Skip to content U.S. Department of Transportation/Federal Highway AdministrationU.S. Department of Transportation/Federal Highway Administration

Office of Planning, Environment, & Realty (HEP)
Planning · Environment · Real Estate

HEP Events Guidance Publications Glossary Awards Contacts

FHWA Scenario Planning Guidebook

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 as travel demands or needs. Scenarios combine the trends and variables identified in Phase 2 and values, goals, and aspirations identified in Phase 3 with appropriate policy and investment responses, creating plausible and distinct alternative pictures of how the community, region, or study area might look and function in the future. These alternatives translate broad concepts and possibilities into compelling narratives or stories that can help planners, politicians, the public, and others to weigh and consider transportation choices and priorities. 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.

To develop scenarios and later assess their impacts, some agencies have used travel demand models or models developed specifically for transportation and land-use scenario planning. Examples of scenario planning analysis tools include INDEX, CommunityViz, MetroQuest, and UrbanSim. Many of these tools use a GIS format so that users can geospatially plot scenarios and more easily visualize outcomes. Use of these analysis tools to assess scenarios is discussed in further detail in Phase 5. Agencies can facilitate the scenario planning process by identifying appropriate tools or models as early as possible.

The types of scenarios developed and the specific elements they include will vary depending on the focus and goals of the scenario planning process. A few examples of different types of transportation and land-use scenarios and associated questions are provided below:

There are several steps to Phase 4. Agencies should:

Each step is listed below, along with associated key questions that agencies can consider. Some steps provide examples of additional issues or questions for further consideration.

Step 4.1: Identify needs for scenario development.

Using Qualitative Analysis

MWCOG developed qualitative scenarios as part of the Greater Washington 2050 initiative, an example also described in Phase 3. The qualitative scenarios focused on a wide range of trends. Scenario analysis was conducted through discussions with regional leaders in a workshop format.

MWCOG believed that the use of qualitative scenarios was best suited for the Greater Washington 2050 initiative as they could capture a wide range of variation and potential trends. While quantitative scenario modeling is useful and appropriate for some scenario planning efforts, MWCOG noted that some models rely on forecasts rather than outside-the-box thinking to assess future impacts. In addition, MWCOG noted that some models might portray only modest variations among scenarios and might not be finely attuned to land-use pattern changes.

MWCOG based its qualitative scenarios on themes that emerged from focus group interviews. These themes were related to the region's economy, energy prices, and technology.

Local professionals and researchers reviewed scenario assumptions to ensure their plausibility. During the one-day scenario thinking exercise, participants discussed scenarios. Additionally, local experts in climate change, technology, and economics presented on key regional trends to provide credibility, context, and additional details for the scenarios.

Step 4.2: Refine existing analysis tools or the travel demand model if necessary.

Step 4.3: Prioritize trends and factors (identified in Phase 2) important to transportation and land use; assess interaction with goals, aspirations, and values (identified in Phase 3).

Step 4.4: Identify potential strategies or actions to address trends.

Step 4.5: Compile the trends and strategies identified in Steps 4.2, 4.3, and 4.4 into several scenarios. Each scenario offers a plausible alternative vision of how the future could evolve and how the state, community, region, or study area could respond.

Step 4.6: Communicate scenarios to stakeholders.

Using Visualization Tools to Develop and Depict Scenarios

A variety of visualization tools and techniques* can help to communicate the look and feel of different development types and the impacts of scenario choices. Several examples are shown and described below:

Chips exercises are a technique in which workshop participants place paper or plastic chips on a map to indicate areas of preferred growth or development. The results can be digitized using GIS-based software and presented back to the participants for validation and review.
A

Place type renderings present a human-scale look and feel of development types. This example was developed as part of CMAP’s GO TO 2040 effort.
B

Schematic images can illustrate a scenario for a broad area. This example shows the Harris Ranch area of Boise, Idaho.
C

Many different software programs are available that use GIS or visualizations to demonstrate scenario impacts, influences, and effects. This example shows how CommunityViz can depict a scenario. Other software program examples are provided in the overview to Phase 4.
D

  1. Chips exercises are a technique in which workshop participants place paper or plastic chips on a map to indicate areas of preferred growth or development. The results can be digitized using GIS-based software and presented to participants for validation and review.
  2. Place-type renderings present a human-scale look and feel for development types. This example was developed as part of CMAP's GO TO 2040 effort. For more information, see www.goto2040.org.
  3. Schematic images can illustrate a scenario for a broad area. This example shows the Harris Ranch area of Boise, Idaho. For more information, see www.idahosmartgrowth.org/index.php/about.
  4. Many software programs are available that use GIS or visualizations to demonstrate scenario impacts and effects. This example shows how CommunityViz can depict a scenario. Other software program examples are provided in the overview to Phase 4.

* For more information about visualization tools and techniques, see the conclusion of this guidebook. Additional resources include:

Phase 4 Outputs

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. Scenario descriptions should include assumptions about future trends and changes as well as potential responses, actions, and investments. Descriptions should use terms that stakeholders can easily understand.

Updated: 10/17/2011
HEP Home Planning Environment Real Estate
Federal Highway Administration | 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE | Washington, DC 20590 | 202-366-4000