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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

Public Roads - Nov/Dec 2007

Nov/Dec 2007
Issue No:
Vol. 71 No. 3
Publication Number:
Table of Contents

Spotlight on Transportation Planning

by Jody McCullough and Elizabeth Machek

FHWA and FTA are partnering to recognize innovative practices at the State, local, and tribal levels.

New Jersey FIT: Future in Transportation (NJFIT) is an initiative to integrate land use and transportation decisions to mitigate growth in traffic demand. An NJFIT visioning study and the opening of the River LINE light rail transit (shown here) have created a significant foundation for economic development and redevelopment in historic towns along the southern Delaware River.

The Nation's intermodal transportation system exists to serve the public. Transportation planning therefore needs to include public input and consider land use, the environment, development, safety, and national security. Transportation planners examine past, present, and prospective trends and issues associated with the demand for moving people and goods — all of this at various scales and frames of reference: local, rural, tribal, metropolitan, statewide, national, and international.

According to Michael D. Meyer, P.E., director and professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology's Georgia Transportation Institute (GTI), "Transportation planning guides the development of an area's transportation system and thus has a significant impact on the economic vitality and quality of life of the Nation's communities."

Whether using state-of-the-art tools to model travel demand, encouraging transit-oriented development, or devising innovative ways to involve the public in decisionmaking, communities across the country are realizing the benefits of effective transportation planning.

To recognize groundbreaking efforts at the State, local, and tribal levels, in 2004 the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), Federal Transit Administration (FTA), and American Planning Association (APA) partnered to sponsor the Transportation Planning Excellence Awards. The biennial program highlights outstanding initiatives to develop, plan, and implement innovative transportation planning practices.

"Excellent planning work occurs in many communities and States across the country, but the Transportation Planning Excellence Awards winners went well beyond the standard practices and incorporated truly innovative and extraordinary efforts," says Associate Administrator Gloria Shepherd of the FHWA Office of Planning, Environment, & Realty. "These winning projects are making outstanding contributions to the field of transportation planning."

GTI's Meyer, who served as a judge for the 2006 awards, adds, "These awards recognize innovation, creativity, and leadership ... and sometimes risk taking."

In 2006, FHWA, FTA, and APA recognized 11 winners for 13 projects and applauded 7 other projects with honorable mentions. "The projects are not only focused on the technical aspects of transportation project implementation, but also on the process and public outreach effort necessary to be successful," Meyer says. "Often the projects show strong connection between the physical and operational characteristics of transportation facilities and supporting land use, pricing, and environmental strategies that make the facilities more effective."

With the 2008 awards just around the corner, FHWA, FTA, and APA are preparing to recognize the latest standouts in transportation planning. The 2006 projects highlighted below represent a small cross section of the exemplary work being undertaken and may provide signposts to guide the next generation of innovative projects.

Arizona: Tribal Transportation

Arizona has a large Native American population and 22 tribal governments. Tribal land encompasses approximately 28 percent of the State's land. The tribal land is crisscrossed by nearly 2,170 kilometers (1,350 miles) of State highways. In 1999 the Arizona Department of Transportation's (ADOT) Transportation Planning Division, Civil Rights Office, and Partnering Section formed the Arizona Tribal Strategic Partnering Team. In addition to ADOT, other major stakeholders include the Arizona tribes, FHWA, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Through the Connecting Savannah initiative, officials in Savannah, GA, hosted public meetings to enlist input on regional mobility. These participants at a January 2005 meeting are discussing a wall-mounted aerial photo of the region.

The team's purpose is to bring together representatives from Federal, State, tribal, and local governments and agencies to discuss State-tribal transportation issues and to develop interagency forums through which those issues can be addressed. The team meets on a quarterly basis, documenting discussions and distributing information to stakeholders and key State officials.

One major accomplishment was hosting three regional forums and a followup statewide forum held in early 2007, which gave participants a better understanding of their respective programs and responsibilities. Also, the team is developing a guidebook on State-tribal transportation resources and training on State-tribal relations.

