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Scenario Planning Peer Workshop Report - East Lansing, Michigan

III. Presentations and Discussion

A. Welcome

Chris Dingman, FHWA Michigan Division Office
Mr. Dingman welcomed participants to the workshop. The purpose of the workshop is to encourage conversation on scenario planning tools, processes, and best practices so that participants can apply the technique to their own agencies, regions, or study areas.

Mr. Dingman noted that MPOs are not mandated to use scenario planning. However, the technique can enhance the traditional planning process and has become more common in transportation planning. The workshop will help expose staff from Michigan DOT and Michigan's MPOs and COGs to the concept of scenario planning, its potential benefits and challenges, and peer applications. The FHWA Office of Planning and FHWA Michigan Division can provide guidance on implementing scenario planning, including identifying available funds or facilitating dialogue between regions interested in the technique.

B. Overview of Scenario Planning

Sharlene Reed, FHWA Office of Planning
Alisa Fine, USDOT Volpe Center

Ms. Reed and Ms. Fine presented an overview of scenario planning and FHWA's scenario planning program. Transportation scenario planning typically involves engaging the public to create and assess a range of future alternatives. By comparing each alternative against a series of indicators, stakeholders can make better decisions about transportation investments or policies. Broadly, scenario planning helps visualize "what could be." Agencies can use the technique at many geographic scales (e.g., statewide, corridor, and regional levels) and in fast- or slow-growing regions to help anticipate future growth trends, prioritize use of limited resources, or engage the community in discussions of preferences, goals, and values. It is an adaptable and flexible technique that supports many planning activities, including long-range, corridor, or statewide planning. Stakeholders can also use qualitative or quantitative tools to analyze scenarios and outcomes.

Ms. Reed provided some historical context for scenario planning. Private industry, most notably Shell Oil, initially used the technique to support strategic and business planning. Beginning in the 1960s, transportation agencies began to use the technique to support transportation planning. This application of scenario planning has become more common over time. There are now hundreds of examples from across the country, many of which are described on the FHWA scenario planning website at

FHWA Scenario Planning Program

In 2004, FHWA established a scenario planning program to promote use of the technique. As part of this program, FHWA:

Several Federal policies or programs encourage the use of scenario planning, including the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU). SAFETEA-LU requires that MPOs and state DOTs employ visualization techniques to describe transportation plans and that MPOs utilize a public participation process to support public feedback on the metropolitan transportation plan. Use of scenario planning can facilitate agencies' abilities to meet both of these requirements. Additionally, a set of guiding livability principles has been offered through the USDOT's recent partnership on sustainable communities with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Housing and Urban Development.1 The partnership promotes scenario planning as a tool to help better integrate land use and transportation.

Next Generation Scenario Planning

Transportation agencies using scenario planning have typically focused their efforts on the relationships between transportation, land use, and demographic growth or declining growth. They have also typically used scenarios to build consensus around preferred growth patterns and transportation investments.

FHWA has identified some recent efforts as 'next generation' scenario planning. These efforts go beyond typical areas of focus to consider new trends, less predictable factors, or factors that are beyond the agency's control. New generation scenario planning might use scenarios to explore broader risks and potential transportation and land use impacts associated with:

Overall, new generation scenario planning efforts seek to capture a broader range of issues and challenges than previously considered in scenario creation and analysis. For example, the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) is now using scenario planning to determine what strategies might help bridge the gap between a statewide greenhouse gas emission reduction target and projected emissions based on current plans. Scenario development and analysis for this effort will be conducted through a series of sub-regional workshops. New generation scenario planning efforts may also use innovative methods to communicate with the public. For example, with the help of a consultant, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) developed an online tool to allow the public to construct customized scenarios, choose indicators, and view the outcomes.2

Scenario Planning Challenges

Ms. Fine detailed some common challenges encountered by some agencies, as well as potential responses to address these challenges. For example:

Scenario Planning Benefits

Scenario planning can lead to a number of benefits. Ms. Fine provided some details and examples:

Scenario planning is a valuable tool that can enhance the traditional transportation planning process. FHWA will continue to support scenario planning by providing guidance to transportation agencies, sponsoring workshops to share lessons learned, and supporting new tools and models that allow more robust analysis of transportation and land use impacts on a variety of factors.

