Office of Planning, Environment, & Realty (HEP)
March 6-7, 2008
Federal Highway Administration
During 2007 and 2008, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), through its Transportation Planning Capacity Building program, is conducting a series of metropolitan planning organization (MPO) peer exchange workshops in partnership with the Association of MPOs (AMPO). Each workshop is focused on a specific topic of current or emerging relevance to MPOs, each of which was identified through a national panel process. The workshops seek to engage participants from MPOs representing a diversity of urban area sizes, MPO structures and expertise/experience in the topic area.
This report summarizes the results of the workshop held in Seattle, Washington on March 6 and 7, 2008, on planning for climate change. Representatives from 13 MPOs shared their experiences and challenges in this area. The ultimate goal of the workshop was to allow senior staff from a variety of MPOs to come together to share information and learn from each other in a facilitated open discussion setting. FHWA developed this report to summarize the workshop discussions and results for the use and benefit of MPOs and their planning partners across the country.
The workshop kicked off with opening comments from Peter Plumeau of Resource Systems Group, Inc. Mr. Plumeau, the lead facilitator for the workshop, stated that the purpose of the event was to gather together representatives from MPOs around the country, representing small, mid-size, and large metropolitan areas, to share experiences and collaborate on approaches to addressing the issue of planning for climate change. The workshop would begin with opening remarks from Diane Turchetta of the Federal Highway Administration. She would be followed by presentations from representatives from the Puget Sound Regional Council and the Boston MPO regarding their experiences related to this topic. With these presentations "setting the stage" for the remainder of the workshop, Mr. Plumeau would then move all participants into a facilitated discussion on experiences, issues and options. He noted that Ms. Turchetta of the FHWA was present to provide additional insights from the federal perspective as well as to obtain information from the participants that can help FHWA more effectively provide assistance and support to MPOs.
Ms. Turchetta provided background on the workshop topic from a federal perspective. The following summarizes her comments:
Prior to this event, the participants each received a list of pre-workshop questions, the responses to which were used to identify similarities and differences between MPOs in climate change planning and to identify workshop discussion topics. Mr. Plumeau presented a summary of the workshop responses:
Appendix B contains a full summary of all participants' responses to each pre-workshop question.
The Boston MPO area encompasses 101 cities and towns and three million residents, which is about 48% of Massachusetts' population.
In the past, the MPO used several sources to identify the effects of climate change, including developing CO2 emissions from transit projects for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA, the main transit agency in the MPO area), the MPO travel model, and outside sources such as the 2005 Massachusetts Climate Protection Plan. Although its efforts related to climate change had not moved forward due to other issues on which the MPO was working, in 2007 the topic returned to the MPO's planning agenda. A number of climate change initiatives had begun in the state that brought light to this issue:
These activities prompted the MPO to direct the staff to develop a white paper containing current policy context, an overview of climate change, current MPO policies and actions, and recommendations for future MPO actions. The white paper identified several ways that the MPO and its partners can work to reduce CO2 emissions:
Public transit is a substantive transportation alternative in the region, with a current daily (weekday) ridership of 1.2 million. The MPO allocates a large proportion of regional transportation funds to transit including for the purchase of new vehicles. In addition, the MPO provides funding for bicycle and pedestrian programs as well as signalization projects and transportation demand management (TDM) programs. Also, because trucks carry most of the freight moving in and out of the urban core, the MPO can facilitate more efficient (and therefore less polluting) routing for trucks by addressing bridges with weight restrictions.
Regarding land use planning and decision-making, the MPO works with the regional planning agency to develop demographic forecasts. The forecasts have been developed to focus new growth in population centers around existing infrastructure including transit. However, the MPO has no direct authority to pursue changes in land use patterns necessary to make the region's carbon footprint smaller.
There are other climate change-related planning activities underway in the Boston MPO region. For example, the MBTA is working to estimate the levels of greenhouse gas emissions from busses and commuter rail as part of their long-range transit plan - the Program for Mass Transportation. In addition, two major projects - a subway extension and a commuter rail extension - are both undergoing MEPA review. Both will also be required to go through the state's new greenhouse gas emission review process. The MPO is being asked to participate in many of these external activities because their travel model can provide critical analysis support data.
Appendix C includes the Boston MPO's report, "Carbon Dioxide, Climate Change, and the Boston Region MPO - A Discussion Paper."
Kelly McGourty framed her presentation on the PSRC's climate change planning activities by discussing "adaptation" versus "mitigation," and the importance of both. She noted that the PSRC's charter directs them to perform transportation, land use, and air quality planning in concert with each other. This broadly defined mission gives PSRC a somewhat unique perspective on and ability to address complex challenges such as climate change planning.
