Center for Activity Systems Analysis
The Four Step Model
- Author(s): McNally, Michael G.
- et al.
The history of demand modeling for person travel has been dominated by the modeling approach that has come to be referred to as the four step model (FSM) (see Chapter 2). Travel, always viewed in theory as derived from the demand for activity participation, in practice has been modeled with trip-based rather than activity-based methods (as presented in Chapter 4). Trip origin-destination (O-D) rather than activity surveys form the principle database. The influence of activity characteristics decreases, and that of trip characteristics increases, as the conventional forecasting sequence proceeds. The application of this modeling approach is near universal, as in large measure are its criticisms (these inadequacies are well documented, e.g., by McNally and Recker (1986)). The current FSM might best be viewed in two stages. In the first stage, various characteristics of the traveler and the land use - activity system (and to a varying degree, the transportation system) are "evaluated, calibrated, and validated" to produce a non-equilibrated measure of travel demand (or trip tables). In the second stage, this demand is loaded onto the transportation network in a process than amounts to formal equilibration of route choice only, not of other choice dimensions such as destination, mode, time-of-day, or whether to travel at all (feedback to prior stages has often been introduced, but not in a consistent and convergent manner). Although this approach has been moderately successful in the aggregate, it has failed to perform in most relevant policy tests, whether on the demand or supply side.
This chapter extends the material in Chapter 2 by providing a concise overview of the mechanics of the FSM, illustrated with a hypothetical case study. The discussion in this chapter, however, will focus on U.S. modeling practice. Transportation modeling developed as a component of the process of transportation analysis that came to be established in the U.S.A. during the era of post-war development and economic growth. Initial application of analytical methods began in the 1950s. The landmark study of Mitchell and Rapkin (1954) not only established the link of travel and activities (or land use) but called for a comprehensive framework and inquiries into travel behavior. The initial development of models of trip generation, distribution, and diversion in the early 1950s lead to the first comprehensive application of the four-step model system in the Chicago Area Transportation Study (see Weiner, 1997) with the model sandwiched by land use projection and economic evaluation. The focus was decidedly highway-oriented with new facilities being evaluated versus traffic engineering improvements. The 1960s brought federal legislation requiring "continuous, comprehensive, and cooperative" urban transportation planning, fully institutionalizing the FSM. Further legislation in the 1970s brought environmental concerns to planning and modeling, as well as the need for multimodal planning. It was recognized that the existing model system may not be appropriate for application to emerging policy concerns and, in what might be referred to as the "first travel model improvement program", a call for improved models led to research and the development of disaggregate travel demand forecasting and equilibrium assignment methods that integrated well with the FSM and have greatly directed modeling approaches for most of the last 30 years. The late 1970s brought "quick response" approaches to travel forecasting (Sosslau et al., 1978; Martin and McGuckin, 1998) and independently the start of what has grown to become the activity-based approach (see Chapter 4). The growing recognition of the misfit of the FSM and relevant policy questions in the 1980s led to the (second, but formal) Travel Model Improvement Program in 1991; much of the subsequent period has been directed at improving the state-of-thepractice relative to the conventional model while fostering research and development in new methodologies to further the state-of-the-art (see Chapter 4).
The FSM is best seen as a particular application of transportation systems analysis (TSA), a framework due to Manheim (1979) and Florian et al. (1988), which positions the model well to view its strengths and weaknesses. A brief presentation of this TSA framework introduces the FSM context and leads to a discussion of problem and study area definition, model application, and data requirements. The models that are perhaps most commonly utilized in the FSM are then presented in the form of a sample application.