Scenarios, Sensitivity and Resilience in Regional Planning

I started thinking about this post following the Regional Transportation Plan scoping workshop that occurred last week, which others have written about. But it really jelled for me yesterday after another workshop with Metro’s panel of economic advisers (engaged to help validate the models for the 20 year forecasts).

During the breakout session for the RTP workshop, I pushed for the idea of using scenario analysis to evaluate potential transportation system designs. What kind of transportation network would be optimal if gas is at $5/gallon? $10/gallon? Or if we decide we need to cap the output of greenhouse gases, what kind of transportation system would work best?

Sensitivity analysis is the process of looking at a variety of inputs and the scenarios they create, then comparing these to work back to how those inputs affect the outcomes that we care about. So we could do a sensitivity analysis for how our region’s economy and livability vary with varying energy costs.

[By the way, the current assumption set for the regional models has oil settling back to $35-40/barrel, before going back to a curve where it rises more or less at the rate of inflation. Does this make anyone else very nervous?]

The concept I brought up in yesterday’s workshop is resilience, which is the idea of minimizing our sensitivity to certain scenarios. If we agree on a set of desirable outcomes (robust economy, maintaining air quality, providing open spaces, just as examples), how can we design the land use and transportation system for our region to maximize these outcomes against different external forces (like energy costs or climate changes)? I hope we can build a ‘resilient’ region that helps defend us against what the economists called ‘abrupt changes’ (a major earthquake, or the shutdown of the gulf stream, is an ‘abrupt change’).

What do you think would make our region more resilient against potential external forces for the next 20-50 years?


3 responses to “Scenarios, Sensitivity and Resilience in Regional Planning”

  1. ” the current assumption set for the regional models has oil settling back to $35-40/barrel”

    Just to state the obivous in question form, “Did someone lose some gray cells our of their head?”

    Oil is going to be where it is for a while. Even if the oil companies dropped profits (Generally 7-20 cents a gallon) and the taxes (About 25-50 cents depending on state/region) that still leaves us with a significantly rising gas cost. Just the competitiveness with the Chinese for oil is going to keep increasing the price for the near future.

    With the Environmentalists & others of that ilk seeing this as a rallying cry to limit or get rid of our reliance on it I’m sure they won’t be bothered that much by rising oil prices.

    Me on the other hand see this as the Market forces equalizing a subsidized and falsely created oil independant automobile reliant America. We’ve basically created the problem we’ve been growing ourselves into.

    All this planning won’t amount to a hill of beans though if the market/people of the area don’t get even MORE behind it than they are now. Portland is an amazing place with it’s transportation mix but even ole’ PDX is not going to be able to curve real oil demand in the area without prices going up.

  2. Self sufficiency as a region should be our first goal… Not importing but exporting.

    We also need to take advantage of the expected growth of the region. We should be asking how we and the region can benefit from so many educated people moving here in the next decades. Plan ahead/be proactive and all that…

    Transportation is a big part of all this but only a part. One thing to consider might be regional rail systems on existing lines….

    Also, wireless communications should be a goverment project.

    And why not tax the freeways? Especially on the Columbia…no more free rides for taxless Vancoucerites.

    Plan for mixed use/walkable neighborhoods *everywhere*…even in the ‘burbs.

    Create a regional goverment like Metro or expand Metro’s jurisdiction to include the whole region (govt camp to Astoria and the Columbia to Woodburn?)

    Just some rambling ideas….

  3. Chris –

    I think you are on to an important issue. Much of the transportation planning gets done based on modeling that promises a level of certainty that it can’t deliver. And some of the largest uncertainties, actual land uses, are treated as fixed.

    What happens if much of the planned “industrial” land in the central eastside developes instead as Pearl/Riverplace condominiums and retail? Or if the industrial development in Damascus never actually happens because the city of Damascus decides large lot residential development is preferable or there is no real market for industrial land in that area?

    If you look at the New Seasons parking lot on Interstate next to the MAX stop you can see that the political will to actually follow through on planned development, or even its basic principals, wilts quickly once there is an actual developer ready to go whose plans don’t conform to the master plan. The same thing happened in Woodburn. The same thing may well happen with Portland Meadows.

    Yet transportation planning assumes none of those political compromises will have an impact on the need for transportation facilities. And, what is worse, is it assumes transportation investments won’t have an impact on the development choices.

    You should start to look at scenarios and develop resiliency – assuming uncertainty instead of certainty. Then, instead of assuming the land use is fixed, you assume that the market will at least in part determine land use based on the opportunities your transportation investments provide.

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