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Office of Planning, Environment, & Realty (HEP)

National Scenario Planning Peer Exchange Report - July 8-10, 2012


This section presents highlights from each of the peer exchange sessions.

Scenario Planning Across the Nation and Across Agencies

This session shared Federal, State, and regional perspectives on scenario planning.

Mr. Cheatham discussed the FHWA-FTA scenario planning program and its resources. The FHWA-FTA scenario planning program began in 2004 and is a valuable resource for those interested in learning more about scenario planning. Since the program's inception, FHWA and FTA have collaborated to sponsor numerous workshops and webinars, which provide participants with an opportunity to learn about scenario planning efforts and share perspectives and experiences.

Mr. Sprowls presented an overview of the TPCB program. This program provides "an umbrella of resources," such as examples and case studies on effective transportation planning practices and training, education, and technical assistance through peer exchanges, workshops, webinars, and conferences. Scenario planning is one of many resources that the TPCB program provides. The TPCB website offers an array of information to users, including a searchable library of reports and technical assistance opportunities.

FHWA and FTA are committed to advancing scenario planning through the scenario planning and TPCB programs. Through these and other efforts, FHWA and FTA will continue to assist planning professionals in addressing the complex needs of communities across the country.

The Maryland Scenario Planning Project is a joint Maryland DOT (MDOT), MDSHA, and University of Maryland (UMD) study that is generating land use and transportation scenarios. The study aims to help MDSHA address future risk and uncertainty. The results will help to answer questions such as how MDSHA will be able to move people and goods responsibly in the future.

As part of this project, MDSHA held a series of visioning exercises, known as "Reality Check Plus: Imagine Maryland," to develop a vision for scenarios. MDSHA worked with over 600 stakeholders to identify their visions of Maryland in 2030 and beyond. Using this input, MDSHA developed five scenarios, including a scenario focused on baseline conditions, "build out" development, transit-friendly development, market-driven changes, and one that examined the impact of high energy prices.  

To assess scenarios, MDSHA is now using several models, including the Maryland Statewide Transportation Model (MSTM). MSTM is a multi-layer, four-step travel demand model that works at national, statewide, and regional levels to forecast and analyze scenario performance against several key indicators such as vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and congested lane miles. MDSHA plans to use scenario analysis results to identify strategies to carry the project forward. Strategies may include land use and transportation policies like transit-oriented development, performance measures focused on quality of life or transportation system reliability, and toolsand applications that facilitate MDSHA's ability to integrate transportation, land use, and economic factors while communicating the analysis results to others.

SACOG serves 2.4 million people in 6 counties and 22 cities. To address the rapid growth that the Sacramento region has experienced in the past 40 years as well as projected future growth, SACOG and its partners initiated three scenario planning-related strategies:

This figure displays a screenshot from scenario analysis conducted as part of the Rural-Urban Connections Strategy using the IPLACE3S software. The screenshot shows the percentage of return for alfalfa achieved in different areas within the SACOG region, which varies from 40 percent to zero percent.
Figure 2. Screenshot of RUCS Scenario Analysis.

SACOG intends to continue the momentum built by its previous scenario planning efforts. Today, SACOG is working to develop new analysis tools, align scenario planning indicators more closely with Federal and State goals, and identify how Senate Bill (SB) 375 could provide more opportunities for further integration of transportation and land use planning.

Approaches to Scenario Planning

This session focused on sharing examples of different approaches to scenario planning, including one approach that is focused on likely or certain trends and another approach that is more exploratory and examines the uncertainty associated with various trends or issues. A combination of multiple approaches can often be helpful in implementing a scenario planning exercise.

The Gainesville MTPO used scenario planning to prepare "Year 2035 Livable Community Reinvestment Plan," its long-range transportation plan adopted in October 2010. Overall, the plan aimed to promote integrated land use and transportation planning to support community well-being.

The Gainesville MTPO initially developed two scenarios, including a peak oil scenario in which the cost of petroleum increased substantially and a baseline "business as usual" scenario. The peak oil scenario sought to examine the effects of a potential peak oil crisis in the future and identify specific land use and mitigation strategies that could be adopted given this occurrence. The agency then created four different transportation network alternatives and compared each of these against the peak oil and business as usual alternatives. The agency used the travel demand model to assess scenarios and evaluate their effects on the region's land use and transportation patterns.

As part of this effort, the Gainesville MTPO also conducted visioning exercises with the public and elected officials. These led to discussions about future regional goals and strategies that could lead the region in achieving its goals. Using the travel demand model to assess scenario outcomes, the MTPO found that the baseline scenario would lead to considerable traffic congestion while there would be a substantial shift from automobiles to transit given a peak oil scenario. As a next step, the MTPO considered strategies (e.g., investing in multimodal projects) that would take the region toward its preferred vision. Ultimately, these strategies were included in the Year 2035 Livable Community Reinvestment Plan.

In 2009, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts consolidated its transportation agencies into one single entity, MassDOT. Prior to the reform, using a scenario planning approach was difficult given that there were multiple State-led transportation entities, each with its own systems, data, and objectives. Since the reform, however, scenario planning has served as a helpful tool to coordinate MassDOT efforts related to integrating transportation and land use.

As part of its 2009 "youMove Massachusetts" initiative, MassDOT reached out to the public to help define and shape MassDOT's priorities and identify gaps in the transportation system. In early 2012, MassDOT established "weMove Massachusetts," which builds on the youMove initiative and serves as the agency's comprehensive scenario planning effort. Ultimately, weMove Massachusetts will inform the Commonwealth's multimodal strategic plan, to be finalized in 2013.

