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Towards a Typology of Scenario Planning


Towards a Typology of Scenario Planning


ScenPlanImage2 This quote from a recent guidebook on scenario planning highlights one of my major problems with scenario planning.  Despite attempts to standardize it, the field not only lacks a central methodological basis, it also lacks a common language and even a consistent terminology.  I find this problem most acute when people talk about what scenarios are.  The answers can range from, “what will likely happen in the future?” to “what could happen in the future?” to “what do we want to happen in the future?”  Sometimes, scenarios only deal with “how will we adapt to the future?”  We don’t have a consistent terminology or typology to describe these different ways of looking at what scenarios are and these different approaches to scenarios planning.

With the passage of MAP-21, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has given even more impetus to scenario planning as used in transportation planning, thus giving new life to the practice.  A spate of recent studies in scenario planning, however, has failed to address a fundamental issue having to do with the overall framework or “typology” of scenario planning.  Even the standard FHWA guidebook on scenario planning doesn’t really address this broader issue of framework.  Under “Types of Scenarios,” the Guidebook says simply, “There are many types of scenarios.  Some scenarios focus on telling a story about the future as a way of visioning possible changes.  Others do not involve narratives but rather sets of assumptions that examine future possibilities.”  While not inaccurate, this is hardly a definitive typology of scenario planning.

What Others Have Attempted

A few researchers have tackled the task of developing a typology of scenario planning but little consensus on such a typology exists.  In 2002, Ged Davis, working for Shell Oil developed a fourfold typology based on key questions one could ask of the scenario planning process.

Chart1A later attempt to develop a typology of scenario planning by the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm was also based on a series of questions that can be asked about the future:

chart2Most recently, FHWA, in its guidance for MAP-21, has loosely defined a typology of scenario planning through a discussion of the ways in which scenarios might be used in the transportation planning process:

Chart3All of these are useful ways of looking at types of scenarios.  However, they are hardly consistent and this professional confusion about the broader framework of scenario planning highlights a need to unify our terminology, to develop a common language for a basic typology of scenario planning.

Towards a New Typology

In this brief blog post, I would like to suggest at least one possible direction to explore in the development of such a typology.  The “cheat sheet” chart below, while relying heavily on the Royal Institute of Technology study cited above, expands this structure into a series of four key questions about the nature of a scenario planning effort.

Through this potential framework, one can first classify scenario planning based on the fundamental question of what they are seeking to know about the future – do they look at the likely future, at all possible futures, or at a desired future?  From this starting point, the scenarios can be further classified by the factors that affect that future – external ones, such as the cost of energy or demographic changes; or internal ones, such as policy direction or investment and funding actions.  Finally, for those types of “aspirational” scenario planning efforts that specifically explore responses to change, these responses can be further classified into “do nothing” responses that shows what the outcome will be if no actions are taken; and “drive change” responses that show how purposeful policies and actions may influence the future.

Chart4This last issue – how different policy responses may influence the future – can be roughly modeled as shown below.  The chart shows the relationship between policy choices and how they may influence future trends.  It shows, in red, a “likely” trend and, in green, a “desired” or aspirational trend, along with additional potential trends in blue.  Two possible policy responses to these futures are shown as dashed lines.  The dashed red line shows the probable outcome if “no change” policies are pursued.  This outcome is more or less in line with the “likely” future that was previously modeled.  However, the green dashed line shows the probable outcome if “drive change” policies are pursued, an outcome much closer to the “desired” trend that was previously modeled.

Chart5Next Steps?

If our profession is to address our self-imposed challenge, that of bringing some standardization to the scenario planning process, it will take a lot more than a “cheat sheet” for scenario planning.  The Cheat Sheet above only points to one potential exploration for a typology.  However, it will take a very robust research effort that looks both in breadth and depth at the state of the practice and state of research into scenario planning, to bring some manner of consistency to the terminology and typology of scenario planning.  This challenge is perhaps more pressing than any potential technological or methodological refinement in the field that may emerge in the coming years.