Georgia: Connecting Savannah

East-west mobility has been a longstanding concern for Savannah, GA, exerting pressure on the region's quality of life, economic vitality, and tourism industry. In the past, local transportation officials undertook numerous engineering studies to develop solutions but failed to garner sufficient public support for implementation. In February 2004, however, the Chatham Urban Transportation Study, which is the metropolitan planning organization (MPO) for the region, initiated a new planning process called Connecting Savannah: Moving People -- Making Neighborhoods.

The goal of Connecting Savannah is to engage diverse populations in meaningful discussions about how to improve mobility in the region. Outreach included a branding campaign, a project Web site, brochures, visualization tools, and surveys. More than 300 people participated in the process, including neighborhood organizations, local businesses, community leaders, and government officials. As a result, new transportation policies and improvements now are moving toward implementation.

Wyoming: PlanCheyenne

Cheyenne, a small community in southeastern Wyoming with just two local government entities, recognized the value of bridging gaps between traditionally autonomous groups to plan for the region's growth. The Cheyenne Metropolitan Planning Organization's PlanCheyenne incorporates, for the first time, the community's separately developed comprehensive plan, master transportation plan, and parks and recreation master plan.

"This common sense approach created a plan that addresses a broad cross section of issues," says Matt Ashby, AICP, director of urban planning for the city of Cheyenne and project manager for PlanCheyenne. "The traditional Western skepticism toward planning evaporated, and the community embraced the process."

Citizen participation in developing PlanCheyenne included a design charrette, several workshops, and a scenario-building exercise to help determine the future direction for the community. Participants at one such meeting are shown here discussing a map.

Created with extensive involvement of citizens, city and county officials, and planners, PlanCheyenne represents a complete revamping of the region's approach to growing as a "community of choice," Ashby says. "The community's goal is to be a place where people from all walks of life can find a place to live and thrive in Cheyenne. Be it through a variety of housing options, transportation choices, employment opportunities, or recreation amenities, Cheyenne's goal is to be a place where people choose to live."

Public support and partnerships were critical. One creative strategy for engaging the public involved partnering with a community college, where three professors agreed to structure their course curricula around PlanCheyenne to solicit student perspectives on growth in the region.

Shown here is the cover of FDOT's Sociocultural Effects Evaluation Handbook. Photo: FDOT Shown here is the cover of FDOT's Sociocultural Effects Evaluation Handbook.

Colorado: Metro Vision 2030 Plan

The Denver, CO, region is made up of more than 50 cities and counties and is home to 2.5 million people. By 2030 the population is expected to increase to 3.8 million, creating 800,000 new jobs. To manage future growth and development, transportation needs, and environmental quality, the Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG) created the Metro Vision 2030 Plan — the region's comprehensive 25-year plan.

Through Metro Vision 2030, DRCOG is deploying innovative planning and implementation tools to integrate transportation and land use at the local and regional levels. The plan includes a voluntary urban growth boundary and a policy that encourages high-density, mixed-use urban centers to absorb growth and support transit. Plans for multimodal corridors integrate transportation facilities with urban growth areas, urban centers, and parks and open spaces. Another feature is a process for ranking transportation projects to encourage community and project-level implementation of Metro Vision 2030's growth, development, and multimodal policies.

Judges for 2006 Awards

FHWA and FTA thank the following experts who volunteered to serve as judges for the 2006 awards:

  • Linda Aitkin, Minnesota Department of Transportation
  • Whit Blanton, Renaissance Planning Group
  • Jacky Grimshaw, Center for Neighborhood Technology
  • Richard Hawthorne, Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission
  • John Mason, former mayor of Fairfax, VA
  • Dr. Michael Meyer, Georgia Institute of Technology, School of Civil and Environmental Engineering Transportation Group
  • Shelley Poticha, Reconnecting America
  • Dr. Mary Lynn Tischer, Virginia Department of Transportation


Honorable Mentions

FHWA, FTA, and APA recognized the following projects as honorable mentions during the 2006 awards for their contributions to the field of transportation planning.