Like "youMove Massachusetts," "weMove Massachusetts" focuses on stakeholder participation as a way to gather input on transportation priorities and gaps. To date, "weMove Massachusetts" has interviewed over 100 stakeholders internal to MassDOT and conducted additional outreach to Massachusetts residents to encourage widespread participation, including through an online survey.

As next steps, MassDOT will use stakeholder feedback to identify strategies that could address the State's overall transportation goals, such as preserving existing assets and modernizing the transportation system. MassDOT will then package the strategies into scenarios and conduct a trade-off analysis to select a preferred scenario. For example, a system preservation strategy may be more financially feasible and require state of good repair updates, while a system modernization strategy potentially may require more funding but may lead to reduced congestion and more reliable service. After this, MassDOT will develop a series of investment-focused scenarios to assess high-priority strategies and evaluation criteria for project prioritization. Through "weMove Massachusetts," MassDOT aims to build partnerships, identify implementable strategies, and better match available resources to strategies. This effort is expected to facilitate collaboration across the Commonwealth and produce a better future vision.

Oregon has long been engaged in coordinated transportation and land use planning activities as well as visioning activities. While many of these activities have not been directly defined as scenario planning efforts, they share some common features with scenario planning in that they consider the integration of transportation and land use and identify ways to prepare communities for sustainable futures through growth management, resource protection, and other efforts.  

For example, in 1973, Oregon established a statewide program for land use planning that aimed to manage the State's growth, protect natural resources, and address housing needs. In 1992, the State issued a rule that required coordinated land use and transportation planning and recognized the role of MPOs in this process. Several regional efforts have also helped to advance this focus on integrated planning activities.4  In 1996, ODOT established the Transportation Land Use Model Improvement Program (TLUMIP) to support more informed land use, transportation, and economic decision-making. TLUMIP developed state-of-the-art models that integrated land use and transportation and could be used at urban and regional scales. From 1999 to 2001, ODOT initiated the Willamette Valley Alternative Transportation Futures Project, a large-scale regional scenario planning effort to evaluate alternative futures for the Willamette Valley. As part of this project, ODOT used TLUMIP's new models to explore possible futures.

ODOT is now developing and implementing a statewide transportation strategy (STS) to reduce GHG emissions through the Greenhouse Gas Strategic Transportation Energy Planning Model (GreenSTEP).5 GreenSTEP produces data at the metropolitan, household, and statewide levels, estimating not only GHG emissions and travel characteristics, but also information on types, numbers, and ages of vehicles owned.

Using GreenSTEP, ODOT has produced data on annual statewide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, fuel consumption, and air pollutants. This has allowed ODOT to more effectively analyze the environmental costs of transportation for different Oregon residents. Through the STS, ODOT recognizes the importance of monitoring and preparing for the impacts of technology on how people travel, particularly as more "smart" cars and highways are developed. As a result of its efforts, ODOT has learned that scenario planning is a strategic planning exercise that requires an iterative approach.

Mr. Avin discussed two types of approaches to scenario planning-"end-state" and "contingent planning"-as well as the benefits and challenges presented by each (see Figure 3).

This figure displays a diagram that shows the differences between the end-state and contingent scenario approaches. The end-state approach is a simple linear diagram showing that scoping leads to baseline trends and factors, future goals and values, baseline and alternative scenarios, indicators and assessment of scenarios, and finally to visions and performance measures. The contingent approach is a more complex linear diagram showing that scoping can lead either to trends and factors or values and conflicts. Either of these outputs can then lead to selecting indicators or identifying candidate actions. Crafting scenarios can result directly from trends and factors or values and conflicts, or else can result from selecting indicators or identifying candidate actions. Crafting scenarios leads to assessing scenarios, which leads either to resolving key issues and identifying key actions, or to monitoring key trends.
Figure 3. End-State and Contingent Scenario Approaches.

The end-state approach can facilitate cooperation and coordination because stakeholders are engaged in articulating a shared future vision. However, Mr. Avin noted that many end-state scenarios are not different enough to allow for meaningful comparison. End-state planning may also under-emphasize issues such as the market feasibility of strategies and fiscal impacts of scenarios. Furthermore, baseline scenarios developed in end-state scenario planning may not always be valuable, since they may feature arbitrarily selected trends and factors. Finally, end-state scenarios tend to reference a limited subset of transportation and land use trends rather than capture a broader "sweep" of many trends.

Contingent planning can require a large amount of time and a shift away from usual practices. However, this approach can more effectively identify and prioritize trends likely to occur. It can also better identify key actions and strategies that would work well given the occurrence of likely trends. A contingent approach can therefore be helpful to create more robust scenarios and plans.

As an example of a contingent approach, a Maine DOT team performed a cause-and-effect analysis as part of three different socio-economically driven scenarios for a 100-mile corridor study along the State's mid-coast. As part of this process stakeholders brainstormed the range of forces driving change as well as their level of impacts, likelihood of occurring and susceptibility to intervention. This effort, allied with parallel attitude and values surveys and exercises, allowed individuals to form clusters of trends and values, prioritize values, consider trade-offs, and thus further helped refine scenarios. In the next phase of this project, participants continually tested scenario "storylines" until all data, trends, and values were consistent and clearly defined. Urban form alternatives were further evaluated for their impacts focusing on one of the socio-economic scenarios targeted for the action plan. Gwinnett County, Georgia, is another region that used a contingent approach for scenario planning in their Unified Development Plan of 2009.

