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Transportation Planning and Policy Development


Our transportation systems influence virtually every aspect of community life. They are the means for moving people, goods and services throughout our communities, the region, and, increasingly, to destinations around the world. Of equal importance, these systems have played a significant role in shaping patterns of growth, facilitating economic prosperity, and influencing the character and livability of our communities.

As a result, transportation planning is a particularly important component in the overall planning for what we want our communities to be. In particular, land use and transportation are inextricably linked. Past decisions about transportation system development were not always based on a comprehensive review of the diverse needs and interrelationships that influence whether we achieve both effective transportation systems and livable communities. Decisions were not necessarily based on a clear vision about a community's future. Instead, much of our current inventory of transportation facilities was built on a project-by-project basis, often in reaction to traffic congestion or other problems. Planning, development and operational responsibility for various pieces of the transportation network has been divided among federal, state, and local government agencies, regional transit agencies, port districts, and the private sector. The efforts of these various agencies have not always added up to an efficient, seamless system.

In recognition of the these shortcomings, a new generation of federal, state and local transportation plans is transforming transportation planning. At the federal level, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) implements federal policies through its funding programs. For the latest information on these policies, visit their Legislation, Regulations and Guidance webpage.

In Washington, The Growth Management Act (1990) and The Statewide Transportation Planning Act adopted in 1993 guide future community and transportation system planning at the state, regional and local levels. The state also has established Regional Transportation Planning Organizations.

Together, these laws require better integration of transportation and land use, and coordination between local, regional, and state agencies. In addition, they provide guidance for a more efficient and balanced transportation system that supports the broader, long-range goals for community development. An MRSC webpage: National, Statewide and Regional Transportation Planning provides more detailed information, including links to relevant laws and statutes.

This webpage provides information and links to resources helpful in preparing local transportation plans. In particular, it offers help with the difficult task of making transportation policy decisions and involving the public in the transportation planning process. It also provides links to technical information needed for planning and to rural/small community planning information.

General Information


  • Comprehensive Transport Planning: Creating a Comprehensive Framework for Transportation Planning and Policy Analysis, Victoria Transport Policy Institute (VTPI) webpage, 11/12/2010 - Addresses comprehensive planning with a focus on accessibility and alternative transportation modes rather than only adding roadway capacity. Emphasizes fully understanding costs of various choices, evaluation tools modeling practices, best practices and more
  • Planning, Environment & Realty, Federal Highway Administration - Information on a variety of issues and programs related to transportation planning, environmental, and real estate/land acquisition for local, rural, metropolitan, state, tribal, and interested citizens
  • Planning & Environment, Federal Transit Administration - Information on New Starts and Small Starts programs (fixed guideway and bus rapid transit) transit and sustainability, transit oriented development, environmental analysis, grant programs to fund multimodal transportation and other planning topics
  • Planning 2011 Volume 1 and Volume 2, Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board - Collection of recent papers that examine a variety of current transportation planning topics
  • Transportation Planning Update Newsletter, Transportation Research Board - Quarterly newsletter provides updates on programs, resources, training (including many Webinars) and best practices.
  • Transportation Planning, Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) - Links to statewide plans including the Long-Range Statewide Transportation Plan (2007 - 2026), Aviation System Plan, Bicycle Transportation and Pedestrian Walkways Plan, Ferry Long Range Plan, Freight Rail Plan, Highway System Plan, and others. Also technical assistance resources for local government.


