FHWA-FTA Scenario Planning Program

State of Scenario Planning Webinar

February 14, 2013 from 1pm-2:30pm EST

Webinar Transcript

Rae Keasler:  Good Afternoon, and welcome to today’s webinar. My name is Rae Keasler and I am a transportation planner with the Federal Highway Administration. I am happy you are tuning in and are interested to learn more about the Scenario Planning Program. The purpose of today’s webinar is to share with you the Federal Highway Administration’s interest in advancing its scenario planning efforts. This webinar is not meant to identify guidance or policies that address MAP-21 provisions. Rather, this information is forthcoming and will be made available to you for future rule making.

Let me now take this opportunity to welcome our partners at ICF and Renaissance Planning Group. Allow me to introduce:  Harrison Rue who is a principal with ICF, Kate Ange who is a principal at the Renaissance Planning Group, and Mike Callaghan who is a transportation planner at the Renaissance Planning Group.

As I mentioned earlier, the purpose of today’s webinar is to share with you more information about:

  • The Federal Highway Administration’s Transportation Planning Capacity Building (TPCB) Program.  This Program is designed to help decision makers, transportation officials, and staff resolves the increasingly complex issues they face when addressing transportation needs in their communities.
  • The TPCB Scenario Planning Program.  This provides an approach that can help transportation professionals prepare for the future.  Scenario planning can be conducted at the statewide level, for metropolitan regions, or at the neighborhood scale.  It tests various future alternatives that can meet state, community, or regional needs.

The Federal Highway Administration has supported Scenario Planning since 2004. Since then the program has continued to evolve and grow.  The majority of today’s conversation will circle around our current efforts to expand the Scenario Planning Program.  To do that, it is essential that new and innovative ideas emerge.  And that is where your role comes in.  We are looking to you, the listeners, to provide us with thoughts and feedback on anticipated future needs.

The Transportation Capacity Building Program is jointly administered by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and Federal Transit Administration (FTA), with assistance from the U.S. DOT's Volpe National Transportation Systems Center.

The Transportation Planning Capacity Building Program provides transportation professionals, who are responsible for planning for the capital, operating, and maintenance needs of our nation's surface transportation system, with products and services that provide information, training, and technical assistance.

The goals of the Transportation Planning Capacity Building Program are:

  • Enhancing professionals' understanding of the Federally-defined transportation planning process, their role within the process, and the relationship between the planning process and community goals.
  • Strengthening understanding and building skills in planning, consensus building, and understanding policy guidance and regulations, as well as disseminating commendable examples of effective transportation planning practices.
  • Equipping new MPOs and areas newly designated as air quality non-attainment areas with skills and knowledge needed for effective transportation planning.

Transportation Planning Capacity Building Program meets its goals by:  gathering and disseminating examples of effective transportation planning practices from across the nation; acting as a central clearinghouse for information and contacts within the transportation planning community, creating and delivering training programs and support peer-to-peer information exchanges.

Scenario planning provides a framework for developing a shared vision for the future by analyzing various factors (such as transportation, health, economic, environmental, and land use issues) that effect regions or communities.

A defining characteristic of successful scenario planning is that it actively involves the public, business community, and elected officials on a broad scale.  It educates them about interactions between multiple trends and trade-offs, and incorporating their values and feedback into future plans.  Scenario planning tests various future alternatives that meet state, community, or regional needs. And can be applied at different geographic scales (state, regional, or corridor level).

MAP-21 creates a streamlined, performance-based, and multimodal program to address the challenges facing the U.S. transportation system.  Some of the challenges include: improving safety, maintaining infrastructure condition, reducing traffic congestion, improving efficiency of the system and freight movement, protecting the environment, and reducing delays in project delivery.   

Additionally, MAP-21 provides that a MPO may choose to develop scenarios as part of the development of the long range transportation plan and for system performance reporting.  MPOs developing scenarios are encouraged to consider potential regional investment strategies, revenue and cost strategies, population and employment, and the transportation system performance measures.  Most organizations are using scenario planning to update their long-range transportation plans (68%). The second most common use of scenario planning among respondents was for regional visioning (41%).

If you are interested in learning more about our Scenario Planning program, please contact us at the information provided above.  Or if you are interested in reading more about the program, please use the web address provided.  Also, if you would like to receive emails and announcements about our Scenario Planning Program, we encourage you to use the web link above.  Click on the envelope icon at the top of the screen. That will process your request to be added to our email list. 

Kate Ange:  Hi, Rae.   This is Kate Angie with Renaissance and I’m going to get us started.  Harrison will pull through towards the end of the presentation.  First I will discuss what we have been working on with FHWA. I will give a brief state of the practice, as far as where scenario planning has been and where it is headed in the future.

