect an updated set of data that accurately reflects cross-border travel patterns. That data will then be used to see how patterns are changing over time as far as the purpose of cross-border travel (business, pleasure, family visits, etc.) and to better understand overall routes that cross-border travelers are using. Ultimately, that data will assist with forecasting where traffic will grow, and help transportation officials and policymakers plan accordingly. The data will also be used to better understand the regional economy, says IMTC Program Manager Hugh Conroy: “We should end up with over 10,000 trip records with geographic and trip purpose data. That provides a lot of information, not only about which parts of the transportation systems are the most important for cross-border flows but also how that travel is connected to shopping locations, recreational activities, employment, and other transportation services like airports and marine terminals.”
In addition to origin/destination and trip purpose info, the survey crews will ask about advance traveler information systems, including variable message road signs, websites and smartphone apps that relay border delay information to travelers. “We want to know if people trust the information and use it to minimize their travel time and make the most productive use of available border capacity” says Conroy.
At the border, randomly selected drivers can expect a short, efficient survey needing less than 90 seconds of their time. “We expect to be conducting most of the interviews while people are waiting in line anyway” Conroy adds “but at low volume traffic times we will be having folks, if they’re willing, pull over shortly after crossing the border and taking the survey then. It’s voluntary and anonymous–no personal information is gathered.”
Similar surveys have been conducted in recent years, and the data has proven invaluable to the efforts of the International Mobility and Trade Corridor Program (IMTC), an initiative that “identifies and promotes improvements to mobility and security for the border crossings that connect Whatcom County, Washington State and the Lower Mainland of British Columbia.” One of the survey project’s partners, the Border Policy Research Institute at WWU has added questions to this year’s survey about people’s perception of their own cross-border travel patterns, such as whether they think they cross more or less frequently than they did in the past.
The survey is funded by an international consortium of partners, including the US Federal Highway Administration, the BC Ministry of Transportation, the Washington State Department of Transportation, the Whatcom Council of Governments and the Border Policy Research Institute at Western Washington University.
A summary of the 2008 border survey report is available here from IMTC, and an example of a research publication that used the 2008 data is available from WWU’s Border Policy Research Institute here.
Cross-Border Travelers can help build a smarter, more efficient border by partaking in this brief, anonymous survey on their way across the 49th parallel.
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