Collaboration and Scoping in Scenario Planning

This session focused on providing examples of how agencies can successfully scope a scenario planning process and collaborate with partners. The session was structured to allow DOT and MPO representatives from the same State to present on collaborative activities.

Along with several regional agencies in California, Caltrans has engaged in several collaborative efforts that support the integration of transportation and land use planning. For example, the Statewide Regional Blueprint Planning Grants Program, established in 2005, provides "seed" funding to California's MPOs and rural transportation planning agencies to conduct comprehensive scenario planning efforts that encourage consensus and promote more coordinated land use and transportation decision-making. The program is voluntary and focuses on providing incentives for change rather than requiring it.6 Currently, nearly all (97 percent) of California's population is represented by agencies that have received Regional Blueprint Planning Grants.  

Ms. Mortenson offered some lessons learned related to collaboration; these lessons learned resulted from the grant program as well as previous California scenario planning experiences such as the Merced Partnership for Integrated Planning and SACOG's Regional Blueprint Process. For example, agencies should ensure that they communicate the scenario planning process in a way that stakeholders can clearly understand. At the same time, agencies should be aware of "flash points" that incite negative feedback and should take steps to proactively address these. Stakeholders may have misperceptions about scenario planning that should also be addressed through clear communication and outreach.

Agencies should consider using a variety of outreach methods to connect to all members of a community. These methods could include speaking at nonprofit meetings and reaching out to young people through schools or youth programs, geographic information systems (GIS) technologies and geospatial tools that depict scenarios or scenario analysis using maps; maps and visual displays can often convey information more effectively and clearly than a text-heavy document. While fostering collaboration and developing partnerships takes time, cultivating these relationships is critical to encourage trust in scenario planning.

The Central California San Joaquin Valley, an area served by Fresno COG and seven other regional planning entities, includes eight counties, 62 cities, and a population of four million residents. By 2050, the region is expected to absorb 25 percent of new population growth in California.

To help address challenges associated with this increased growth, Fresno COG and the other seven regional planning entities in the San Joaquin Valley7 developed the San Joaquin Valley Blueprint Planning Process in 2005. This process involved conducting regional visioning exercises and obtaining extensive public input on three alternative growth scenarios (see Figure 4). Twelve smart growth principles were developed (e.g., "create a range of housing opportunities and choices") that represented the core values of Valley residents and provided a framework for future transportation and land use decision-making. Ultimately, a single Valley-wide plan, adopted in 2009, was developed from stakeholder input.

This figure displays a map on the left-hand side and a series of bar charts on the right-hand side. The map shows areas within the Fresno region comprised of existing development or new development as well as the region's transportation infrastructure (e.g., rail lines, highways). The bar charts show how each of two scenarios performed for a number of different metrics, including total acres of new land developed, commuter vehicle miles traveled, kilowatt hours consumed for residential use, farmland consumed, total acres of natural environment impacted, and greenhouse gas reductions.
Figure 4. Example of Fresno COG Blueprint Growth Scenario and Performance Analysis.

Throughout the process, Fresno COG emphasized collaboration and outreach; along with its partners, the COG conducted multiple outreach activities to obtain input from over 8,000 participants representing over 300 organizations, including State, regional, and local agencies, nonprofits, educational institutions, and private sector entities. Because stakeholders trusted the process and had been significantly involved in each of the planning stages, there was little opposition to the final, adopted Valley-wide plan.

CDOT uses scenario planning to develop its statewide long-range transportation plan; these scenarios primarily focus on revenue alternatives rather than on transportation and land use. The agency is currently updating its long-range transportation plan and will develop several revenue-oriented scenarios that assume varying levels of resources and funding from traditional and non-traditional sources.

In developing these scenarios, CDOT will collaborate with the Colorado Transportation Commission (CTC), the Colorado Statewide Transportation Advisory Committee (STAC), MPOs, transportation planning regions (TPRs) in the State, and FHWA to determine revenue forecasts and resource allocations over a 20-year time horizon. The scenarios resulting from this process will allow CDOT to better assess how resource availability will impact future transportation investments.

Leading up to the next statewide long-range transportation plan, CDOT recently conducted the EnergySmart Transportation Initiative, which established a framework for considering energy efficiency in transportation.8 The initiative examined different scenarios and strategies to reduce transportation energy consumption and GHG emissions, as well as tools to assess reductions in GHG emissions, the costs, benefits, and trade-offs associated with a multimodal transportation system, and the relationship between transportation, economic development, and land use. CDOT worked with CTC, STAC, MPOs, TPRs, FHWA, and other Federal, State, and local partners to support and implement this initiative.

CDOT is also conducting a pilot project to develop alternative transportation and land use scenarios for small but fast-growing communities in the State. The agency will identify a pilot community and use CommunityViz, a GIS-based analysis tool, to obtain public feedback on the scenarios. The project aims to cultivate partnerships between CDOT and the State's MPOs to support local decision-making and includes many of the partners involved in the EnergySmart Transportation Initiative.

DRCOG is the regional planning agency for the eight-county Denver metropolitan area. In 1985, DRCOG established a regional development framework that included a map of future urbanized areas based on the compilation of local comprehensive plans. The framework did not adequately address issues of concern such as air quality, increasing congestion, and rising transportation expenditures.

