Linking Visioning and Transportation

Visions are significant sources of input for transportation planning processes, which now range well beyond topics of access and design to consider community goals and values and a host of interrelated issues. Visioning processes may help guide appropriate transportation decisions to enhance economic competitiveness, environmental stewardship and community resources, while improving transportation outcomes.

Visioning has been used in support of transportation decision-making throughout the country and is increasingly common in a variety of projects, plans, and processes. Visioning is recommended by federal agencies to encourage visioning as a means of proactive and inclusive public involvement. Visioning is embraced in statewide policy by several state departments of transportation to better connect transportation and land use decisions. Visioning is practiced by many metropolitan planning organizations within ongoing planning efforts to facilitate regional coordination of local decisions. And visioning is increasingly employed by civic organizations or regional councils to establish broad regional policies, which in turn inform the plans of transportation partners.

Vision processes tend to produce high-level, policy-oriented outcomes which prove challenging to integrate within focused, project-specific transportation planning and development efforts. For example, the range of outcomes produced through visioning processes may include: broad language on a community’s values and goals; specific objectives or principles to guide decision-making; or, detailed maps depicting anticipated land use patterns, critical resource areas, or future transportation corridors.

These outcomes can be linked to transportation planning and project development processes, including long-range transportation plans, corridor planning, project programming, environmental review, or permitting processes. For example, vision statements may help shape the goals of a long range transportation plan, or maps of desired future conservation areas maps may provide input into the range of solutions considered in corridor planning, or decision-making principles for future transportation systems may provide direct input into developing consensus on a draft transportation improvement plan. Applications of visioning in support of transportation planning have included all modes from envisioning integrated air logistics centers, to seaport master plans, to conceptual designs for high-speed rail corridors. Visioning may also suit any scale of planning effort from broad regional long-range transportation plans to urban transit corridor plans to the design of local streetscapes. Visions may support a single project or provide a lasting foundation for subsequent plans, including the strategic plans of transportation agencies themselves.

However, visioning in support of transportation planning has not been uniformly embraced by practitioners and remains an underutilized practice. This research seeks to identify core elements of a visioning process and to establish linkages to transportation planning and strategic direction for practitioners.

For transportation agency managers interested in the linkages that may exist between visioning and planning, this research, in combination with the Transportation for Communities project on collaborative decision-making, highlights applying vision outcomes to transportation decision processes. Please see Section 9 of the Technical Report for more information on visioning in support of collaborative decision-making. In addition, the decision for a transportation agency to become engaged in a visioning process will be based upon the agency’s expectations of how a project’s outcomes may be more efficient, comprehensive or appropriate to the community than they might otherwise be in the absence of coordination. To help determine whether a transportation agency might engage in a vision process, Chapter 3 of the Technical Report presents a set of factors, and the basis for assessing those factors in determining whether and how to become involved in a vision process.

Please explore the topics below to learn more about the information and resources compiled as part of this project and the resources available through the Transportation for Communities web tool.

Transportation for Communities

The Transportation for Communities: Advancing Projects through Partnerships (TCAPP) web site provides a systematic approach for reaching collaborative decisions for transportation investments that enhance the environment, the economy, the community, and that improve transportation outcomes.

The foundation of Transportation for Communities is the Decision Guide, constructed of many individual key decisions that together represent a best practice approach to collaborative decision-making. The Guide identifies decision points in four phases of transportation decision-making: long-range transportation planning, corridor planning, programming, and environmental review and permitting. This structure of key decisions common to all transportation agencies contains data to support an understanding of collaboration: why it is necessary, what is needed to support it, and how to make the changes necessary for a truly collaborative process. Each key decision provides information on “how to” fully implement collaboration.

Transportation decision-making does not occur unilaterally, often there are public as well as private agencies that invest in data-driven community or regional planning. The resulting plans represent a substantial asset and data source for better transportation decision-making. TCAPP provides information for integration of external processes with transportation decision-making and helps ensure that important values and goals are recognized and accommodated early in transportation decision-making.

Practical applications show how to apply collaboration to a subset of decision points within a given topical area. TCAPP includes an application called “Visioning and Transportation,” which serves as a filter through which a practitioner can view the elements of the Decision Guide that relate specifically to visioning. This application will be operational by the end of 2010 on the Transportation for Communities web site.

Decision Points in Visioning

To enhance compatibility across current SHRP2 research areas, this project has mirrored the TCAPP approach by identifying transitions within a typical visioning process at which point a practitioner may arrive at key decision points. In turn, these points also provide important linkages to the transportation processes identified in the TCAPP Decision Guide. The following descriptions of decision points highlight the importance, purpose, actors involved, and linkages for key transitions within a visioning process.

What are decision points?

From the perspective of a visioning practitioner, certain points within any visioning process represent a milestone or critical juncture. These transition and decision points may mark the end of a phase or the completion of a key activity, but commonly represent important opportunities to reach consensus on a vision product or outcome with partners and stakeholders.

Decision points also provide important linkages to other processes, plans, or procedures. For example, an approved future, once adopted, is more likely to be utilized by a public agency to inform ongoing efforts. The opportunity to formally recognize a critical point or product greatly assists the challenging process of transferring information from broad visioning efforts to defined planning and project development processes. More detail on each of these decision points is included in the Decision Guide.