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Peer Exchange Summary Report

Boulder, Colorado
July 18-20, 2011

Prepared for:
Office of Planning
Federal Highway Administration
U.S. Department of Transportation
seal of the U.S. Department of Transportation   Prepared by:
Organizational Performance Division
John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center
Research and Innovative Technology Administration
U.S. Department of Transportation
The Volpe Center logo



On July 18-20, 2011, the Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA) Office of Planning sponsored a peer exchange in Boulder, Colorado, focusing on select organizations' applications of geographic information systems (GIS) to support livability considerations, objectives, and goals.

The purpose of the peer exchange was to allow participants with notable GIS applications that support livability the opportunity to:

The City of Boulder hosted the event, which took place at the City of Boulder's conference facility in downtown Boulder. Participants included staff from the City of Boulder, the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT), Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), Denver Regional Council of Governments, Michigan DOT (MDOT), the North Front Range metropolitan planning organization (NFRMPO), Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments (PPACG), Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), FHWA's Colorado Division, FHWA Headquarters, and the U.S. Department of Transportation's (USDOT) Volpe National Transportation Systems Center. Appendix A includes a complete list of participants. Appendix B provides a list of questions discussed as part of four roundtable discussions held during the peer exchange. Appendix C provides the peer exchange's full agenda.

Several of these organizations participated in previous FHWA-sponsored research on GIS for livability applications conducted in 2011. This research resulted in a report on “Applications of GIS for Livability: Case Studies of Select Transportation Agencies.”1 The report included case studies on the experiences of the City of Boulder, SCAG, CNT, and the University of Oregon/Oregon Transportation Research and Education Consortium in creating and maintaining several GIS applications that support livability goals. Peer exchange participants drew on findings documented in the report as a framework for discussions. While these findings served as a starting point for conversation, the peer exchange's discussions also captured a range of additional topics that went beyond the scope of the report.

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FHWA believes that GIS and other geospatial technologies can help transportation professionals make better decisions. To help support and advance the GIS community of practice, FHWA's Office of Planning sponsors projects related to GIS and its application to several topics such as climate change, asset management, bicycle and pedestrian planning, right-of-way issues, and others. More information about these projects and current efforts is available on the FHWA GIS in Transportation website at

This peer exchange provided an opportunity for FHWA to learn from practitioners about how GIS is being used to support livability decisions. It also provided a forum for peers to engage in discussion about current practices and trends, successes, challenges, and ideas for future implementation.

According to FHWA, livability is about tying the quality and location of transportation facilities to broader opportunities such as access to good jobs, affordable housing, quality schools, and safe streets. Furthermore, a livable community is one in which people have multiple, convenient transportation and housing options and can access destinations using cars as well as other modes of transportation.

While universal themes such as safety and affordability apply to communities of all shapes and sizes, applications of livability often differ from location to location and must be adaptable to reflect community values and unique local conditions. These distinctions are most easily recognized between urban and rural communities. For example, rural areas might require improved access to job centers, farmland and open space preservation, and faster emergency response times. Urban communities, on the other hand, might need a diversity of transportation options, improved congestion management, and support for neighborhood-oriented economic development.

In March 2009, the USDOT and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced an interagency partnership to promote sustainable communities and help citizens gain better access to affordable housing, more transportation options, and lower transportation costs. In June 2009, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) joined the initiative to form the Partnership for Sustainable Communities. The Partnership developed the following set of livability principles to help guide State and municipal efforts:2

The Partnership for Sustainable Communities has relied on its partner agencies to make funding available for projects that met the initiative's intent. Through programs such as Transportation Enhancements, Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) Improvement Program, and Safe Routes to School, FHWA has provided support for projects that improve access, mobility, safety, and overall transportation quality in both urban and rural areas. FHWA also helps to build awareness of the livability principles through seminars and webinars, training opportunities, and peer exchanges such as the one documented in this report.

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This section provides brief summaries of the presentations that occurred during the peer exchange. These summaries are listed below along with comments, questions, and answers that followed each presentation.


The City of Boulder has a population of over 100,000 residents and is situated at the foot of the Rocky Mountain Front Range in the northwest portion of the Denver metropolitan area.3 The University of Colorado, which has an enrollment of almost 30,000 students, is also located in the city.