C. Scenario Planning Guidebook

Alisa Fine, USDOT Volpe Center
Ms. Fine described the new FHWA Scenario Planning Guidebook, which will be available in fall 2010 on the FHWA scenario planning website. The purpose of the guidebook is to assist transportation agencies with carrying out a scenario planning process from start to finish. Agencies can use the guidebook as a framework to develop a scenario planning approach tailored to their needs.

The guidebook includes six phases that agencies are likely to encounter when implementing the scenario planning technique. Each phase includes a range of considerations, steps, and strategies that will help manage and implement a comprehensive scenario planning effort. Each phase concludes with possible outputs. While the FHWA guidebook will focus on regional-scale scenario planning processes, it recognizes that the technique is flexible and can be used as a statewide, corridor-level, or neighborhood-scale approach.

Ms. Fine detailed the six key phases (see Figure 1):

Figure 1. FHWA Six-Phase Scenario Planning Framework

Figure 1. FHWA Six-Phase Scenario Planning Framework. Click image for detailed description.

D. Phase One Discussion

Jeff Bryan, USDOT Volpe Center
Dr. Bryan detailed the guidebook's Phase 1 (How Should We Get Started?), which focuses on gearing up to begin a scenario planning process. This phase can occur as part of a transportation agency's regular planning or public involvement activities and does not have to be a separate effort. It is important to begin the effort by framing the right questions, since these provide a context for scenario development and key indicators.

Participants were asked to brainstorm how scenario planning could be used in their regions or communities. Those who had prior experience with the technique were asked to share information on getting started with others in the group. After conversing in small groups, participants reconvened for a large group discussion.


Q: What scale is appropriate for scenario planning: should it be used for big picture or project-level issues?
A: Scenario planning can be used at a range of scales, including at the neighborhood level. It is up to the agency to determine how the technique can be used most effectively to address the relevant issues.

Q: Can scenario planning be used to develop a long-term vision, or should it be used to identify policies or projects that lead the region or study area toward the vision?
A: It can be used for both purposes. Phase 1 of the scenario planning process will help agencies determine the appropriate context and questions that the technique should address.

Q: What are some examples of how scenario planning has been used in rural or quasi-suburban areas?
A: Burlington, Vermont, offers an example of scenarios used to address rural activity centers. Binghamton, New York, offers an example of scenarios used in a slow- or stagnant-growth region to help identify areas to invest transportation resources.5

Q: How can agencies encourage a broad range of public stakeholders to participate in a scenario planning effort?
A: Agencies can consider using innovative methods to capture the public's attention. For example, the Memphis MPO in Memphis, Tennessee, developed a Transportation Planning Advisory Committee (TPAC) as part of its 2007 scenario planning effort to update the long-range transportation plan. The TPAC includes a range of members, such as land developers, stay-at-home mothers, bicycle advocates, planners, retirees, and environmentalists. Various public involvement techniques were carried out with the TPAC. The MPO provided disposable cameras to TPAC members, who then took pictures of transportation-related elements in their neighborhoods showing their preferences and dislikes.6 The exercise was very popular with the TPAC and served to encourage further interest in the transportation planning process.

Q: How can planners be sure that the public is meaningfully involved in the process?
A: One way is to ensure that the public is involved as early as possible in all or most phases of scenario planning. Additionally, the public should review and validate outputs from the process, including the values and principles used to develop scenarios, scenarios themselves, indicators, and results/outcomes.