To resolve discrepancies and develop a more consistent guiding vision for regional growth, DRCOG developed Metro Vision, the region's long-range transportation plan, in the 1990s using a scenario planning approach. The approach involved evaluating four growth scenarios against a range of criteria. As part of outreach efforts, DRCOG established the Metro Vision Implementation Task Force comprised of a diverse group of local business, civic, and environmental leaders. The task force created a vision statement and provided feedback on scenarios. The statement, progressive for its time when adopted in 1992, established principles that supported the creation of vibrant urban centers throughout the region.

DRCOG has since been active in encouraging collaboration through scenario planning and continuing the ideals of the original Metro Vision. In 1997, DRCOG developed Metro Vision 2020, which focused on integrating regional growth, transportation, and land use considerations into a single comprehensive planning framework. Three years later, five counties and 25 municipalities signed the Mile High Compact, an intergovernmental agreement, to signify their commitment to Metro Vision values.

In 2007, DRCOG began a new process to update the Metro Vision plan document to increase public engagement in addressing regional challenges. To do so, DRCOG worked with a consultant to customize MetroQuest, a scenario analysis tool, for the Denver region.9  DRCOG then developed six scenarios, including a baseline scenario and used a spider diagram to depict scenario performance and communicate results to the public (see Figure 5). DRCOG is now moving forward with a scenario planning exercise to develop Metro Vision 2040, which considers the region's future in the year 2040.

This figure displays a spider diagram for scenario analysis. The spider diagram is a circle with various metrics listed around it, such as more transit use, more efficient water use, less land consumption, and more development downtown. Within the circle, different lines and shading indicate how each of three scenarios performed with respect to the metrics. Each scenario is associated with a different color to distinguish its performance from the others.
Figure 5. Spider Diagram for Scenario Analysis.

Georgia DOT (GDOT)'s Connect Central Georgia Study began in 2011 to assess safety, mobility, and connectivity across the State's central belt through the year 2035. The study area, a corridor that consists of 31 counties, extends through the middle of Georgia. While previous studies focused on economic development, freight connections, and goods movement, the Connect Central Georgia Study aims to identify safe and efficient interregional connections for people and freight.11

For this study, GDOT followed a scenario planning approach that reflects the FHWA and FTA Scenario Planning Guidebook. First, a data inventory was conducted. Next, GDOT established goals and objectives, evaluated existing and future conditions, developed and screened scenarios, and identified potential improvements and recommendations. Throughout the process, GDOT collaborated with partners and conducted public outreach to incorporate stakeholder feedback into the scenarios and recommendations. For example, GDOT established a Stakeholder Advisory Group (SAG) that included local elected officials and others. GDOT held bi-monthly meetings with SAG that featured interactive activities. GDOT also conducted stakeholder interviews and surveys, hosted informational kiosks at local festivals, and traveled to MPO board meetings to increase awareness of the study.

During the study, GDOT worked with SAG to develop three scenarios that considered possible futures related to transportation investments, land use, and economic development as well as impacts to Central Georgia's transportation network. GDOT tested scenarios using its statewide travel demand model. To maintain a consistent level of collaboration throughout the scenario planning process, GDOT shared the model's results with SAG to identify areas of need and determine next steps.

As a result of the study, GDOT recognized that collaboration is necessary to encourage sharing different perspectives. In all of the scenarios prepared by GDOT, priority needs identified by stakeholders remained consistent. This helped to achieve buy-in from the many stakeholders involved in this large-scale scenario planning effort.

Developing Scenarios when the Future is Uncertain

Scenario planning does not attempt to predict the future; rather, it emphasizes developing a range of possible conditions and trends that could affect a region or area in the future. Scenario Planning can examine both likely and certain trends and those that are either unlikely (e.g., a 100-year flood) or uncertain (e.g., GHG emissions, climate change effects). While many scenario planning efforts (e.g., particularly those led by regional entities like MPOs or COGs) have focused on likely conditions and trends, this session showcased examples of scenario planning that focused on unlikely and uncertain conditions.  

Marin Transit is one of more than 25 transit agencies in California's San Francisco Bay area. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), along with partners that include Marin Transit, are collaborating to develop Plan Bay Area, a comprehensive regional plan that outlines strategies for long-term growth, transportation, and housing. The plan will help meet SB 375's requirements that each of the State's metropolitan areas must demonstrate strategies to reduce the Bay Area's GHG emissions by 15 percent by 2035.

To develop Plan Bay Area and identify GHG reduction strategies, MTC, ABAG, and its partners engaged in a scenario analysis effort. Some scenarios placed growth in dense, focused areas, while others dispersed growth. Scenarios also included a mix of transportation elements such as expanded highways, operational improvements, and transit use. The scenarios highlighted the need for trade-offs. For example, dispersing growth evenly across the region would minimize impacts in the urban core but would also lead to higher-density development in suburban areas. Scenario analysis showed that each scenario would potentially lead to an eight or nine percent reduction in GHG emissions per person by 2035.

To promote the Plan Bay Area effort, MTC, ABAG, and its partners developed an educational video to showcase scenarios. The video also identifies transportation challenges facing Marin County, including heavy commuter traffic from Marin County to San Francisco.

Mr. Redd discussed his work with the Wyoming DOT (WYDOT) on a scenario planning project. The project focuses on identifying sources of transportation risk and minimizing the impacts of highway funding uncertainties that might result from situations like budget overruns, projects not completed on schedule, scope creep, labor and material price increases, and environmental and right-of-way issues.