PSRC has incorporated climate change in the update to their overarching growth, transportation and economic strategy document, VISION 2040, which is to be adopted in April 2008. This document includes a regional climate action plan as future work. On the technical side, the MPO performed a simple analysis of CO2 as part of the VISION EIS, but was unable to perform a more sophisticated analysis due to constraints within the models available at the time. Since then, they received a federal grant to improve the travel demand model for various parameters, including mode choice, vehicle tours and the costs of driving. The MPO is also updating their long-range transportation plan, Destination 2030, and realized that in order to provide the best data possible related to transportation strategies and their impacts on GHG emissions, they would need the abilities of the upcoming MOVES model. Since the current release of the model had some constraints, PSRC was able to work with FHWA and EPA and it was agreed that PSRC would be a useful pilot test site for the pending updated version of MOVES.
Appendix C includes a summary of Ms. McGourty's presentation.
After the opening presentations, Mr. Plumeau began the facilitated segment of the workshop. He posed the question, "What are you hoping to do in your MPO, and how?" Participants were each given a chance to answer this question, and their responses were open for further discussion. Below is a summary of each participant's comments, which may include general comments from other participants on the particular conversation topic.
The Tri-County Regional Planning Commission is focused on identifying reasonable measures of success for their climate change planning effort. The regional planning commission has no regulatory authority over land use planning. Educating the region's elected officials and residents has become a priority for the MPO in order to assist with the local planning process.
Because the Tri-County Regional Planning Commission struggled with finding a niche in climate change planning, other MPOs volunteered initiatives that they are developing. These efforts include:
METROPLAN Orlando is currently reviewing its options for allocating federal planning funds to activities focused on climate change-related planning. The MPO is currently determining how best to take advantage of federal funding to conduct climate change planning. At this point, METROPLAN Orlando believes they do not have enough control of land use and other measures to facilitate a substantial change. Furthermore, the MPO's experience is that they have little flexibility to spend federal metropolitan planning funds on "non-traditional" activities such as land use planning and believe this lack of flexibility makes having a tangible impact on climate change difficult.
The question for METROPLAN Orlando is, "what has to happen for people to change their behavior?" This MPO believes that transit needs to become more competitive with the automobile for daily transportation needs. Despite current land use and transportation trends in Florida, this MPO holds firm that there is hope for public transit. For example, in Walt Disney World (which is within the MPO's planning area), visitors pay a premium to leave their cars behind. This can be interpreted to show that people are willing to actually pay to give up their car if a viable alternative is available.
In the Durham region, the various municipalities each have their own local GHG plans and targets. This MPO would like to develop a regional-level climate change plan that would build upon and be consistent with the local plans, but has yet to identify a workable approach for this. The MPO has used some consulting services to develop a plan for addressing energy issues related to transportation.
DRCOG questions whether or not the U.S. is being too reactive to the problem of GHG emissions, since there are still so many unknowns. Fundamentally, however, DRCOG believes that land use and transportation should be tied closely together, and that climate change adaptation strategies should be framed by this belief.
DRCOG's current issue is dealing with the question of the appropriate role for the MPO in climate change planning. Due to the perception of the speculative nature of the climate change topic, it has been challenging for DRCOG to get buy-in from the public with regard to making climate change a focus of the long range transportation plan. Specifically, because the MPO is empowered to work primarily on transportation, they have faced challenges in their ability to affect change in related areas such as land use and air quality planning.
For the MTC, the primary topic is identifying how to set up a framework for the regional investment plans that will adequately support GHG reductions. Based on prior experience, the MTC has found that land use and pricing are the two key leverage points in this process. In addition, the MTC has found little if any significant impact on GHG emissions resulting from either Transportation System Management (TSM) or Transportation Demand Management (TDM). It was pointed out that this may be the result of the insensitivity of the travel model to these types of initiatives, rather than a indication that they have no appreciable impact on emissions.
The Baltimore Regional Transportation Board (BRTB) is the MPO for the Baltimore, Maryland region. Some of the local jurisdictions in the region have adopted GHG goals. In addition, the State of Maryland has a Climate Change Commission that has been tasked with developing a plan to address both climate change causes and effects, and to establish benchmarks and timetables for plan implementation.
The work plan for the BRTB will include a project to determine appropriate ways to model transportation-related carbon dioxide emissions.
The Cowlitz-Wahkiakum Council of Governments' region has undergone a significant economic change in recent years. Historically based primarily on the lumber industry, the region's economy has been diversifying, with an inflow of new residents. Many of these people desire to have a set of multimodal options for moving around the region. However, this region lacks an extensive public transit system and its roadways have traditionally been "overengineered" to accommodate large trucks and an automobile-oriented travel demand.
