How does PlanWorks work in the real world?

PlanWorks has supported the development of actual plans and projects during pilot testing. The following examples show how PlanWorks can be adapted to different practitioner needs.

MNDOT uses PlanWorks to develop a Complete Streets Plan in Grand Rapids

Complete Streets Plan of Grand Rapids, MN

Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) was selected as one of the agencies to pilot test PlanWorks.The pilot test was to apply the decision making tool to the development of a Complete Streets Plan and Planning Process for the city of Grand Rapids, Minnesota (MN). Using the tools and techniques provided within PlanWorks, the MnDOT project team worked collaboratively with stakeholders and successfully designed a Complete Streets Plan for the City of Grand Rapids.

Applying the philosophies and principles of context sensitive solutions (CSS) to planning not only yields a collaborative
decision-making process, but also improves roadway capacity for all modes and all users.Complete Streets specifically and CSS more generally have been a focus in Minnesota for many years. Minnesota was one of the first states to adopt a statewide policy requiring "context sensitive design and solutions," and has been recognized by FHWA for its continued work in the field.A 2011 legislative statute requires that MnDOT's Commissioner implement a Complete Streets policy and integrate related principles of CSS. In July of 2011, the City adopted a Comprehensive Plan update,which outlined that part of the City's vision is a community where "residents and visitors can move around the City with equal ease by car, bicycle, walking or other mode of transportation."The Complete Streets Plan for the City of Grand Rapids was developed to support this vision and the legislative statute.

A complete street with walking path in grand rapids, mn. photo complete streets plan of grand rapids, mn.
A "Complete Street" with walking path in Grand Rapids, MN. Photo: Complete Streets Plan of Grand Rapids, MN.

MnDOT wanted the planning process to involve significant input and participation from a variety of stakeholder groups. At the start of the project, MnDOT established a collaborative partnership designed to involve representatives of project partners (public entities with budgetary, regulatory, or legal decision-making authority) and project stakeholders (any organization or informal group that will be affected by the ultimate decisions and outcomes). Public representatives included officials with decision-making authority from Grand Rapids, Itasca County, and MnDOT.The private sector was represented by private citizens, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Arrowhead Economic Development Authority.The collaborative partnership also included charitable and civic organizations as well as key stakeholder and advocacy groups. PlanWorks helped MnDOT achieve a high level of collaboration among stakeholders and practitioners, which led to the successful development of a Complete Streets Plan for Grand Rapids.

Using the PlanWorks Planning Process

MnDOT utilized the Planwork tool in several key stages of the planning process:

  • Develop a consensus on a community and stakeholder vision. Provided stakeholders the opportunity to define project objectives and community values.
  • Establish the scope of the planning process. Assessed what data, decisions, and relationships would be considered, acquired or made during the planning process.
  • Identify problems and opportunities. Required direct involvement with stakeholders through focus groups to discuss how the transportation system affects quality of life.
  • Select criteria, methodology, and performance measures to evaluate potential solutions. Reached consensus on social, economic, environmental, natural, aesthetic and transportation elements.
  • Identify and propose solutions. Developed broad strategies, system-wide treatments, and site-specific improvements.
  • Select preferred solutions. Solicited stakeholder input throughout the project selection and policy development phase.
  • Develop criteria to rank and prioritize preferred solutions. Included safety considerations,funding availability, and community support.
  • Finalize and adopt the plan. Asked for additional public review and stakeholder input before finalizing and adopting the plan.

External input in the PlanWorks process
The PlanWorks tool provided valuable guidance on effective collaboration techniques with the community.MnDOT collaborated with project partners and project stakeholders throughout the process.

Minnesota Department of Transportation
  • Project Partners:
    • City of Grand Rapids
    • Itasca County
    • MnDOT
    • Arrowhead Transit
    • Arrowhead Regional Development
    • Commission
    • Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
    • Federal Highway Administration
  • Stakeholders Advisory Committee:
    • Get Fit Itasca
    • Itasca Community College
    • Independent School District 318
    • Chamber of Commerce
    • Blandin Paper Company
    • Blandin Foundation
    • Visit Grand Rapids
    • Central Business District Association
    • Agriculture Board
    • Itasca County Trails Task Force
    • Meds One Ambulance Service
    • Elders Circle
    • Bicycling Advocates
    • Figgins Trucking
    • Itasca County Health and Human Services

An integrated use of the Decision Guide
The Complete Streets project did not fit perfectly into any of the categories defined in the Decision Guide. So the project team set out to use the following KDPs within both Long Range Transportation Planning and Corridor Planning:LRP-1, LRP-2, LRP-3, LRP-6, LRP-7, LRP-8, COR-1, COR-2, COR-3, COR-4, COR-5,COR-6, COR-7, COR-8, and COR-9. Because MnDOT decided to use KDPs from bothcategories,they found the "integration" tab and the "linkages to other phases" box within that tab to be extremely useful.

Using the Decision Guide for stakeholder input
MnDOT set out to develop the Complete Streets Plan for Grand Rapids through a collaborative effort between partners and stakeholders.The agency used PlanWorks to identify and prioritize all stakeholder interests, including jurisdictional interests and modal stakeholder interests. One of the most important steps MnDOT took while developing the Complete Streets Plan was conducting six focus groups to gather stakeholder input at various phases of the planning process.The agency used the "decision making questions" tab within relevant KDPs to identify specific questions to ask stakeholders in order to get the most comprehensive and best responses back about the needs of pedestrians, bicyclists, transit users, the freight community, etc. The questions identified in the PlanWorks model were key components of designing a well-organized focus group.
The six focus groups were as follows:

  • Downtown Grand Rapids business owners or managers of downtown businesses working in that area for at least two years.
  • Grand Rapids residents aged 20-75 who live in areas that are well served by sidewalks and trails.
  • Grand Rapids residents aged 20-75 who live in areas that are not as well served by sidewalks and trails.
  • Three focus groups of randomly-recruited Grand Rapids residents in three age groups: senior adults (60-75 years old), middle aged adults (35-59 years old), and younger adults (20-34 years old).