WYDOT developed two scenarios, each with a 15-year timeframe, to consider alternatives in terms of transportation project mix and funding projections. The "blocky" scenario assumed that funding availability would be inconsistent over the 15-year period; years of increased funding would contrast with years of sharply decreased funding (see Figure 6). The "smooth" scenario assumed that funding would steadily decrease over time with a static funding level over the last few years of the timeframe. WYDOT then analyzed scenarios to determine impacts on overall transportation project mix, scheduling, and costs. For example, WYDOT found that a blocky scenario would result in a two percent reduction in transportation project costs as opposed to four percent given a smooth scenario.

This figure displays a line diagram with anticipated funding on the "y" axis and time on the "x" axis. The line diagram shows that anticipated funding varies over time, with periods in which no increase in funding is anticipated (stagnant funding) and other periods in which an increase or decrease in funding is anticipated.
Figure 6. WYDOT "Blocky" Scenario.

The results of this analysis will help WYDOT identify the optimal mix of projects to include as part of its Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) given future revenue uncertainties. The goal is to program a STIP that is robust under a range of future funding scenarios. A "leaner" STIP that does not include the right number of projects could be detrimental; for example, WYDOT may not be able to take advantage of stimulus funds or certain grants if projects are not well developed. A "thicker" STIP that includes too many projects could lead to higher costs (e.g., if projects become obsolete before they are implemented).

Mr. Redd emphasized caution in using models to support scenario analysis. While complex models and quantitative measures can be helpful to evaluate scenario performance, they are not always necessary; oftentimes, qualitative analysis or diagrams that show cause-and-effect can be productive tools. Mr. Redd also emphasized that scenario planning can help identify effective strategies that minimize risks and uncertainties.

LTD provides transportation services to Eugene, Springfield, and surrounding communities in Oregon. The agency annually purchases one million gallons of fuel to operate its services. In 2008, LTD faced challenges in meeting increased demand for services while addressing rising fuel costs. LTD recognized that it had a limited understanding of how uncertainties such as fuel increases might play out and affect the agency's decision-making process. At the time, LTD had a limited ability to develop effective, nimble solutions that addressed unexpected conditions.

To address these challenges, LTD worked with partners to establish a variety of scenarios that considered the impact of uncertain conditions. To do so, LTD utilized a scenario planning model developed by the Global Business Network, a consulting firm. As a first step, LTD identified a focal question for the scenario analysis: how do changes in service costs, funding levels, public policies, and community support affect LTD's ability to provide effective transportation over the next 20 to 30 years? 

Next, LTD evaluated highly uncertain factors that could present the greatest challenges toward delivering transportation services (e.g., rising pension and health costs, rising fuel prices, changing technologies, shortage of critical skills, community support for transit) and identified the predictability of these factors (see Figure 7). Using these factors as a framework, LTD established four scenarios. Ultimately, these will be developed into larger narratives that "tell a story" that is easily understood.

This figure displays a diagram showing how different factors can be categorized as being less or more predictable, as well as having less or more impact on the Lane Transit District. The diagram also shows these factors in relation to one another. For example, rising pension and health costs is a more predictable outcome and has more impact on LTD, while agency and community support for transit is less predictable but may also have slightly less impact on LTD.
Figure 7. LTD Matrix of Predictable and Unpredictable Factors.

To evaluate scenarios, LTD will consider how the focal issues (e.g., service costs, funding levels) might play out in each scenario and how this would affect LTD's efficiency and decision-making. LTD will also look for vulnerabilities to better anticipate what adaptations it would need to make and identify robust strategies that could work well under a variety of future conditions.

Mr. Schwetz noted that when using scenarios to assess risks and highly uncertain conditions, which is an approach that aligns closely with the concept of contingency planning, it is important to identify and monitor signs that will indicate whether actual conditions are tracking toward one scenario or another. This will help an agency put into action those strategies that respond to certain conditions.  Mr. Schwetz also noted that he found The Art of the Long View and Learnings From the Long View, both by Peter Schwartz, to provide very informative background for the scenario process.

Scenario Planning Analysis Tools

This session shared examples of scenario planning analysis tools. These range from low tech tools that do not use a large amount of data to complex tools that require large data inputs. Many tools use maps or other visualization strategies to depict scenario results. Analysis tools can be particularly effective in communicating the results of scenario performance to stakeholders, particularly the public.

SLOCOG, the regional transportation planning agency for California's San Luis Obispo region, used several different scenario planning analysis tools to support various initiatives. For example, the agency used IPLACE3S as part of its Community 2050 effort, a regional visioning exercise that resulted in a plan (adopted in 2008) for the San Luis Obispo region's growth to 2050.

SLOCOG is also using land use and traffic models to develop and assess scenarios for the SCS, a required SB 375 element. The models help to assess how well different growth scenarios address SCS principles that include maximizing housing choices, preserving open spaces, and creating walkable, vibrant communities. To build the models, SLOCOG compiled local comprehensive plans from across the region to categorize 45 distinct development types (e.g., rural residential, large-lot parcels, high-density development) and 25 land uses (e.g., commercial/retail, office).

Applying the models, SLOCOG determined the land uses and development types that would best characterize the Region under several scenarios, including a "business as usual (BAU)" alternative that assumed no change in current trends and a "preferred growth scenario (PGS)" (see Figure 8). In 2010, SLOCOG's board adopted a PGS that will be integrated into the SCS.

This figure displays a bar chart showing the composition of different SLOCOG growth scenarios with respect to the percentage of rural residential units, single family large- and small-lot units, attached single family units, apartments/rental housing, mobile home parks, and mixed-used development they contain. The bar chart also shows how these percentages have varied for scenarios produced in 2008, 2020, and 2035.
Figure 8. Analysis of SLOCOG Growth Scenarios: New Housing Units.