–Vlad Gavrilovic, Cities That Work Blog



Getting to Know the Smart Location Database


Getting to Know the Smart Location Database


Earlier this fall, the US Environmental Protection Agency released the second version of its Smart Location Database (SLD), a GIS data resource for measuring "location efficiency" across the country.  Location efficiency refers to the idea that the urban context of a development - say, a suburban mall or a mixed use town center - influences the impact that development has on its environment, including things like travel behavior, energy consumption, and stormwater runoff.  Smart locations, then, are places where development impacts are minimized. Charlotte, NC: The SLD provides a consistent means of describing different locations across the city or across the country in terms of their built environment.

Renaissance led the development of the enhanced SLD, consisting of updating EPA’s original pilot version from 2000 to 2010 Census geographies, but also incorporating a number of new measures.  I had the privilege to work on developing many of the indicators included in the SLD update and wanted to share some of the highlights of this exciting data product.

What Data is Available and How Can it Be Accessed?

The SLD includes over 90 variables that describe the built environment at a given location, especially focusing on the growing list of "D's" attributes (density, diversity, design, distance to transit, and destination accessibility are specifically covered) that have garnered much attention in planning research.  All data are compiled at the census block group scale with nationwide coverage.  Casual users can view data online in an interactive map, while GIS practitioners can download data for a region of interest or the entire country and conduct in-depth analysis.

The immediately cool thing here is that the SLD provides one-stop shopping for data that would otherwise need to be cobbled together from several disparate sources.  Moreover, it comes packed with "value-added" data that would entail substantial analytical effort to develop independently, including :

  • assessments of areas that are protected from development;
  • a host of land use diversity measures;
  • detailed network and intersection density metrics; and my favorite:
  • regional accessibility by auto or by transit.  (Although the latter is limited to those places that shared Google Transit feed files on the GTFS data exchange, it still covers over 200 transit providers.)

Uses and Applications

Having these data available at the block group scale with nationwide coverage opens up a ton of analytical possibilities.   Right out of the box, users can compare the D's attributes of various places within a region of interest or aggregate data for comparisons across counties, regions, or states.  The clever cartographer can produce maps that display multiple variables, providing complex analysis at a glance.  Users in rural areas and small towns - places where local data are often scarce - can access a rich array of information quickly.

Access to jobs by transit compared to low wage residents and zero car households for Baltimore, MD.

EPA offers its own list of prospective uses of the SLD:

The Smart Location Database may be appropriate for use in local and regional planning studies when better local data is unavailable. Sample uses of the Database include:

  • Assessing and comparing neighborhood conditions
  • Identifying suitable locations for growth or investment
  • Scenario planning and transportation analysis

However, the SLD can be taken much further.  By providing a uniform set of measures, it introduces an open platform from which GIS developers can create powerful analytical tools.  These tools could measure how things like impervious surface area, vehicle miles of travel, or trips made by walking would be expected to vary based on where development occurs.  By lowering the costs of data development, the SLD would make such tools immediately deployable by planning professionals throughout the country.

The SLD can provide data to drive lightweight applications.  Here's an example of a simple spreadsheet tool I built to quickly predict travel behavior at two alternative development locations.  The example uses SLD data for two locations in the Salt Lake City, UT area.

Demonstrating this potential, EPA is currently using the SLD in a research study of workplace location efficiency, specifically examining how D's attributes at employment locations impact travel to and from work.  I'm excited to see what tools and methods of analysis will emerge from that study and how others will extend the utility of the SLD through custom geoprocessors and lightweight applications.

Accessing More Information Faster

Planners can always benefit from having faster, easier access to more information. The SLD contributes to a growing body of rich, readily available data that can help local and regional planners understand their communities more comprehensively and, in turn, serve those communities more efficiently and effectively.  I hope to share some additional, specific thoughts on how we can do that in the near future and perhaps provide more detail on using GTFS data to assess transit accessibility.  In the meantime, happy mapping.

Those who are interested in more detailed information on the data contained in the SLD, as well as the source data and methods used to develop it, should check out the SLD User Guide.

