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Office of Planning, Environment, & Realty (HEP)

New Trends in Transportation and Land Use Scenario Planning

IV. Key Findings

The case studies confirmed that MPOs consistently find scenario planning to be a valuable tool to engage stakeholders in transportation and land use planning and decision-making. Scenario planning also helps professional planners and public stakeholders understand and visualize complex sets of interactions and impacts. As transportation agencies face increasingly complex planning challenges or begin to address new issues not traditionally considered in transportation planning, scenario planning could become an essential tool.

This section summarizes innovative practices, success factors, and lessons learned identified in the case studies. These practices are categorized according to the six scenario planning process steps promoted by FHWA in previous workshops.4 These factors could inform a future workshop that helps agencies use scenario planning to incorporate new trends.


A variety of factors influence an agency's decision to implement innovative scenario planning processes. When identifying the driving forces of change affecting communities, agencies tended to be influenced by:

Agencies considering use of scenario planning—or expanding past efforts—could consider the above when identifying the specific issues to address in the effort.

Agencies using scenario planning for the first time could consider using other communities' processes as models. For example, the Cheyenne MPO looked to Envision Utah as a model for how to develop its own scenario planning effort.

Agencies with previous scenario planning experience can use or expand tools developed in the past. SCAG plans to use Envision Tomorrow software, which was initially developed for the 2004 Compass Blueprint exercise, in its upcoming scenario planning effort.


Engaging stakeholders in creating scenarios is a key component of next generation scenario planning. Involving the public in scenario creation has traditionally been a key part of land use scenario planning efforts. However, as scenario planning incorporates more issues and challenges not traditionally in the transportation realm, it will likely become necessary to use a broader suite of tools to better define scenario trade-offs and translate complicated issues into easily understood concepts.

Strategies could range from engaging local subject area experts and a selected advisory committee with limited public involvement (e.g., MWCOG) to organizing extensive public meetings through each step of the scenario planning process (e.g., SCAG). In addition, use of real-time visualization tools appeared to be increasingly important to support public involvement efforts (e.g., CMAP).


Use of an enhanced traditional travel model can help address climate change impacts. Agencies can supplement the traditional four-step travel model to achieve more comprehensive GHG and air quality analysis. For example, SCAG plans to project GHG emissions from alternative growth scenarios using the traditional travel model supplemented with a separate model for intrazonal trips. The traditional model projects GHG emissions based on VMT, speed, congestion, and assumed vehicle fleet emissions profiles. The model for intrazonal trips assumes mode splits and trip-making characteristics based on the community element(s) in that zone.

Development of meaningful indicators can help address livability. When analyzing scenario trade-offs, it is important to develop indicators that are meaningful to the community. For example, TJPDC quantified livability considerations by developing metrics related to agreed-upon community values identified through a series of public workshops, such as gallons of gas consumed and percentage of population living in clustered communities. These metrics could be developed from most transportation and land use models; however, the extra step TJPDC took to explicitly link the metrics to regional livability goals was unique and innovative. To project and model issues for which data were unavailable (such as water use), TJPDC used alternative means, such as bringing together a group of local water experts to provide feedback about the water impacts of each scenario.

Projection of financial impacts of development can help address financial stability. The Envision Tomorrow model developed for SCAG's Blueprint effort projects the financial implications of development, both from a private development feasibility perspective and from a public finance impact perspective. This information is valuable for stakeholders and elected officials to evaluate alternatives and is also critical for developing a feasible plan. In addition, each of the scenarios modeled by PlanCheyenne was financially constrained. The effort found that there were high roadway costs associated with low-density, trend development patterns, and that denser, mixed-use development would help control future transportation costs. This ultimately led the community to choose higher density development in the preferred scenario.

Use of qualitative analysis. Use of qualitative analysis in scenario planning to address new trends can be a successful strategy, especially for agencies that want to spur dialogue about addressing emerging trends but have limited quantitative data and limited funding. For example, MWCOG successfully used qualitative analysis to build consensus around appropriate future actions for the region and advance regional dialogue about plausible regional futures. The agency used a low-cost approach that required little data and instead relied on expert presentations and strategic thinking. While this effort did not necessarily lead to concrete policy solutions, it was viewed as a useful tool for beginning to address new issues including fiscal difficulties, climate change impacts to the region, and "green job" development.


