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21st Century Operations Using 21st Century Technologies

Advancing Transportation Systems Management and Operations through Scenario Planning

Section 6: Getting Started

Through the six-step approach described in Section 3, transportation systems management and operations (TSMO) staff at metropolitan planning organizations (MPO) and departments of transportation (DOT) can organize a thoughtful, collaborative process for engaging partner agencies, organizations, private sector interests, stakeholders, and the general public in considering TSMO-related issues and opportunities. Below are a few key questions to consider when "mapping out" a scenario planning effort for TSMO.

  1. How should we get started?
    • What do we want to accomplish/address?
    • What is the geographic area and timeframe? What are the pressing issues or desired areas of change? Who should be involved in the process? Why? How will their involvement influence the planning process and implementation?
    • Consider convening a series of scenario planning workshops for TSMO to gather stakeholder input during the subsequent phases.
  2. Where are we now?
    • What data will be needed to address our questions? Data could include, for example, travel time reliability; delay, congestion, safety-related, or incident management statistics; transit ridership trends; etc.
    • What information is needed to provide context for the planning process? What are the policies or conditions that could influence, or be influenced by, the outcomes of the process? Contextual information could include factors that affect travel demand (such as current and planned land uses), and environmental conditions such as historic weather patterns.
  3. Where do we want to go?
    • What are the goals, objectives, targets, and/or desired future conditions to be addressed? Will these be established or updated as a result of the process?
    • For context, consider current community-based goals, policies, and statements of desired conditions, such as goals from local, MPO, and State DOT plans, local land use plans, complete street policies, sustainability initiatives, etc.
    • Consider contingent or conditional factors that could negatively impact the ability to achieve the goals or desired conditions.
  4. What could the future look like?
    • What types of scenarios will be developed? Which variables will remain constant, and which will change? Below are some examples:
      • Predictive: Different packages of transportation strategies for the study area, each of which is designed to achieve the same desired end state.
      • Normative: Different end states for the study area, influenced by packages of transportation investments and land use policies organized around policy-driven themes.
      • Exploratory: Different end states for the study area, influenced by major changes in outside forces such as global economic shifts, weather events, or environmental conditions.
  5. What impacts will scenarios have?
    • What are the key factors that will be tested during the process? For example —
      • Predictive: Impacts of different transportation investment packages on budgets and/or system performance goals.
      • Normative: Effects of different combinations of transportation investments and land use, economic, and environmental management policies on desired future conditions as defined by community values.
      • Exploratory: Influence of different outside forces on system performance and related outcomes or conditions. What analysis tools will be used to test these impacts and evaluate the results with stakeholders?
  6. How will we reach our desired future?
    • What will the end product of the process be? How will the scenario planning process inform that end product?
    • How will stakeholders engage in the process of defining goals, crafting scenarios, and evaluating results?
    • Who will be involved in implementing the end product of the scenario planning process? How might their everyday business plans be affected by the results?

Scenario analysis methods are useful tools for examining the increasingly complex interplay of issues, technologies, and stakeholders involved in developing plans and making decisions regarding TSMO. This also holds when TMSO strategies are considered within the context of a broader planning initiative. Over the past decade, the level of interest in TSMO among transportation officials and public decisionmakers has risen due to an increased emphasis on developing cost-effective, performance-driven transportation solutions that optimize increasingly sophisticated technologies. State DOTs and MPOs that traditionally focused planning efforts on long-range capital investments are now elevating TSMO to a top priority in order to increase operational capabilities of existing systems. MPOs are spearheading regional collaboration for TSMO by bringing together stakeholders from State, regional, and local public and private transportation agencies and interests. Local governments, which are typically responsible for operating traffic signals, transit services, road maintenance, snow removal, local policing, and other services, are increasingly involved in regional efforts as TSMO strategies become part of corridor, local, and subarea plans. The private sector is also playing a major role in influencing traveler behavior and system operations by providing real-time traveler data to handheld devices. By engaging multiple agencies, jurisdictions, stakeholders, and the private sector, scenario planning can function as a useful framework for bringing together a wide variety of stakeholders to consider a complex array of inter-related issues and concerns, and to identify ways in which they might work together to leverage resources toward mutually beneficial solutions.

The results of planning for TSMO influence activities such as signal coordination, incident management, congestion pricing, and ridesharing programs; technology infrastructure; data gathering needs; and others. Advances in vehicle and infrastructure technology and communication systems are introducing new paradigms for improving travel safety and efficiency by coordinating interactions among infrastructure, vehicles, operators, and human behaviors. The continuing evolution of public policies in response to changing community goals and traveler behavior is creating the need to identify new measures of effectiveness for TSMO. Scenario planning methods can help agencies responsible for TSMO to explore the potential opportunities and impacts associated with new and emerging technologies before they are deployed. Scenario planning can also help an operating agency and its partners to optimize their strategy for maintaining safe, efficient travel in an area where some changes are likely but not yet fully defined. In addition, scenarios can help demonstrate the specific TSMO strategies necessary to support community goals relative to creating more effective multimodal transportation systems.

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