Comment: Michigan has a home rule system of local government, which is not conducive to using scenario planning. Some land use agencies (townships) have no roadway jurisdiction and some roadway agencies (county road commissions) do not have any authority to make land use decisions. Given these different missions and authorities, it is difficult to bring transportation and land use agencies together and encourage collaboration.
Response: Home rule does make it more difficult to implement scenario planning, but there are still ways to bring diverse stakeholders together. Start with the 'low hanging fruit' and efforts can grow and evolve over time, fostering stronger cross-agency relationships. Scenario planning is also very valuable from a public involvement and educational perspective; it can help build broader support for the transportation plan.

Comment: It is important to remember to include the private sector in scenario planning conversations.

E. Scenario Planning Process

Peter Keating, Chittenden County MPO
The Chittenden County MPO (CCMPO) serves 18 municipalities in the Chittenden County region in northwest Vermont, which has a total population of 145,000, about one-quarter of the state's total.7 The agency has a staff of nine and is the only MPO in Vermont. Vermont does not have any region-wide government or decision-making authority; towns and cities make all land use decisions.

Mr. Keating provided some additional context on the region and its economic and growth trends. The Chittenden County region is the population and economic center of the state. The region's largest city is Burlington, which has a population of approximately 40,000. The city's population has been stagnant for about three decades, although the region as a whole has grown during that time. The majority of growth - primarily large lot, residential development - has occurred in peripheral areas around Burlington. Outdoor and recreational tourism has traditionally been an important part of the region's economy.

CCMPO has used scenario planning for three of its long-range transportation plans (LRTPs). It has found scenario planning to be a valuable technique, especially in helping to engage the public through visualizations (e.g., scenario maps) and to facilitate strategic transportation decision-making.

Use of Scenario Planning to Develop the LRTPs

CCMPO conducted alternatives analysis to develop its 1997 LRTP and updated LRTP in 2005. As part of the analysis, CCMPO developed multiple land use scenarios, combined them with different transportation scenarios, and analyzed outcomes to formulate recommendations to include in the LRTPs. These efforts, however, were not termed scenario planning since they did not include an extensive public involvement component. Staff developed the alternatives, which were shared only with the project steering committee and MPO board.

As part of the 2007 LRTP update, CCMPO conducted a broader scenario planning effort that involved the public. Three public scenario planning workshops were held over a period of three months. The workshops, which approximately 100 individuals attended, were held in a number of locations, including a high school cafeteria, a church basement, and the county fairgrounds.

During the workshops, staff provided a primer on development trends to spark discussion on how residential development had impacted the landscape over the previous 20 years. For example, from 1990 to 2008, less than one-fifth of housing units had consumed nearly three-quarters of the newly developed land.

Workshop participants also gathered in small groups to discuss their values and preferences for the future using a 50-year horizon. CCMPO documented the discussions and then engaged participants in a 'chips' exercise. As part of the exercise, participants placed small chips on a regional map to indicate areas of preferred housing, jobs, and transportation network development. Chips could be traded to obtain different development densities. Scenarios were then compiled to reflect different groups' distribution of chips (see Figure 2 for example).

Figure 2. Example of chips placement during public workshop.

Figure 2. Example of chips placement during public workshop

Twelve land use alternatives came out of the workshops. Each alternative represented a variation on the same theme: dispersed, mixed-use, and higher density clusters. The differences were where the clusters were placed. Since none of the workshop groups produced a trend scenario, CCMPO staff developed on together.

Although redevelopment was permitted during the public workshops, participants generally avoided placing additional development in the Burlington core area. As such, CCMPO staff developed the core scenario to test how redevelopment might affect the transportation system and number of car trips. CCMPO had initially found a low level of performance variability between the trend and workshop alternatives. Both used the same growth levels, although growth was distributed differently. While the core scenario was unlikely to occur, it facilitated analysis by offering a greater range of variability to help compare and contrast all three alternatives.

CCMPO staff then mapped each of the three alternatives using ArcMap geographic information system (GIS) software. The agency chose to map alternatives at a broad geographic scale so that the public would focus on higher-level, regional outcomes rather than on neighborhood- or street-level outcomes. It was believed that focusing on broader scale outcomes would help public stakeholders have more productive conversations about the region's future.

Figure 3. Maps of trend, workshop, and core scenarios.