  • The Binghamton Metropolitan Transportation Study developed Transportation Tomorrow: 2030 — Placemaking for Prosperity, a long-range transportation plan for Binghamton, NY. Using a scenario-planning framework, Transportation Tomorrow: 2030 demonstrates how transportation investments can help achieve community development goals in a region with a declining population and economic challenges.
  • Idaho's Coeur d'Alene Tribe, the Idaho Transportation Department, and Kootenai County are using FTA funds to operate Citylink, a free, fixed-route bus system serving two counties and nine cities in rural and urban areas.
  • When reconstructing the interchange at I-40 and Coors Boulevard — one of the busiest intersections in the State — the New Mexico Department of Transportation (NMDOT) initiated a major public involvement campaign. The department invited the community to participate in decisionmaking on aesthetic considerations such as wall textures, bridge sculptures, and colors for the project, which had an 18-month design-build schedule.
  • The Houston-Galveston Area Council in Texas employed a geographic information systems (GIS) tool to identify areas for strategic investments in pedestrian and bicyclist facilities. The GIS methodology assesses various demand indicators without the need for extensive field observations, and facilitates prioritizing investments at the regional level.
  • To gather data for travel demand models, the Michigan Department of Transportation conducted a survey of household travel, collecting 48 hours of travel information from more than 14,000 households statewide. A public awareness campaign involving the media, State legislature, and municipalities encouraged Michigan residents to participate.
  • In South Carolina, the Spartanburg Area Transportation Study conducted a series of workshops in eight communities in Spartanburg County to help create pedestrian and bicycling plans.
  • To inform the State's transportation plan, the Washington State Department of Transportation conducted 150 one-on-one interviews with high-volume freight shippers and carriers to identify their needs. The department also conducted focus groups to invite feedback on draft recommendations. The data helped prioritize freight investments outlined in the State's transportation plan.
The redesigned I-40 and Coors Boulevard interchange in Albuquerque, NM, shown here, was successful largely due to NMDOT's efforts to involve the public in decisionmaking.
During a workshop in Inman, SC, attendees participate in a "human curb extension" exercise to experience firsthand how a driver might respond to pedestrians at a curb extension, which is a traffic-calming measure.

Florida: Evaluating Sociocultural Effects

Facing unprecedented population growth and development, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) developed the Sociocultural Effects Evaluation Handbook to identify and assess the potential effects of a transportation project on a community in terms of social, economic, land use, mobility, aesthetic, and relocation issues. The handbook's objectives are to avoid, minimize, or mitigate adverse impacts on community resources and create transportation projects that enhance and sustain communities.

Evaluating sociocultural effects begins during project planning and continues through construction, operation, and maintenance. The process encourages integrating transportation and land use planning and balancing transportation needs with those of the natural and human environment. Topics in the handbook include determination of the project need and study area, identification of data requirements, development of an inventory of community characteristics, assessment of public opinion, and determination of solutions.

Arizona: Regional Transportation Plan

The Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG) in Arizona recently completed a regional transportation plan that changes the course of transportation planning in the Phoenix metropolitan area from an almost exclusively car-centered approach to one significantly more multimodal. The $16 billion plan recognizes that all transportation modes are necessary for continued mobility and calls for investing $5 billion to expand bus and light rail service.

The plan took 4 years to develop and required numerous technical studies and extensive public participation. Strong leadership and advocacy from elected officials and key business leaders, who vigorously supported the plan within the legislature and in their communities, were crucial in gaining public support, including legislative endorsement and voter approval of a half-cent sales tax to help fund the plan.

Massachusetts: New Design Manual

After years of construction delays due to community concerns and environmental issues, in 2003 the Massachusetts Highway Department (MassHighway) set out to overhaul its design manual with a renewed focus on involving community stakeholders. The result was the 2006 release of the Project Development & Design Guidebook, which incorporates community setting as a design factor, features more flexible design standards, is strongly multimodal, and supports early planning and coordination to create safe, attractive roads. The guide will make transportation projects more compatible with Massachusetts's rich historic, environmental, community, and cultural resources.

Shown here is Mobility for the Next Generation, the Transportation 2030 Plan for the San Francisco Bay area.

Spurred by the Governor's Communities First policy, MassHighway took a radically new approach by appointing a task force that included local officials, planners, and advocacy and professional organizations to oversee the guidebook's creation. This bold decision enhanced the department's credibility with some of its strongest critics, who felt the department favored drivers' desires over community concerns.

