Updates from the Public Lands Team - Spring 2017

Spring 2017 | www.volpe.dot.gov/publiclands

Updates from the

Public Lands Team

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A view of the factory building at the Pullman National Monument
A view of the Administration Building at the Pullman National Monument, which will be renovated into the new visitor center.

Supporting the Pullman National Monument Transportation and Access Plan

The National Park Service (NPS) preserves and protects diverse special places throughout the United States, including monuments and historic sites, along with the big, iconic natural areas in the West. In 2015, the Pullman train-car factory and surrounding neighborhoods on the far South Side of Chicago were designated as an NPS National Monument. Pullman was the site of the first planned industrial community in the United States and is the first NPS unit in Chicago. After the designation, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) initiated a transportation plan for Pullman and engaged the Volpe Center Public Lands Team to help develop this plan.

CMAP and its partner the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) wanted to ensure that the unique transportation needs of the National Monument and the NPS were addressed in the plan while also supporting neighborhood residents and businesses. To meet this need, the Volpe Center Public Lands Team drew upon our extensive experience working with urban NPS units, developing five case studies of similar units to inform the plan. Volpe also worked to help the project team identify potential funding opportunities for projects in the plan, leading to a Federal Lands Access Program grant application for a “complete streets” redesign of 111th St., which cuts across the center of the National Monument.

Partnerships are essential to the success of urban NPS units like Pullman. So it is only fitting that the Pullman Transportation and Access Plan was developed by a team of dedicated partners, including CMAP, NPCA, the NPS, Sam Schwartz Consulting, Teska Associates, and the Volpe Center, with regular input from numerous transportation agencies in the Chicago metropolitan area and surrounding community members and businesses. The plan also builds upon a vision for Pullman developed by NPCA and the American Institute of Architects Chicago: Positioning Pullman.

The Pullman Transportation and Access Plan provides recommendations for how these partners can work together to leverage Pullman’s urban context as a transit and non-motorized transportation-oriented NPS unit with a campus-like feel. The plan seeks to provide visitors with an opportunity to experience the historic model town layout on foot, as workers and residents did during its heyday. It also minimizes negative impacts on current Pullman residents while supporting continued commercial and industrial growth in this unique Chicago neighborhood. The Pullman Transportation and Access Plan is near completion, and will be available this summer.

Project Contact: Kevin McCoy and Jessica Baas

Updating the Alaska Federal Lands Collaborative Long-Range Transportation Plan

FLMA, FHWA, and Alaska DOT staff tour transportation projects as part of a recent Alaska Collaborative LRTP workshop.
FLMA, FHWA, and Alaska DOT staff tour transportation projects as part of a recent Alaska Collaborative LRTP workshop.

Over the past several years, federal lands management agencies (FLMAs) have developed long-range transportation plans (LRTPs) at the unit, regional, and national levels. These LRTPs are policy-level plans that help agencies navigate transportation funding and management decisions over the next 20 years, similar to the LRTPs developed by State Departments of Transportation (DOTs) and Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs). Now that FLMAs have successfully completed many LRTPs across the country, the next challenge is to periodically update them so that they are evolving plans that reflect current conditions. Currently, work is underway to develop the first LRTP update for federal lands in Alaska.

The update to the Alaska Federal Lands Collaborative LRTP will be the first LRTP update for FLMAs. The original Alaska Federal Lands LRTP, completed in 2012, was a pioneering effort to develop the first multi-agency LRTP for federal lands. The 2012 Alaska Federal Lands LRTP was a collaborative effort between the following FLMAs and their partners:

  • Bureau of Land Management (BLM)
  • National Park Service (NPS)
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) 
  • U.S. Forest Service (FS)
  • Federal Highway Administration, Western Federal Lands Division Office (WFL)
  • Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (ADOT & PF)

Volpe is supporting this update by researching existing conditions, advancing performance management, and conducting financial analyses of available funds, needs, and gaps based on available data from each agency. Volpe will also develop the updated plan content for publication. The update process also includes several workshops to bring together the multi-agency team to work together in-person.

For the Alaska LRTP, the multi-agency team will not rewrite the plan, but will build off of the work accomplished in 2012. The update will accomplish the following:

  • Reflect new requirements and funding opportunities in the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act of 2015;
  • Use updated transportation and visitation data to provide up-to-date information on the condition and needs of federal lands transportation networks in Alaska;
  • Align the updated collaborative LRTP with NPS and FWS National LRTPs and other FLMA national guidance;
  • Report on FLMA and partner accomplishments since the 2012 plan; and
  • Build upon the interagency team’s progress to develop performance measures and monitoring systems.

As part of this update, the multi-agency team will also document their process to provide a template for other FLMA regions as they update their LRTPs. The multi-agency team aims to demonstrate how to update an LRTP efficiently. The Alaska Federal Lands LRTP update is expected to be complete by October 2018.

Project Contact: Erica Simmons

Supporting NPS's Release of Digital Transit Schedules for Use in Visitor Apps

Prototype map automatically generated from digital transit schedule data at Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area
Prototype map automatically generated from digital transit schedule data at Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area.

Transit commuters across the country are increasingly accustomed to using apps (smartphone applications) to check the schedules and status for their train, bus, or other transit service. These apps are built on transit agencies sharing their schedules in an open digital format, bringing attention to existing transit service and increasing predictability for riders. Beginning in 2015, the National Park Service (NPS) Transportation Branch, with support from Volpe, conducted a pilot to determine whether sharing NPS transit schedules in this app-friendly format could offer similar benefits for visitors using transit in national parks.

