An inventory of the current America's Byways® collection shows significant differences in the quality of visitor information, resource management, facilities and byway organizational structure among the designated routes. For some byways, noticeable shortcomings have already been addressed by their corridor management plans (CMPs). For others, noticeable improvements have been identified and implemented since designation.
As the National Scenic Byways Program (NSBP) considers the future and how it can work to improve the collection and the individual byways across the nation, being able to measure quality is critical for gathering information and monitoring byways. That said, how can the NSBP measure and monitor quality of the America's Byways® collection?
There are no clear or uniform measurements to assess the quality of the America's Byways®. collection. Some byways have made steady progress by following the goals and actions outlined in their corridor management plan. Others have lost significant resources. State byway programs have risen and fallen based on the interest and commitment of the byway coordinator. If the components of quality cannot be defined, how can quantitative measurements within and among the byways be accurately and meaningfully measured? Measurement will allow the Program and local byways to establish a baseline of all of these elements at the time of designation. The objective for all byways should be, over time, to improve the level of quality for each of the relevant elements along their byway. Along with the idea of maintaining and enhancing the quality of the significant intrinsic qualities, byways should also be working to raise the quality of the byway experience to that of excellence. Flexibility is critical to this process. However, there will be a major shift in the ability of byways to focus their activities and for the Program to assess the level of functioning if this type of an approach is used.
The quality of the intrinsic qualities at the time of designation should be weighed against the quality of the visitor experience. The CMP outlines objectives for the visitor experience, facilities and resources. These qualities should be evaluated independently of the intrinsic qualities and success should be measured through improvements to the visitor experience. These improvements may include visitor interpretation, information facilities, wayfinding, and highway maintenance. Improvements to identified intrinsic qualities, such as the stabilization of an archaeological site or the purchase of development rights for a critical scenic view, should be viewed as improvements to the quality of the visitor experience as well. Byways with outstanding intrinsic qualities at the time of designation, but no improvement to the visitor experience over time, should be reviewed for their commitment to the NSBP. For the life of a byway, managing the quality of the experience will be the primary job of the local byway organization with oversight from the State or Indian tribe byway program.
The Program might pursue a project to prepare materials that can help byways understand, measure, and then monitor the quality of the byway experience. Monitoring could be accomplished by local byway groups. State and Indian tribe byway coordinators could develop simple methods to measure the degree to which byways are moving forward. The Program might adopt procedures in which information is gathered from byways and by byway coordinators on the movement toward enhancing quality.
It is important to emphasize that not all elements of the byway experience will necessarily be relevant for every route. It is also likely that byways will identify other components of quality that are important for them to measure, monitor and manage.
It will be important to incorporate the components of quality, and how to measure them, into NSBP policy. Consider reviews that track the improvement of quality. From resource protection to visitor experience, designated byways should be able to demonstrate measurable advances over the life of the byway. (policy issue)
To measure quality, the Program will need to establish basic quality expectations that may be broadly applied to all byways in the America's Byways® collection. Given the realities of byway organizations and the Program's resources and staff, any methods that are used to measure the quality of byway elements and features must be practical and simple. The following is a list of potential methods that are neither technical nor complex, and that can be used to measure an element's baseline character at the time of designation and changes in quality over time.
|Corridor Elements and Features||Methods for Documenting Quality|
|The road: travel lanes, striping, surfacing, and shoulders||Representative photographs, clear definitions of segments where the character of the road differs, brief narratives on the way in which the character of the road affects the character of the byway, and a summary of State, Indian tribe, or local DOT projects|
|The right of way: guardrails, signs, pull-offs, treatment of right of way, and landscape||Photographs of the immediate right of way and brief narratives on the nature and how the right of way impacts the character of the byway|
|The surrounding landscape: foreground, middle ground, and background||The results from a scenic landscape evaluation method or historic assessment, or provide before and after photographs showcasing byway improvements|
|Critical structures and sites: historic buildings, bridges, archaeological sites, and cultural landscapes||Photographs of structures and the immediate context, mapped locations, and a narrative on the situation|
|Critical natural resources: viewsheds, ecosystems, and habitat||A narrative on the nature of the resources, representative photographs, and policies and programs designed to protect the resources|
|Access to resources: trails, pullouts, parking, and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance||A narrative description of access, photographs of access, and descriptions of ADA projects|
|Interpretation: information kiosks, visitor centers, publications, pod-casts, and academic/school programs||A narrative description of interpretive activities, copies of publications, electronic media, school programs, and other critical aspects of the byway's programs designed to improve the visitor experience|
|Communities/settlements along the byway: streetscape improvements, beautification projects, and hospitality training related to the byway||Photographs of physical improvements to communities along the route, or evidence of byway-related community development (hospitality training programs, local resolutions supporting the byway and locally sponsored byway events)|
|Local partnerships: business, academic, and institutional||Examples of financial and technical assistance to the byway, leadership activities, and advocacy assistance|
|Research and scholarship: studies of historical events, documentation, and oral history projects||Examples of scholarly research or writings that discuss the events and demonstrate the significance of the area for that particular event, provide recordings of oral history interviews, and academic programs to raise awareness for the corridor's history|
The above listing of measurement methods is simple. For the most part, if relies on aerial (e.g., Google™ Earth) and ground-level photographs of the existing conditions at the time of designation. Common-sense narratives regarding the nature of the elements would be provided for each.