City staff provided some historical context for Boulder's innovative approach to planning, which started by implementing an urban growth boundary in 1959 and a commitment to open space preservation in the late 1960s. In the late 1970s, the city adopted the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan, which continues to be the primary guide for all planning activities in the city. In the late 1980s, Boulder adopted its first Transportation Master Plan (TMP) with a mode-shift goal.

The TMP has been updated twice since it was first published. In the first update (1996), the City of Boulder planned complete systems for each modal system, represented in static maps. By 2003 when the second TMP update was published, staff had converted the entire TMP to GIS format, allowing the city to complete more in-depth analyses. The objectives of the 2003 TMP were to:

To accomplish these objectives, city staff identified 42 multimodal corridor segments that would be the focus of alternative transportation investments throughout the city. Using GIS, staff inventoried and assessed each corridor by developing a citywide mobility index that relied on a weighted scoring system to measure pedestrian, bicycle, transit, and automobile performance within each corridor. These assessments helped the city prioritize the short- and long-term alternative transportation needs for each corridor. More than 850 individual projects are included in the resulting GIS mapping and database.

City staff have also used GIS to illustrate options for transportation connections in a Boulder neighborhood that is less suitable for bicycle and pedestrian travel. By overlaying an urban street grid with which citizens are familiar (in this case, downtown Boulder) with the suburban mega-block grid of an area planned for redevelopment, stakeholders were easily able to compare the two different patterns and better understand how improved pedestrian connections would affect the built environment.

Staff also discussed Boulder's most recent GIS project, Go Bike Boulder (Figure 1), which offers an easy-to-use, bicycle-oriented trip-planning tool.4 The web-based application provides maps and directions for both on-road and trail-only bike trips throughout the city and county. The tool aims to promote bicycling as an alternative means of transportation for Boulder's citizens and positively impact health and the environment. In addition to a route summary and elevation chart, the tool also shows users how many calories they might burn while biking a particular route as well as the environmental benefits and cost savings incurred by using an alternative transportation mode.

Boulder has also collected aerial imagery to identify impervious surfaces (additionally, PPACG has conducted research to identify what employers in the region might be likely to produce heavier stormwater runoff due to impervious surfaces such as parking lots). Several peer exchange participants agreed that it could be useful to evaluate opportunities for redeveloping parking lots so as to limit the amount of impervious surfaces in a region or area.

Figure 1.   Go Bike Boulder screenshot.

Screenshot from the Go Bike Boulder website home page, with a colored lined map and a map routing form, which allows visitors to plot trips by selecting or inputting a beginning location and a destination.

Comments, Questions, and Answers

Q. How many people commute into and out of Boulder each day?
A. We have about 10,000 outbound commuters and 45,000 to 50,000 inbound commuters on a daily basis. We are doing pretty well in terms of alternative transportation mode share for commuters. We are hoping to have bus rapid transit on U.S. 36 to improve travel time between Denver and Boulder. Ultimately the region is supposed to get rail into Boulder and then up to Longmont.
Q. What is the average/median home price in Boulder?
A. The average home price is $550,000 to $600,000. There has always been a premium for living in Boulder. Boulder County is also desirable so housing is also quite expensive there although not as high as in the city.
Q. Who are the city's major employers?
A. The University of Colorado, Celestial Seasonings, and IBM. Boulder has numerous internet companies and a significant biotech and bio-sciences sector. We have a strong natural foods industry and several companies that specialize in active living such as sporting goods and outdoor publications.
Q. Is there a percentage of your budget set aside for data collection?
A. We allocate $40,000 to $50,000 for each survey, which occur every 2-3 years.
Q. Do you have bike counters?
A. Yes, we do have bike counters in a number of locations. We still have to physically show up at several count locations to capture the data. We have 16 to 18 automatic count stations.
Q. Do cyclists ride year round?
A. We find precipitation is more of a problem than temperature, and Boulder has an advantage in that it is mostly sunny all year. We find that there are half as many cyclists in the winter than in other seasons.
Q. Is parking free for bicycles?
A. Yes. We also have free parking for motorcycles.
Q. Does Boulder's travel survey capture trips other than work trips?
A. For more in-depth travel surveys we use the Boulder Valley travel diary. We ask travelers to keep a log of every trip that is taken throughout the day. We also have employer surveys that try to capture the travel needs of residents and non-residents specific to work trips and travel during the work day.
Q. How does the routing in Go Bike Boulder differ from Google Maps?
A. There are a lot of similarities. We provided our bike data to Google. Our goal is to get the information out to as many users as possible so we like that Google provides its own mapping service.
Q. How many hits does the Go Bike Boulder application get?
A. It has stabilized over the years. Initially, it was very popular.
Q. Do you have any requests to add incident management to Go Bike Boulder?
A. We have a different application called Cone Zone that includes information on construction and incidents. We do not currently have a way to provide real-time information or information on accidents in the application, but we have been investigating Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) technologies and opportunities.
Q. How did you make the public aware of the Go Bike Boulder application?
A. We had a fairly aggressive outreach effort. However, there are probably still individuals who do not know about it. It is an ongoing challenge.
Q. How do you promote information on biking and walking to the younger generation?
A. The Boulder school system has a bicycle-pedestrian coordinator with whom we work closely. The position was initially funded through a CMAQ grant and has since been funded by the school district.
Q. How much was the CMAQ grant used to complete Go Bike Boulder?
A. The total provided was $200,000.

