The National Academies

NCHRP 08-36/Task 117 [Final]

Sketch Planning Tools for Regional Sustainability
[ NCHRP 08-36 (Research for the AASHTO Standing Committee on Planning) ]

  Project Data
Funds: $85,000
Research Agency: Cambridge Systematics
Principal Investigator: Uri Avin
Effective Date: 10/4/2013
Completion Date: 6/22/2016

STATUS:  The contractor's final report is available HERE.

Regional scenario/sketch planning methods and tools enable planners to present and evaluate a broad range of options, and to help narrow the range of alternatives that should receive detailed analysis. The results can also help facilitate public involvement in transportation decisionmaking. These methods and tools, however, have escaped critical review. Indeed, in a 2008 publication by the Lincoln Land Institute on Planning Support Systems (Brail, 2008), the developer of one of the most popular of these sketch tools, INDEX, argues that “[t]o help prospective users sort through tool choices, independent, rigorous evaluation of tool capabilities and performance is needed.”  
The adoption of California’s SB 375 in 2008 with its focus on GHG emission reductions, along with the adoption of over a dozen state climate plans, has put additional pressure on practitioners to use the most appropriate analytical tools that can also meet high standards of robustness, defensibility, transparency, speed, and affordability. EPA/HUD/DOT Sustainability Grants require grantee regions to develop Regional Plans for Sustainable Development (RPSDs) and ask applicants to “conduct scenario planning that allows the RPSD to project a variety of economic growth possibilities and anticipate responses to each of them”. The resultant avalanche of regional planning to be conducted over the next few years will accelerate practitioners’ need for good advice on which scenario/sketch planning tools to use and how to incorporate them into existing transportation planning practice. Planners are challenged to select the appropriate—most cost effective—analytical tool to reflect regional sustainability and the triple bottom line in their planning products. Scenario/sketch planning tools, which are less expensive and/or simpler to run than traditional transportation demand models, are being deployed by citizens’ groups, advocacy organizations, and hundreds of local, state, and regional agencies for a variety of planning tasks. This research will focus on scenario/sketch planning tools that are less complex than larger, traditional transportation demand models; can be used to analyze alternatives relatively quickly and inexpensively; allow for analysis of sustainability on a regional level; and may have (but are not required to have) a mapping component.
Project Objective
The objective of this research is to provide a synthesis of the state of practice for generally-available, “easier-to-use” scenario/sketch planning tools that can be used to analyze the impact of regional sustainability measures, including when and how the tools are currently being used, an evaluation of their relative strengths and weaknesses, and the resources required for a variety of types of use. The synthesis should also identify how each tool has been integrated into regional transportation planning processes, practice and tools, and will add to the extant body of knowledge.

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