–Alex Bell, Cities That Work Blog


Outcomes and Outputs

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Outcomes and Outputs


vlad1I took the above photo of a disconnected crosswalk in Hampton, Virginia a couple of years ago.  The photo nicely demonstrates the difference between outputs and outcomes, showing a crosswalk that ends up a few feet to the left of the new depressed curb that was built.  To be fair, perhaps the crosswalk marking program hadn’t yet caught up with the depressed curb construction program and they will one day connect.  Notice, however, that the pedestrian who is actually crossing doesn’t trust either the curb depression or the crosswalk but is striking out on his own. How does this demonstrate outputs versus outcomes?  An output is simply a quantity of goods or services produced by an individual, a business or an agency.  An output measure in this case could be defined as the number of crosswalks marked or the number of curbs depressed to meet ADA standards.  Let’s say a transportation agency had a performance measure of the number of new crosswalks installed in a given year.  This would be an example of an output measures.  An outcome, on the other hand, is the ultimate goal or purpose towards which we strive.  If this same transportation agency had instead a performance measure of the reduction in pedestrian accidents at intersections, then this would be an example of an outcome measure.  It would measure progress toward an ultimate goal such as pedestrian safety, but it wouldn’t measure anything that is actually produced by the agency.

A Matter of Control

In the realm of performance based planning and programming (PBPP) the key difference between output and outcome measures can become confused.  The main functional difference in this context is that outputs are within the realm of control of the agency, whereas outcomes are beyond the full control of the agency.  The classic example is in the case of safety.  If safety is the goal of the agency, then some of the outputs that the agency may control to meet that goal might be things like the number of road miles repaired or the number of crosswalks added.  However, there are other factors that influence safety that are not totally within the control of the agency.  To name a few, driver attention, skill or weather conditions are totally outside the control of a transportation agency and yet they influence overall safety.  Therefore, measures such as the number of car accidents or pedestrian injuries are really outcome measures since they include factors that are beyond the agency’s control, whereas measures such as roads repaired or crosswalks installed are output measures since they are wholly within the control of the agency.  The chart below illustrates some examples of output versus outcome measures for transportation:

vlad2In God we trust, all others bring data (W. Edward Deming)

The world of transportation planning nowadays is positively drenched in performance measurement.  With the passage of MAP 21, USDOT will now be establishing a set of performance measures for implementation by states and MPOs in the spring of 2014, and we can all anticipate greater prominence of performance measurement in funding and policy decisions.  In transportation planning, confusion among output and outcome measures can result in a lack of connection between policies and their desired results.  As some have pointed out, this confusion can often be complex and hard to sift through.  For example, should TOD be expressed as an output measure (increase in square footage of development around transit) or an outcome measure (greater economic vitality as a result of transit expansion)?  In either case, an awareness of the key difference between outputs and outcomes will help planners avoid obvious pitfalls.  We can at least learn to distinguish between measuring an output such as the number of crosswalks as something we can control, versus measuring an outcome such as overall safety as something we can only influence but not fully control.

–Vlad Gavrilovic, Cities That Work Blog

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Contemplating the Urban Oasis

keywest Harry Truman solved his problem. Seeking escape from the "White Prison" of Washington, D.C., he discovered the Little White House on Key West in 1946 as his oasis from the international post-WWII storms, political gamesmanship and scandal that roiled his first term as Roosevelt's successor.

He never liked the White House and its trappings, and endured more than his fair share of criticism as president while making critical and accountable decisions during years of crisis. "If you want a friend in Washington," Truman was to have said, "get a dog." After his initial foray to Key West in 1946 for doctor-prescribed R&R, he spent 175 days there during his 2nd term, mostly working in the company of aides and dignitaries, with an occasional poker game with the boys and a fishing trip when his wife and daughter visited.

