Updates from the Public Lands Team - Fall 2013

FALL 2013 | www.volpe.dot.gov/publiclands

Updates from the Public

Lands Team

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Scenario planning workshop (Volpe photo)

Stakeholder meeting for Cape Cod Climate Change Scenario Planning Project (Volpe photo)

Central New Mexico Kicks Off Climate Change Scenario Planning Project

Planning for a growing region – especially an arid one like Albuquerque, New Mexico – means addressing challenges of congestion, sprawl, energy use, vehicle emissions, water scarcity, and climate change. Volpe is partnering with the Mid-Region Council of Governments and a group of federal agencies to help the region address these intertwined challenges using the powerful analytical tool of scenario planning.

Scenario planning allows participants to consider the impacts of growth, and to evaluate the costs and benefits of various future scenarios. This project will inform transportation and land use decision-making in the Central New Mexico region by engaging stakeholders in the development of strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prepare for the impacts of climate change.

This project builds on and complements an earlier scenario planning and climate change pilot on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. By focusing on an inland area, the new effort will enable exploration of impacts due to water scarcity, heat waves, wildfires, and extreme weather events.

Federal partners in this project include: Federal Highway Administration, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, Federal Transit Administration, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Department of Homeland Security, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Learn more about the project here.

Project contact: Ben Rasmussen

Cape Cod National Seashore Tackles Parking Management

A screenshot fo the Parking Management System (Volpe image)

A screenshot of the Parking Management System (Volpe image)

The six Cape Cod National Seashore beaches are very popular in the summer. Parking facilities often fill up, forcing patrons to travel elsewhere. This past spring, Volpe developed a prototype parking management system that enables the National Park Service (NPS) to predict when beach parking lots will fill. In June, the prototype system was deployed at a single parking facility, the Little Creek parking area, which is the primary parking facility for Coast Guard Beach in the town of Eastham. The system keeps track of the rate at which vehicles are entering and exiting, and displays a clock showing the time the lot is expected to reach capacity. The project builds off of recommendations in Volpe’s 2011 Cape Cod National Seashore Intelligent Transportation Systems Implementation Plan. The prototype was developed using software that was originally piloted at Gateway National Recreation Area’s Sandy Hook unit, in New Jersey.

At the end of the season, Volpe will conduct an assessment of the effectiveness of the system in measuring traffic flow rates and predicting fill times. If the prototype is reliable, Volpe will develop an operational system that will be deployed at other NPS beach parking areas on Cape Cod.  This will enable NPS to disseminate parking information to the public through a variety of formats, potentially including variable message signs, highway advisory radio, the National Seashore’s web page, and mobile phone applications.

Project Contacts: Bill Baron and Frances Fisher

NPS Completes First Annual Transit Inventory

Volpe helped the National Park Service (NPS) complete a nationwide inventory of transit systems operating in 2012 and establish a protocol for future annual updates. The effort represents the first complete NPS transit inventory in more than a decade and helps the agency meet new national facility inventory requirements mandated by the current transportation law, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21).  

As part of the development of the inventory, Volpe helped the NPS Alternative Transportation Program convene stakeholder meetings to define the term “NPS transit system,” and identify the information to collect for each transit system. Volpe contacted over 70 parks and regional stakeholders and produced a report summarizing the results of the effort and highlighting key findings.

The report provides information on ridership, business models, fleet characteristics, funding sources, and other key topics.

Key findings include:

  • There are 147 NPS transit systems, in 72 of the 401 NPS units.
  • In 2012, there were 36.3 million passenger boardings, of which 29.6 million (81.4%) were associated with the top 10 high-use systems (by passenger boardings).
  • A majority of systems operated under concession contracts, meaning that a concessioner pays the NPS a franchise fee to operate inside a unit.
  • There are 52 systems that provide sole access to an NPS site because of resource/management needs and/or geographic constraints.
  • There are 12 systems operated by a local transit agency under a specific agreement with the NPS.
  • There are 890 vehicles, including 264 vehicles owned or leased by the NPS. 56 vehicles operate in systems with intermixed NPS and non-NPS owners.
  • 66% (175 out of 264) of NPS-owned vehicles operate on alternative fuel, while 14% (79 out of 562) of non-NPS-owned vehicles operate on alternative fuel.