Figure 3. Maps of trend, workshop, and core scenarios

Public Outreach Survey

CCMPO plans to conduct an outreach survey online to solicit feedback for the current LRTP update in mid- to late September 2010. The survey will ask questions about the three scenarios and their performance, public preferences on priority transportation projects and funding options, and goals for the region's future.8 The survey will also ask about public attitudes towards zoning changes. While changing zoning regulations is currently unlikely, CCMPO believed it was important to emphasize to the public that changes (e.g., zoning) might need to occur to lead the region toward its preferred future.

Mr. Keating also noted that questions about funding might elicit different responses depending on how they are phrased. For example, the 2006 survey contained a question about whether the responder would approve increasing the gas tax if the funding went only to fixing roadways. About 30 percent of responders said yes. When the question was expanded to include all modes, 45 percent said yes.

Similar outreach surveys containing 100 questions were conducted in 2001 and 2006. The current survey, however, will contain only 15 questions. CCMPO staff believed that the longer surveys required too much time from public responders.

Scenario Analysis

CCMPO used the four-step travel demand model to analyze scenarios. The model, which was initially developed in the late 1960s, was later expanded in the mid-1990s to include mode choices and morning and afternoon peak hour travel. In the mid-2000s, the CCMPO then transitioned its model to a TransCAD platform with customized GIS scripts. Most recently, CCMPO incorporated 24-hour updates into the model using National Household Travel Survey data. In the future, CCMPO might consider adding activity-based models (trip chains), new land use models, an expanded model area, or disaggregated travel models.

The model splits the CCMPO region into 330 Transportation Analysis Zones (TAZs) (see Figure 4). For each TAZ, CCMPO has collected information on a total of six categories, including housing units and employment by type. In the Burlington urbanized area, the TAZs are at the city block level. Outside this area, TAZs are at a larger geographic scale.

Figure 4. TAZs for the CCMPO region.

Figure 4. TAZs for the CCMPO region

To assess scenarios, each alternative's household and land use characteristics (e.g., population and housing data) were primarily input at the trip generation step in the travel demand model (see Figure 5). Outputs from this analysis were fed into a trip distribution step and subsequently to a modal choice component. Results from these analyses were assigned to a transportation network. The resulting data outputs of the four-step travel demand model illustrated the quantitative differences between scenario alternatives.

Figure 5. CCMPO's Four-Step Travel Demand Model.

Figure 5. CCMPO's Four-Step Travel Demand Model

Specific indicators used to assess scenario performance included:

Other topics, including greenhouse gas emissions, peak oil situations, and funding, were less explicitly considered as part of scenario analysis but were generally discussed during public workshops and helped frame development of the various workshop land use scenarios.

Recommended Elements for Scenario Planning

Mr. Keating noted that a comprehensive scenario planning effort will likely contain several critical elements, including:

Lessons Learned

Mr. Keating discussed a number of lessons learned from the CCMPO?s scenario planning efforts:


Q: Is Vermont in attainment for air quality?
A: Yes.

Q: What was the cost of the most recent scenario planning effort?
A: The consultant cost for CCMPO's most recent scenario planning process, including the workshops, analysis, the survey, and report, was approximately $75,000.

Q: What was the Vermont Agency of Transportation's (VTrans) perspective on the scenario planning efforts and did they participate?
A: VTrans conducted a scenario planning exercise to develop their 2009 statewide transportation plan. VTrans has supported CCMPO's scenario planning efforts and has been continuously involved with them.

Q: Was project selection a criterion that was incorporated into CCMPO's scenarios?
A: It has not been incorporated yet since the process is still ongoing but it likely will be included in the future. CCMPO will likely develop a preferred scenario that incorporates elements from all of the alternatives. The preferred scenario will be used as a framework to compare transportation projects; preferred projects will match the scenario. Overall, CCMPO suspects that the scenario will have an impact on choosing preferred transportation investments.