The process of developing the guidebook prompted MassHighway to establish multidisciplinary teams for project development and appoint bicycle/pedestrian coordinators in each of its district offices to act as community liaisons. The department also invited planners, historic preservationists, and environmental specialists to serve on its project review and design committees.

California: Transportation 2030 Plan

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) of San Francisco, CA, was honored for two initiatives. The first is its Transportation 2030 Plan, a comprehensive roadmap for maintaining, fine-tuning, and expanding the nine-county San Francisco Bay area's transportation network. Developed through an unprecedented public involvement effort that began in 2003 and involved thousands of bay area residents and transportation agencies, the plan identifies three investment strategies to achieve its goals: adequate maintenance, system efficiency, and strategic expansion.

The plan sets forth dozens of calls to action that articulate how MTC and its partners can implement the long-range vision by raising revenues, enacting new laws, or rethinking old policies. Among the plan's cutting-edge initiatives are use of high-occupancy toll lanes, aggressive deployment of intelligent transportation systems technologies to squeeze more efficiency out of the existing network, and improving mobility options for low-income residents.

California: Transit-Oriented Development

MTC's second award-winning project is its Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) Policy for Regional Transit Expansion Projects, which aims to promote cost-effective transit, ease regional housing shortages, create vibrant communities, and preserve open space. Adopted in July 2005, the policy sets performance criteria for land use in a manner that meets MTC's ridership, livability, and transit cost-effectiveness goals, yet allows local jurisdictions the flexibility to address regional land use goals in ways that support local policies.

The TOD policy includes three key elements: establishment of corridor-based requirements for housing density around transit stations; development of plans for station areas, funded in part with MTC dollars; and creation of corridor working groups to engage key stakeholders in developing station area plans.

Design charrettes, such as the one shown here, are a key strategy for involving community members in the NJFIT initiative.

Minnesota: Performance-Based Plans

Two projects submitted by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (Mn/DOT) earned awards as well. The first is Mn/DOT's 2003 Statewide Transportation Plan and 2005 district-level plans, which are among the Nation's first comprehensive, performance-based, State transportation planning efforts. Created in consultation with resource management and economic development agencies, the statewide plan established a framework for long-range investment planning, with performance measures and targets in 10 policy areas.

Following adoption of the statewide plan in August 2003, Mn/DOT conducted an agencywide rollout and training process in preparation for the district-level plans, which identify investment levels needed to meet targets. The district-level plans detail a prioritized, fiscally constrained, 20-year implementation program. Together, the plans are a critical link between Mn/DOT's strategic goals and the capital investment program in its State Transportation Improvement Program.

Minnesota: Statewide Freight Plan

Mn/DOT's second project is the Minnesota Statewide Freight Plan, one of the first comprehensive, performance-based freight plans in the Nation. The plan creates a framework for communication among public and private transportation stakeholders, including the Minnesota Freight Advisory Committee, to articulate policies, strategies, and performance measures for freight transportation.

The freight plan is oriented toward innovative financing and public-private partnerships, and has enabled Mn/DOT to improve its coordination with Federal agencies on freight issues.

New Jersey: Future in Transportation

The New Jersey Department of Transportation charted a new course for developing transportation projects by creating incentives and offering technical assistance to municipalities to plan for transit-oriented, compact, mixed-use development. Known as New Jersey FIT: Future in Transportation, the initiative uses corridor studies and development of "transit villages" to help communities integrate land use and transportation decisions and mitigate growth in traffic demand.

The corridor studies use visioning, a collaborative and creative process that leads to a shared community vision and common values, and other tools to establish sensible land use patterns and promote lively, walkable main streets. The transit village initiative creates incentives for new housing and mixed-use development that encourages walking, biking, and transit ridership. Eleven State agencies are providing grants, loans, and/or technical assistance to municipalities that make the required land use changes to become designated transit villages. Seventeen villages have been designated to date, and more than 70 municipalities have expressed interest.

NJDOT and New Jersey Transit spearheaded a public-private partnership that tamed the Rutherford Circle in northern New Jersey and redeveloped adjacent properties with intensive mixed-use development.