Comment: There is a private Boulder-based program that supports children cycling to school. The program provides radio-frequency identification (RFID) stickers that children can add to their helmets and obtain credit for walking and/or cycling to school. More information on the program is available at:

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SCAG is the largest MPO in the nation.5 Its region includes six counties and 191 cities, including the City of Los Angeles, and represents the 15th largest economy in the world. SCAG currently serves 19 million residents and anticipates adding five million new residents by 2035.

SCAG described two GIS-based tools it has developed to support livability and sustainability goals:

Comments, Questions, and Answers

Q. Would new transportation facilities, such as a road, be captured in the LSPT's land use scenarios?
A. The tool is not designed to take future transportation asset development into consideration since it is based on a household model.
Q. What is the tool's minimum scale of analysis?
A. The tool can conduct analysis at the level of a 5.5-acre grid cell.
Q. Can the LSPT accommodate zoning changes?
A. The tool does not automatically account for zoning changes but users can manually update zoning changes.
Q. How does the LSPT account for control totals?
A. This is a key issue. We suggested the control total number for each jurisdiction although users can manually monitor the progress of their scenarios over control totals as they make land use changes.
Q. To what extent are SCAG's members using the tool?
A. About 40 percent of our member cities are using the tool. Achieving this level of implementation took a lot of time and effort by SCAG staff. Many of SCAG's members have limited staffing resources and reported that use of the tool has involved a learning curve.
Q. Is Envision Tomorrow a publically accessible tool?
A. No. However, we freely share the LSPT, which is based on Envision Tomorrow software, with SCAG's member jurisdictions.
Q. How many staff worked on developing the tool and what were the costs?
A. SCAG has three GIS staff in total, two of whom worked on developing the LSPT. We received funding from Compass Blueprint to develop the tool. The total cost was approximately $100,000.
Q. Did SCAG involve consultants in developing the LSPT?
A. Fregonese Associates built Envision Tomorrow. Two other consultants built the transportation module for SCAG.
Q. Does SCAG find issues related to jurisdiction that report inflated income levels for CALOTS?
A. No, data for CALOTS is obtained through the U.S. Census so there are no issues related to income inflation.
Q. Is SCAG looking at the average lifespan of a property in regards to local demolition?
A. No, we are looking at the actual demolition figures.

Comment: Envision Tomorrow's development types incorporate economic information to ensure that scenario outcomes are fiscally feasible.

Comment: There are several resources for obtaining pre-Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) census data and converting it to GIS format. For example, the National Historical GIS8 has data from 1790; however, some data may not be very accurate.

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CNT is a non-profit applied research “think and do tank” based in Chicago, Illinois.9 The organization develops and implements strategies that benefit the environment and economy, with a focus on supporting access to public goods and services. CNT's primary research areas include energy efficiency, transportation, climate change, and water and green infrastructure. The organization also operates the I-GO car sharing program in Chicago.10

CNT presented its Housing + Transportation (H + T®) Affordability Index.11 The H+T index is based on the convention that 30 percent of a household's budget should be allocated for housing. However, transportation costs are the second largest household expenditure and are greatly impacted by where a household live. The H+T index seeks to provide a more complete picture of neighborhood affordability by looking at the cost of housing in conjunction with the cost of transportation. CNT's findings showed that compact walkable neighborhoods with proximity to jobs, transit, and retail have much lower average household transportation costs than dispersed, low-density communities.

