Skip to content U.S. Department of Transportation/Federal Highway AdministrationU.S. Department of Transportation/Federal Highway Administration
Office of Planning, Environment, & Realty (HEP)

Livability in Transportation Guidebook

2. Visioning

2.1. Introduction

Visioning tools and approaches are gaining more widespread acceptance in transportation planning and project implementation. Transportation practitioners have learned to work with housing, community development, environmental, and economic partners to address broader issues and develop more integrated long-term solutions. While the transportation industry has typically focused, by statute or regulation, on individual modal plans and short-term investment programs, linking transportation, land use, economy, and environment requires developing an integrated vision for growth over a much longer period. Where a typical MTP or LRTP is required to look ahead 20 years, and be fiscally constrained to limit projects to currently known available funding, a vision is by nature:

Visioning approaches and outcomes can vary based on the scale of the area being studied, sponsoring partners' primary focus (e.g., regional growth or corridor planning), available funding, interest from other partners, and current issues that are importation to local stakeholders, communities, and decisionmakers (e.g., drought, economic downturn, tourism impacts, transportation congestion, etc.).

At the regional or statewide corridor level, visioning can be an elaborate, extended process, incorporating scenario planning and complex modeling to assess impacts and benefits of alternative futures. These large-scale planning efforts might utilize charrette planning-several days to a week with a collaborative, interdisciplinary design team developing potential solutions based on initial public input, regular feedback loops with interagency partners, and a final presentation to get public feedback on alternatives. Large-scale efforts typically involve the community, government, businesses, developers, and other stakeholders discussing multiple topics affecting an entire region (e.g., land use, transportation, housing, economy, education, health, environmental quality, climate change, and other regional concerns), and include a wide variety of stakeholder involvement. Regional scenario plans typically feed into MPO, State DOT, and transportation agencies' long range plans and project programming.

At the neighborhood or project scale, visioning can be a simpler process to address a specific transportation issue, support redevelopment, or coordinate transportation investments with ongoing growth. While an agency might be charged only with developing a neighborhood traffic calming plan, improving a road through a downtown or a single intersection, or supporting new TOD, an initial visioning session can help frame transportation solutions in light of broader issues-or even help identify additional partners and funding. A 2-hour public workshop to develop a neighborhood plan or intersection design might start with a 15-minute visioning brainstorm to frame overall issues, even if the resulting plan is focused entirely on transportation improvements. Similarly, the interactive public process techniques used in visioning can also be used throughout an overall planning process and project development to help ensure the community's original vision is reflected in what is funded and built-maintaining broad support that can help keep projects on schedule and on budget.

Vision-based approaches and interactive public involvement can help transportation agencies and their partners overcome a range of challenges, especially when used early in the planning process (see chapter 3 for planning and process examples). While community-based visioning can occasionally appear messy and complex, it can be an efficient and effective tool to get a broad range of people and partners focused on key issues at the same time so subsequent transportation projects solve the right problems. While just doing visioning does not ensure engagement (and some visioning projects have even been exclusive), ensuring effective vision-into-action does require a comprehensive, inclusive approach, and can:

The hallmark of an effective visioning process is efficiency. While many community design workshops require an all-day or Saturday event, public involvement work on transportation projects can often be accomplished in a series of well-organized 2-hour workshops. Large group discussions are good for initially laying issues on the table, taking questions, and explaining details of a plan being presented at a later workshop. The simplest kickoff visioning tool, "post-it visions," starts with individual input and leads to a summary of what members of a group have in common, all in about 10 or 15 minutes. Each person is given three to five post-it notes and a few minutes to write down five phrases that describe their long-term vision for the community. The notes are then sorted onto a nearby wall into topics that invariably demonstrate how much the group already holds in common (with a volunteer summarizing points of consensus later in the workshop). Another way to prioritize issues before breaking into small groups is listing all the problem areas and potential solutions (using big pieces of paper and big print), then posting those lists on the wall for a "dot vote" (each person gets three to five dots)-which again demonstrates clear group preferences and priority issues.