Guides and Programs

  • Washington Transportation Guidebook Update, Preliminary Draft, Department of Commerce, Growth Management Services, 09/2011 - This guidebook is a tool to help local government staff and decision makers understand, develop and implement the transportation planning requirements in the Growth Management Act. This guide can serve as a resource to help communities evaluate their options in developing and implementing the transportation element of their comprehensive plan. Includes links to outside resources and examples.
  • Livability in Transportation Guidebook, Report No. FHWA-HEP-10-028, prepared by ICF International for FHA/FTA - Planning approaches, practical strategies, Highlights 15 case studies including TOD and bus rapid transit; focused on projects that support economic revitalization and community development, while improving transportation and housing affordability and quality of life
  • Planning Processes - Land Use and Transportation - Very useful webpage focuses on tools for coordinating land use and transportation. Includes links to land use tools, great case studies and approaches available to support the integration of land use and transportation planning initiatives including bicycle and pedestrian programs, transportation enhancements program, contest sensitive solutions, scenario planning and others
  • State Transportation Planning Guidance, MRSC - Links to Washington state transportation plans and guidance documents
  • Tool Kit for Integrating Land Use and Transportation Decision-Making, Federal Highway Administration
  • Transportation Planning and Sustainability Guidebook, Federal Highway Administration 01/2011 - Explores ways to better incorporate sustainability considerations into transportation planning
  • The Transportation Planning Process: Key Issues: A Briefing Book for Transportation Decisionmakers, Officials, and Staff, Federal Highway Administration/Federal Transit Administration, Updated 2007 - Provides an overview of transportation planning and basic understanding of key planning and policy issues

Making Decisions about Transportation Policy

Local governments in Washington face a challenging climate when making decisions about transportation policy. Policy makers face the daunting task of allocating diminishing resources to meet the needs of a growing and changing population. New state and federal laws require a more comprehensive consideration of transportation needs, alternatives, and interrelationships rather than considering transportation problems in isolation. Policymakers must consider what combination of policies best achieves efficient movement of goods and people while serving diverse needs, addressing concerns about air quality and other environmental issues, contributing to economic health, and supporting improved quality of community life.

Policymakers will need to consider a wider range of transportation solutions than has been typical in the past. They will need to coordinate with and involve other jurisdictions, transportation providers and citizens to gain a fuller understanding of diverse needs. They will also need to more fully evaluate long-term direct and indirect effects and costs of policy decisions. Materials in this section address factors to be considered, information needs, methods for analyzing alternatives and other keys to more successful decisions.

  • Comprehensive Transport Planning Framework: Best Practices for Evaluating All Options and Impacts, by Todd Litman, Victoria Transport Policy Institute with Rowan Steele, 04/15/2011 - Report describes principles for comprehensive transportation planning, identifies common planning distortions, recommends practical methods for correcting these distortions and improving transport decision-making
  • Evaluating Transportation Equity - Guidance for Incorporating Distributional Impacts into Transportation Planning, Todd Litman, TDM Planning and Implementation, Victoria Transport Policy Institute, 02/22/2012 - This report provides guidance on incorporating equity impacts into transportation planning. It defines various types of equity, discusses ways of evaluating equity, and describes practical ways of incorporating equity objectives into decision-making. “Equity” refers to the fairness with which impacts (benefits and costs) are distributed
  • Evaluating Impacts and Problems, Victoria Transport Policy Institute webpage, Victoria Transport Policy Institute,Updated 03/2012 - Provides links to a number of useful papers on evaluation including "Transportation Cost Benefits Analysis" which looks at the full costs and benefits of different transportation modes including those commonly overlooked. Also see "Evaluating Transportation Economic Development Impacts"
  • A Guide to Transportation Decisionmaking, Federal Highway Administration, 2009 - This brief guidebook provides interested citizens with an overview of the federally required transportation decision-making process and the role of federal, state, and regional (MPOs) and local agencies in transportation planning and implementation.
  • Prioritizing Transportation: Prioritization in Transportation Planning, Funding and Management, Victoria Transport Policy Institute, 01/26/2010 - Transportation planning and management involves countless decisions concerning the allocation of resources, such as money, road space, parking spaces, and priority in traffic. This report describes how to make allocation decisions that improve overall transportation system efficiency and support strategic planning objectives.
  • Transportation Decision-Making: Policy Architecture for the 21st Century, U.S. Department of Transportation, 11/2000 - Recommended framework and set of principles to encourage more open, collaborative, and flexible decision making. Still quite useful.

