US Department of Transportation

FHWA PlanWorks: Better Planning, Better Projects

Creating the Vision

Activity Area: Where are we now?

Vision Activities

Within this activity, the practitioner’s responsibility is to collect information on current conditions within the community, and to define and develop indicators to assess those conditions and possible alternatives.

Gather baseline information – Compiling and communicating information on a community is the basis for creating the vision. Information may include data, in the form of statistics and geographic information, or data in the form of interviews with community leaders or public opinion and values surveys. The purpose is to provide a starting point for the issues and values discussions that will occur in later steps.

Example: Baltimore Metropolitan Council’s Vision 2030 developed analyses of regional trends and a SWOT analysis to help frame the effort.

Develop indicators – Providing a basis for judgment is important to help participants fully understand the tradeoffs, alternatives, impacts, and potential futures assessed later in the process. Often indicators are related to key issues and are intended to convey statements of future direction and quality, rather than quantity or output. Indicators also provide valuable benchmarks for comparisons or later progress reporting.

Example: The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning’s GOTO 2040 process utilized stakeholder input to develop a set of indicators for the vision. The City of Hamilton, Ontario’s Vision 2020 process resulted in lessons learned for indicator proceses.

Refine values and issues – Reflecting agreement on the values and issues to be addressed in the visioning process provides an opportunity to build public input and support for the vision. This activity may take the form of interactive opportunities for the public to help establish community core values and significant considerations.

Example: The sponsor of Central Florida’s How Shall We Grow? process commissioned early research on social values to help understand regional values.

The research report for the Vision Guide contains extensive information about reaching stakeholders and tools that support stakeholder engagement. See Linking Community Visioning and Highway Capacity Planning in the PlanWorks Library Reports.

Visioning Components
Name Tools & Resources
Reaching Stakeholders

Outreach techniques in this activity focus on feedback and collaborative processes as information gathered feeds into later scenario and indicator development. Assessing available data and stakeholder input will assist in selecting an appropriate scenario planning tool. Informative techniques such as visualizations and maps are effective at conveying baseline information. Public meetings and interactive forums are useful in informing participants and gathering feedback on core values. Collaborative techniques are effective in engaging key stakeholders to make final decisions on information presented or indicators utilized in later visioning activities.

Practitioners may consider these questions when assessing outreach tools:

How can we tell a compelling story of conditions, issues, and challenges to be addressed in the vision?

How can we provide opportunities for the public to help establish community core values?

How can we stakeholder input on key issues and values determine the indicators chosen to assess future scenarios?

Considering Communities

The purpose is to provide a starting point for the issues and values that will be the focus of the visioning process. Providing a basis for judgment is important to helping participants fully engage in the tradeoffs, alternatives, impacts, and potential futures assessed further in the process. Indicators should be based on community values and intended to convey statements of direction, value, quality, or progress.

Measuring Urban Design Qualities – This one-page checklist is designed for community members to determine if their neighborhood is a friendly place to walk. The guidebook can be referenced by participants to learn about roadway conditions, traffic problems that adversely affect pedestrian movements, and ways to help address these problems to make the environment more supportive of pedestrian activity.

PolicyMap, Geographic Information Systems Mapping Services and Software – This online tool with the capacity to map and report indicators related to demographics, real estate, crime rates, health, schools, housing affordability, employment, energy, public investments, and others. Access The Policy Map.

Active Community Environments (ACEs) Community Assessment – This is an assessment tool designed to help the user identify ways that can help encourage and support bicycle movements. There are five short questionnaires and a rating system that can be used as a benchmark for community progress. See more at Active Community Environments.

Active Neighborhood Checklist – The checklist is designed to assess street-level features of a neighborhood thought to be related to physical activity. It can be used to produce descriptive statistics about an area, to raise awareness about the environment in supporting or discouraging pedestrian activity, and/or mobilize the community to advocate for enhancements or improvements.