Most creative place-based visioning work happens in small groups around tables, typically using markers on large area maps or group workbooks. Short one-on-one conversations are a good tool to start a productive dialogue. The audience is asked to divide into pairs; each person shares a key issue with his/her partner and reports the other's idea back to the group. Good process also makes effective use of technology, using well-organized PowerPoint presentations to lay the groundwork, define options, and present images of potential solutions. When funding allows, scenario-planning models can help evaluate and compare alternatives for presentation at a later workshop.

2.2. Case Studies

The following case studies illustrate the different ways that vision-based approaches can be used to address transportation problems. Gateway Route 1 is a major State road corridor-level initiative, initiated by the State DOT. CDTC's New Visions is a regional MPO-based vision. U.S. Route 50 shows vision-based approaches on a rural road corridor, catalyzed by the community. Eugene's EmX applies visioning to a transit corridor.

Gateway Route 1

The Gateway Route 1 initiative is an example of a larger scaled, corridor-based visioning initiative, spanning 110 miles across a segment of Maine's rural Midcoast. Led by MaineDOT, the vision created by the Gateway Route 1 Steering Committee aligns multiple interconnecting livability issues (e.g., land use, transportation, environment, economy) into a cohesive development and investment strategy embraced by the State and localities through their respective policies.

MaineDOT: How to Create Scenarios for Useful
and Usable Plans

Maine DOT: How to create scenarios for useful and usable plans. Diagram of how the traffic demand model, origin and destination survey, values survey, market reconnaissance, land use and zoning, speed and truck surveys, visual preference, and phase one analysis such as demographics go into building scenarios.

Source: MaineDOT, 2009.1

Overcoming Challenges

The Gateway Route 1 initiative's goals were to preserve the integrity of Route 1 in the State highway system, enhance safety, and provide transportation choices, while addressing development and quality of life. To meet all these goals, MaineDOT decided to develop a scenario-based vision for the region's future to coordinate varying needs, objectives, and visions of diverse communities along the corridor. The two-step scenario process helped articulate and synthesize a vision across each of the 20 communities. An extensive community outreach process, with more than 50 community and larger regional meetings, led to extraordinary cooperation between the communities and the State (see chapter 3).

Using community input and data from current conditions, the Gateway 1 study team developed a variety of growth scenarios. These scenarios show how various development intensities and patterns can influence the corridor's transportation needs, and how changes to Route 1 and other transportation facilities can affect land use patterns. From these options, the community-based Steering Committee identified "Riding the Current" as the most likely future business-as-usual scenario, or what would be likely to happen with no coordinated framework. This approach was then used as the basis for the second phase of scenario assessment; this second set of scenarios outlined a range of potential future growth scenarios for further outreach and input.

As part of the second scenario exercise, the Steering Committee tried to address community concerns comprehensively by evaluating alternative patterns of development based on the following performance measures:

The alternative scenarios included:

Gateway Route 1 Scenario Deliberation

Source: MaineDOT, 2009.2

Outcomes and Results

The Steering Committee chose to go with a hybrid approach called the Community-Centered Corridor (CCC). This approach blends the Transit-Oriented Corridor pattern's more compact development with a more likely and politically feasible low-density pattern. CCC has the same "necklace of pearls" pattern as the Transit-Oriented Corridor, formed by a series of compact core growth areas along the corridor.

The Gateway 1 initiative developed an action plan geared toward implementation of the selected preferred option. As of February 2010, 16 of the 21 towns have signed a startup agreement to support the action plan formally and appoint the Implementation Steering Committee that will help shape the Corridor Coalition, the decisionmaking group for local and regional transportation project prioritization. The action plan covers State and local commitments on the following topics: preserve and increase mobility and safety, create jobs-housing balance, support alternative passenger and freight modes, conserve rural and wildlife habitat, and preserve visual and community character.

