Reading Time: 5 minutes

Efficient transport networks are the backbone of a thriving economy. Therefore transportation planning must take into account a number of far-reaching effects on the natural environment, society, and road users. Roads have the power to transform communities and economies. In this post, we look at the behind-the-scenes workings of our country’s vast transportation networks.

Just how many lane miles do we have?

Can you imagine what it was like, before 1900? Four percent of the roads in the USA were paved. Today, we have approximately four million miles and 8.3 million lane miles. 1.2 miles of road per square mile of land area is much less than in other developed countries.

According to the U.S. Transportation Department, 68% of the country’s total lane-miles are in rural areas, where 19% of Americans reside.

  • Urban areas provide 1,052 lane miles to cater to every 100,000 people.
  • Rural areas provide 9,819 lane miles per 100,000 people.

Transportation planning rarely crosses the minds of the average individual; after all, roads and other modes of transport seem to just be where we need them to be without us having to put much thought or effort into it at all.

But behind the scenes, manufacturers, logistics companies, and merchandisers (to name but a few) are working hard to ensure that our lives flow as easily and uninterrupted as possible.

Planning is Key

Transportation planning starts before your new luxury vehicle is manufactured in Germany. It is rolled onto a RO/RO shipping vessel and delivered to your door in the United States. That’s just one way in which transportation planning has evolved to be more inclusive.

[Read our Starter Story to learn how transportation planning led to the start of Nationwide Auto Transportation.]

transportation planning

What is Transportation Planning?

Infrastructure and transport planning is a study of the interaction between humans, land, and activity. It involves economy and organization.

Modern transportation planning is a complex collaboration between various stakeholders and a technologically advanced range of infrastructures. The goal of transportation planning is:

  • To anticipate future outcomes and prepare for contingencies. 
  • To develop a vision for the future, guided by current action.

Building roads have long-lasting consequences, not to mention the cost factor of infrastructure. Therefore, it is prudent to make the best decisions. For example, in order to form a network, two separate roads from different counties must connect at the county line.

Land owners have the right to expect service from both private and public infrastructure. Planning enables ethical and efficient land use and regulation, which helps prevent conflicts over land use. 

Where it all started

Although street paving was invented during the earliest human settlements (dating back to approximately 4000 BC), early forms of transportation included pack animals, such as donkeys, horses, and oxen. That was later further developed by the inclusion of sleds and travois. The latter was then developed into two-wheel carts that were used in Mesopotamia. In approximately 3000 BC, people in northern Iran started using two-wheel chariots that were hauled by onagers. 

The first heavy four-wheeled wagons hauled by oxen came around 2500 BC, followed by two-wheeled chariots using spoked wheels. Around five-hundred years later, horse-haulage was invented, thanks to the development of the initial primitive harness. 

As wheeled transport was developed, the need for transportation planning was born. Road materials had to be pliable enough to create well-graded surfaces, yet it had to be strong enough to carry wheeled vehicles, particularly in wet conditions. The first roads were made of timber logs, and later brick paving. Transportation infrastructure evolved one step at a time, and from one material to another into what it is today. The first tar paved roads were built in Baghdad, Iraq in the 8th century.

The industrial revolution led to the rapid growth of transportation development as well as urbanization. It brought us from a time of basic, isolated transport routes to a huge, worldwide transportation network. 

transportation planning

But how does it all happen? What are the steps that lead to transportation development? Let’s talk about it. 

Road Planning: The Process

  1. Data collection

The initial phase of transportation development involves surveying and collecting available data on transportation. It might include information on:

  • Land use data
  • Population data
  • Available transportation
  • Intensity and nature of traffic
  • Costs and benefits, and 
  • Freight structure. 

It is essential that those in charge of the data collection understand traffic patterns and flows within the area in question. Of course, collecting data on the existing travel patterns can be time consuming. 

  1. Transportation Model

During the second phase of transportation planning, planners use the data collected during the initial stage to build a transport model, which is used to predict future transport network requirements. Important factors that are considered at this time, include:

  • Trip generation – Reasons for travel to one or more destinations. 
  • Trip distribution – This involves the analysis of trips between different zones.
  • Traffic assignment – After defining the transport network, future traffic is assigned to assess any deficiencies in existing infrastructure, and the information is used to determine the priorities of the new construction.


Finally, a transportation model split study will be performed. At this point in transportation planning, planners describe this as the phase during which a mode of travel is incorporated into the model. 

  1. Travel Demand and Future Land Use

In step 3, planners forecast any future land use – long and short term. Most transportation planners work up between five to twenty-five years ahead. As such, their estimates would include:

  • Population distribution, size and age;
  • Employment, because the work commute is one of the biggest travel demands.                                                                                                                                                                                                

These variables influence the level of future travel demand. Economic variables and population are important when it comes to forecasting future travel demands.

  1. Evaluation of other alternative policies

During the final phase of transportation planning, planners evaluate alternative suggestions and calculate the costs of the various options suggested by additional planners. 

Transport Planning and Regulation: The role of the Transit Department

Several organizations work together and transportation planning, which is an important function in a community, region, state and nation as a whole. These organizations have to collaborate on the evaluation of diverse viewpoints, and participate with relevant transportation organizations and agencies. At times, these departments will request public involvement, as these individuals who are part of the general traveling public, businesses and freight operators will be using the road infrastructures. 

The State Department of Transportation, Metropolitan Planning Organization and transit providers collaborate on transportation planning in urban areas, whereas the state and local officials carry out the same in rural areas.

Federally required transportation planning in metropolitan areas is jointly administered by the FHWA and FTA. The regulations for metropolitan areas are set forth in  23 U.S.C. 134 and 9 U.S.C. 5303, whereas the rural statutory provisions are found in 23 U.S.C. 135 and 49 U.S.C. 5304. 

Transportation planning has developed significantly over the years to include not only road and rail, but also air and sea transport. New transportation policies are implemented all the time to improve the user experience.

These days, companies like Amazon use drones to deliver packages, and Tesla’s cyber trucks are set to lead the latest innovation in transportation planning. 

For now, you can rely on Nationwide for all your auto transportation planning and fulfillment.