To promote coordinated planning efforts across the region, particularly with those of San Luis Obispo County, SLOCOG is transitioning from IPLACE3S to CommunityViz. Through CommunityViz, SLOCOG has been able to make its modeling more consistent at a regional level.

Using IPLACE3S, SLOCOG has also developed three revenue scenarios that explore financially constrained, reasonably expected revenues, and supplemental revenues for the San Luis Obispo region as part of its regional long-range transportation plan. These scenarios, accompanied by the corridor visioning activities promoted by CommunityViz, support SLOCOG in its efforts to involve the public in the transportation planning process and to evaluate how varying funding levels and growth projections might impact transportation investments. While SLOCOG noted that there are challenges regarding the use of tools in scenario planning, including limited funding, the agency has been proactive in seeking tools that best fit its needs and those of its stakeholders.

Since 2009, DRCOG has used MetroQuest to support several scenario planning efforts to update its Metro Vision plan. MetroQuest offers interactive keypad polling capabilities that assist DRCOG in identifying the public's priorities and preferences. Using these preferences as a framework, DRCOG staff can more effectively develop scenarios and implementation strategies. Typically, DRCOG uses MetroQuest in public workshop contexts to allow participants to share feedback on scenarios in real-time.

Ms. Locantore engaged peer exchange participants in a demonstration of the MetroQuest keypad polling technology. Each participant received a keypad polling device, which is a small electronic clicker, with which to record his or her preferences. Participants then responded to a series of questions similar to those that would be posed to participants in DRCOG's interactive public workshops. For example, participants were asked their feedback on the types of new development that participants would like to see in the region and how the built environment should encourage transit use, walking, and bicycling. Using keypads, participants responded to each question. While individual responses were anonymous, participants could see aggregated responses as they were received in real-time.

Since MetroQuest allows participants to see each other's responses, DRCOG has found that using this tool in public workshop settings is an effective way to build consensus around the core elements that scenarios should include, increase awareness of the scenario planning process, and stimulate conversations about scenario impacts and trade-offs. The tool is adaptable and can be used in a variety of contexts and with a range of group sizes. However, like many other similar sketch planning tools, MetroQuest does not have a fine-grained level of detail nor does it test specific policies or strategies.

Another benefit of the tool is that it can depict the "look and feel" of different scenarios. For example, a streetscape where transportation investments are focused on favoring drivers could look different from one that encourages transit use, walking, and bicycling (see Figure 9).

This figure displays screenshot of the MetroQuest keypad polling software. The top of the screenshot presents the question posed to participants: How much will the built environment encourage transit use, walking, and bicycling? The left-hand side of the screenshot shows different potential answers to the question (e.g., maintain current mix) and the percentage of participants who chose each answer. The right-hand side of the screenshot shows images that illustrate what each response could look like if it was implemented.
Figure 9. Screenshot of MetroQuest Keypad Polling Question.12

Assessing, Developing, and Monitoring Scenarios

This session focused on sharing examples of indicators and performance measures to assess and monitor scenarios. Indicators and performance measures can focus on different topics, including economic development, safety, travel time, and land use, but all help agencies evaluate the degree to which alternatives meet goals and objectives.  

Envision Utah, a public-private partnership and non-profit organization established in 1997, engaged in several intensive statewide and regional scenario planning efforts to develop strategies that can help accommodate Utah's growth rate while ensuring a high quality of life for all residents.

Through these efforts, Envision Utah worked with diverse stakeholder groups to identify residents' preferences for Utah and its growth. An important success factor is the development of carefully balanced stakeholder coalitions to avoid perceptions that the scenario planning process is being driven by particular advocacy groups. As a result of its outreach efforts, Envision Utah obtained approximately 18,000 responses from stakeholders about what they would like to see for their communities' futures.

Mr. Knowlton emphasized that-for a scenario planning process to be successful-all participants must believe that their values, preferences, and priorities are reflected in analysis and implementation strategies. This can be accomplished by choosing scenario indicators that "speak" to all participants. To ensure that scenario indicators connected with stakeholders, Envision Utah engaged in value-chain exercises during which Utah residents were asked questions that encouraged them to articulate their priorities and values (see Figure 10).

This figure displays the results of an Envision Utah value chain exercise. The figure shows a series of phrases or words (e.g., "less worry," "climate") connected by lines. The phrases or words are values identified by participants in the exercise. The lines indicate how each value links to those above and below it. The top of the image shows values that are broader and more regional in nature, such as "peace of mind," "self-esteem," and "accomplishment."
Figure 10. Envision Utah Value Chain Exercise.

As a result of these exercises, Envision Utah staff learned to effectively communicate scenarios and analysis in ways that were highly personalized to particular community values and needs. For instance, rather than focusing on how a compact land use scenario might be conducive to transit, staff focused on how land use scenarios might support a wide variety of housing and transportation choices. Envision Utah thus ensured that the scenarios related closely to people's lives so that stakeholders had a better understanding of what they meant for the community.

Mr. Knowlton also noted that practitioners should ensure that selected indicators are tied to broad goals when assessing scenarios. For example, given a broad goal to create a more accessible region, indicators could assess the number of destinations reachable within a given time or the number of jobs reachable by public transit. A broad goal to reduce GHG emissions could be assessed by indicators that evaluate household transportation and energy costs.