Map of CCC-Growth Cores

Map of Community-Centered Corridor in Maine.  The Gateway 1 initiative developed an action plan geared toward implementation of the selected preferred option. This approach blends the Transit-Oriented Corridor pattern's more compact development with a more likely and politically feasible low-density pattern.

Source: MaineDOT, 2009. 3

Lessons Learned

Albany CDTC New Visions Plan

Vision-based approaches can also be applied at the MPO level. Although the Albany, NY, area is not experiencing significant growth, planners and elected officials have planned proactively for its future, including supporting land use planning and encouraging smart growth. In the 1990s, CDTC, the MPO for the Albany-Troy-Schenectady, NY, region, was very interested in developing an LRTP that was responsive to opportunities presented by the ISTEA legislation. An extensive, 3-year public participation process led CDTC to develop a broader set of holistic planning and investment principles, and to emphasize a range of modes and community needs in project definition and programming. The plan has enjoyed popular support through several updates, with the latest update developing the concept of a "quality region" that strongly supports urban reinvestment and smart growth. "Quality of Life" at the regional and community level is emphasized, and the Plan calls for protecting urban, suburban, and rural character.

Overcoming Challenges

The New Visions Plan (originally adopted in 1997) was created through a 3-year public involvement process intended to articulate a vision for the region's future. While New Visions functions as the region's LRTP, it also used the goals and desires identified in the vision statement to establish a philosophy for how transportation planning and project delivery should occur in the region. New Visions explored a broad range of topics, involving local governments, interest groups, and private organizations from throughout the region. CDTC's approach to public involvement opened the conventional scope of the LRTP to a broader range of community issues, such as environmental protection, preservation of established neighborhoods and downtowns, and elected officials' desire to limit expansion of the region's urbanized areas more in line with its relatively modest population growth. The approach represented a significant effort to capture community desires as thoroughly as possible.

New Visions is centered on 31 principles, grouped into four categories:

Sample Population Growth Analysis

Maps comparing the Albany NY region's population growth from 2000 to 2030 under four alternative development scenarios. Development Scenario 1: Status Quo Trend. Development Scenario 2: Concentrated Growth. Development Scenario 3: Trend Hyper-Growth. Development Scenario 4: Concentrated Hyper-Growth.

Source: Capital District Transportation Committee, 2007.5

From these principles, both strategies and actions were identified and implemented through the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) and Unified Planning Work Program (UPWP) for regional-level activities, and through the Linkage Program for local and land use activities.

The MPO staff understood that it was not feasible to undergo equally extensive processes for every 4-year-plan update period, nor was it necessary. The New Visions philosophy provided a guiding framework for LRTP updates. Subsequent updates (2001, 2004, and 2007) have not employed the same level of public involvement, instead using stakeholder groups and task forces to provide recommendations on target areas.

The current LRTP and fourth update in 2007, New Visions 2030, focused on regional transportation and land use connections. It also introduced scenarios to understand potential future transportation outcomes of current land use and community planning decisions. It evaluated four growth scenarios: two scenarios using a trend-based population growth rate, one with compact growth throughout the region and the other a more dispersed, land-intensive pattern; and two scenarios with a high growth rate (one with dispersed development, one with concentrated development). CDTC staff used the regional travel demand model to forecast traffic patterns and summarize likely transportation investment needs for each scenario. The plan strongly supports concentrated growth patterns. CDTC finds that the scenario forecasting approach allows a better understanding of the issues and choices confronting the region and allows greater focus on creating flexibility and reliability in the system. This has resulted in a sustainable approach that meets current needs and preserves options for future decisionmakers.

Outcomes and Results

Since the first New Visions plan, many related projects have been completed through the Linkage Program-a direct technical assistance program explored more in chapter 3-such as funding (more than $3 million) for 65 joint planning studies in 38 municipalities since 2000.