In order to quantify transportation costs at the neighborhood level, which were largely unknown, CNT developed a model to calculate transportation affordability for any given neighborhood (see Figure 4). The model currently includes neighborhood statistics for 337 metropolitan areas across the country (based on U.S. Census Bureau 2000 metropolitan area definitions). An update and expansion of the H+T Index is currently underway and will include 940 based statistical areas as defined by the Office of Management Bureau 2008 definitions.

Figure 4.   H + T transportation cost methodology.

Graphic showing the variables that add to Total Transportation Costs in CNT's methodology: 6 Neighborhood Variables (Residential Density, Gross Density, Average Block Size in Acres, Transit Connectivity Index, Job Density, and Average Time Journey to Work) and 3 Household Variables (Household Income, Household Size, and Commuters per Household) which factor into Car Ownership, Car Usage, and Public Transit Usage costs

The H+T index enables comparisons of neighborhoods using six neighborhood variables and three household variables. The model demonstrates the importance of urban form and its impact on household transportation costs. The H+T website also conducts statistical analysis in real time based on the current map extent. As a user zooms in and out of a map and adjusts variables, the accompanying graphs and charts change based on the new scale.

CNT also demonstrated the Center for Transit Oriented Development online National TOD Database tool,12 a project that consolidates geospatial data for over 4,600 fixed rail stations across the nation. CNT created transit zones (one quarter mile and one half mile radii buffers around all fixed rail transit stations) and transit sheds (the aggregation of transit zones to each transit line, transit agency, and region), added transit regions (Census regions with fixed-rail transit), and assembled over 40,000 socioeconomic data to be aggregated to those geographies. The socioeconomic data includes data from the U.S. Census, Local Employment Dynamics (LED), Census Transportation Planning Package, and CNT's H+T data. The repository will better allow cities and developers to more easily see the potential for TOD in a given location. The project is funded by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and previously received start-up funding from HUD and the Surdna Foundation.

Comments, Questions, and Answers

Q. How are carbon dioxide emissions calculated in the H + T index?
A. These calculations are based on average household VMT from 2000 (about 19 pounds of carbon dioxide per gallon of gas). We did not factor in congestion, which is a limitation of the tool.
Q. If a user wanted to zoom to 1,000 feet from 10,000 feet, would more data be required from municipalities?
A. We have done re-analysis based on better data. We are trying to be ubiquitous with national-level data. If we had better data for municipal areas, we could do more specialized modeling.

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DRCOG is the regional planning agency for the eight-county Denver, Colorado metropolitan area of nearly 2.2 million residents.13 DRCOG staff reported on two of its GIS/livability efforts:

DRCOG also included sustainability goals for the first time in its 2035 Metro Vision long-range transportation plan (updated in February 2011).18 The goals were developed with input from DRCOG's local governments solicited through stakeholder workshops and other events.19 In the plan, DRCOG articulated several strategies to help achieve these goals such as locating 75 percent of new employment and 50 percent of new housing in TOD regions.20

Comments, Questions, and Answers

Q. What challenges did DRCOG encounter in developing the solar application and TOD application?
A. It was difficult to “clean up” the LiDAR data to populate the solar application. Additionally, it was challenging to determine how to move from concepts to reality and develop an application that addressed all of DRCOG's goals. Regarding the TOD application, it was difficult to identify an appropriate platform that would best meet users' needs.
Q. What was the response from DRCOG's member governments in regards to its sustainability efforts?
A. DRCOG found that some of its member governments were more receptive to discussing sustainability issues than others.
Q. Does the solar application's energy estimates account for the specific orientation of the sun?
A. Yes. This information was obtained from LiDAR data points.
Q. Have there been any incentives offered through the region's energy service provider [Xcel] if installed solar panels make more energy than is used?
A. We are not sure.

Comment: The City of Boulder is now considering whether it will become its own energy utility. There are a few other municipalities in Colorado that are their own energy utility, including Colorado Springs and Longmont.

Comment: A few peer exchange participants attended DRCOG's sustainability cafes, which were conducted as part of the agency's effort to develop sustainability goals for the Metro Vision plan. Based on comments heard during these cafes, it appears that citizens are identifying new sustainability issues for the region that local governments have not yet addressed.