What we have been tasked with doing is looking at some of the recent reports on the topic, conducting an online survey, talking to practitioners.  For today’s webinar discussion we are hoping to gain even more insight. I would now ask that you all get interactive and answer a series of poll questions.  We also have questions that will be asked at the very end of the webinar, which should foster some conversation.

So one of the first things we did was look at the last three big reports on the topic. The report titled "The Opening Access to Scenario Planning Tools," which was released this year by the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.  There was the integrated transportation and scenario planning work that was done by Bartholomew & Ewing.  And then, the new trends in land use and scenario planning.  What’s interesting about all three of these things is that they provide a continuum of practical case studies, as far as what’s been accomplished by MPO’s as well as some of the issues and trends that will be defining the future.

In the next generation of scenario planning reports that FHWA published, we learned very clearly there is a broader interest in using scenario planning to address a wider range of community issues. Rather than just focusing on gross issues and land use transportation issues, people are much more interested in looking at climate change, livability, financial stability, or the uncertainty of an outlook for a given community. There are new pressures towards having scenario planning deal with some of these issues.

In the Bartholomew & Ewing report, they looked at over 28 scenario planning projects.  This report  confirmed that scenario planning is a very effective tool to look at how communities’ can see positive impacts on measures such as reducing VMT, agricultural land consumption, greenhouse gases, and things alike.  Scenario planning is an effective tool in helping plan future conditions. However, one of the challenges moving forward is that while scenario planning is widely accepted, only about 15% of MPOs are actually using scenario planning. While we know climate change is of interest, there are not a lot of regions that are actually including climate change or energy supply variations as part of the input to the process. Those that are using scenario planning, even though they are trying to come up with alternative scenarios, quite often have to fall back to a default trends scenario as part of what they adopt in a long range transportation plan.

The other issue is that planners still perceive scenario planning as something that is more costly and requires a higher level of technical capacity that may exist in a lot of MPO’s and staff level offices.  That continuum continues to be an obstacle. The last point is the data that is needed. Sometimes it is not readily available or accessible, and that can be a problem for those adopting it as a practice.

The other report from the Lincoln Institute for Land Policy, which looks at scenario planning for more of a community planning perspective, looks at folks interested in doing visioning or regional planning.  They too endorse scenario planning as a very effective tool to help communities deal with the complex issues of economic uncertainty and the need to address complex planning matters. However, they also see there are some obstacles to moving forward. There continues to be some skepticism about scenario planning, its effectiveness, and the lack of awareness for using scenario planning in a traditional planning or comprehensive planning context.  They see there are some concerns about the complexity and the high cost of using the tools or having a process. They also cited concerns with gaining access to data. The last thing they were pretty adamant about is the issue of interoperability between tools that are used in scenario planning as well as data that is used in scenario planning.

So given what these reports have cited as issues or obstacles, there are quite a few "opportunities" out there. One of the big ones is the Partnership for Sustainable Communities Program, which has supported scenario planning as a part of this process moving forward.  It recommends using it as a way to develop plans. They see it as a useful method and really can use it as a way to talk about interrelated issues that the partnership is trying to promote.

The HUD grant programs, in particular, support scenario planning and several of the HUD community challenge grant keys are using it.  EPA is supporting it, and DOT continues to support it through their Transportation Capacity Planning Program, including doing the scenario planning peer exchanges. The other opportunities are that state laws will be more aggressive in looking for ways to promote the practice through requiring MPO’s to adopt sustainable community strategies and meet their quality targets on reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Oregon and California are leading the front in this particular area. The other big opportunity that we are working on with FHWA, called MAP-21, the new federal transportation law calls for MPO’s to develop performance measures. What we have seen in the past and what we expect to see in the future is that scenario planning is a very effective process as to helping MPO’s go about that. It gives them a platform to develop new measures, evaluate current measures, look at traditional methods, and evaluate different alternatives in performance and meeting those measures. Based on our analysis of those three reports, we worked with FHWA to develop a fairly brief online questionnaire to ask the folks out there that either have or have not used scenario planning what is working, what is not, and where might FHWA target its technical assistance in the future. To go over the questionnaire results I am going to turn it over to Mike Callahan, also with Renaissance.

Mike Callahan:  Hi, everyone. Thank you. I will be going over some of the results from our questionnaire. This was a national questionnaire that was distributed in December 2012 and January 2013. The purpose was to add to the body of knowledge that exists already through these three reports. We wanted to go a little further and ask questions about cost effectiveness.  What was the outcome of using scenario planning? Why did they use scenario planning? What people thought of the process? What was the outcome? Questions like this.