CDTC is the MPO for the Albany-Schenectady-Troy metropolitan area in New York, serving about 800,000 residents. From 2005 to 2007, CDTC engaged in scenario planning to update its regional long-range transportation plan. The agency sought to address the potential impacts of higher growth and development rates in a region that has historically seen slow growth rates. As part of its scenario planning, CDTC conducted extensive public outreach to diverse stakeholders.

For example, in the 2007 scenario planning exercise, CDTC obtained stakeholder feedback to develop four scenarios that examined impacts of trend growth rates and higher growth rates on concentrated and dispersed development patterns. To assess scenarios, CDTC developed a broad range of performance measures that considered congestion, safety, reliability, economic costs, GHG emissions, accessibility, and other issues. The agency used these measures to evaluate scenario performance at the regional, corridor, and project planning levels. Ultimately, CDTC found that the dispersed growth scenarios led to a significant increase in travel times, while the concentrated growth scenarios led to more manageable congestion levels, improved transit, reduced automobile dependence, and more compact development.

Mr. O'Neill offered several lessons learned related to development of scenario performance measures:

Metro is the transportation authority for Los Angeles County. The agency maintains and operates a substantial bus fleet of more than 3,400 vehicles, 27 routes for rapid transit service, and 1,250 miles of bicycle facilities. Given the agency's comprehensive transportation services and an anticipated 3 million more residents moving to the county in the next 30 years, Metro uses scenario planning to assess, monitor, and evaluate how it can prepare for anticipated challenges and provide efficient and reliable transit service.

Metro's 2009 long-range transportation plan evaluated what Los Angeles County could look like over the next three decades. In addition to population growth, Metro expects the addition of 1.5 million more jobs by the year 2040 as well as increased numbers of vehicle trips and dispersed development patterns. With these considerations in mind, Metro used a scenario planning process to assess how well transportation projects outlined in the 2009 plan would perform under these conditions.

As a first step, Metro established performance criteria that identified benefits resulting from the 2009 plan and ways to measure the progress of new projects. The agency developed a "no build" scenario that considered the area's future without new transportation investments. To address funding constraints and capacity, Metro evaluated past financial commitments and determined its financial capacity by estimating future available revenue for both operations and capital. Metro then determined potential new projects based on the established performance measures and funding availability; this information was used to inform recommendations and its subsequent regional transportation plan.

Metro then performed multiple comparisons to evaluate the differences between the "no build" scenario and projects outlined in the 2009 plan, specifically if the 2009 projects would improve mobility and air quality and promote environmental justice. Metro's analyses found that the 2009 plan would improve the area's mobility index by 14 percent and reduce mobile source emissions by 7 percent by 2040. In addition, the 2009 plan would potentially increase the percentage of work-related trips that could be taken by transit within one hour from 47 to 59 percent.

Metro's scenario planning process helped to inform the agency's future agenda. By assessing scenarios and establishing performance criteria to monitor projects moving forward, Metro was able to focus on its broader goal of supporting more efficient transit travel. Metro currently has 12 new transit corridor projects anticipated or underway that support elements of the 2009 plan. Monitoring these projects' performance and progress regularly will allow Metro to stay on track and achieve the 2009 plan goals.

Carrying Scenario Planning Forward to Implementation

This session discussed ways to effectively implement scenarios, such as by integrating scenarios with existing agency documents, developing strategies or recommendations to encourage policy changes, and engaging with key partners and stakeholders.  

Mr. Terry provided additional detail on the San Joaquin Valley Blueprint Plan. Implementation of this plan began in 2009 and focused on two major areas: 1) developing collaborativelocal and regional programs and planning processes;and 2)working with private sector developers to complete on-the-ground projects. Additionally, in 2010, the Fresno COG prepared the Valley Blueprint Roadmap on behalf of all Valley Blueprint partners. The Roadmap is a policy guide that will support implementing the Valley Blueprint vision and principles through various strategies, including the following:

In addition, Fresno COG and its agency partners have supported a range of other initiatives, including increasing technical support, data-sharing capacities, and modeling capabilities; conducting regional events to celebrate the Blueprint; hosting an awards ceremony to support successful examples of residential, commercial, mixed-use, historic district, and downtown revitalization projects; and creating a leadership training and public outreach program to support stakeholders' knowledge of Blueprint through workshops, meetings with stakeholders, community organizations, service clubs, and public agencies, summits, informal surveys, online and phone surveys, and media campaigns.

MnDOT is developing investment-focused scenarios to identify strategies that allow the agency to respond to changing conditions such as availability of State and Federal funding. These scenarios will inform development of the Minnesota State Highway Investment Plan (SHIP), which looks out over a 20-year time horizon (2013-2032).The SHIP will in turn inform MnDOT's broader "family of plans" by focusing specifically on mode-specific investment scenarios for highway funding. Overall, SHIP is MnDOT's approach to implementing Minnesota GO, the 50-year vision for the State.

To develop the SHIP's fiscally constrained investment scenarios, MnDOT is creating risk assessment sheets to identify potential transportation performance outcomes given variances in priorities, revenues, and investments. These sheets will provide frameworks for scenarios that underscore trade-offs and describe potential risks to transportation system performance. For example, a scenario focusing on transportation assets will emphasize asset preservation and maintenance but may lead to less focus on improving mobility. Risks resulting from this scenario include increased congestion in the Twin Cities area, negative effects on freight mobility, and limited investments in projects that are regional and community priorities.

