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A Framework for Considering Climate Change in Transportation and Land Use Scenario Planning

VI. Conclusion

This section discusses how well the Pilot Project met the four goals described in Section I, outlines recommended steps and considerations for future applications of the process, and reviews the role that various participants - federal, state, regional, and local - can play in the process.


Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation

Strategies to reduce GHG emissions can focus on VMT reduction, fuel efficiency, vehicle technology, or operational efficiency. VMT reduction is the main area for which local and regional land use and transportation investment decisions can have an impact. The impact of density, land use mix, and transit access on VMT can be modeled and assessed easily in scenario planning and this was accomplished with the Pilot Project. However, as shown in Figure 15, the resulting reduction in VMT was relatively small and larger reductions will require other strategies. Actions that aim to change behavior through pricing, incentives, and other means are more difficult to model, so additional time and resources would have been necessary to integrate them into the scenario planning process. Although the Pilot Project was not able to focus on GHG mitigation strategies for seasonal recreational travel due to data limitations, it was able to document those limitations and identify actions that the region could take to begin to model and account for such travel. These actions are documented in a separate action plan developed for the Cape Cod Commission, as mentioned in Section II.

In addressing adaptation, the Pilot Project found that unless participants have access to existing data or the time and resources to conduct location-specific modeling, regional assumptions about climate change impacts will be limited. In addition, the Pilot Project found that there are other constraints on and considerations for land use development in addition to SLR and climate change effects - namely protection of water resources and environmentally sensitive areas. These other considerations should inform and restrict options for land use development and even, in the case of conservation lands, be considered as a way to mitigate SLR and other climate change effects.

Although the goals of mitigation and adaptation were treated separately in terms of modeling baseline assumptions and assessing impacts of development and transportation assumptions, the Pilot Project found that they were and should be discussed together, as there can be tradeoffs. Participants in the Pilot Project found that at times, development decisions that would reduce GHG emissions through changes in density and job-housing balance would also place new population in vulnerable areas because of the location of existing residential and commercial centers.

Scenario Planning

The Pilot Project employed a land use and transportation-focused framework for scenario planning that reflects how MPOs are using scenario planning and is described in the FHWA Scenario Planning Guidebook. Stakeholders evaluate several alternative future scenarios and then select or develop a scenario to serve as a vision. This approach was selected due its use by MPOs and its applicability to climate change mitigation, in terms of facilitating the setting of GHG emissions targets and determining land use and transportation growth patterns that would allow a community to achieve those targets. Another version of scenario planning is risk-mitigation focused and asks stakeholders to develop several possible scenarios and then identify strategies that are common to most or all of them. Risk-mitigation focused scenario planning is also appropriate for addressing climate change, particularly adaptation, given the debate surrounding the nature and extent of potential climate change effects. NPS has successfully applied this approach with several of its land management units to help them plan for projected climate change impacts.

Although the Pilot Project elected to follow the land use and transportation-focused approach to scenario planning, future applications of transportation, land use, and climate change scenario planning may benefit from both approaches. Given that the former lends itself to climate change mitigation and the latter to adaptation, the most appropriate approach may be to employ both. For example, the risk-mitigation approach can be used to develop different scenarios for a range of potential climate change effects. These scenarios can then be used as data layers to both inform the development of land use and transportation scenarios and assess these scenarios alongside indicators for VMT and GHG emissions. How to best employ one or both approaches should be determined based on the expressed goals of the project, the relative importance of adaptation and mitigation to stakeholders, and the resources and expertise available.

Scenario planning provided participants an opportunity to experiment, to explore how different information overlapped, and to discuss tradeoffs. One of the key benefits of scenario planning software is its ability to provide fairly immediate feedback on development and transportation decisions and to provide a tool by which to explore and test the implications of different decisions. To achieve this in an interactive exercise, it is important to have the right people in the room and to provide sufficient time to run updates to the performance indicators.

Interagency Coordination

Participation by multiple agencies ensures the pooling and sharing of expertise and resources. Given the role of the state in this process, it is important to include state agencies as well as federal agencies, regional land use and transportation entities including federal land management agencies, and local stakeholders. Regional or local entities should be the main initiators of the process as they are in the best position to assess the data needs, status of planning efforts, and planning priorities for the region.