Harry Truman understood the importance of down time. Between today's constant 24/7 pull of the Internet, social media, "breaking" news updates and demands for professional service and work deadlines, I find myself having a greater need for time spent alone, with family or in the company of friends in some type of public open space setting. The trouble is, it's getting harder to take the big two-week vacation, unplug and disconnect in some wonderful or remote setting. And the long, stressful days leading up to and immediately after that big event make it barely worthwhile. Rather, I've come to appreciate much more the snippets of time over a weekend or on a day here, half day there basis relaxing and recharging in some contemplative urban oasis amid dense foliage, rippling streams, walking paths and strong on-shore breezes perfectly made for contemplation.

Valuing Open Space

We often think of cities as great gathering places offering high levels of accessibility for people to interact and innovate by sharing ideas. But in addition to creating walkable, transit-oriented places, an important part of making cities livable is access to public parks and natural spaces. There is a growing body of research showing that public parks and open space reduce stress, improve health and contribute to economic prosperity of neighborhoods and local governments. While factors like distance and level of maintenance matter, a typical example is a recent study conducted in Greenville, SC, which found that small and medium parks have a positive influence on neighboring property values. This, in turn, can result in higher assessments and thus higher property tax revenues for local governments, potentially off-setting the capital and maintenance cost of greenways, parks and the like. It's certainly wise to try to monetize such benefits in this era of fiscal accountability, but let's not overlook the social and personal value of creating places for people to appreciate nature, get away from the constant marketing and the impersonal institutional surroundings of our daily lives. We all need our escapes.

The Morikami Experience

Buddha in repose at Morikami Gardens

A short drive west from I-95 in Delray Beach, FL amid sprawling six-lane roads and gated suburban enclaves, you'll find The Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens. Dedicated in 1975 and maintained by the Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation Department, the Morikami features 200 acres of scenic vistas, walking trails traversing six distinct sculpted natural gardens, and a fine Japanese café, museum and classrooms. The gardens provide ample places to stroll alongside streams or sit beside waterfalls and flowering tendrils of Firebush, Mexican Petunias and Alamanda.

A stream flows through the Morikami Japanese Gardens in Palm Beach County, FL.

Like many suburban communities, Palm Beach County has been slow to recognize the importance and value of streets as livable places. As with all of Florida's big urban counties, roads are public places ceded primarily to the speed and efficiency of private automobile travel. Residential and even commercial land uses are generally hidden behind dense buffers of vegetation or walled and gated barriers designed to separate the impersonal public realm from private enclaves. Amid the sprawl and "thou shalt not" feeling of restricted public right-of-way and private gated communities, the Morikami and places like it provide a valuable and rewarding respite of communal open space designed to transport people away from the cacophony of traffic and commercial striving.

Innovative Open Space

While the Morikami is a "drive to" garden oasis that is a true regional and even statewide resource, urban open spaces ranging in size from pocket parks of a few hundred square feet to a few hundred acres improve livability and walkability.

The Trust for Public Land has a nice report on "Shoehorn Parks," covering innovative strategies to squeeze green spaces out of crowded cities. My personal favorite is the use of cemeteries, which served as the principal open space in cities before parks as we know them today. Rooftops, school yards, stormwater channels and streets all can function as usable, enjoyable open space.

The Key West Cemetery dates to 1847 with 75,000 people interred on 19 acres in the "dead center" of Old Town.

The Key West Cemetery is an eclectic bit of history on 19 acres in the heart of Old Town built on the island's highest natural point. The cemetery dates to 1847 after a hurricane forced its reconstruction, and it includes markers commemorating the sinking of the battleship U.S.S. Maine in 1898 and graves of numerous other military veterans, as well as sections for Key West's Jewish, Catholic, Protestant and Cuban residents. Even on a hot day in mid-summer, a late morning stroll through the cemetery provides a peaceful and fascinating view into the lives of so many different people. These urban places, both big like the Morikami or small like the Key West Cemetery or neighborhood pocket parks, offer a welcome respite from the stress and anxiety of everyday life, making our communities more livable.

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Talkin' 'Bout My Highly Mobile Generation


Talkin' 'Bout My Highly Mobile Generation


There’s an old saying that “demographics are destiny,” and I was reminded of this while reading a recent report from the AARP Public Policy Institute about the impact of the baby boomers on travel in the U.S. over past 40 years. Using data from the National Household Travel Survey (NHTS), the researchers demonstrate how this enormous (and thus enormously significant) generation has been driving – pun intended – transportation patterns for decades and will continue to do so in the future.

