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About This Site

The purpose of the Scenario Planning site is to:

Why is Scenario Planning important to FHWA?

The Federal Highway Administration is actively encouraging and supporting scenario planning. We believe that scenario planning can help citizens, businesses, and government officials understand the impacts of growth, especially the relationship between transportation and the social, environmental and economic development of regions. This relationship is a two-way street: growth and development affect transportation performance, while transportation affects social, environmental, and economic development.

FHWA sees scenario planning as an enhancement of, not a replacement for, the traditional transportation planning process. It enables communities and transportation agencies to better prepare for the future. Scenario planning highlights the major forces that may shape the future and identifies how the various forces might interact, rather than attempting to predict one specific outlook. As a result, regional decision makers are prepared to recognize various forces to make more informed decisions in the present and be better able to adjust and strategize to meet tomorrow's needs.

FHWA and transportation agencies must continue to explore ways in which GIS can be applied in project areas in order to achieve time and cost savings and enhance stakeholder involvement in transportation projects. Promoting an enterprising and collaborative organizational structure that encourages GIS endeavors is vital to achieving these objectives.

Background of Scenario Planning in Highway Transportation Planning

Transportation Planning

More than any other Federal program, transportation has a strong, well-funded planning process to shape decisions. Transportation planning first appeared in federal transportation legislation 43 years ago, with the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1962. Metropolitan regions were required, as a condition for receiving federal funding; to adopt long-range transportation plans for entire urban areas and for multiple modes of transportation. The planning required under the Act was to be "continuing, comprehensive, and cooperative."

Over the years, the emphasis on effective transportation planning has been strengthened, through legislation, Federal funding, and guidance and technical assistance from FHWA and the Federal Transit Administration. This has led to the development of regional long range transportation plans for each metropolitan region. Plans are based on projecting demographic, housing, employment and other conditions 20 years into the future. Public involvement, financial feasibility, conformity with air quality standards, consideration of the environment, and intermodal coordination are all key requirements for transportation planning.

Regional transportation planning is a collaborative process, led by the metropolitan planning organization (MPO) and other key stakeholders in the region. The process is designed to foster involvement by all interested parties - businesses, community groups, environmental organizations, and the general public through a proactive public participation process conducted by the MPO in coordination with the State department of transportation and transit operators.

For more on the transportation planning process, check out FHWA's website, or the Transportation Planning Capacity Building website

Transportation planning from a regional context provides the information, tools, and public input needed for improving transportation system performance. Transportation planning should reflect the community's vision for its future, whether it is Charlestown, WV or Charleston, SC. It should include a comprehensive consideration of possible strategies; an evaluation process that encompasses diverse viewpoints; the collaborative participation of relevant transportation agencies; and open, timely, and meaningful involvement of the public.

Transportation planning requires a comprehensive, holistic look at the needs and the future of the region and its inhabitants. Scenario Planning enhances this regional planning process by making participants aware of external forces of change (such as population growth, immigration, economic factors, and aging of the population) and by enabling participants to consider alternative approaches to shaping their future, including especially land use policies, environmental policies, and transportation policies. Inevitably, there are difficult trade-offs, especially relating to land use policies, so public participation is essential to raise people's awareness and foster collaborative thinking that projects the region's future needs and desires. Scenario Planning allows a region to realistically evaluate a wider variety of potential futures and determine what the community wants the future to look like.

Scenario Planning Phases

The premise of scenario planning is that it is better to get the future imprecisely right than to get the future precisely wrong. We know that our predictions of the future are never exactly correct. Rather than picking one definitive picture of the future and planning for that future, scenario planning allows a region to consider various possibilities and identify policies that can adapt to changing circumstances. Scenarios do not describe a forecasted end state. Scenarios are narratives or stories about future conditions that convey a range of possible outcomes. The scenario planning process can help people understand the driving forces of change and the collective choices they have to respond.

Listed below is a suggested six-phase framework for implementing scenario planning. This framework is detailed in the FHWA Scenario Planning Guidebook. The Guidebook contains additional information on each phase as well as strategies, steps, and examples

While each scenario planning approach is unique, the framework illustrates a possible overall structure for scenario planning. It outlines questions, considerations, and strategies to help guide agencies in managing and implementing a comprehensive scenario planning effort. The framework also provides information on potential outputs from each phase.

Phase 1: How Should We Get Started?
Scope the effort and engage partners.
Phase 1 focuses initiating a scenario planning effort by identifying the major objectives of the process and the resources needed to support the effort. Phase 1 also engages partners and identifies ways to integrate scenario planning into existing agency policies and programs. A possible output of Phase 1 is a work plan to carry the scenario planning effort forward.
Phase 2: Where Are We Now?
Establish a baseline analysis. Identify factors and trends that affect the state, region, community, or study area.
Phase 2 focuses on collecting data to describe the state, community, region, or study area. Data can include information about the transportation system, demographics, environmental resources and constraints, as well as land use patterns as they relate to transportation. Possible outputs of Phase 2 are analyses of baseline data that describe the supply, suitability, and demand of transportation and land use in the region.
Phase 3: Who Are We and Where Do We Want to Go?
Establish future goals and aspirations based on values of the state, region, community, or study area.
Phase 3 focuses on identifying values, goals, and aspirations with input from public stakeholders. Values identify priorities and articulate the study area’s unique or distinguishing factors. Goals and aspirations focus on what stakeholders hope to change in the future. Later in Phase 6, these values, goals, and aspirations will be enhanced and refined to create a blueprint that expresses how the region or study area wants to look and function in the future. Possible outputs of Phase 3 are working principles that document the broad values, goals, and preferences expressed by state, community, regional, or study area stakeholders. The principles provide a basic framework for scenario development, analysis, and the comprehensive vision resulting from Phase 6.
Phase 4: What Could the Future Look Like?
Create baseline and alternative scenarios.
Phase 4 focuses on developing multiple scenarios, including baseline and alternative scenarios, to assess how future changes could impact the transportation system as well travel demands or needs. The scenarios provide a common framework for all parties to discuss the costs and benefits of transportation decisions while taking future uncertainties into consideration. Many agencies have involved the public in all stages of Phase 4. Phase 4 has several possible outputs, including identification of an appropriate scenario analysis tool or refinement of the travel demand model, if necessary. An additional possible outcome of Phase 4 is the development of several scenarios, including a scenario focused on baseline conditions and alternative scenarios that describe plausible, distinct futures for the state, community, region, or study area.
Phase 5: What Impacts Will Scenarios Have?
Assess scenario impacts, influences, and effects.
Phase 5 focuses on analyzing scenarios. Scenario analysis typically involves assessing the impacts, influences, or effects that various scenarios exert on selected indicators. Phase 5 has several possible outputs, including a list of indicators to compare scenario outcomes, and a qualitative or quantitative assessment of scenario impacts.
Phase 6: How Will We Reach Our Desired Future?
Craft the comprehensive vision. Identify strategic actions and performance measures.
Phase 6 focuses on consolidating scenario impacts, as well as community preferences and priorities established in previous phases, into a comprehensive vision. The vision, or future blueprint, is grounded in realistic analysis and incorporates possible future changes. The vision provides a framework for building consensus on policies and strategies related to transportation, growth, land use, or other issues. An action plan is also developed that details strategies for achieving the comprehensive vision. Possible outputs for Phase 6 are a comprehensive vision that documents the preferences and desired future of the community or region, as well as an action plan. The action plan implements the vision and guides preferred actions and investments at the statewide, regional, community, and local levels.

Scenario Planning Phases - see text description above

Updated: 10/17/2011
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