Volpe will assist NPS in improving the inventory for 2013.

Project contacts: Andrew Breck and David Daddio

FWS Regional Alternative Transportation Evaluation in the Southeast

A degraded administrative road eyed as a possible trail near Hobe Sound National Wildlife Regufe (Volpe photo)

A degraded administrative road eyed as a possible trail near Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge (Volpe photo)

Volpe continues to help the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) evaluate opportunities to increase access to its refuges through alternative transportation. In July, Volpe convened a series of stakeholder meetings as part of the FWS Southeast Regional Alternative Transportation Evaluation (RATE). The Southeast RATE is the 5th such activity conducted by Volpe for FWS. Joining Volpe were FWS regional staff and staff from the Eastern Federal Lands Highway Division. These meetings brought together refuge staff and local partners at two refuges to identify opportunities for access by foot, bike, and transit, which have local support and may be candidates for funding under MAP-21 grant programs. The projects discussed included:

Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge, located on the east coast of Florida, north of the town of Jupiter, seeks a better connection to its neighboring state park, which features camping, hiking trails, and a Wild and Scenic River. This connection would bridge a four-lane freeway and complement the refuge’s environmental education center and pristine beaches.

Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, located on the Gulf Coast north of Tampa, is in the process of providing a road connection to the Three Sisters Springs site, which would be the refuge’s first land unit accessible to the public. Ultimately this access will allow visitors to view the unique sight of wintering manatees without requiring boats, which are expensive and can negatively impact wildlife.

This unit-level work informed the region’s recently completed RATE report. It will also be incorporated into the region’s first long range transportation plan.

Project contacts: Michael Kay and Jonathan Frazier

Volpe Develops Alternative Transportation Recommendations for Petersburg National Battlefield

In July, Volpe concluded an alternative transportation feasibility study for Petersburg National Battlefield and delivered its final recommendations to the National Park Service (NPS).  The battlefield consists of four distinct units across several municipalities in southeast Virginia, including the cities of Petersburg and Hopewell, as well as Prince George County and Dinwiddie County. Through historic preservation and interpretation, the park tells the story of the American Civil War’s Siege of Petersburg during 1864-65, a nine-month campaign that played an important role in the Confederate surrender at Appomattox.

Petersburg National Battlefield faces a unique transportation challenge because visitors have to navigate between battlefield destinations in multiple, disconnected units. This generates a need to improve transportation access and wayfinding between battlefield sites. Volpe’s alternative transportation feasibility study addresses an array of topics, including opportunities to develop a shuttle service, improve bicycle and pedestrian access, and clarify signage and wayfinding. Volpe also studied the transportation implications of park boundary expansion and strategies to improve traveler information. While the report identifies multiple areas for improvement, two opportunities emerged as having the greatest potential for near-term impact: an interpretive shuttle pilot program and a comprehensive wayfinding and sign management program.

Volpe explored the concept of a new shuttle service that would replace the battlefield’s current informal tours, which operate in the Eastern Front Unit (the most visited area of the battlefield) during summer months. With proven success, NPS may consider expanding this type of program to include additional seasons or destinations, such as the Western Front Unit of the park. A comprehensive wayfinding and sign management program would help visitors navigate between battlefield destinations. At the conclusion of this project, Volpe assisted NPS in developing an inventory of directional signs, which is the first step in a comprehensive series of recommended sign management activities.

Project contacts: Ben Cotton and Anna Biton

NPS Releases Transportation Accomplishments Brochure

Every day, hundreds of thousands of people access America’s national parks, relying on a complex transportation system for access. To support the National Parks Service’s internal and external communications on the importance of transportation in the context of national parks, Volpe assembled a brochure highlighting the National Park Service Transportation Program’s accomplishments during 2006-12, the period of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU). The brochure highlights improvements in the areas of roads and parkways, bridges, transit systems, trails, intelligent transportation systems, and pavement management. View the brochure here.