Walkability Checklist and A Resident's Guide for Creating Safe and Walkable Communities – These checklists are designed for community members to determine if their neighborhood is a friendly place to walk. The guidebook can be referenced by participants to learn about roadway conditions, traffic problems that adversely affect pedestrian movements, and ways to help address these problems to make the environment more supportive of pedestrian activity. See more at A Resident’s Guide for Creating Safe and Walkable Communities and Walkable America.

West Peterborough Road Audit – This audit tool can be used to evaluate how well streets and adjacent land uses are performing as Places, and identify opportunities for future enhancements.

Community Context Audit – This audit form guides practitioners when identifying community characteristics that make each transportation project location unique to its residents, its businesses, and the public in general. Findings help define the purpose and need of proposed transportation improvements based upon community goals and local plans for future development.

Community Core Indicators of Activity Friendliness – Telephone Questionnaire – The questionnaire was designed to find out how a community views its physical surroundings and if the environment is supportive and encouraging of physical activity.

Making Your Community Walkable and Bikeable: A Guidebook for Change – The guidebook is a step-by-step navigation tool to be used by local groups and citizens to effectively contribute to the planning process and build partnerships with transportation practitioners to enhance the local road network to be more supportive of walking and biking.

A Community Approach to Address Health Disparities: Toolkit for Health & Resilience in Vulnerable Environments – The toolkit was developed as a community resilience assessment tool to help communities enhance their environment in ways that improve public health and reduce disparities experienced by racial and ethnic minorities.

Assessing Your Community’s Aging-Readiness: A checklist of key features of an aging-friendly community – The checklist is part of a guidebook to arm local leaders with the knowledge and tools necessary to create livable communities for people of all ages. Download the guide here.

Public Health Workbook to Define, Locate and Reach Special, Vulnerable and At-Risk Populations in an Emergency – The workbook can be used by practitioners and public health agencies to ensure that all populations are reached and informed in the event of an emergency. The sponsor agency can work with transportation agencies to ensure that evacuation routes are well defined and translated into the languages of limited and non-English speaking populations in their community. They can also identify transportation services to evacuate physically and mentally handicapped and elderly populations.

Neighborhood Walking /Biking Assessment (Urban, Suburban, and Rural) – Three slightly different forms were designed for residents to assess roadway and land use conditions in their neighborhood to determine if it is safe for students to walk and bicycle to school. A small number of questions vary based on the environmental setting in which the assessment is being conducted. Download the tools here for urban, suburban, and rural communities.

Systematic Pedestrian and Cycling Environmental Scan (SPACES) Audit Instrument – A comprehensive instrument that is designed to measure the physical environmental factors that may influence walking and cycling in local neighborhoods. The instrument was developed to be used in combination with additional measures that are gathered through Geographical Information Systems (GIS).

Smart Growth Checklist, A Checklist for Municipal Land Use Planning and Management – This guide may be used by communities when making decisions about future land use and development patterns. It is designed to assess how well planning and land use policies and decisions in a community follow the principles of Smart Growth.

Community Tool Box – The Community Tool Box provides practical, step-by-step guidance in community building skills that can be used in a variety of settings to understand community characteristics and create exercises that increase community cohesion. Section 17 is of particular interest to facilitate in the visioning process. Download the Tool Box here.

What's behind Resident Quality of Life Perceptions – This is an online resource that hosts a wealth of information about quality of life considerations, performance measures, and survey instruments. It identifies current initiatives and has a subscription survey service that could be used by a transportation agency or government agencies looking to better understand the environment in which they are working. See more information at the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) web site.

Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey – The survey was designed to be used by state or federal government agencies interested in surveying constituents on social capital, smaller communities that may not have the time, budget, or staff to use the long-form survey, and communities and non-profits that may already be conducting surveys and want the short-form to act as supplemental information on social capital. The survey is designed to be used "pre" and "post" project to determine if social capital has changed. Download the short form.