EPA MOVES and Beyond: Revolutionizing Emission Tracking in Transportation

December 13, 2023

Image Text: EPA MOVES and Beyond: Revolutionizing Emission Tracking in Transportation

Communities worldwide are experiencing the profound impacts of climate change across their health, environment, and economics. A recent study published in Nature Communications revealed staggering figures: over the last two decades, extreme weather events have cost an estimated $2.8 trillion. Also, according to the most recent National Climate Assessment, global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions could avoid tens of thousands of annual deaths in the United States by the end of the century. These actions could also save billions of dollars in damages related to water shortages, wildfires, agricultural losses, flooding, and other impacts.

While we know vehicles are pumping massive amounts of carbon into the air, the hard part is getting everyone to start using data and AI tools to accurately measure and reduce this massive time bomb.

The urgency of combating climate change has placed a magnifying glass on industries that contribute to environmental emissions. The transportation sector stands out as the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., responsible for a staggering 29% of total emissions in 2021.

Image Text: Transportation was responsible for 29% of total U.S. emissions in 2021.

This makes our industry the lynchpin for reducing U.S. emissions in the climate change battle. Fortunately, by harnessing the wealth of data flowing across our road networks, including connected vehicle data, transportation agencies can unlock the tools to measure emissions and fuel consumption accurately, comprehensively, and affordably, empowering our industry to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions impact significantly.

For this very reason, Secretary Pete Buttigieg has made climate one of the Department of Transportation’s six strategic goals. Multiple DOT grants now have at least one climate criterion on their applications, some focused entirely on climate, unlocking billions of dollars of federal funding towards this objective.

This focus was further emphasized by the recent announcement from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) that they were introducing a greenhouse gas (GHG) performance measure that provides State Departments of Transportation (DOTs) and Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) a national framework to track transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions.

According to the FHWA announcement, the GHG performance measurement will assess the percent change in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions on the National Highway System relative to 2022 levels. Consistent with the framework of Transportation Performance Management (TPM), State DOTs will establish 2- and 4-year statewide emissions reduction targets, and MPOs will establish 4-year emissions reduction targets for their metropolitan planning areas.

Not only is it a clear indicator of where the federal government is headed in the future, but it’s also creating a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for transportation agencies to upgrade their infrastructure. Secretary Buttigieg stated these performance measures provide the framework for agencies to “meet with more than $27 billion in federal funding through President Biden’s Investing in America agenda.” But to get the money, you have to take the initiative to reduce your carbon footprint.

Image text: Why is it so difficult to measure emissions?

The reality is many DOTs and MPOs lack in-house emissions tracking expertise and struggle to quantify the returns on investments. Measuring emissions has been a time-consuming, expensive and inaccurate process, causing environmental measurement to take a back seat to mobility and safety. Historically, engineering teams had to physically go out in the field and conduct manual counts, which was time-consuming and limited in scope. The introduction of detection hardware provided a more automated approach, but it was still expensive and lacked scalability.

At its core, the problem with environmental analytics is that it’s tied to incomplete or inaccurate operations and mobility analytics. Without knowing where vehicles are, how many vehicles there are, and what these vehicles are doing, it’s impossible to quantify vehicle emissions.

And in traffic management, accurate operations and mobility analytics remain elusive nd critical issues. Without reliable, complete traffic data, agencies can’t reliably analyze, monitor, or optimize traffic flow towards any outcome.

However, tapping into the full scope of data flowing across our roadways, including connected vehicle data, unlocks the tools for agencies to measure emissions and fuel consumption accurately, comprehensively, and affordably—at scale.

At Flow Labs, we’re integrating software and connected vehicle data, to make emission performance measurement more accurate, affordable, and scalable.

Data is the driving force behind decision-making processes while Artificial Intelligence (AI) has emerged as a powerful tool in turning vast amounts of data into actionable insights.

The Flow Labs platform, for example, processes, cleanses and integrates data from signal, sensor, and connected vehicle data, generating volume measures proven to be 94.4% accurate in the field. By capturing data from up to 35% of vehicles on any given roadway at any given time, agencies receive the most comprehensive view available of traffic patterns and behaviors. This data is integrated with other datasets, such as existing traffic management systems, to generate a holistic view of performance across an entire region, including vehicle flow, traffic patterns, and emission levels.

Environmental analytics are the cornerstone to creating a successful emission reduction strategy. With accurate, comprehensive analytics, agencies can identify which roadways and intersections are the most polluted, why this pollution is happening where it is, and therefore where they should prioritize resources.

Once agencies can generate accurate, comprehensive operations and mobility analytics, they can efficiently generate precise environmental analytics using the EPA’s MOVES model. This opens the door to funding.

The Motor Vehicle Emissions Simulator (MOVES) was developed by the Environmental Protection Agency to estimate on-road emissions. MOVES is a modeling system that enables agencies to input vehicle data and generate accurate estimations for air pollutants, greenhouse gasses, and air toxics. It is the best model for agencies to use to collect environmental analytics because its:

  • EPA approved: As the only model approved by the EPA, using EPA MOVES puts agencies in the best position to secure funding.
  • Comes with unparalleled granularity: The EPA MOVES model is consistently updated and extremely thorough. The model measures how a car’s emissions change based on its speed, its ignition, when it idles, and how fast it accelerates or decelerates. It also measures how these emissions change based on factors such as vehicle type, weather, and road type parameters.

However, to take advantage of these precise variables, your data ingestion platform must be able to incorporate these types of datasets.

The Flow Labs platform leverages data from multiple sources to generate highly accurate traffic models, which are used in conjunction with the EPA MOVES model to automatically and instantly generate vehicle emissions and fuel consumption metrics for any given roadway, intersection, or movement daily. This allows engineering teams to measure environmental impact without huge costs for any project regardless of how large or small.

Image Text: How does Flow Labs approach environmental analytics?

Leveraging the EPA MOVES model on a future-proof platform: Flow Labs’ platform is designed to ingest data from any dataset, including highly accurate connected vehicle data. We currently use the EPA MOVES model and can take advantage of data from any of the contributing factors that influence emissions.

  • Calculations at a roadway, network, and regional level: Flow Labs captures environmental impact metrics at every scale including individual roadways, networks, and entire regions. The platform can capture data from any point on a roadway, and at intersections, offering agencies total visibility. Agencies can also see where vehicles are beginning and ending their journeys, further contextualizing why some corridors and intersections are more polluted than others.
  • Instant calculations: To account for changing traffic patterns, Flow Labs generates environmental analytics immediately. These metrics can be provided for specific time-of-day (TOD) periods.
  • Comprehensive performance measurement: Flow Labs’ performance measurement tool can automatically aggregate the platform’s environmental analytics data to measure the environmental impact of a project, anywhere on an agency’s roadways. You can immediately quantify the before and after impact of a countermeasure and share successes with stakeholders and include it on grant narratives.
  • Make it actionable: With the correct data, transportation agencies can align with the FHWA's performance measure by customizing metrics to track GHG emissions accurately. Agencies can generate detailed reports illustrating their current emission levels and set achievable reduction targets. As the platform continually monitors project implementations, agencies can evaluate ongoing effectiveness in reducing GHG emissions and receive recommendations to adjust strategies for better outcomes.

What does this mean for transportation engineers and agencies?

Our actionable insights enable agencies to understand and accurately track emissions, set achievable reduction targets, and continually monitor progress. By leveraging the EPA MOVES model and our innovative approach to data ingestion, transportation agencies can play a significant role in meeting federal objectives, reducing emissions, and securing funding opportunities.

Together, we can make a tangible difference in the fight against climate change - right now. Contact Flow Labs to get started.


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