The final goal of the Pilot Project was to create a replicable process for other areas to follow in considering climate change in transportation and land use planning in situations requiring interagency coordination. This report attempts to outline that process. The project resulted in information sharing and interest across many federal agencies and in a variety of public forums throughout the U.S. that should continue after the project's completion. The success of this goal will need to be determined in the future.

Timeline, Process, and Roles

The timeline presented in Figure 19 provides an overview of when major milestones for the Pilot Project occurred. The process captured in Figure 20 was developed based on the experience of the Pilot Project and the resulting observations and recommendations presented above. It is also informed by the FHWA Scenario Planning Guidebook as well as state and regional planning processes, which it is intended to complement, not replace. The basic steps of issue and goal identification, data collection and analysis, development of solutions, and assessment of those solutions, with public outreach throughout the process, are common to all planning processes and were followed for the Pilot Project, as reflected in Figure 19 and Figure 20.

Table 4 outlines the possible roles and responsibilities of various participants. The Pilot Project involved a number of participants and developed specific roles and responsibilities, as described in Section II, but there are a number of ways in which participants could be organized and take lead and supporting roles and the most appropriate setup will vary by region.


The Pilot Project succeeded in bringing together multiple stakeholders and agencies and in getting people to seriously consider climate change, especially adaptation. The Pilot Project confirmed that scenario planning is a valuable process for incorporating important considerations such as climate change into transportation and land use planning processes. The Pilot Project required significant upfront planning and data collection, as well as stakeholder outreach, and provided an opportunity to engage a variety of people and entities in an informed discussion of tradeoffs and priorities. As previously stated, this project represents one approach to climate change and scenario planning; other methods exist and can be pursued separately or in concert with this approach. The successes and lessons learned from the Pilot Project are intended to help others pursue similar efforts and to advance consideration of climate change in transportation and land use planning.

Description: Timeline from December 2009 to July 2011 with key milestones for the Pilot Project noted. Click image for text version.

Figure 19: Timeline of major milestones for the Pilot Project.

Diagram showing proposed process to follow for using scenario planning to incorporate climate change into transportation and land use planning. The diagram is organized into four columns: decisions or inputs, phases or steps, questions or considerations, and potential outputs or outcomes. The diagram starts at the top with the choice to pursue the approach and continues through goal identification, data colelction, communication to others, scenario development, assessment, and final outcomes. Click image for a complete text description.

Figure 20: Diagram of the transportation, land use, and climate change scenario planning process.

Table 4: Recommended roles and responsibilities.

Local government Regional government (MPO/RPO) Federal land-owning agency State (DOT, Coastal Zone Management Office, other) Other federal agency (e.g., EPA, NOAA, FEMA, USGS, USACE) Technical or other consultant (scenario planning, facilitation, transportation, etc.)
Overall Primary. In partnership wherever they co-exist, lead the process and provide oversight of and outreach to other participants or delegate to another entity. If not the lead, respond to requests for participation and data. Provide technical assistance and resources, funding support, and regulatory guidance. Provide technical services or facilitation and project management, as determined by the initiator of the process.
Initiate process and define Project Primary. The process should begin with the interest of a local or regional entity with jurisdiction or ownership of land, in partnership with other local and regional entities. Provide support in terms of information on the Pilot Project, related funding, and other relevant plans or requirements. Provide support as specified in RFP or other mechanism.
Facilitate process Any of the agencies could be the facilitator of the process, although it is important for the initiator to closely partner with the facilitator.
Collect data All participants should contribute to data collection; local and regional agencies including federal land-owning agencies will have relevant local data but federal and state agencies may have supplemental information as well as methodologies. One entity should be charged with collecting the data; this could either be done by a technical or other consultant or by one of the other entities taking on that role. Ultimately, the data should become an in-house resource for the local and regional entities.
Develop scenarios Primary. Provide input into the placement of land use and transportation and into the way in which scenarios are assessed and the final scenario is refined. Technical support. These tasks require specific software and modeling knowledge that may require a third party unless the initiator or partner has the capacity in-house.
Assess scenarios
Implement scenario and strategies Primary. The initiator agency or agencies should take ownership of next steps. Support local and regional agencies. Transfer all data and documentation to initiator. Provide as needed follow-up assistance.
Updated: 12/23/2016
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