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Office of Planning, Environment, & Realty (HEP)

Scenario Planning Peer Workshop Report - El Paso, Texas

I. Introduction

A. Scenario Planning Overview

Fred Bowers, FHWA Office of Planning, Washington, DC
Mr. Bowers began the workshop by presenting an overview of scenario planning and the FHWA's role in supporting its use. Scenario planning employs a wide range of possible future situations to facilitate public decision-making on land use policies and transportation investments. It provides a glimpse into the future and helps visualize "what could be". The first step in Scenario Planning is to identify the quality of life values that are important to the region or community. This information provides the foundation for scenario development. These quality of life issues can be expressed as questions about the future. For example: "How can we plan our growth to limit single vehicle occupant trips?" or "What factors will create a vibrant downtown and help support economic development?"

Scenario planning is most useful in dealing with many diverse viewpoints because it allows for several combinations of possibilities to be compared across the board. It integrates many different perspectives and organizes them in the planning process. By including many diverse opinions, scenario planning helps generate support and buy-in from a large group of participants.

In addition, scenario planning enhances our ability to respond to change and predict extreme futures, including possibly unpleasant results of some decisions. It helps prepare the community for what actually can occur under various circumstances. It helps prioritize the use of limited resources. It provides information for avoiding potential major conflicts and allows us to grasp onto future unseen opportunities. The process facilitates consensus building among a wide variety of stakeholders by using new participation methods, such as keypad voting for selecting preferred alternatives.

Well-designed scenarios allow participants to use a visioning process that compares answers to these and other questions. In order to be effective, each scenario should be substantially unique, so that the community can clearly contrast the pros and cons of each possibility.

There are typically six steps in the scenario planning process. By following these steps a number of future visions and be designed and the trade offs between each compared.

Step 1: Define driving forces, We start by defining the major sources of change that affect the future, whether those forces are predictable or not.

Step 2: Determine patterns of interaction. Next we consider how the driving forces could combine to determine different future conditions. To understand the patterns of interaction that exist between driving forces, planners develop matrices that identify the driving forces and their potential positive or negative outcomes.

Step 3: Create scenarios. When generating scenarios, planners should consider the implications of different strategies in different environments. The goal is to bring life to the scenarios so that a community can easily recognize patterns that work. For example: Can a trolley system improve transportation for both visitors and workers in a downtown area?

Step 4: Analyze the implications, By employing various software tools, such as geographic information systems, planners can show the interactions in each scenario. This helps the public and decision makers understand the consequences of potential actions and the potential impacts of each scenario.

Step 5: Evaluate scenarios, Planners can measure the scenarios against one another by comparing indicators relating to land use, transportation, demographics, environment, economics, technology, and other driving forces. For example, one scenario might have a strong environmental indicator but fall short in economic benefits or vice versa.

Step 6: Monitor indicators, Scenario planning is an ongoing process. As the future unfolds, planners need to assess and compare real growth patterns to the selected scenarios, make new decisions, or create policies to address changing conditions.

Scenario planning offers the following benefits:

FHWA's defines scenario planning as:

A process in which transportation professionals and citizens work together to analyze and shape the long-term future of their communities. Using a variety of tools and techniques, participants assess trends in key factors such as transportation, land use, demographics, health, etc. Participants bring the factors together in alternative future scenarios, each of these reflecting different trend assumptions and tradeoff preferences.

FHWA supports scenario planning in the transportation planning process. As part of this support, FHWA encourages the use of Metropolitan Planning (PL) and other transportation funds to implement scenario planning, provides feedback on efforts being planned or implemented, shares and provides information on scenario planning efforts nationwide, identifies resources and tools for use in scenario planning, and facilitates peer workshops. More resources, including case studies, techniques, and tools can be found on the Scenario Planning website.

B. Scenario Planning Tools

Brian Betlyon, Metropolitan Planning Specialist, FHWA Resource Center, Baltimore, MD
Mr. Betlyon discussed the role of tools in scenario planning and provided information on additional resources. He stated that the premise of scenario planning is that it is better to "get the future imprecisely right" than to "get the future precisely wrong" when developing transportation plans. Tools can help people involved in scenario planning get the future as "imprecisely right" as possible. These tools can provide decision-makers and the public with the information they need to make educated decisions. Scenario planning tools can help communities plan by design instead of by default, meaning that they can make informed decisions on how the actions (or inaction) that they take today will affect the future.
A variety of technology tools can help communities consider scenarios and make better decisions. These tools can be divided into the following categories:

Instead of concentrating on one aspect of planning for the future, many impact analysis and GIS models used in scenario planning estimate the impacts of people's decisions today on the land use, transportation system, and environment of tomorrow. Additionally, these tools take into account the interconnections between these three aspects of planning. For example, if a change to the transportation system is proposed for an area, the model will estimate the change's impact on the land use and environment. Additional changes in these areas may then need to be made to accommodate the initial change. Through this process, these tools help people plan for the future in as real a way as possible.

Updated: 12/2/2015
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