Updates from the Public Lands Team - Spring 2016

SPRING 2016 | www.volpe.dot.gov/publiclands

Updates from the

Public Lands Team

Volpe Center logo.
Alaska boroughs for which automobiles are the leading cause of transportation-related fatalities. Secondary causes are represented by the smaller circ
Alaska boroughs for which automobiles are the leading cause of transportation-related fatalities. Secondary causes are represented by the smaller circles. (Source: Volpe). *Thesse boroughs or census areas have two accident types tied for the first or second most common type of transportation accident.

Alaska Addresses Safety Across Federal Lands to Support Long Range Transportation Plan

Transportation in Alaska is unique because travelers use a diverse set of modes to navigate wild and undeveloped landscapes. Beyond automobiles, Alaska residents use snow machines, off-highway and all-terrain vehicles, small planes, and marine transport for both recreational purposes and as critical forms of transportation.

Over the last several years, the Volpe Center has been working with Federal Land Management Agencies (FLMAs) in Alaska to characterize transportation safety issues. This work supports implementation of the Alaska Federal Lands Long Range Transportation Plan, completed in September 2012 by the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and U.S. Forest Service, in partnership with the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities and the Western Federal Lands Highway Division.­­­­

Previous efforts to quantitatively characterize safety issues have been challenged by Alaska’s wide range of modes and inconsistent and/or incomplete data. Safety data provided by state or federal transportation agencies typically focused on particular modes, lacked geographic detail, and/or focused on certain types of safety issues. At the same time, these data sets did not indicate whether transportation-related accidents or fatalities occurred on or off federal lands, and most data was associated with large jurisdictional boundaries rather than specific locations. Combining data from multiple data sets resulted in duplicate entries that would have been difficult and time consuming to prepare for analysis.

The Volpe Center overcame these issues by identifying multimodal data for transportation injuries and fatalities in two unlikely places: the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services Trauma Registry and the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services Bureau of Vital Statistics. With no duplicates and minimal data manipulation required, the data provided all the information needed to complete the analysis. The resulting products from this work included maps, charts, and infographics that are aiding decision makers in characterizing transportation safety in Alaska. FLMAs, in partnership with the State, are using the information to target safety issues in specific locations, devise and implement countermeasures, and eventually to measure the impact of these safety improvements.

Project Contact: Alex Linthicum

Forest Service Pursues Capacity Analysis to Manage Visitation at Hanging Lake in Colorado

Model results using trail counter data illustrate actual visitation conditions for Hanging Lake recreation site (Source: Volpe)
Model results using trail counter data illustrate actual visitation conditions for Hanging Lake recreation site (Source: Volpe)

Since 2013, the Volpe Center has been working with the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) to develop and implement transportation solutions for the White River National Forest’s Hanging Lake recreation site near Glenwood Springs, Colorado.  The trail to this extremely popular tourism destination culminates at Hanging Lake, which was formed by travertine deposition, a type of limestone, and contains an environmentally-sensitive hanging-garden plant community. In 2015 close to 150,000 visitors hiked the 1.2 mile trail. With an increase in visitation, resource and public safety challenges also increase. In an effort to minimize trail crowding, parking lot congestion, resource degradation, and public safety incidents, the USFS requested the Volpe Center’s expertise to conduct a carrying capacity analysis to estimate the number of visitors the site can sustainably accommodate without detrimentally impacting the environment and visitor’ experience as it works toward implementing a capacity management system (CMS).

To perform the capacity analysis, the Volpe Center first conducted on-site counts and observations of visitors, providing estimates of several factors, including average vehicle occupancy, average length of stay per vehicle, average hiking time, and arrivals by bicycle and pedestrians. Using these estimates, the Volpe Center created a model that mimics the roundtrip flow of visitors on the trail.

Advancing this analysis, the Volpe Center used trail counter data from summer 2015 to create a model that can be used to illustrate actual conditions. In coordination with the USFS and an interagency stakeholder group, the Volpe Center used the model to develop three capacity scenarios that manage hourly visitation:

  1. Physical Capacity Scenario assumes that every parking space would be filled and the current volumes of bicyclists and pedestrians continue to visit throughout the trail’s operating day (7:00 AM to 5:00 PM);
  2. Slight Restrictions Scenario reduces the Physical Capacity Scenario by 30 percent; and
  3. Environmentally-Sensitive Scenario reduces the Physical Capacity Scenario by 60 percent.

The results of the model were used to develop videos that create an easy way to understand the movement of visitors on the trail (see figure above). Click here to view one of the videos.