The project team worked with three pilot parks—Boston Harbor Islands, Cuyahoga Valley, and Rocky Mountain—to release their seasonal transit schedules as open data using the industry-standard General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) format. Mobile app developers like Google Maps, Apple Maps, Chimani, and National Geographic can read data in this format and use it to share upcoming arrival and departure information with their users. NPS publicized the release of the open-source transit data, and a number of app developers are now sharing this schedule data with visitors. 

As part of the pilot, the project team discussed the effectiveness of third-party data sharing with park staff, strategies for other parks interested in sharing this data, and recommendations for long-term maintenance of the feeds. The pilot suggests that while releasing digital schedule data and promoting to third-party app developers is low cost and can be useful for some visitors, parks should release digital schedule data as part of broader visitor outreach plans that include official NPS digital tools like nps.gov and NPS mobile apps. Volpe and NPS may follow up on this project with a focus on integrating this type of data into official NPS tools.

The pilot report is available on the National Transportation Library and the GTFS data is available through NPS’s GitHub.

Project Contact: Logan Nash

Volpe Public Lands Team Unveils New Video

Sceenshot of Public Lands Team Video
A screenshot of the new Public Lands Team video.

To highlight its capabilities and impact over the last decade, the Public Lands Team recently produced a short video. The video features members of the Public Lands Team, as well as footage from projects across the country. You can view the video at: https://youtu.be/ZdIbSQU76KE.

This video is one of many that the Public Lands Team has produced for a variety of purposes, including a training video for Bureau of Land Management (BLM) staff and an informational video for the Northwest Collaborative Long Range Transportation Plan.

Project Contact: Benjamin Rasmussen

Public Lands Team Spotlight: Anders Kosnett and Pete Tomczik

Pete Tomczik (left) and Anders Kosnett boiling sugarcane syrup. Hortense, GA. 2016
Pete Tomczik (left) and Anders Kosnett boiling sugarcane syrup. Hortense, GA.


Anders Kosnett and Pete Tomczik joined the Volpe Center in the fall of 2016 to provide targeted technical assistance to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). Read on to find out more about the Public Lands Team’s two newest members.

What public lands projects are you working on now? 

Anders: Currently, we’re working with FWS to review and improve the recordkeeping and maintenance procedures that ensure tens of millions of visitors can safely and reliably experience American wilderness, per the FWS mission to provide the public opportunities to understand, appreciate, and wisely use fish and wildlife resources. Updated every 5 years, the Road Inventory Program (RIP) is intended to deliver consistent, detailed reports on the conditions of all of the transportation infrastructure at National Wildlife Refuges and National Fish Hatcheries and other public spaces maintained by the FWS: roads (for automobiles and cycling), parking lots, trails, bridges, etc. I’m partnering with the FWS transportation coordinator for the Midwest as they collect, update, and align data between Refuge staff knowledge, Federal Highway Administration records, and central FWS databases.

Pete: I’m doing the same work in the Southeast regional office in Atlanta. RIP is a heavy data lift, but it boils down quite simply. Once the physical details of all road and parking lot assets are agreed upon, FWS can collectively look at larger ideas of improved public experience and access. Those projects are improved by having accurate and current data; this data improves the odds of securing funding as well. The day to day work includes lots of checking (and double-checking) figures and values in existing data sets and maps as well as communication with FWS staff.

What are your fondest memories of public lands? 

Pete: During the summer of 2004, I went on a month long road trip with my brother and we camped at many state and federal public lands. The one I remember best is Sand Mountain Recreation Area in Nevada. Sand Mountain is a “singing sand” dune; due to the combination of the sand composition and humidity, the sand makes an ominous hum when walked on.

Anders: Last Leap Day (February 29, 2016), I found myself driving a scenic route through central Virginia and came upon one of the entrances to the George Washington & Jefferson National Forest. It was a beautiful clear day, so I took a leap and spent an afternoon ambling through trails, along streams, and up mountains, until a black bear encouraged me to roll on out.

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

Anders: The FWS may be synonymous with distant wilderness, but its Urban Wildlife Refuge System is a salve for city-dwellers’ nature deficits. The Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge follows the Minnesota River, snaking around Minneapolis, and it’s accessible by the local light rail! Each month, I visit to attend volunteer-led bird language workshops.

Pete: Recently, I visited the Grand Canyon and had my socks knocked clear off.  Everything hyperbolic you’ve heard someone say about the Grand Canyon is probably true.

Before joining Volpe, you both served with the Peace Corps. Tell us about it.

Pete: A Peace Corps volunteer never quite knows what each day will bring. My service in Jamaica could be as exciting as planning a community-wide agriculture festival, as stressful as facilitating a heated meeting, as boring as waiting several hours for public transportation, or as peaceful as chatting with fishermen and listening to waves on the shore.

Anders: I served in the Philippines, partnering with rural stakeholders to protect coastal ecosystems and equip the communities that depend on them with strategies to mitigate anthropogenic climate change and resource depletion. We surveyed stunning reefs and mangrove forests then tested methods for catalyzing their regrowth. After Super Typhoon Haiyan, we disseminated resilient construction methods that fit local means and aesthetics. For variety, I organized frequent environmental education activities in schools and a neighboring island’s annual mango festival.

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

Anders: I’m grateful for this opportunity to improve public access to wild spaces, but I’d enjoy tackling some peripheral issues. Perhaps in another timeline, I’m researching bioremediation of lands and waterways polluted by mining.

Pete: This is pretty niche, but if I had the capital, I’d start a micro-greens urban greenhouse. The signature product would be fresh-cut herb bouquets (thyme, cilantro, rosemary, etc.) to bring to your next dinner party!

Anders: Ooh, sign me up for that.

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 Ben Rasmussen at (617) 494 - 2768 or benjamin.rasmussen@dot.gov.