Updates from the Public Lands Team - Fall 2017

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

Updates from the

Public Lands Team

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Staff at the University of Fairbanks-Alaska administering the visitor use survey
Staff from the University of Alaska-Fairbanks administering the Alaska user survey.

Collaborative Visitor Transportation Survey: Measuring Users' Transportation-Related Experience on Federal Lands

Federal public lands host nearly one billion visitors each year. Those visitors arrive by planes, trains, buses, ferries, bicycles, automobiles, and even on foot seeking beauty, adventure, recreation, and more. But what do public land agencies really know about their visitors’ transportation experiences? And what can they do to improve those experiences? The Collaborative Visitor Transportation Survey Project, or CVTS, is an effort among the Federal Land Management Agencies (FLMAs) to develop a common set of tools and measures for collecting visitor experience data on Federal public lands.

The idea for the CVTS grew out of discussions within the Alaska Collaborative Long Range Transportation Plan (CLRTP) team, which includes staff from the FLMAs, Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, Federal Highway Administration Western Federal Lands, and Volpe’s Public Lands Team, who provide technical support. This team, similar to CLRTP teams in other regions of the country, was tasked with preparing a long range transportation plan, which is a vision document that facilitates the strategic identification and prioritization of transportation infrastructure and systems needed to meet the agencies’ mission. The Alaska team was developing performance measures for a range of topic areas (e.g., safety, resource protection, etc.), and for visitor experience, the team lacked data to specifically address transportation needs. While some agencies collect generic transportation data as a part of broader surveys, the measures and methods were not consistent across agencies and were not comparable. Given this data gap, the team decided to conduct a common, shared visitor survey (which was administered by staff at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks), and to meet the requirements of the Paperwork Reduction Act, it was necessary to obtain approval from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to administer the survey. The Paperwork Reduction Act states that any information collection (e.g., surveys, focus groups, etc.) sponsored or administered by a Federal agency that asks the same set of questions to 10 or more people (excluding Federal employees) must be reviewed and approved by OMB. 

The Alaska LRTP team realized that its counterparts in other areas of the country were likely to have a similar need for visitor experience data to inform their LRTPs, so instead of only submitting the Alaska survey to OMB, the team asked Volpe’s Public Lands Team to develop a generic clearance that streamlines the review process for all FLMAs. A generic clearance is an OMB-approved plan for a series of information collections utilizing similar methods and questions. Agencies submitting individual collection requests under a generic clearance receive expedited OMB review if they utilize the pre-approved set of survey questions.

The generic clearance makes the collection of visitor experience data a quicker and more feasible part of transportation planning and enables agencies to more easily collaborate on survey efforts. This data can help identify transportation–related issues and can inform future planning efforts focused on delivering more effective and efficient transportation services and facilities. As is the case with the Alaska survey, the data can also serve as a tool to measure performance over time.

Under the CVTS Generic Clearance, 13 surveys, sponsored by a range of FLMAs, have been approved since the CVTS’s inception in November 2014. The Generic Clearance, which is set to expire in November 2017, was recently updated and has been submitted to OMB for renewal.

Project Contact: Margaret Petrella

NPS National Long Range Transportation Plan Released!

A graphic showing the cover of the NLRTP, along with the title pages for the five NLRTP goal areas
The cover of the NLRTP, along with the title pages for the five NLRTP goal areas.

On July 28, 2017, the National Park Service (NPS) released its first ever National Long Range Transportation Plan (NLRTP). The NLRTP establishes a performance-based framework for managing transportation investments across the NPS, using data-driven analyses. The Volpe Center Public Lands Team provided project management, research, analysis, writing, and design support in partnership with the NPS Denver Service Center and others to produce this seminal plan. Volpe assisted the NPS in developing performance measures and targets in five goal areas: Asset Management, Transportation Finance, Resource Protection, Visitor Experience, and Safety. Volpe also led a first-of-its-kind financial analysis, which included all funding sources used for transportation and provided a comprehensive record of how transportation investments have historically been made. This analysis formed the foundation for a National Transportation Investment Strategy and performance measures that are both aspirational and realistic.

Project Contact: Jonah Chiarenza and Kevin McCoy

Pullman National Monument Transportation Plan Released!

The cover of the Pullman Transportation Plan, which shows the main factory building at the Pullman site.
The cover of the Pullman Transportation Plan, showing the Factory Building at the Monument.

On September 18, 2017, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) and the National Parks Conservation Association released a transportation plan for the Pullman National Monument, a new National Park Service unit designated in 2015 on the South Side of Chicago, Illinois. The Volpe Center Public Lands Team provided assistance to CMAP and its consultant team, led by Sam Schwartz Consulting, in understanding the unique planning considerations of National Parks and other Federal public lands. Volpe assisted with background research, strategy development, and information about possible funding sources for implementation. The plan provides Pullman with a comprehensive vision and specific recommendations for improving transportation and access for both visitors and the surrounding community. “The Pullman Transportation Plan is a critical step in realizing the full potential of Pullman as a livable, walkable community that tells one of America’s most important stories,” said Joseph C. Szabo, executive director of CMAP.

Project Contacts: Kevin McCoy and Jessica Baas

FLMA Maps Now All in One Place On-Line

An image showing six maps of the U.S. with the boundaries of all of the Federal Land Management Agencies
Maps showing regional FLMA boundaries.