Q: Does CCMPO have the authority to implement the preferred scenario?
A: No. Land use decisions are made at the local level by cities and towns. Chittenden County has a regional land use plan but it is influential only if development proposals exceed certain thresholds and a state land use permit is required. If this is the case, and the project is determined to have substantial regional impact, then it must conform with the Chittenden County Regional Plan. CCMPO is reliant on its partners, particularly local government partners, to implement the preferred scenario. CCMPO believes, however, that the preferred scenario will be aligned with local partners' expectations.

Q: Have there been large differences between the 50-year versus the 20-year analysis?
A: CCMPO has not yet run the 20-year analysis but expects that there will be significant differences between the two.

Q: Did CCMPO's scenarios all use the same development levels (e.g., projections of new houses and jobs)?
A: Yes. CCMPO kept all the development levels identical across scenarios. What changed was where new development was located. The development levels assumed modest growth.

Q: Does CCMPO anticipate getting responses to the online survey from outside the county?
A: Possibly. For instance, the CCMPO recently conducted a survey on park and ride preferences for a park and ride development plan. About 15 percent of survey responses were from areas outside Chittenden County.

Comment: It is important to remember to validate the initial vision as an agency proceeds with scenario planning. The Transportation Improvement Program could offer an opportunity to link implemented projects and the overall goals or vision. Overall, the process to validate and establish these connections will likely be iterative.

F. Breakout Session I

Jeff Bryan, USDOT Volpe Center
Dr. Bryan detailed Phase 2 (Where Are We Now?) and Phase 3 (Who are We and Where Do We Want to Go?) of the guidebook, which address establishing a baseline analysis to identify factors that affect the region or study area and establishing future goals and aspirations based on community values. These goals and aspirations then provide a framework for building scenarios. Gathering data for Phase 2 (can take more time than expected so this process should be started early. It is important to determine how to assess support for the values and priorities identified in Phase 3. A key question is: how will we know when we get there? To answer this question, stakeholders can develop indicators and performance measures in Phases 2 and 3. These can be enhanced or refined in Phase 5 during scenario analysis.

Participants were asked to brainstorm about the important trends affecting Michigan or a chosen geographic area in the state and to describe the trend using qualitative or quantitative data. Additionally, participants identified impacts of the trend on transportation and land use as well as potential responses. After conversing in small groups, participants reconvened for a group discussion.

Some of the major trends identified by groups including aging populations, stagnant, no-growth communities, and moving from smaller scale residential to larger scale corridor and commercial development. These trends are described in more detail below:

G. Technical Session

Jim Thorne, FHWA Resource Center
Mr. Thorne provided an overview of the role of analytic and modeling tools in scenario planning and their contribution to Phase 4 (What Could the Future Look Like?) and Phase 5 (What Impacts Will Scenarios Have?) of the scenario planning process. These phases deal with developing and analyzing scenarios.

Developing Scenarios

There are many different types of scenarios. For example, a baseline scenario would focus on continuing trends over time while a policy option scenario would focus on the implications of different investments or strategies. An economic scenario might address what would happen in the region or study area if an economic boom or recession occurred. A hybrid scenario combines elements from several other scenario types. Most scenario planning exercises contain between three and five scenarios, including a trend and hybrid alternative.

Agencies might develop scenarios in different ways. However, public involvement is typically a key component. To facilitate public involvement in scenario development, agencies can use a wide range and variety of tools. For example, agencies could conduct:

Many resources are available to facilitate public involvement in scenario planning. The National Highway Institute ( offers training courses on public involvement. Additionally, the International Association for Public Participation ( offers a participation spectrum showing the range of ways in which the public can participate in transportation planning and tools that support this involvement. PlaceMatters ( is a nonprofit offering tools and techniques to assist regions, cities, or organizations to meet their public involvement goals. The Strategic Highway Research Program 2 developed a visioning guide ( Visioning exercises can be incorporated as part of scenario planning processes.