Lessons Learned

Route 50, Loudoun County, VA

This project is an example of a corridor visioning process that led to successful implementation of intersection enhancements and traffic calming measures on a rural State highway. In 1994, VDOT announced a proposal to study transportation issues on Route 50 in Loudoun and Fauquier Counties, and the potential for building a bypass around the towns of Middleburg and Aldie. Reacting to this, the Route 50 Corridor Coalition was formed as a partnership of five local nonprofit groups. The coalition's main goals were to develop a corridor-wide vision for Route 50 that incorporated a long-range view of transportation and land use, and provided alternatives to the widening and bypass proposal. This example demonstrates the importance of meaningful public input in transportation decisionmaking, particularly at the outset. Initial and ongoing community involvement is invaluable in streamlining the project development process and aligning transportation decisions to community goals.

Drive Through History

Map of historical locations along Route 50 in Virginia. Paris, Upperville, Good Creek Stone Bridge, Middleburg, Aldie Mill, Revolutionary War Hero Monument, and Mount Zion Church, showing images of historical buildings.

Source: Fauqiuer and Loudoun Counties, Virginia, 2003.6

Overcoming Challenges

In 1995-1996, the Route 50 Corridor Coalition initiated community workshops resulting in a final vision statement and community goal to move forward with a traffic calming plan. The effort proved successful, as volunteers offered assistance with the effort and significant numbers of attendees participated in the visioning and planning workshops. In 1996, a traffic calming plan was completed for the towns of Aldie, Middleburg, and Upperville to create a scenic, unique, rural community in a historical, agricultural, and natural setting. The plan and vision were guided by the following goals and objectives:

In 2000, a second round of planning and design began, with VDOT and the Route 50 Corridor Coalition working together in the Route 50 Traffic Calming Task Force. The task force is responsible for the traffic calming plan's implementation as it goes through project development, final design, and construction.

Outcomes and Results

The traffic calming plan was adopted by the Middleburg Town Council and the Loudoun and Fauquier County Board of Supervisors in 1997, and in that same year was recognized by the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) President's Award for Excellence. In 1998, the Route 50 traffic calming project won congressional funding as a demonstration project under TEA-21. Detailed design and engineering followed. In 2007, construction began, and various elements of the project are still underway. Through anecdotal accounts, the new roadway design has significantly altered the behavior of drivers in the Upperville and Gilberts Corner area. Fewer traffic backups are also observed at the new roundabouts at Gilberts Corner compared to the previous signalized conditions. VDOT plans to conduct more formal studies to measure the effect of the traffic calming measures along the corridor.

Lessons Learned

Vision-based approaches can be started by anyone in a community. Route 50's success story is remarkable for bringing various community members together to agree on and support one common corridor vision, and to get it implemented. This grassroots-led traffic calming project was able to energize community and municipal leaders, and later received dedicated Federal funding to be the first State traffic calming project for a rural highway.

A committed and engaged community can be a laboratory for State innovations. Although the initial controversy and tension between VDOT and the community proved to be a challenge for a collaborative work process at the outset, a number of the department's engineers developed good relationships with the community leadership during the design development process. The project provided valuable lessons for VDOT staff and the consulting team related to community visioning and innovative traffic calming approaches.

EmX Green Line BRT

Public Outreach and Community Meetings
Participants of EmX Public Outreach and Community Meetings.  During the corridor visioning process, Lane Transit District (LTD) made an effort to meet with every owner and/or occupant along the corridor to discuss the concept, inform them of any potential impacts, and encourage feedback.

Photo credit: Lane Transit District.
Source: Federal Transit Administration, 2009.7

The EmX Green Line BRT project shows how a community and agency's specific project vision can be addressed to best meet anticipated travel demand. In the 1990s, LTD sought to upgrade its transit infrastructure and service. At the same time, the community, through its regional transportation planning process, was exploring ways to address its larger transportation needs. Identified in the regional LRTP for the region, the EmX Green Line BRT is the first phase in a region-wide BRT network, spanning 61 miles, addressing desires for increased service and response to growth.

Overcoming Challenges

As with many transportation projects, cost was a concern. LTD evaluated different options, but light rail was too expensive. Instead, LTD found inspiration from BRT in Curitiba, Brazil-and this transit option became its long-term strategy. LTD sought to design a phased system of bus corridors, built to match funding and ridership demand in a cost-effective manner.