This information, together with results from a National Park Service ecological study, a transportation feasibility study, and conversations with stakeholders and the public, will help inform the USFS in their environmental analysis as it moves toward implementing a CMS. The Volpe Center presented these carrying capacity analysis results to Hanging Lake stakeholders in April 2016 and will continue to work with the USFS to develop a CMS, which may include a shuttle service to the site.

Project Contact: Ben Rasmussen

FHWA Develops First FLMA-wide Database of Multimodal Transportation Systems

Summary of FLTP and FLAP eligible transit and trail projects derived from the Multimodal Catalog. (Source: Volpe)
A summary of Federal Lands Transportation Program (FLTP) and Federal Land Access Program (FLAP) eligible transit and trail projects derived from the Multimodal Catalog. (Source: Volpe)

How can Federal Land Management Agencies (FLMAs) attract millennials, city dwellers, and international visitors? By offering access to their lands via multimodal transportation, FLMAs provide more options and better access for these and other visitor groups. However, since most FLMAs lack complete and robust data on transit and trail systems, they may not fully consider these multimodal systems as part of transportation planning and programming process, including partnership development.

The Federal Lands Multimodal Catalog is the first inventory of all existing and programmed multimodal systems across the country that provide access to or fall within federal lands. The database will assist federal agencies, state DOTs, and local governments with planning, performance management, and project prioritization.

The Volpe Center has been working with FLMAs and their partners to aggregate data. Now, after two years, the Catalog is ready for use as a planning tool. The data is available as a Microsoft Access database, with simple query forms available for transit and trails. With 42 available data fields, FLMAs can create custom queries to help their staff identify transit and trail systems in their agencies and regions. The Catalog is meant to be a living document, so as FLMAs and their partners use it and provide new data, the Volpe Center will work with FHWA to make updates to improve the Catalog’s accuracy and completeness.

The Catalog features systems owned by FLMAs, as well as those owned by state and local governments, transit agencies, and private businesses. This first iteration of the Catalog is a broad view of how visitors can (and do) access federal lands by foot, bus, train, and bicycle. The Volpe Center is pursuing a second phase of the Catalog to add geospatial references, including transit stop and schedule information through General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) data. To enhance its usefulness, the Catalog data may eventually be integrated into FHWA’s online mapping tools and integrated into trip planners.

The Catalog is available for download on the FHWA website.

Project Contact: Haley Peckett

National Park Service Pilots Scenario Planning Techniques in National Capital Region LRTP

Population growth forecast for National Capital Region through 2040. (Source: Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments)
Population growth forecast for National Capital Region through 2040. (Source: Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments)

Scenario planning has become an important transportation planning technique, particularly for long range transportation planning (LRTP) and visioning to broaden views of what the future may hold. The National Park Service (NPS) LRTP Program is currently piloting the use of scenario planning techniques as part of the National Capital Region (NCR) LRTP development process, an effort influenced by recommendations presented by the Volpe Center from two white papers. This pilot seeks to inform the NCR LRTP by departing from path-dependent thinking, such as simply assuming that current trends and forecasts will continue over the life of a 20 year plan. Instead, NPS is using scenarios to envision different possible outcomes and make more informed decisions.

The NCR LRTP scenario planning pilot uses an exploratory approach, in which driving factors of future conditions (such as population changes, job growth, and advancing vehicle technology) are identified through stakeholder workshops and background research, and then used to produce narratives of four potential futures. These future scenarios, in addition to a “base case” representing current forecasts and trends, can then be used by the LRTP team to inform plan objectives and “test” potential strategies.

The goal of the scenario planning process isn’t to choose a desired future; rather, it is to identify management actions that could perform well in multiple scenarios regardless of what the future holds. After all, some have called the smartphone the most significant transportation innovation of the 21st century, but few LRTPs had the broad vision to anticipate the effects disruptive technologies could have on the ways people plan their travel. Scenario planning is one way that NPS is working to prepare for these and other potential changes in order to craft a more comprehensive LRTP.

A second LRTP scenario planning pilot is also underway at Denali National Park and Preserve, with support from the Western Federal Lands Highway Division Office of the Federal Highway Administration, the NPS Alaska Regional Office, the Volpe Center, and others. If successful, the NPS LRTP Program hopes to integrate scenario planning into future LRTPs as a best practice, when relevant.

For more information, visit the NCR LRTP Scenario Planning Environment and Public Comment site.

Project Contact: Kevin McCoy

Volpe’s Public Lands Team Presents on Diverse Project Portfolios at 2016 Annual TRB Meeting

Alex Linthicum discusses safety performance measures for Alaska LRTP. (Source: Paul Schrooten, National Park Service)
Alex Linthicum discusses safety performance measures for Alaska LRTP. (Source: Paul Schrooten, National Park Service)

Each January, thousands of transportation professionals from around the globe gather in Washington, D.C. to share and learn about the most recent and innovative research going on across the industry to make the transportation system the best it can be.

