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Office of Planning, Environment, & Realty (HEP)

New Trends in Transportation and Land Use Scenario Planning

II. Scenario Planning Trends

Most traditional land use/transportation scenario planning efforts have focused on a limited range of land use and transportation investment scenarios, with analysis and evaluation leading to a preferred scenario. Next generation scenario planning efforts seek to capture a broader range of issues and challenges than previously considered in scenario creation and analysis, such as alternative energy, technology advances, security, climate change, or economic shifts.

The wide-ranging topics that comprise next generation scenario planning are grouped into three categories (described in more detail in Appendix A):

Climate change, livability, sustainability, and financial stability are some topics that are surfacing as particularly important issues that transportation agencies are incorporating into scenario planning efforts.

Climate Change

There are concerns in the transportation community regarding climate change and the appropriate strategies to mitigate, adapt to, or address climate change-related impacts. Climate change is becoming prevalent in transportation planning through several avenues, including state legislation (e.g., in California and New York) that requires MPOs to model projected greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions or consider emission reduction strategies in transportation planning.

FHWA has conducted research regarding how MPOs could integrate climate change considerations into transportation planning.1 Several strategies, including scenario planning, have been proposed. Scenario planning could support integration of climate change into transportation planning by:


Livability refers to policies that help preserve important elements of community life and identify and support sustainable development at the local level. Sustainability refers to efforts or policies that promote today's quality of life without endangering the quality of life for future generations. Sustainability is closely related to livability as livable principles can provide a framework for sustainable development; however, sustainability is generally focused on long-term impacts while livability focuses on near- and mid-term impacts.

While transportation agencies have historically incorporated livability and sustainability elements, such as quality of life considerations, into transportation plans, there is no standardized practice for doing so. Transportation agencies face the ongoing challenge of making relationships between transportation, land use, and quality of life explicit.

The June 2009 initiation of the Interagency Partnership for Sustainable Communities between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the U.S. Department of Transportation reflected an increased recognition of livability principles at the Federal level and a growing commitment to integrate transportation, land use, and environmental planning.2 The partnership explicitly identified scenario planning as a tool to support livability principles and integrated planning. Scenario planning can:

Financial Stability

Financial stability measures the strength of financial systems and transportation funding sources. At the local level, transportation agencies recognize that assumptions about future growth must be grounded in realistic financial assessment. Growth projections need to consider the potential for private development and the financial impacts of various development types. Additionally, many transportation agencies are facing short-term funding shortages due to economic recession and are preparing for reduced long-term funding from declining gas tax revenues.

Scenario planning could help agencies, elected officials, and citizens understand the financial implications of transportation planning decisions and plan long-term investment strategies for a variety of future funding situations. For example, scenario planning could:


1 See especially Integrating Climate Change in the Transportation Planning Process (July 2008), available at

2 For more information on the partnership, see

Updated: 1/31/2017
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