Collaboration is important to implementing policies that support growth preferences. Implementation and monitoring present ongoing challenges. Each of the agencies interviewed noted that—because some regional agencies have little control over land use and development—building regional consensus is valuable to help achieve implementation of recommendations. Nevertheless, regional agencies are working closely with local governments to encourage land use changes and providing technical assistance to locals as requested. One strategy for supporting collaboration could be the use of "demonstration" projects, as exemplified by SCAG. Through the Compass Blueprint program, SCAG provides funding and other resources to select member cities; the funding supports the development of plans that are consistent with regional sustainability and livability goals. To receive funding, demonstration projects must meet several criteria, including planning for alternative transportation modes to the automobile.

Agencies can consider use of performance measures. Two of the MPOs interviewed in this effort developed or planned to develop performance measures to monitor and evaluate implementation of the preferred scenario. This is noteworthy as the trend towards performance-based planning is becoming increasingly important. It is likely that development and use of performance measures will become an important part of future scenario planning efforts.

Preferred scenarios can be translated into development codes. The community typologies (e.g., "compact urban") used in scenario planning efforts can provide a good framework for designating development codes. In a few cases, agencies provided direct assistance to local governments to update development codes using community typologies. In other cases, local governments independently used community elements in development code updates. For example, the City of Cheyenne rewrote its development codes, including land use, subdivision, street and sited design standards, to be consistent with PlanCheyenne recommendations.


Agencies can use a range of scenario visualization tools. Use of visualization tools can be an important component of scenario planning efforts. Agencies interviewed for this effort developed visualization tools to communicate potential outcomes to the public, support more comprehensive analysis of scenarios, and obtain more focused feedback from stakeholders (e.g., TJPDC used maps created by the public to identify growth preferences, which were then translated into a scenario analysis model).

The visualization tools used ranged from high technology efforts, such as software programs that displayed scenario results in real-time, to lower technology efforts. Examples of the latter included "chips" exercises that allowed participants to visualize growth preferences, posters provided to workshop participants that illustrated various development types, and maps created by the public during workshops. CMAP worked with architecture and design firms to create hypothetical images of several communities; the images portrayed the community as it might look if various scenarios were implemented. It is important to note that high technology visualization tools that provide real-time results and are designed for use with multiple media could add significant cost to a scenario planning effort.

Many factors can influence agency's decision-making process when developing or choosing an appropriate visualization tool. These factors might include cost, availability of consultants, resources available to hire consultants, purpose of tool (e.g., to display real-time results online, to facilitate communication with the public during workshops, to build overall support for the scenario planning effort), and timeframe for completing the scenario planning effort. Most of the interviewed agencies that developed visualization tools worked with consultants to do so. The software programs used included MetroQuest and Envision Tomorrow.

Partnerships can help agencies leverage resources. Agencies might face Federal or state restrictions on using certain funds to support next generation scenario planning efforts, which might focus on issues not traditionally considered in the transportation realm. Partnering with other stakeholders can help MPOs pursue more robust scenario planning efforts. For example, the Cheyenne MPO collaborated with the City of Cheyenne Parks and Recreation Division to develop PlanCheyenne. Some of the Parks and Recreation Division's funds were allotted to PlanCheyenne and allowed the MPO to address a more robust set of land use issues.

Both low- and high-cost efforts to create scenarios can have powerful outcomes. Each of the cases the project team reviewed had different components and therefore had varying budgets. Costs of reviewed efforts ranged significantly—from $50,000 to $10 million. Factors affecting cost included the extent of public involvement, the sophistication of modeling tools used, the level of detail required in data used, and the length of the effort. However, even comparatively low-cost efforts led to regionally significant outcomes. For example, MWCOG's relatively low-cost effort helped advance dialogue about regional quality of life and growth-related priorities. It is likely that costs will increase as agencies use scenario planning to address a more robust set of issues. Use of qualitative analysis to address new issues could help limit costs.


Several agencies interviewed for this effort noted that FHWA should continue to support scenario planning efforts and that this support was crucial to help MPOs achieve success with these efforts. Some of the following were suggested as specific ways that FHWA could assist MPOs:


4 The six steps are detailed on the FHWA scenario planning website at

Updated: 1/31/2017
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