Mobile Boomers

You probably know the basic story line already: the baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, were the first suburban generation. They grew up in a land of tract houses, backyards, strip shopping centers, and busy roads filled with cars. This post-WWII period also was an era of unrivaled prosperity in America, when new household devices like the washing machine and other household appliances made housework easier and faster, just as changing social norms and economic growth led to more women entering the workforce. So how did this prosperity change how people get around, especially the baby boomers growing up in it?

Baby boomers started driving at a young age, and both young men and women entered the workforce with more education than previous generations. When the baby boomers started building families, they acquired “his” and “hers” cars, spread a housing boom to the suburban fringes, and, with the advent of dual-earner families, exhibited a strong reliance on “outsourced” household support, such as day care and eating out, that required travel. As a result, during the past four decades, the number of vehicles nearly tripled, travel rates more than doubled, and total vehicle miles of travel grew at more than twice the rate of population growth. Since 1977, travel for household maintenance trips (nonwork) grew fivefold.

The baby boomers haven’t just traveled more than other generations at a particular point in their adult lives; they've traveled more at every point. Every year of the NHTS data since 1983 (when they were ages 19-37) shows that boomers traveled more miles per day than everyone else. So far the trend has persisted even as the baby boomers have increasingly become empty nesters, so it’s not just because of driving their kids around.

New Ways of Getting to the Doctor’s Office

Baby boomers have used cars to become the most mobile generation, but the NHTS shows that they may be shifting modes as they get older. Their vehicle travel (in terms of trips per person) increased throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, but started declining after 1995. Meanwhile, transit travel increased steadily over the years, with a notable jump in 2009 when gas prices were spiking (and transit travel increased among all age groups).

And transit is not the only mode of transportation getting more attention from baby boomers. The AARP researchers cite several interesting (though unfortunate) statistics that suggest that an increasing number of older people are using other means to get around. A study by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration concluded that a surge in motorcycle fatalities is related in part to an increase in the number of riders over the age of 40. And another study showed that the average age of bicyclists killed in traffic crashes has risen from 32 in 1998 to 41 in 2008. The NHTS data show that baby boomers’ share of all trips by bike increased 64 percent between 2001 and 2009.

The baby boomers have spent the past decades wielding their enormous influence on housing and consumer market trends, but these days you probably hear the most about their future impact on health care. While the complexities of health care costs and practices is a subject for a different blog post, a chart in the AARP report stood out for me as a clear demonstration of how transportation is going to be a quality of life factor for the boomers as they age – and all of us for that matter. Check out the red line in this chart:

Medical appointments: more trips, same distance

We’re not traveling any farther to get to the doctor’s office than we did 26 years ago, but we sure are going there (and labs, imaging centers, therapists, pharmacies, etc.) a lot more often. As planners we spend a lot of time thinking about how to make employment centers, retail districts, and civic/cultural destinations more accessible by multiple travel modes. Medical “places” are just as important to our quality of life, and an extremely large cohort of people who are used to driving a lot are beginning to enter the phase of their lives where they (1) will need more medical care and (2) may eventually be unable, unwilling, or less likely to drive themselves.

A New Generation of Challenges and Priorities

Reshaping and redeveloping our communities to better integrate travel by transit, bikes, and walking is of course one way to tackle the issue. But retrofitting places and increasing accessibility is a long term evolutionary process and won’t reach everyone who needs it. Paratransit and similar human services transportation options are a vital piece of the puzzle, but challenges in coordination, funding, and service availability already exist – before the baby boomer retirement wave has hit. Whit Blanton of Renaissance wrote in the recent issue of the APA Florida newsletter about how local governments, agencies, and service providers are working to overcome these challenges. As they have been throughout their lives, the baby boomers are the vanguard of a new trend, but linking accessibility, wellness, and quality of life is a goal that every generation can appreciate.

--Dave Stamm, Cities That Work Blog


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