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PPACG is the MPO for the Colorado Springs, Colorado, metropolitan area.21 It is an association of 16 municipal and county governments and serves approximately 700,000 residents. The agency expects the region to add 300,000 new residents by 2035.

PPACG is currently engaged in several livability and sustainability initiatives:

Through the above efforts, PPACG has sought to develop a new, comprehensive planning paradigm for the region that encourages interaction, collaboration, and integration among stakeholders. PPACG believes this “diagonal collaboration” approach will also help address multiple planning issues facing the region, including transportation, socioeconomic, economic development, and land use challenges. To advance the concept of diagonal collaboration, PPACG is creating a GIS-based decision-support system that would improve work efficiencies, facilitate documentation, and allow interconnectivity with other agency tools. The system will integrate several tools (including CommunityViz, VISTA, and others) that PPACG currently uses to conduct economic, social, and ecological analyses. PPACG believes that this system will help identify synergies among projects to show how multiple projects could provide comprehensive benefits to a region.

Comments, Questions, and Answers

Q. Does PPACG expect growth to continue in its region?
A. Yes, particularly because Fort Carson, a military base, is located in the region. Fort Carson is the state's second-largest employer. Recently, we have seen a trend in more soldiers wanting to live close to the base.
Q. Can you provide an example of one of PPACG's high-priority projects?
A. Yes. PPACG is going to be building a portion of a project associated with the Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs. The base has constructed a high-capacity facility. PPACG will develop an interchange near the base's main gate. Once completed, the facility is expected to add about 1,500 high-paying defense contractor jobs to the region.
Q. A natural gas company recently purchased an 18,000-acre development to the east of Colorado Springs to construct 3000 natural gas wells. Does PPACG expect to see more jobs added to the region as a result of this project?
A. The natural gas company believes that new activity on the purchased land would add 10,000 to 15,000 jobs. However, some of these jobs might be short-term.

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As part of the peer exchange, participants engaged in four roundtable discussions focusing on several topics and questions, which are summarized below. Appendix B provides the complete list of roundtable topics and questions discussed.

Recurring observations, challenges, and lessons learned discussed within the above four roundtable discussion areas are presented in more detail below.

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Participants identified several new trends that are affecting GIS technologies and use of these technologies to build livability-focused applications:

Increasing Use of Smartphones and Crowd Sourcing Technologies

Smartphones are mobile phones that provide advanced computing abilities to users. Crowd sourcing technologies, which could be used together with smartphones, allow multiple users to provide input or to collaboratively develop solutions to specific issues.

Several participants noted that their organizations and agencies are investigating smartphone or crowd sourcing technologies to help decrease cost and staff time in meeting business and customer needs. For example, the City of Boulder noted that it completes a travel diary of residents every three years; currently, this effort is conducted using paper logs and costs about $50,000. The city would like to begin using smartphone technology to collect travel data (with potential future applications for livability-related goals) and is investigating several avenues for doing so. A potential model might include the San Francisco County Transportation Authority's CycleTracks application, which tracks information on cycling routes and trips.28 Another model might be, a website that allows the public to report transportation issues (such as potholes and debris on the road) via their smartphones to local governments, utilities, or other users, who can then take appropriate steps to address the issues.

Participants discussed several considerations and lessons learned involved in the use of smartphone technology to support agencies' livability goals. Some examples are described below:

Open Source Platforms

Several participants reported using open source platforms to manage website content. Open source platforms allow users the ability to change and distribute software without needing to own the software or obtain copyright permissions. Open source platforms typically rely on user-generated content and are often developed in a collaborative manner. These types of platforms can provide flexibility for agencies and provide time and cost savings. For example, an agency using an open source platform might be able to spend more time generating content rather than on developing a base software program.

NFRMPO is working on building a web-based Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) tool using an open source platform. The MPO expects that the tool will allow the agency to better manage its TIP history and communicate more effectively with CDOT.

Participants discussed several considerations involved in the use of open source platforms, including the following:

Interactive Mapping

The public's increasing use of interactive mapping applications such as Google Maps and Bing Maps is another important trend affecting agencies' development of GIS/livability applications.29 Many participants believed that these programs have raised the public's expectations regarding the “look and feel” of web-based applications, including government applications. Some also felt that it would be a waste of government resources to try to duplicate these efforts and compete with private sector offerings. These technologies might be encouraging agencies to adopt new functionalities and standards such as “zoom,” “street-view,” and other types of features.