New York: Best Practice Model

The New York Metropolitan Transportation Council developed a model to predict the detailed travel patterns of a diverse population using numerous travel modes. The New York Best Practice Model is a behavior-based travel demand model that the council can use in air quality conformity analyses and major investment studies.

The model features innovative approaches such as using a location-based household travel survey; microsimulation to simulate the travel pattern of each person in the region, including nonmotorized traffic; and the concept of "journeys" instead of the more traditional "trips" as the unit of travel.

The journey, defined as travel between principal locations, identifies anchor points in an individual's travel pattern, such as home, work, or school. The traditional trip, home to work, for example, would identify the point of origin and destination. It would not, however, include details specific to the individual, such as daily stops at a day care center, gym, or other unique aspect of travel that might very well influence the individual's decision regarding mode choice. These approaches make the travel demand models more realistic and more effective tools in the planning process.

Nominations for 2008

FHWA and FTA will request submissions for the 2008 Transportation Planning Excellence Awards in January 2008. Anyone may submit a nomination; however, eligible nominations must be for a project, process, group, or individual involved in a project or process that has used FHWA and/or FTA funding to make an outstanding contribution to the field of transportation planning.

Entries will be judged on the basis of innovation, community and public involvement, partnerships and collaboration, multimodalism, equity, sustainability, and demonstrated results, effectiveness, replication, and transferability.

In addition to meeting these criteria, successful nominees will demonstrate excellence in the specific categories for which they are nominated. A project or organization may be nominated separately for more than one category, but each nomination should speak specifically to the project or organization's relevance to that category.

"The 2008 awards will have several expanded categories so we can find out about and share more examples of exemplary planning," Associate Administrator Shepherd says. The awards will focus on 12 major categories, chosen not only to reflect traditional transportation planning but also to recognize innovative initiatives, goals, and objectives that will help make the U.S. transportation system the best in the world.

Online application forms will be available in January 2008. All nominations are due by February 29, 2008. Winning entries will be selected by an independent panel of judges representing diverse backgrounds and expertise. Awards will be presented in summer 2008.

Categories and Criteria for 2008 Awards

Transportation Asset Management Program

  • Tracks system condition, needs, and performance
  • Identifies costs for maintaining and preserving existing assets
  • Identifies public expectations and desires
  • Compares needs to available funding, including operating and maintenance costs
  • Defines asset conditions so decisions can be made on how best to manage and maintain them
  • Determines when to take action such as preservation, rehabilitation, reconstruction, capacity enhancement, or replacement

Education and Training

  • Increases the quality and effectiveness of transportation planning
  • Improves the capacity of the existing or future transportation planning workforce
  • Improves quality of transportation planning education curricula
  • Includes academic programs, training programs, and courses

Freight Planning

  • Ensures efficient, seamless, and secure freight flow within and across U.S. borders
  • Considers rail, commercial motor vehicle, waterway, and aviation facilities elements and connections throughout the planning process
  • Incorporates freight analysis (such as size and weight dynamics), intermodal coordination, and technology into transportation planning
  • Provides ongoing coordination with public and private freight companies

Homeland and Personal Security

  • Integrates security into the metropolitan and statewide transportation planning processes, transportation plans, and programs through coordination with law enforcement and emergency management agencies
  • Identifies critical transportation elements for emergency response
  • Develops activities, programs, and systems prior to a disaster or emergency that are used to support and enhance prevention, response, and recovery
  • Identifies and tests through modeling and exercises alternate route plans for evacuation or emergency situations
  • Establishes preparedness and evacuation programs for mass transit systems
  • Coordinates across jurisdictions and modes, including emergency response providers, State and local planning agencies, and Federal emergency management and homeland security, and involves outreach and systems analysis of emergency response
  • Demonstrates leadership and resilience in responding to a federally declared emergency, or encourages hope and resilience in the wake of a disaster