Project contact: Alex Linthicum

Volpe to Support National Wildlife Refuges in Hawai’i

Volpe is partnering with the Central Federal Lands Highway Division (CFLHD) to assist the Kaua’i National Wildlife Refuge Complex (KNWRC) on the northern shore of Kaua’i, Hawai’i. The three refuges within the KNWRC are currently completing long-term management plans known as Comprehensive Conservation Plans (CCPs) that are expected to include several transportation strategies. Volpe and CFLHD will provide planning for the implementation of the final strategies, and will conduct an assessment of the regional transportation context. Previously, Volpe contributed to the KNWRC Transportation Assistance Group in October 2009 and to a transportation workshop related to the KNWRC CCPs in 2011.

Project contact: Ben Rasmussen

Volpe Studies Access Options for Nantucket National Wildlife Refuge

Volpe is working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to study how to improve visitor access to the Nantucket National Wildlife Refuge. Located at the “Great Point” tip of Nantucket Island off the coast of Cape Cod in Massachusetts, the refuge is home to an iconic lighthouse and is an important habitat for migratory birds. The refuge is located over five miles from the nearest paved road and the only visitor access is via four-wheel-drive vehicles traveling over beaches and sandy dunes. Also, protected shorebird nesting on the peninsula leading to the refuge in the summer limits access during Nantucket’s peak visitation season. The Volpe team is evaluating a number of potential land-based and water-based transportation solutions that could help bring visitors to responsibly enjoy the refuge.

Project contact: Anna Biton and Logan Nash

Committee on the Transportation Needs of National Parks and Public Lands Convenes Midyear Meeting

The Committee on Transportation Needs of National Parks and Public Lands, one of the standing committees of the National Academy of Science’s Transportation Research Board (TRB), held its midyear meeting in June in Bar Harbor, Maine. Eric Plosky, chief of Volpe’s Transportation Planning Division, serves as the committee’s research coordinator and chairs the research subcommittee. He facilitated a detailed discussion at the meeting of research needs in the field, and of making the best use of opportunities to share and coordinate research information. The meeting also included a briefing on the Island Explorer bus-shuttle system operated in partnership with Acadia National Park, which may be a model for other public lands transit services. The committee will reconvene in January at the TRB Annual Meeting in Washington, DC.

Contact: Eric Plosky

Volpe Supports Multi-agency Collaborative Visitor Transportation Survey

When developing transportation plans for access to federal lands, planners and land managers benefit from greater data on visitor use and preferences. While surveys are the primary tools to collect such information, they can be difficult to develop and conduct in a federal lands context. This is especially true given the technical expertise needed to construct questions and clearance needed with the Office of Management and Budget.

Volpe is assisting the Office of Federal Lands Highway and federal land management agencies in creating an easier and more consistent way to conduct transportation surveys at the national, regional, and unit levels. Such surveys will result in better data on visitor characteristics (such as demographics), trip characteristics (such as origin, destination, and duration), and travel characteristics (such as modes, satisfaction, and future preferences) to help FLMAs understand how visitors access sites, their level of satisfaction, safety, and future preferences.

Volpe is identifying goals, objectives, and performance metrics for survey questions to address; compiling relevant existing survey questions and developing new ones as needed; and completing the necessary paperwork to submit a generic clearance package to the Office of Management and Budget. This project originated from performance metric needs identified in the Alaska Federal Lands Long Range Transportation Survey. In addition to the generic clearance, the project will result in a pilot transportation survey for the FLMAs in Alaska.

Project contact: Alex Linthicum

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The Public Lands Team shares Updates twice a year to highlight recent activities and news.

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In this newsletter

About the Public Lands Team

Primarily organized within Volpe's Center for Transportation Policy and Planning, our team helps federal land management agencies resolve complex transportation challenges at both the program and project levels.


Our work draws on expertise in a variety of fields, including policy and program development, multimodal systems planning, alternative fuels and vehicle selection, environmental compliance, and climate change mitigation and adaptation.


You can read more about our team here.

About Volpe

Volpe, The National Transportation Systems Center, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, develops transportation innovations for the public good. Part of the U.S. DOT’s Research and Innovative Technology Administration, Volpe partners with public and private organizations to assess the needs of the transportation community, evaluate research and development, assist in the deployment of transportation technologies, and inform decision- and policy-making.

Contact the Public Lands Team

For questions, general information, or to speak with us about getting started on a new project, please contact Eric Plosky at (617) 494 - 2785 or volpepubliclands@dot.gov.