We received 41 responses, most were MPO’s or State DOT’s.  The blue indicates no previous scenario planning; red indicated those who had previous experience. About 70 % of the responders were using scenario planning to update transportation plans. As Kate mentioned, we are going to intersperse poll questions throughout this presentation. We have three poll questions right now.

The first question asks have you used a scenario planning process.  About half and half, similar to our questionnaire. On the next slide, we ask why did you use scenario planning?  What are the factors that led to an organization using the scenario planning process?  These slide shows the top six factors, there were several others that respondents could select, but nonetheless we were not surprised.  The need to engage stakeholders and citizens is at the top of responses from MPOs.  It is actually the desire to create land use and transportation plans, almost 85 % gave that as a response.  It is somewhat interesting that population growth is below 40%, perhaps that is because of the timing.  This survey was given out maybe a few years back. We also see that financial and economic development concerns are fairly high up.  

This slide is also about factors.  However they are about factors that inhibit the use of scenario planning.  We see, here again, there are no surprises.  Funding, staff time, and technical capacity are the three largest obstacles to using scenario planning. This is also consistent with the Lincoln Land Institute’s survey conducted in 2011.  Also, as we have discussed, there is more interest in performance measures, some of that as a result of MAP-21.  So we asked respondents what are the performance measures that you are using, whether they are in performance-based planning, process, or in an actual scenario planning process?  On this slide we see the top ten responses. We see VMT, level of congestion, and other traditional measures that are high on the list. Some of the measures are related to livability, such as walkability, economic development, etc. are also among the top ten.

There are several other measures that respondents provided, but those will be laid out in detail in the white paper. Our second poll question is "If you have used scenario planning to establish performance measures, are you using those measures to evaluate and guide transportation investment decisions?"   So again we will give everybody about 30 seconds to answer.  So we see the results there; about 28% reporting yes, however among those who have used scenario planning it’s about three-quarters. 

Moving on, we also asked about who the key champions to the scenario planning process. I think this slide is a little bit interesting because we see the left hand bar there, agency staff, identified as the group, is most likely to be the champions of the process promoting scenario planning. I think that’s important because it’s better support for some of those groups on the right side of the chart and can lead to more follow through and implementation actions as a part of the scenario planning process. In addition to levels of support, we also asked about levels of understanding. This slide shows a fairly good number of staff have an understanding of scenario planning techniques and the reason for using the process.  Local governing staff and government board members have a little bit of a lower level of understanding.  Perhaps this is a scenario where technical assistance may be a focus moving forward. So, thinking about technical assistance and how it may change going forward, we asked people what methods and what types of technical assistance are most effective.  We see here the four options that received more than 50% support.

We have our third poll question.  Given the results of the questionnaire, do you think that FHWA’s technical assistance should:  Continue to focus on technical assistance for transportation planning agency staff? Or focus on assistance for small and medium size planning agencies?  Or focus more directly on elected officials and other local government stakeholders?

So we see about 47% percent indicating to continue the focus on technical assistance for transportation planning agency staff, 32 % focus on assistance for small and medium sized planning agencies, and 18 % focus more directly on elected officials and other local government stakeholders.  

We just have a couple more slides and these just give us the outcomes. We wanted to know how effective was scenario planning in helping you achieve your desired outcomes. On this chart, the farther to the right the bar extends, the more effective scenario planning was. What is interesting here is that educating stakeholders was reported as being the most effective outcome of scenario planning. We also saw earlier that is a factor towards getting communities to use scenario planning. It also rated very well on effectiveness, nearly four out of five.

Finally, we also asked about cost effectiveness.  Specifically, we asked respondents if the cost was about right or low, given the outcomes achieved. So, in other words, if it is cost effective, over three-quarters of respondents felt that scenario planning was cost effective at helping them achieve their outcomes.

I would say we have five key findings or takeaways that we are highlighting in the white paper. First off, scenario planning is cost effective and over 70% of users said they would use it again. A lot of respondents said they were in their second or third iteration of using scenario planning. Also, it’s especially effective at engaging stakeholders given that it is top reason for using it. The third point is not one I discussed in talking about the questionnaire findings. There was a question about if MAP-21 would have "some effect" or a "great effect" on their decision to use scenario planning in the future. 85% of respondents said yes, it would have some effect or great effect.  That includes those who have used scenario planning and those who have not. And lastly, my two points I just discussed, the obstacles being funding, staff time, technical capacity, and the value of face to face technical assistance to overcome the technical capacity issues.  With that I am going to turn it back over to Kate.

Kate Ange: If you are interested in learning more about the Federal Highway Administration’s Scenario Planning Program, please contact us at the information provided above.  Or, if you are interested in reading more about the program, please use the web address.