Volpe’s Public Lands Team was well represented among the thousands of sessions organized during the 95th annual meeting, which took place January 10-14, 2016.

Ben Rasmussen discussed his work on integrating greenhouse gas reduction and climate change adaptation strategies into state and regional transportation planning. Together with co-authors Aaron Sussman and Chowdhury Siddiqui, Ben was also awarded Best Paper by the Special Task Force on Climate Change and Energy for his paper titled “Integrating Climate Change into Scenario Planning: Can Mitigation Measures also Make a Region More Resilient?

Michael Kay and Erica Simmons presented a poster on their ongoing work on the Pacific Northwest Collaborative Long Range Transportation Plan (CLRTP) for Oregon and Washington. The CLRTP is policy-level plan for all FLMAs to plan and manage their transportation systems over the next twenty years. The groundwork provided by this effort will inform future CLRTPs for other regions across the county.

Alex Linthicum presented a poster showcasing his work on safety performance measures for the Alaska Federal Lands Long Range Transportation Plan. Details on this project are provided in a feature article above.

Logan Nash gave a presentation on his ongoing work advancing the development of digital transit information for national park visitors. Working with NPS on a pilot, Logan is illustrating how sharing transit schedules in an open data format enables the agency to integrate transit trip planning features into its redesigned map-focused website, and also opens the possibility of third-party app developers, such as Google Maps, sharing public lands transit schedules. A goal of this work is to showcase the potential use of open data for other FLMAs.

Margaret Petrella and Lauren Deaderick presented a poster on their work developing a Collaborative Visitor Transportation Survey toolkit to be used by FLMAs to support transportation research. In partnership with the FHWA Western Federal Lands Highway Division, this effort helps to streamline data collection processes and increase collaboration among FLMAs to support long range transportation planning, including the analysis of performance metrics that will inform transportation improvements.

Public Lands Team Spotlight: Logan Nash

Logan enjoying a trip with his girlfriend, Yilu, to Great Falls National Park outside Washington, D.C. (Source: Volpe)
Logan enjoying a trip with his girlfriend, Yilu, to Great Falls National Park outside Washington, D.C. (Source: Volpe)

What public lands projects are you working on now?

I am working on a number of projects for the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and the National Park Service (NPS), and I’m particularly excited about some current efforts with both agencies to use technology and new data sources to enhance public lands transportation. One example with the USFS is that our team is exploring potential agency uses of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs or “drones”) for infrastructure inspections and other activities. For NPS,  we are working on a pilot release of digital transit schedule data for select park transit systems. This will allow the parks to map stops, routes, and departures on their own websites while enabling third parties like Chimani and Google Maps to integrate NPS transit into their own apps. The first feeds are launching this summer!

What types of projects outside of public lands do you work on?

I help coordinate the U.S. DOT’s Transportation Data Forum, a collaboration with the Bureau of Transportation Statistics and the Office of the Secretary of Transportation. The forum is a series of conversations with different DOT modes to engage with each other about emerging ways to manage, visualize, and make use of the many data sources available to us. The goal of using and sharing data to benefit agency missions is a rapidly-developing priority for all government agencies.

What are your fondest memories of public lands?

I grew up in east Tennessee, and visits to Great Smoky Mountains National Park with my dad were a highlight. We liked to visit the “locals” entrance near Townsend, TN, and he kept a hand-annotated map of driving directions to our favorite trail. It had directions like “turn right at the old cemetery” and notes about the best diner to stop at nearby. There are so many great ways to plan your public lands trip using an online map these days, but it is hard to recreate that charm!

What new public land have you discovered since working at Volpe?

Last fall I was on a Transportation Assistance Group (TAG) to Santa Fe National Forest in New Mexico. Being an easterner, I was completely floored by the “big sky” panoramas, as well as the unique heritage of that area (not to mention the food!). By the time I returned home I was already dreaming up plans for a future vacation!

What’s the most unique, interesting, or strangest job you had before working at Volpe?

I was a part-time sales associate at Bath and Body Works during high school. The characteristic in-store sickly smell of all-possible-scents-mixed-together still makes me want to run and open a window.

If you were to have a job that wasn’t transportation or public lands related, what would it be?

After college, I flirted with the idea of going into academic history. History is still something I enjoy, but part of my rationale for pursuing my current career is that it’s much easier to be a hobbyist historian than it is to be a hobbyist transportation planner.

Welcome to our newsletter!

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

In this newsletter

About the Public Lands Team

Primarily organized within Volpe's Center for Policy, Planning, and Environment, 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 the Volpe Center

The Volpe Center, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, develops transportation innovations for the public good. Part of the U.S. DOT’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology, 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.