This MPO is not directly focused on GHG issues, but rather on quality of life measures. Generally, this MPO feels there are issues of concern that take a higher priority to GHG emissions, such as safety costs, high accident locations, and other topics. Specifically, this MPO feels that they are just one small piece of the larger picture and cannot make a significant impact if their global partners do not also make an effort.
Reducing congestion remains a high priority for the ARC, even with a recent transportation funding cut of $4.5 billion to fiscally constrain the Envision6 2030 RTP. Plans for transit expansion suffered disproportionately from these cuts because utilization of existing transit has been perceived to be providing an inadequate return on investment to the region. A regional Transit Planning Board (TPB) has been created in order to develop a comprehensive transit strategy for the region. A major question for the TPB is how the Atlanta region can develop an organized institutional framework and funding strategy for expanding its regional transit system. ARC continues facilitating creation of "Livable Communities" and is expanding its role in encouraging development of "Green Communities."
ARC is starting work on a new regional plan, and is talking with regional leaders and national experts to help them bring sustainability and energy issues to the forefront. This is being achieved through a visioning initiative called 50 Forward. At present, the MPO has found it difficult to prioritize climate change problems when there are larger looming issues, such as low population density, high population growth, restrained transportation funding and the subsequent problems, such as congestion and air quality impacts caused by continued growth and a lack of funding. Bringing in outside objective experts may help move climate change towards the top of the priority list for elected and policy officials.
This MPO is very small and encompasses one county of just over 100,000 people, which is also the greater region's growth and employment center. Despite its small population, the region's transit system is tremendously successful. There are several new initiatives underway at this time, including short-term implementation of a vanpool program, online rideshare and car share. The MPO is also cooperating with local groups in the analysis of various mobility enhancing technologies including flexible transit, regional (multi-county) transit applications and personal rapid transit (PRT).
The biggest obstacle for this MPO is a lack of consistency among the various local plans and decisions, which is further exacerbated by the lack of a well-articulated and compelling regional vision. This MPO firmly believes there are sufficient funds nationally to resolve the problem of climate change; however, a reorientation of these funds within federal priorities is required.
This MPO does not rely on a regional transportation model and, therefore, would not be performing forecasts of transportation emissions with conventional methods.
This MPO is governed by a very large committee structure and is working on defining the MPO's priorities and vision for climate change planning. They have used both the Envison Utah process and the Boston Indicators project as possible models for identifying a local vision and appropriate climate change indicators. CMAP is about one year into a three year planning process, and thus far has focused on establishing a regional vision, which includes climate change mitigation, and identifying indicators. CMAP will be undertaking a major modeling exercise but is not certain of the reliability of the model outputs as they relate to setting climate change-related priorities. CMAP also held a major conference in 2007 with approximately 300 people in attendance to help define regional priorities for mitigating and adapting to climate change, including transportation and land use strategies.
CMAP will be using scenario planning methods to develop its long-range transportation plan. While this will be a "what-if" exercise focused on potential policy and investment choices, it is also expected to include a measure of "robustness," i.e., sensitivity to changes in future conditions. Consequently, the MPO is looking at how and whether to build its plans on an expectation of incremental changes in behaviors and patterns or more "revolutionary" changes. CMAP is concerned that the projected changes in land use and travel behavior from implementation of the LRTP might not be enough to have a significant impact on GHG emissions. While CMAP has explicitly highlighted concerns over climate change, it has also been wrapped into a more general approach to "sustainability," as this is a broader theme of planning for the future and can also be more appealing to constituents .
General comments and questions followed the roundtable discussion, with several key themes emerging:
Some participants believed that climate change concerns have placed a new spotlight on the appropriateness of the traditional MPO role. Some also recognized that in recent years, transportation infrastructure has become less about roadway capacity and more about alternative modes, which are underutilized and hold much promise for addressing the greater climate change problem.
Many felt that there is significant public uncertainty or skepticism regarding climate change. Consequently, it has been difficult for many MPOs to facilitate consensus among policy-makers regarding new transportation policies intended to address climate change. One idea that emerged from the discussion is to express the impacts of GHG emissions and climate change in monetary terms, thereby representing those impacts using a common and tangible frame of reference.
Several participants believed that what federal funding is available specifically for either planning or implementation of climate change mitigation strategies is inadequate. Most agreed that this lack of funding is a significant obstacle to realizing substantive change in policies and travel behavior that could help mitigate GHG emissions. Partly in response to this reality, several of the participants said their MPOs have decided to focus on climate change adaptation strategies rather than mitigation actions.