Developing a mission and vision through stakeholder input
The stakeholder advisory committee had an integral role in developing the project mission and problem statements required to develop the Grand Rapids Complete Streets Plan. Early in the planning process, the Stakeholder Advisory Committee agreed that the goal of the Complete Streets Plan is to "support the economic vitality and quality of life in Grand Rapids through the development of a multi-modal transportation plan for the city that improves safety, access and active recreation opportunities for all Grand Rapids residents, workers and visitors." Also early in the process, the Stakeholder Advisory Committee in collaboration with the Partners Group identified the objectives of the Complete Streets plan, and later identified specific areas of interest to be addressed in the Complete Streets Plan.

PlanWorks is replicable
While Grand Rapids, MN was the target for this Complete Streets Plan, MnDOT's intent was to develop a wider Complete Streets Planning Process that can be used in communities across Minnesota. One aspect of PlanWorks that MnDOT praised was how well the process can be replicated in different areas.

MnDOT would and does plan to use PlanWorks as a resource for collaborative planning in the future. Not only was it helpful for specific parts of the planning process, the project team also felt that the PlanWorks model made them better project managers and planners.

WSDOT uses PlanWorks to support Stakeholder Collaboration in Corridor Planning

Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) was one of the agencies selected to participate in pilot testing the collaborative decision making tool "Transportation for Communities - Advancing Projects through Partnerships (PlanWorks)" (for more information visit the Transportation Research Board's project description).The pilot test was to apply the decision making tool to the SR 509 Corridor Completion Project.Using the tools and techniques provided under the PlanWorks Corridor Planning protocol,the WSDOT project team worked collaboratively with stakeholders and successfully defined the scope of Phase 1 of the project.The scope reduced the initial project implementation cost by about $400 million while preserving most of the project benefits.

The SR 509 project is "ready to go." Preliminary design is complete and a Record of Decision was issued in 2003. The project's master plan calls for three lanes (two general purpose lanes and one HOV lane) in each direction with more than eight miles of widening on Interstate 5 to mitigate the traffic brought on by the extension.The project is expected to provide additional access to the Sea-Tac International Airport and the Port of Seattle, provide congestion relief on local arterials and greater opportunity for stimulating economic development. However, with a price tag of well over $1.2 billion and many other competing priorities in the region, several funding attempts from traditional revenue sources to complete the project did not come to fruition.

Sea Tac International Airport

The state legislature and local partners came to the realization that, to implement this important regional project, they have to search for funding from non-traditional revenue sources such as tolling. With tolling coming into the picture, it brings the opportunity to leverage its demand management effect to scale and phase the project. The goal of this pilot test was to demonstrate how the PlanWorks tools could help facilitate the project stakeholders and local partners in defining the Phase 1 scope of the project by taking tolling into consideration.

Through this pilot project, the WSDOT project team found PlanWorks to be helpful in many ways. To name a few:

Identify and involve all key stakeholders early on
Following PlanWorks's stakeholder collaboration techniques provided in the Collaboration Assessment the WSDOT project team conducted a thorough assessment of the project stakeholder committees assembled for the EIS development process to determine if the full range of interests and perspectives were represented on these committees. Using the PlanWorks tool, the key questions the project team asked in the assessment included: who are the key stakeholders? Who has the ability to stall the project and on what grounds? Based on the assessment, the project team decided to expand the committee membership to include representatives from three new interest groups - freight, local business and residents. Additionally, members of the state legislature's transportation committees were invited since the legislature is the ultimate decision maker for tolling and funding needed to complete the project. The addition of these new committee members has proven to be instrumental in achieving a high level of consensus on the preferred phasing option.

Building stakeholder consensus around Key Decision Points (KDPs)
The project team found the sequence of corridor planning Key Decision points as provided in PlanWorks to be very helpful. Tailoring it to their unique project situation,they applied the Key Decision points COR-2, COR-3, COR-4, COR-5, COR-6, COR-8 AND ENV-1 in the pilot test. Each of these KDPs contains information on the purpose and outcomes of the decision point; the roles of each partner; the questions that policy makers must address in order to make decisions; and the data, tools, and technology that may be used to support the decisions. Additionally, PlanWorks provides subject specific case studies to help users understand how these concepts can be applied in the real world. This has provided the project team a clear map toward building a project phasing plan that every stakeholder could agree to.

Stakeholder Collaboration Assessment Survey
The project team found the sample surveys available under the collaboration assessment to be quite useful for monitoring the effectiveness of the collaboration process. Using this instrument, they conducted a collaboration assessment survey at the end of each stakeholder meeting. The surveys helped the team and committee members evaluate how well the project was progressing. Using the survey results, they were able to identify and address issues at their early stages before they grew into bigger issues. This too has proven to be instrumental in achieving the final consensus.

PlanWorks contains a wealth of information, tools and techniques on how to make planning decisions collaboratively. The information is easy to find and follow because of its stratified structure. Through this pilot project, the project team found it to be very informative and helpful. They believe that anyone involved in transportation plans or projects can benefit from the information and resources provided on this web site.