During the corridor visioning process, LTD made an effort to meet with every owner and/or occupant along the corridor to discuss the concept, inform them of any potential impacts, and encourage feedback. Several design charrettes were also held, during which attendees were asked to provide input on the design of the system, as well as open houses where LTD provided information about system elements and implementation. These public workshops, open houses, and public hearings were supplemented by working groups of elected officials and stakeholders.8 One crucial element of this visioning was the actual visualization used. BRT is a fairly new transportation technology and showing the community what the actual design looked like was very important. LTD facilities staff created a full-size mockup of the chosen vehicle to show to community members, particularly those using wheelchairs and bicycles.

Photo-Visualization of Possible BRT Alignments
Photo-visualization of three possible bus rapid transit alignments.  Visualization was important to gaining community support and keeping employees engaged. The public, particularly community groups and the business community, appreci-ated that LTD involved them in development and selection of alternatives presented for the Franklin line.

Source: Newlands & Company, 1999.9

Outcomes and Results

Since replacing the regular bus routes, ridership has jumped by almost 50 percent, with daily boardings of 5,400 in April 2008. LTD is already planning its second EmX corridor, the Pioneer Parkway line, an extension from the Springfield station. Community members already see that EmX is helping economic development and acting as a community building block.

Lessons Learned

Visualization maintains the vision. Visualization was key to gaining community support and keeping employees engaged. The public, particularly community groups and the business community, appreciated that LTD involved them in development of the Franklin line, especially since the operating funds were derived through local business payroll taxes. The visualization helped to keep stakeholders at the table and invested in the project's success.

2.3. Conclusion

The case studies illustrate how long-range visioning promotes livability principles by removing barriers to effective collaboration. Each one exemplifies how a vision is forward-thinking, unconstrained, comprehensive, flexible, inclusive, participatory, and linked to action. The differences include the scale of the vision and its study area, the lead organization, the primary focus, and the funding mechanisms.

2. Visioning-Endnotes

  1. Maine DOT. Gateway 1 Corridor Action Plan: Brunswick to Stockton Springs, Chapter 4. July 2009. Accessed June 25, 2010.
  2. Maine DOT. Gateway 1: The Scenarios. December 2009. 1 Action Plan/Chapter 4.pdf. Accessed October 16, 2012.
  3. Maine DOT. Gateway 1 Corridor Action Plan: Brunswick to Stockton Springs, Chapter 2. July 2009. Accessed June 25, 2010.
  4. Transportation Research Board, NCHRP Project 8-36, Task 86 Final Report, Corridor Approaches to Integrated Transportation and Land Use. (June 2009). Requested by: American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials Standing Committee on Planning. Prepared by ICF International. Accessed 02/03/2010. Available at
  5. Capital District Transportation Committee Metropolitan Planning Organization. New Visions 2030: The Plan for a Quality Region, Summary Document. August 2007. Accessed June 25, 2010.
  6. Fauqiuer and Loudoun Counties, Virginia. Virginia's Route 50: Traffic Calming Project Design Memorandum. February 2003.
  7. Fauquier and Loudoun Counties, Virginia. Virginia's Route 50 Traffic Calming Project Design Memorandum. February 2003. Accessed June 28, 2010.
  8. Those, Cheryl, Alasdair Cain, and Jennifer Flynn. The EmX Franklin Corridor-BRT Project Evaluation. Federal Transit Administration. April 2009.
  9. Newlands & Company. "Eugene/Springfield BRT Pilot Corridor." Prepared for Lane Transit District. 1999. Accessed June 28, 2010.
HUD-DOT-EPA Interagency Partnership | DOT Livability | FTA Livable & Sustainable Communities
Updated: 12/8/2015
HEP Home Planning Environment Real Estate
Federal Highway Administration | 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE | Washington, DC 20590 | 202-366-4000