Participants generally agreed that the planning tools available to MPOs to address climate change are not adequate. It was noted that many travel demand models are based on the premise of highway expansion and may not be sensitive to the range of policy options being considered to combat climate change. It was also noted that both the science and techniques for estimating GHG emissions are not as advanced as those for criteria air pollutants. These limitations can lead to a credibility gap with MPO board members and the general public and inhibit the MPO staff's ability to understand and plan for responses to global climate change.
Six key issues of common concern emerged from the two days of workshop discussions:
Participants generally expressed varying levels of frustration that there currently exist no clear national goals or priorities regarding climate change. They concurred that without such goals, it is difficult to establish climate change planning priorities at the metropolitan level that make sense and are compelling to policy-makers and the public.
There was concern as well, however, that a federal response to the need for concerted climate change planning not be overly "heavy handed," and allow MPOs flexibility in how they respond to federal goals and priorities. Participants advocated for an approach that would allow MPOs to develop climate change plans and strategies that are as sensitive to local conditions as possible.
Regarding the topic of GHG emissions targets, there was general concern about how to define reasonable goals. Most participants believed that the MPO should work with its state to set the goals and to support a regional plan for reducing GHG emissions.
Participants made several suggestions for modifying current federal programs to enable MPOs to do more on climate change planning. For example, it may be useful to amend the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) program to encompass GHG and make climate change-related actions eligible for funding.
Participants generally believed that MPO and related efforts should be focused on adaptation strategies as least as much as on mitigation strategies. In this workshop, participants discussed "adaptation" mainly in the context of how policy decision-making and human behavior can or will adapt to climate change realities. While certainly a major aspect of the climate change arena, adaptation of physical transportation facilities and systems to climate change impacts did not emerge as a focus of the workshop discussion.
For the most part, participants believed that policies implemented today would take a significant amount of time to have an appreciable impact on GHG emissions and the global climate. Furthermore, the ability to effectively plan for adaptation to climate change likely will be challenged by continued sprawl-based land use patterns in metro areas in the near-term. Some participants, however, believe the retirement of the baby-boom generation over the next 10-20 years will have significant implications for adaptation planning, since there is growing evidence that these people may be inclined to downsize their homes and locate in mixed-use urban areas with non-driving options. Again, this trend would take many years to have an appreciable impact on adaptation strategies.
Some participants thought that MPOs need to pursue both climate change adaptation and climate change mitigation plans, particularly as they pertain to more aggressive integration of transportation and land use planning. It was suggested that the federal government should put forth major incentives to facilitate more effective land use planning.
Participants were generally uncertain regarding whether and how MPOs and the metropolitan planning process may change in response to climate change. Some believe that political and institutional inertia will essentially drive MPOs along the same path they have been on for decades, with the focus on current issues such as congestion management and fiscally-constrained planning continuing. Participants generally agreed that if the federal government imposes new climate change-related planning requirements on MPOs, such requirements may have limited positive impact unless they are accompanied by new funding, technical assistance and significant flexibility provisions.
Most participants agreed that educating the public and policy-makers about climate change is a major challenge because of the difficulty associated with translating complex and sometimes obscure climate change information into tangible, meaningful and compelling stories. Most participants believed that the complexity of and shortcomings in climate change data and information poses a significant obstacle to effective public education. In some locations, the public perceives that information sources are incomplete, unreliable and/or contradictory. Participants further agreed that one of the greatest challenges in this regard was the limited expertise of the MPOs themselves on the topic. In addition, even if MPO policy-makers and others understand the science behind the problem and the established goals, they often do not understand how to achieve those goals.
Most participants agreed that the focus of public education on climate change should be on changing individual behaviors. To do so will require helping people to understand how their individual behaviors contribute to climate change as well as the looming consequences of climate change for them as individuals, their communities and the nation. For example, as natural disasters, such as hurricanes and flooding, become more severe over time, the public may begin to understand the consequences of climate change on a personal level. Several participants suggested that the problem might be less about the public understanding the effects of climate change and more about understanding how they as individuals can make personal changes with positive impacts; currently there is no clear association with individual actions and the global problem.
It was suggested that visualization tools and techniques could have significant usefulness in conveying this relationship to individuals and stakeholders. It was also suggested that public education on climate change is likely to be a long-term process, much as were campaigns initiated decades earlier against smoking and encouraging recycling. Both required concerted and sustained education campaigns over many years to have an appreciable positive impact on society.