As a next step, MnDOT will identify and implement strategies that could help the agency meet conditions associated with a range of investment scenarios. MnDOT will present the scenarios to the public through outreach efforts that include meetings, webinars, and websites. MnDOT is also creating an interactive, online budget calculator for stakeholders to understand more clearly what trade-offs will occur given differing investment levels. From stakeholder feedback obtained through outreach, MnDOT will develop a preferred scenario that will provide a framework for the SHIP. Progress toward adopting strategies to meet this preferred scenario will be assessed annually.

MnDOT believes its efforts will demonstrate how scenarios can help to anticipate, prioritize, and address risk. Also, the agency believes this approach will provide for a greater degree of transparency and accountability. As there are several challenges in developing investment scenarios, including isolating risks and defining performance measures for emerging and new investments, MnDOT regularly seeks opportunities to encourage buy-in from stakeholders through information-sharing.

MAG is the MPO for the Phoenix, Arizona, metropolitan area and serves approximately 4.5 million residents. MAG worked closely with the Arizona DOT (ADOT) to evaluate and rebalance its regional freeway and highway program through assessment of multiple investment-focused scenarios.

The MAG freeway and highway program expected to invest $10.5 billion over 20 years (2006-2026) to maintain regional transportation assets and develop new transportation projects. In 2009, however, MAG and ADOT found that the program would face a $6.6 billion deficit given sales tax revenues that were declining faster than expected as well as significant uncertainty in Federal funding availability. MAG and ADOT developed three scenarios to assess how the agencies could reprioritize investments given changes in revenue availability. These included a "trend-line" alternative that assumed little or no change in current freeway and highway investment priorities, a "maintain budget" scenario that focused on reducing expenditures by reprioritizing investments, and a "blend" scenario that combined elements of both (see Figure 11). The scenarios allowed MAG to analyze its priorities and provided decision- and policy-makers with a better understanding of MAG's needs and goals.

This figure displays pie charts that highlight features of each of MAG's three scenarios: trend-line, maintain-budget, and blend. Each pie chart shows how the scenario varies with respect to its focus on implementing Federal/state strategies, management strategies, staying the course, reprioritization, policy and value engineering, or alternative facilities.
Figure 11. MAG's three scenarios.

MAG continues to use scenarios to inform its regional freeway and highway program. Recently, MAG and ADOT developed four scenarios to evaluate how different investments could affect current projects. For example, one scenario considers the impacts of delaying general purpose lane-widening projects. Another shows trade-offs between extending Loop 303, a 39-mile freeway in Arizona that connects Interstate 10 and Interstate 17, and widening the State's portion of Interstate 10. The agencies then developed benefit-cost ratios for scenarios to further analyze their benefits and trade-offs. MAG and ADOT are also developing performance measures to assess infrastructure performance and encourage projects that carry more traffic with fewer lanes and better performance results.

MAG's use of scenario planning has helped to guide its regional freeway and highway program, saving time and resources. In 2009, for example, MAG originally developed the Loop 303 scenario but did not pursue this option; by 2012, however, when MAG revisited the Loop 303 scenario, it relied on information and data contained in the 2009 scenario. By leveraging this existing information, MAG was able to move forward quickly to discuss implementation plans and cost considerations for the Loop 303 extension. Overall, these efforts demonstrate how scenario implementation strategies can include balancing priorities and considering trade-offs.

1 As another example, using IPLACE3S and other models, SACOG developed a scenario that examines returns on investment for various crops like alfalfa, rice, and grain given inputs such as crop prices, capital investments, and trucking and water needs.

2 California's Senate Bill 375 requires a SCS from each MPO in the State. The SCS expands the focus of the MTP to focus more broadly on land use and transportation connections, identify investments that reduce GHG emissions, and minimize impacts to natural resources such as agricultural lands.

3 These principles were: smart land use, economic vitality, environmental quality, access and mobility, equity and choice, and financial stewardship.

4 For example, in 1994, Metro, the elected regional government for the Portland metropolitan area, adopted Region 2040, a long-term regional vision and framework that considered what the region could look like in 50 years and gives potential strategies to guide development.

5 GreenSTEP is available at:

6 Grant recipients receive technical support in collecting data and developing more effective modeling tools; additionally, program funding has supported Caltrans in sponsoring several university research studies that investigate collaborative planning. Through this program, Caltrans has offered $5 million to MPOs and RTPAs collectively, with awards to MPOs often ranging from $250,000 to $300,000 annually and funds to RTPAs lower given their typically more modest proposals.

7 These agencies are the Kern COG, the Kings County Association of Governments (AG), the Madera County Transportation Commission, the Merced County AG, the San Joaquin COG, the Stanislaus COG, and the Tulare County AG.

8 The initiative concluded in 2011. To learn more, please refer to the Initiative's final report, published in March 2012.

9 MetroQuest allows workshop participants and online users to create a wide range of scenarios and assess outcomes quickly and easily. The software provides users with the ability to easily make adjustments to scenarios and demonstrate the impacts of decisions in "real time." 

10 Ms. Bilotto is also a member of the TRB Public Involvement Committee.

11 Previous studies include the Governor's Road Improvement Program (1989), High Priority Corridor 6 Study (2001), US 280 Corridor Study (2003), Fourteenth Amendment Highway Study (2011), and the Investing in Tomorrow's Transportation Today Study (Present).

12 In a workshop context, this screen would reflect the percentage of participants who responded to each option.

13 Smart Valley Places supports planning efforts in the following cities: Clovis, Delano, Fresno, Hanford, Lodi, Madera, Manteca, Merced, Modesto, Porterville, Stockton, Tulare, Turlock, and Visalia.

Updated: 11/19/2015
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