Linking Planning and Operations

  • Manages traffic demand by providing travelers with information and travel choices
  • Develops regional frameworks for integrated deployment of intelligent transportation systems
  • Identifies effective strategies to reduce delay caused by work zones and traffic incidents
  • Achieves successful deployment of 511 traveler information
  • Coordinates regional operations for safe and efficient movement of the public and freight
  • Uses operational performance measurement to determine public perception of improvements in system operations and reduced congestion
  • Uses, or contributes to, a congestion management process as the basis for monitoring and forecasting multimodal system performance and setting priorities for including projects and strategies in the plan and TIP

Modeling and Technology Applications

  • Strengthens transportation planning with modeling and technology, such as GIS, travel demand forecasting, global positioning systems, incident management systems, and visualization tools
  • Assesses current and potential problems, develops alternative solutions, or evaluates alternatives through scenario planning
  • Uses visualization techniques and/or electronic media to strengthen public participation in the planning process, specifically to aid the public in understanding proposed plans
  • Portrays the complex character of proposed transportation plans, policies, and programs at appropriate scales through visual imagery

Planning Leadership

  • Demonstrates an agency or organization's leadership through innovative transportation planning initiatives and shares information about techniques by participating on national teams, at conferences, or in training
  • Demonstrates that an agency or organization not only raised the standards in transportation planning but also is an example for others

Public Involvement and Outreach

  • Promotes understanding and properly addressing the needs of different socioeconomic groups
  • Avoids, minimizes, or mitigates disproportionately high and adverse effects, and/or ensures full and fair participation by all potentially affected communities for an effective transportation decisionmaking process
  • Broadens participation in the transportation planning process by reaching out to community members who previously were not engaged in it
  • Innovates by using public involvement methods such as electronic voting, visual preference surveys, public design forums, charrettes, handbooks, and other techniques
  • Demonstrates how collaboration with the public and community outreach has successfully enhanced decisionmaking, the transportation planning process, and project development

Safety Planning

  • Develops an exemplary Strategic Highway Safety Plan that involves a comprehensive, data-driven approach to highway safety and considers operational aspects of the highway system, in concert with other modes, for their benefits and impacts
  • Integrates safety into comprehensive, systemwide, multimodal, and proactive surface transportation decisionmaking
  • Considers all aspects of transportation safety — engineering, education, enforcement, and emergency medical response
  • Includes transit, bicyclist, and pedestrian safety improvements in the transportation planning process
  • Addresses current safety problems and prevents future hazards and problem behaviors

Transportation, Land Use, and Economic Development Integration

  • Promotes coordination of transportation with land use and economic development
  • Incorporates several land use tools such as ordinances, codes, or policy guidelines
  • Shows coordinated planning across multiple jurisdictions
  • Protects and enhances the environment, promotes energy conservation, improves quality of life, and promotes consistency between transportation improvements and State and local planned growth and economic development patterns
  • Connects decisions about transportation infrastructure with land use and development decisions

Transportation Planning And the Environment

  • Exhibits effective linkage and integration between transportation planning processes and the natural and human environment from systems planning through project development
  • Acknowledges innovative efforts to protect the human environment
  • Demonstrates exemplary efforts regarding Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and environmental justice
  • Protects or improves the natural environment, air quality, and habitats
  • Results in improved air quality
  • Incorporates context sensitive solutions

Tribal Transportation Planning

  • Demonstrates innovative and exemplary tribal transportation planning
  • Incorporates tribal government planning considerations throughout the planning process
  • Shows coordinated tribal planning across multiple jurisdictions, including State and local planning agencies

Jody McCullough is a transportation planner in the FHWA Office of Planning, Environment, & Realty. She is a member of the Transportation Planning Capacity Building Team, and her responsibilities include promoting scenario planning; providing technical assistance on visualization requirements, land use, sustainability, and livability for transportation planning; and overseeing the Transportation Planning Excellence Awards. She has a bachelor's degree in geography land use from Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania.

Elizabeth Machek is a community planner with the Planning and Policy Analysis Division at the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center, which is a Federal fee-for-service organization within the U.S. Department of Transportation and located in Cambridge, MA. Machek focuses on transportation and strategic planning, capacity building, parking management, and data collection and analysis. She holds a master's degree in city planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor's degree in Japanese studies and political science from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

For more information, contact Jody McCullough at 202-366-2825 or, or Elizabeth Machek at 617-494-3442 or