Participants in the workshop generally agreed that making fundamental changes in how land use and transportation are planned and integrated are essential to both mitigating and adapting to climate change. However, because MPOs in general have little, if any, authority to make land use decisions, most transportation planning efforts directed at climate change will likely have only minimal positive impacts. Furthermore, since there is great variation in land use planning and decision-making across municipalities and the nation, it may be exceedingly difficult to develop any workable federal laws, policies or regulations to require more explicit linking of land use and transportation through the MPO process.
Several participants suggested that the MPO Certification process might provide a tool by which the need to integrate transportation and land use planning could be facilitated. Because SAFETEA-LU requires coordination of regional growth and development plans with the MPO planning process and LRTP, USDOT has an opportunity during MPO certification reviews to enforce this requirement by tasking both the MPO and its planning partners at the state and local levels with doing a better job in transportation-land use coordination. For example, the certification review could include suggestions to the MPO on best practices based approaches from other comparable MPOs or organizations.
Participants concurred that the next couple of decades may reveal a change in settlement patterns across the nation as baby boomers age and their children head out on their own. Both of these groups have in recent years demonstrated a preference for living in areas with mixed land use patterns and multimodal, non-SOV transportation options. If these patterns are borne out in coming years, the ability to create plans with positive climate change adaptation results may be much more feasible.
Participants identified various tools that could motivate the public to make behavioral changes that would help address climate change challenges. They include:
In addition, they identified various tools that would both help address climate change generally and facilitate a greater MPO role in motivating the public. They include:
Furthermore, they indicated that the federal government could support MPOs by improving the level of confidence in the few tools that are currently in practice.
There was also a discussion about forecasting and the availability of data and guidance. It was observed that MOVES is still not ready to be used and that the lack of detailed CO2-to-operating speed relationships limits its use. Since the Mobile model does not capture the detail necessary to represent CO2 properly, the MPOs are left without a reasonable way of forecasting. This was perceived as both a limitation in the available science and in the methodologies and available tools.
Another concern discussed during the meeting was the lack of understanding about contribution of mobile sources to the overall mix of GHG. This limitation in knowledge is of concern because it both undermines the credibility of MPO forecasts and inhibits the ability of the MPOs to discuss the importance of GHG policies in regions that are skeptical of or not motivated by climate change.
Partly in response to the proceedings of this workshop and partly due to a recognition of the limited information and support that has been available thus far from the federal government and others, workshop participants unanimously agreed that opportunities for sharing information across MPOs, state DOTs, localities and the federal government need to be made much more frequent and accessible. Most of the participants stated that they hoped this workshop would be the first of many such opportunities to share experiences and learn from their peers at other MPOs across the country as they work to address the complex issues associated with climate change. Several also suggested that AMPO's listserv and website could be very useful vehicles for information sharing and knowledge transfer.
Thursday, March 6
|1:00 - 1:30 pm||Welcome & Opening Remarks
|1:30 - 2:45 pm||Setting the Stage - Presentations from:
|2:45 - 3:00 pm||Break|
|3:00 - 5:15 pm||Presentation & Discussion - Workshop Participants' Interests, Issues and Objectives (summary of pre-workshop questionnaire responses) - Peter Plumeau
Roundtable - Each Participant Provides Briefing on Current Situation
|6:00 - 8:00 pm||Dinner (location TBD)|
Friday, March 7
|7:30 - 8:00 am||Continental Breakfast85%|
|8:00 - 8:30 am||Pinpoint Key Issues for Breakout Group Discussions|
|8:30-10:00 am||Facilitated Breakout Group Discussions on Issues, Options and Needs - Part 1|
|9:45 - 10:00 am||Break|
|10:00 - 11:45 pm||Facilitated Breakout Group Discussions on Issues, Options and Needs - Part 2 3|
|12:00 - 1:00 pm||Lunch - Networking & Open Discussion|
|1:00 - 1:30 pm||Breakout Group Results - reports & facilitated discussion|
|1:30 - 2:30 pm||Key themes, issues and needs for MPOs
|2:30 - 3:00 pm||Closing Comments
1 The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) is a market-based cap-and-trade program to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from power plants in 10 Northeast states. Participants include the six New England states (Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island), New York, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland. RGGI will be the first mandatory cap-and-trade program in the United States to reduce global warming emissions. (Source: Union of Concerned Scientists website, http://www.ucsusa.org/global_warming/solutions/regional_cap-and-trade_programs.html#The_Northeast_Regional_Greenhouse_Gas_In)
2 Note: All activities are at Puget Sound Regional Council offices unless otherwise noted.
3 Each participant will change a different topic area in the second part of breakout groups.