Also, if you would like to receive emails and announcements about Scenario Planning events, please use the web address above and click on the envelope icon in the upper right portion of the screen, to be placed on the Transportation Capacity Building Program’s email list. I am going to pose two questions and turn it over to Harrison to moderate the dialogue.

Based on the key findings and the questionnaire results as presented, does this accurately reflect your sense of the state of the practice?  Did we miss any important points? Are there any questions that you all would like to raise that may better assist FHWA with the Technical assistance program?

Summary of Discussions from the Questions and Answers Session:

Kenneth Petty asked:  For those not using scenario planning, what other processes or considerations are you using or considering in your planning process?

Nicolas Garcia asked:  With respect to looking for innovative ideas, the National Park Service is doing excellent work with Scenario Planning, incorporating what they call "flexible planning" with respect to climate change and the uncertainty surrounding that. The idea is that you come up with prioritized near-term actions that work within current circumstances, and going forward a set of guidelines for monitoring, assessing, and responding to changes as they occur. Page 11 in their 2012 Climate Action Plan, breaks it down pretty well.  Plan is available at:  http://www.wilderness.net/toolboxes/documents/climate/2012_NPS-CCRPActionPlan.pdf 

Rob Balmes asked:  What advice you can give to a DOT, to help staff make the case to leadership to incorporate scenario planning at the statewide level?

Amy asked:  In your outreach, did you find one tool that was used more often than others for scenario planning?

Brad Barnett asked:  It would be great to get more detailed information about how scenario planning is being used in civic engagement processes.  Like when in the process, what types of meetings, what types of exercises, etc?

Sheila Bailey-Waddell asked:  What are the steps required in executing a scenario planning agreement if one doesn't exist or can be amended?

Beata Welsh asked:  Where should the technical assistance program go next? Will FHWA be providing funding to local agencies to test this approach?

Maria Zimmerman asked:  Interesting to see that those who are using scenario planning are not necessarily using the results to change their transportation long-range planning or programming. This seems to be especially important for thinking about allocation of transportation alternatives program, and using STP funding for transportation alternatives and transit.  Does FHWA or FTA plan to provide additional technical assistance on making the link between scenario planning and transportation programming?

Catondra Noye asked:  I am with a regional transit authority and I have never used scenario planning. It seems like it may be something that we may want to try. What are the basic steps and resources required to conduct scenario planning?

Kent Ralston asked:  We don’t use a formal scenario planning process, but we do use performance measures to track our progress and ensure that we're meeting our local transportation goals. How best do we jump from using performance measures to formal scenario planning?  What are we missing?

Myron Lee asked:  How do I get to the FHWA resources on scenario planning?

Kevin Muhs asked:  What kinds of tools are available for scenario planning?

Bob Leiter asked:  In my experience with scenario planning at a regional scale in California, one of the important elements seems to be a consensus on a set of land use "place types" that will allow for meaningful comparison of alternative land use scenarios.  Has place typology been identified in your research as a key element of effective scenario planning?

Tim asked:  Does FHWA see a role for itself in curating standards and metrics with the broader scenario planning community?  It would be great if there could be some basic standards and metrics to assist planners starting with scenario planning, while also providing a way to compare scenario planning efforts from place to place.

Chris Francis asked:  How do we use Scenario Planning in the area of Intelligent Transportation Systems and operations, as they address congestion management, demand management strategies, safety, etc. through real-time traffic information which have direct impact on improving traffic flow/travel time, emission reductions, crash reductions, etc.  involving CMAQ/HSIP funds?

Lee Schoenecker asked:  You indicated in your slides that scenario planning is used a lot for transportation planning. Ok, some MPO/s do only transportation planning. Other MPO's are the primary metropolitan agency for both transportation and broad land use guidance. Do you have enough information to know how many agencies are in the latter category?

Allen Kemplen asked:  Many regions are dominated by conservative, free-market philosophies that discourage discussions of common interests.  What tools or techniques are available to assist planners with overcoming resistance to scenario planning of our common futures?

Paul Sittig asked:  From your various experiences, have you seen much scenario planning at a state-wide level, or has most of this work been done at more local levels, with MPOs and the like?  This sounds exciting, but I wonder if this would scale-up in any useful way to cover a whole state.

Brad Barnett asked:  Are there good examples you've seen of projects that folded in issues that are non-spatial or difficult to spatially disaggregate, but nonetheless are key issues within a community?

Matt Moore asked:  Harrison, this is Matt Moore in Idaho. Don't forget Idaho did this in the 2000-2004 timeframe.

[Event concluded]