Scenario Planning Can Help Prepare for a Hard-to-Predict Future

Questions about the variables that could significantly alter the future of transportation, and the configuration of the public realm to accommodate those futuristic forms of transportation, illustrate the potential power of scenario planning.

2 minute read

April 26, 2019, 5:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

Vancouver Skytrain near Chinatown

Kyle Lawrence / Wikimedia Commons

Anthony Flint asks the question: In a time when "new forms of transportation are creating many unknowns," are contemporary streetscape designs fully anticipating the future?

After presenting the example of a development at a prominent corner of Kenmore Square in Boston—a hotel development that "hinges on a complete re-routing of traffic to favor bicyclists and pedestrians, adding big swaths of public space in the process—Flint goes on to pose the significant unknowns challenging all current transportation thinking.

For example, the imminent arrival of autonomous cars may allow narrower streets because driverless cars can essentially tailgate each other. Timed traffic signals, guided by artificial intelligence, will keep things flowing in ways far superior to the red light, green light system of today. Downtowns everywhere won’t have to devote prized urban land for big parking garages or surface lots.

But shared autonomous vehicles may also end up exacerbating Boston’s first-in-the-nation congestion problems. One study predicts that driverless Ubers and Lyfts will be in such continual use, circling the block looking for rides, key streets in major metropolitan areas will see more gridlock than ever before.

Additional technologically advanced mobility mechanisms will also operate in the public realm of the future, like electric scooters and delivery robots. Both are already are already operating in some corners of the United States.

As a tool to anticipate these challenges, Flint suggests scenario planning, described here as allowing planners "to map out multiple scenarios, leaving room for unknowns."

"When conditions on the ground indicate that one of the scenarios is more likely, that’s the trigger for going all-in on infrastructure, policies, and placemaking," according to Flint.

Thursday, April 25, 2019 in The Boston Globe

Few passengers waiting in subway station with multiple platforms and "North Station" signs in Boston, Massachusetts

Boston Transit Riders Report Safety Concerns

Almost three-quarters of current and former riders report feeling unsafe while using MBTA services.

September 18, 2023 - Hoodline

View of Interstate 205 bridge over Columbia River with Mt. Hood in background.

The Unceremonious Death of a Freeway Expansion Project

The end of an Oregon freeway project didn't get much fanfare, but the victory is worth celebrating.

September 19, 2023 - Streetsblog USA

Wood frame house under construction

Houston Lot Size Reforms Yield Positive Results

New research shows that reducing lot size requirements helped create thousands of new homes.

September 17, 2023 - Pew Trusts

View of Austin, Texas skyline at dusk with Colorado River and bridge in foreground

‘Affordability Unlocked’ Boosts Austin’s Affordable Housing Production

A 2019 program has created new housing at a faster rate than other city programs.

17 minutes ago - KUT

Aerial view of small New Hampshire town with brick buildings and fall foliage.

How Homelessness Differs in Rural America

Although less visible than in major cities, the housing crisis is no less severe in many rural communities, where being unhoused poses unique challenges.

1 hour ago - The Daily Yonder

Low shot of red painted bus lane on New York City street with blurred bus, pedestrians, and buildings in background.

New York Officials Back Down on Bus Lane Plans

Proposed bus improvements in the Bronx are the latest casualty of opposition.

2 hours ago - StreetsBlog NYC