A “region” is defined as an area or division, especially part of a country or the world, having definable characteristics but not always fixed boundaries. For the Federal Land Management Agencies (FLMAs) with which the Public Lands Team works, this definition holds very true.  For a variety of reasons, the regions by which FLMAs divide up the country to administer and support all of their units differ, in some cases significantly, from one another. And that keeps us on our toes as we work collaboratively with FLMAs at all geographic scales.

Accordingly, we challenged Matt Goodwin, one of Volpe’s 2017 summer interns, to develop an interactive webpage that makes it easy to identify, view, and compare FLMA regional boundaries as well as the main offices for each region (https://volpeusdot.github.io/PLT-Web-Map/). Initially, we were going to layer each FLMA’s regions on top of each other on one map, but that became too complex given so many different boundaries. Instead, we laid out each FLMA map side-by-side and made them interactive so users can mouse over each region for its name and regional office location.

This webpage has already proven helpful for our team, and we are now sharing it with you in the hopes that it can be helpful to you, too!

Project Contact: Benjamin Rasmussen and Logan Nash

Our Favorite Car-Free Camping Opportunities on Public Lands

Campers on the Boston Harbor Islands on their way to catch the ferry back to Boston.
Campers on the Boston Harbor Islands on their way to catch the ferry back to Boston.

As fall winds down in to winter, many of us are starting to plan adventures for the warmer days of 2018. Next year, consider taking advantage of public transportation options for accessing public lands that provide unique opportunities for car-free camping.

Traveling to public lands by foot, bicycle, bus, ferry, or train helps reduce congestion at these sites and reduces air pollution and noise from personal vehicles. Plus, public transportation access provides people who don’t own a car with camping options and gives city-dwellers a chance to get out and experience nature in ways that might not otherwise be possible.

Many camp sites are accessible by bicycle, which may require campers to have a base-level of gear (e.g., bike racks, panniers). However, not everyone is a bicycle-touring enthusiast. The following list of Federal public lands’ camp sites are great examples of places that visitors can use public transportation to camp car-free:

The Volpe Public Lands Team helps Federal Land Management Agencies solve their unique transportation challenges, which includes increasing car-free access to public land sites and expanding opportunities for traveling within sites via transit or active modes of transportation. Increasingly, public lands are experiencing impacts of higher visitation demand, which in addition to impacts to natural resources also comes with roadway and parking congestion. Encouraging visitors and staff to use alternatives to driving, and making these options fun, convenient, and affordable, improves the visitor experience while also enhancing resource protection.

One initiative the Public Lands Team is currently supporting in this area is the development of the National Park Service (NPS) Active Transportation Guidebook. This Guide will be a resource for NPS units and partners interested in expanding opportunities for walking and bicycling within National Parks and their gateway communities.

 Contact: Jessica Baas

Public Lands Team Spotlight: Heather Richardson

A woman, Heather Richardson, standing in front of the NPS sign for Devils Tower National Monument, with the rock formation in the background.
Heather on a site visit to Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming to help staff conduct a feasibility analysis for implementing a shuttle service.

What public lands projects are you working on now?

I manage Volpe portfolios with the National Park Service (NPS) Northeast, Intermountain, and Pacific West Regions. I also manage Volpe support of the NPS Congestion Management Program, which has established a framework for addressing congestion issues at park units across the country. My work also includes major initiatives across the NPS regional offices to determine the best option for replacement of transit vehicles (e.g., electric, hybrid, or propane options), transit feasibility studies, and alternative transportation planning. Additionally, I was on detail as the Acting Alternative Transportation Program Coordinator for the NPS Northeast Region from November 2015 through September 2017.

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

Currently, I’m working on a Federal Transit Administration (FTA) project to develop a research plan for transit automation in the United States. The project scope includes literature review, stakeholder engagement, and benefit cost analyses to inform ways that FTA can approach preparing transit agencies for bus automation.

What are your fondest memories of public lands?

I did not grow up visiting public lands and began to discover them in college. I went to school in Syracuse, New York, and discovered the beauty of Green Lakes State Park in Fayetteville, New York. I would run or walk the trails around the emerald green lakes as a reprieve from university studies. Since coming to Volpe in 2013, I have had the opportunity to visit many national parks. My first work trip was to Glacier National Park while working on the Going-to-the-Sun Road corridor management study. The majesty of the park left a great impression on me and I felt privileged to be working on a project with the purpose of ensuring visitors in the future will be able to enjoy the park as I did. 

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

I had not previously heard of Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky until 2015 when I worked on a ferry replacement study there. I was surprised to learn ferry service is integral to park operations when it is not on a lake or near a coast. In addition to being a natural wonder, Mammoth Cave is steeped in history and biological significance. Many of the cave ceilings are imprinted with nineteenth-century signatures written by candle smoke and other monuments left by visitors long ago.

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

In early 2003, I was living in Houston, Texas, with my family while waiting to start grad school in the fall. I was employed at a temp agency near the Johnson Space Center when the Columbia shuttle tragedy occurred. The temp agency was asked to provide staff to assist in responding to the outpouring of sympathy for the crews’ family and National Aeronautics and Space Administration employees. I reported to the Astronaut Office for six months, tracking and sending NASA’s reply to thousands of people from around the world who were compelled to reach out in the face of the heartbreak. It was a difficult time to be at NASA, but the warmth of the compassion from everyone writing in provided a sense of support I have never before experienced.

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

I find joy in helping other people. I believe I would work as a nurse or for a non-profit helping people in need.

Contact: Heather Richardson

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.