Public Involvement in Transportation Planning

Public participation is the most important means for discovering issues, understanding the needs of the wide variety of community groups, testing ideas, and arriving at workable transportation solutions. A participation program, initiated early in the process and offering public comment opportunities at key stages, will help policymakers stay better tuned to the needs and concerns of constituents. It can help avoid the costly scuttling or major revision of plans further down the road. Public participation in transportation planning is particularly challenging because of the long time horizons, complex technical issues and the requirements and involvement of federal, state and regional agencies. The potential impact of transportation systems on economic growth, development patterns and the environment often fuels vigorous public debate. Past experience with major transportation projects has left many citizens skeptical about whether they can realistically influence the process. Materials in this section illustrate participation tools and examples of programs that can successfully engage citizens in the transportation planning process.

Publications and Useful Websites

Participation Plans and Programs

Resources and Data

Travel Demand Forecasting and Modeling Practices

Transportation planners use models to understand how various changes to land use patterns and the transportation system, as well as changes in the behavior of travelers, will affect future travel conditions. They provide a short cut way to predict the transportation system needs under different scenarios and to make decisions about which alternatives work best for a community. For those who haven't worked extensively with transportation models, A Transportation Modeling Primer, described below, provides a good starting point for a better understanding of modeling basics. The Traffic Forecast, chapter of the Draft Transportation Guidebook, also noted below, provides information about traffic forecasts and modeling in the context of growth management planning in Washington State. Other resouces below provide helpful information on various aspects of transportation models and forecasting.

  • Advanced Practices in Travel Forecasting, Synthesis 406, Transportation Research Board (TRB) National Cooperative Highway Research Program, 2010 - Examines five types of models: activity-based demand, dynamic network, land use, freight, and statewide
  • Freight Forecasting, Federal Highway Administration - Articles and resources on truck and multimodal freight forecasting
  • Making the Most of Models: Using Models To Develop More Effective Transport Policies And Strategies, Peter Furnish and Don Wignall, 07/2009 - This paper reviews the role of conventional transport models in the development of transport policies and strategies. Explores contribution that simplified models could make, if more widely available, and provides an example.
  • Modeling Practices, Section of Comprehensive Transport Planning,Victoria Transport Policy Institute, 11/12/2010 - Discusses current and recommended practices
  • The Traffic Forecast, Part III Sections F, Draft Transportation Guidebook, Washington Department of Commerce, 12/2011 - Currently taking comments. Very helpful Washington-oriented guide describes how to forecast traffic and transit ridership generated by alternative land use patterns. Focuses on methods geared to small- and medium-sized communities.
  • Travel Forecasting: Training and Technical Assistance, FHWA Resource Center Planning Team, Federal Highway Administration - Includes a short course on modeling, and information on technical assistance programs for local government
  • Travel Model Improvement Program, Partnership of The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), Federal Transit Administration (FTA), Office of the Secretary of Transportation (OST) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) - Links to Webinar series on forecasting land use activity supply and demand and other modeling and forecasting resources
  • A Transportation Modeling Primer, by Edward A. Beimborn, Center for Urban Transportation Studies, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 05/1995, updated 2006 - User friendly explanation of modeling basics, complete with cartoons
  • Trip Generation, 8th Edition, ITE, 2008 - Provides average trips generated by 162 land use categories. Publications available for purchase from the Institute of Transportation Engineers.

Rural and Small Community Transportation Planning

By definition, rural communities have relatively low densities. Many rural residents rely primarily on the automobile for transportation. Similar to urban areas, rural areas have many non-drivers including those who are too young to drive, or the elderly. In addition, many rural areas have significant levels of poverty, and some residents may not be able to afford a car or the high cost of fuel. Regular and frequent transit service requires urban densities, and transit between widely-separated communities will not be sustained without adequate economies of scale. Non-drivers may feel isolated without an automobile, and are at a disadvantage gaining access to jobs or a variety of services. As a result, it is especially challenging to provide transportation choices in rural areas. This section includes materials that explore these special rural transportation issues, and offers approaches suitable for low density rural areas.


  • Planning Glossary, Federal Highway Administration - Transportation-related terms
  • Dictionary, Bureau of Transportation Statistics - Includes acronyms

Last Modified: January 20, 2015