Agencies might want to consider the following questions when developing scenarios:

Peer Examples

Mr. Thorne provided examples of scenario planning efforts nationwide that have used innovative approaches or been well-received by the public, including:

Analyzing Scenarios

Mr. Thorne noted that to analyze scenarios, agencies must consider differences and similarities between each alternative. Indicators, such as vehicle miles traveled, percentage of open space conserved, or greenhouse gas emissions, can allow targeted comparison and ensure that identical factors are being assessed across scenarios (see Figure 6).

Figure 6. Examples of Indicators for Analyzing Scenarios.

Type of Indicator Example of Indicator
Environmental/Land Use Acres of non-urbanized land.
Percentage of farms and forests.
Community Livability Percentage of population living in clustered communities.
Percentage of population with access to transit.
Annual gallons of gas consumed.
Jobs/Housing Number and/or percentage of jobs located near affordable housing.
Transportation System Number of highway congested hours.
Number of crashes per person and per vehicle mile traveled by crash severity and mode.
Percentage of work or all trips by mode.
Climate Change Greenhouse gas emissions by sector or county.

Broadly, the general steps for analyzing scenarios would include identifying and refining indicators, modeling the scenario, and measuring its performance using indicators. Next, agencies could conduct supplemental analysis, solicit feedback on analysis results, and refine scenarios if necessary.

Agencies might want to consider the following questions before engaging in these steps:

A variety of tools can help agencies and the public consider scenarios and their outcomes. FHWA does not recommend one tool over another; the choice will depend on the user's resources and goals. Some examples of applicable tools include:

H. Breakout Session II

Jeff Bryan, USDOT Volpe Center
Dr. Bryan provided an overview of Phase 6 (How Will We Reach Our Desired Future?) of the scenario planning process, which focuses on crafting a comprehensive future vision, action steps to implement the vision, and a plan to monitor progress toward the vision.

There are a few specific questions that agencies might want to consider as part of Phase 6, including:

Participants were asked to gather in small groups and discuss potential next steps or action items that their agencies could take to implement scenario planning. Those who had experience with scenario planning were asked to focus on discussing steps to continue the effort. Participants then reconvened to a large group in order to report out on the discussions. Some referenced next steps included gathering updated parcel data, especially for rural areas, and identifying appropriate analysis tools that could support scenario evaluation.


Q: How can agencies encourage diverse stakeholder groups to coalesce around the vision?
A: This can be a challenge, but one way is to ensure that stakeholders have a role in the scenario planning effort early on to define its scope and the issues being addressed. Scenarios themselves can also allow stakeholders to 'test out' different alternatives. Modeling and visualization tools can help people more easily visualize potential future impacts. These exercises can help build consensus around the vision.

Q: How can home rule states, like Michigan, encourage consensus building around scenarios?
A: Scenarios offer important opportunities for collaboration. Stakeholders can work together to build and assess scenarios and interpret their outcomes. Given strong leadership, a consistent, ongoing effort to engage both transportation and land use agencies can gain momentum over time. It is important to be patient, however, since change can be slow. It might take time to build working relationships between agencies that historically have not been in dialogue together. Home rule states can also look to other peer states for examples of how scenario planning efforts have been successful. Some states, including Maryland and Nebraska, have changed their home rule laws to centralize transportation and land use authorities. While this is not likely to occur in Michigan, the state's agencies do realize that regional cooperation is a necessity. Scenario planning is a tool to encourage this cooperation.


1 For more information on the partnership, see

2 Additional information about the SCAG and CMAP new generation efforts is available at

3 The typical effort might last from six months to two years, but the process could take longer depending on the issues addressed.

4 Some research has suggested that two to four scenarios is an appropriate number for analysis.

5 For additional information on the issues faced by the Binghamton, New York, region, and opportunities for scenario planning, see

6 For additional information on the Memphis MPO's approach and the TPAC, see

7 For additional information on the CCMPO, see

8 The pilot version of the survey is available at and is undergoing revisions.

9 For more information on the Ten Big Moves, see

10 For more information on Community2050, see

11 For more information on Transportation Tomorrow, see

Updated: 12/2/2015
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