“Successful multimodal corridor planning relies on you to own the project, have complete empathy, and embrace an unwavering commitment to high-quality project implementation.”
Multimodal corridor planning comes in many forms. While every community and corridor is unique, planning agencies and their project teams can benefit from applying five keys to achieve real project success. Let’s dive in.
1. Do your multi-perspective homework, no matter what.
Your project team must spend time and effort to perform due diligence, starting at the early stages of every project. They will need to learn, research, gather data, perform surveys, conduct interviews, identify existing conditions and performance, analyze, ask follow-up questions, probe to identify root causes, and personally experience the corridor utilizing the various modes of travel at different times and days. The team (and their all-ages-and-abilities family members) must immerse themselves into the existing corridor and literally walk, bike, ride, and drive to gain various perspectives. Only with this early, ongoing, and in-depth personal insight will you be able to properly move the project into subsequent phases.
On a completes streets project, we unexpectedly identified traffic congestion and curb space allocation issues at 2:00 a.m. This was identified by observing existing roadway conditions over a continuous, four-day period, including weekdays and weekends. On another “family” field trip, my 10-year-old daughter noticed an important missing link of walkway at a relatively new transit terminal facility. The critical point is that the average user can notice deficiencies that many experts miss, so take their feedback seriously.
2. Be willing to learn and adjust.
There are always technical and non-technical elements to learn on the planning journey that you will have to account for and incorporate. Assume that you need to be flexible, adaptable, and change courses multiple times, based on what you learn. This could be a change in your approach, a process, and/or a potential solution. When expected and properly handled, learn to embrace the concept that change is good. In a recent study, we learned many new details about tandem truck and truck travel center facilities and their users. While this led to significant redesign, all required changes were project improvements and provided additional knowledge for future projects.
3. Engage all stakeholders in a meaningful way.
Identify and engage a broad and representative spectrum of individuals and stakeholder groups covering all travel modes, geographic areas, and socio-demographic characteristics. With stakeholders identified, build a two-way communication process, applying various traditional and non-traditional means and methods, such as relying on members or leaders of the affected communities. More importantly, communicate respectfully, honestly, and effectively with them and with a heavy emphasis on listening. Include their input early and throughout the project life cycle.
4. Solve stakeholders’ real problems and needs in their entirety.
Providing a comprehensive solution from the stakeholders’ perspective is often challenging but achievable. This is where creativity, innovation, and out-of-the-box thinking helps. It often requires holistic solutions beyond a single agency and the traditional self-imposed boundaries of scope, schedule, and budget. True empathy means you assume that you and your most cherished and vulnerable family members are everyday (and all-times-of-the-day and night) users of the corridor through all travel modes. Implementing projects and/or solutions that are incomplete or that you or your all-ages-and-abilities family would not routinely use yourselves won’t create an ideal outcome.
On two multimodal projects, we developed new design criteria to address stakeholder needs. The criteria focused on accommodating those of all ages and abilities, at all times, for shared use paths and intermodal transfer facilities where none existed and where there was room for clarification and enhancement.
5. Make sure it gets done as promised and relatively soon.
Develop implementable improvements, consider short- and long-term solutions to expedite delivery, and follow up and push through the natural resistance that will come. Make sure you have tracking processes in place to monitor and support projects from concept to completion. On a recent project, we performed planning, preliminary engineering, design (plans production and permitting), and construction oversight on two park-and-ride facilities under a single planning contract, removing the need for independent procurements at each phase. This is an ideal approach if your contracts or processes are structured, from the outset, to allow for this type of beginning-to-end project delivery and can help advance projects towards on-time completion.
Multimodal corridor planning can seem complex, especially as the number of involved communities and stakeholders increases. However, the above offers effective ways to make sure planning is done well and with meaningful engagement to build project support. Throughout my 35-year career conducting multimodal planning across many communities, I’ve learned these approaches and techniques rely on owning the project, having complete empathy, and embracing an unwavering commitment to high-quality project implementation.