For example, CDOT reported that, as a result of changing user expectations, it has simplified some of its internal web-based tools to ensure a more user-friendly experience for employees. MDOT uses street-view data to verify information provided in applications to the state's Safe Routes to School program and other grant programs. If an applicant requests funds to build a trail to provide access to a particular location, MDOT will use street-view data to verify the location of the trail and ensure that the request is valid. As another example, PPACG is now using Google Earth as a basemap to display pavement conditions, transportation projects, environmental conditions, and other information to the public.30 PPACG believes the street and aerial views provided through Google Maps provide time and cost savings since staff do not have to drive to a particular location (for maintenance or other reasons) as frequently.

Participants noted that street-view information available on mapping websites is not always up to date and it is sometimes difficult to identify image dates (although some images might contain date watermarks). This can sometimes make it difficult to use this information to develop accurate GIS/livability applications. CDOT considered purchasing a statewide package of street-view data of rural areas and found that some information was over five years old. While agencies can estimate dates based on knowledge of when a particular asset or facility was built, other approaches might still be needed. For example, to address data accuracy issues, CDOT has implemented a quality assurance/quality control process that includes the use of 6-inch ortho-imagery of the Denver metropolitan area, National Agriculture Imagery Program (NAIP) imagery as available, Computer-Aided Design and Drafting files, and annual street-view video logs to complement and augment third-party data sources.

Cloud Hosting

Cloud hosting refers to third parties hosting data on behalf of other entities and enables users to share, store, and manage data via web-based programs. CNT reported using cloud hosting services to store a large amount of data. These agencies believed that cloud hosting can provide cost savings to agencies and allow staff to focus more of their time on tasks other than data management. A few participants noted that they have worked with partners to leverage data storage resources. For example, SCAG did not have sufficient bandwidth to host some of its geospatial data using in-house services. It partnered with the University of California, Los Angeles, which already had the necessary data-hosting capabilities.

Visualization Technologies

Several agencies reported that visualization technologies can help educate the public on how a transportation project will look when completed. New technologies, such as Google's SketchUp, are allowing agencies to produce more detailed and accurate visualizations than in the past.31 While use of visualization technologies can be beneficial, some participants believed that visualizations must be carefully managed. For example, PPACG developed visualizations for several project alternatives and posted the files on its website for public downloading; users were able to download the files even after one alternative was discarded. PPACG cautioned that agencies posting visualizations online should ensure that updates are automatically posted and that users cannot access the original files.

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During the tailored solutions roundtable, participants discussed when and where GIS tools are needed to support livability and how to ensure that GIS tools are meeting their goals and objectives.

Considerations Supporting GIS/Livability Tools

Participants discussed several considerations related to the development of GIS/livability tools, detailed below.

Challenges Encountered in Developing GIS Tools

Participants also recognized the challenge of convincing decision-makers about the advantages of GIS for livability or the general benefits of GIS. Planners and GIS specialists often had to internally educate staff before receiving the funding and resources necessary to implement their GIS projects.

Some challenges and issues discussed are presented below:

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Data are an important component of developing GIS/livability applications. Agencies need data to populate these applications; additionally, data are used to help evaluate applications through performance measures or other metrics. Several recurring considerations, lessons learned, and themes emerged in participants' discussion of data considerations and are detailed below.

Using Data to Develop GIS/Livability Performance Measures

Working with Partners to Collect and Share Livability-Focused Data

Addressing Challenges in Data Collection

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While initially intended to focus on the role of GIS/livability tools in supporting public participation, the roundtable focused more on public outreach during the peer exchange. The session prompted discussion about how planning and GIS departments are disseminating information about the tools that they have developed. Much of the session focused on social media and web presence with little emphasis on GIS-specific applications.


Most participants noted that they use their agency's website to inform the public and local officials about the release of a new GIS tool or application. A key success factor is making the website searchable and “discoverable” or easy to find using the most common search engines. Several agencies use Google Analytics to monitor website traffic.

Social Media

Many agencies reported involvement with social media applications such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. These applications can provide the public with up-to-date information related to agencies' operations and encourage back-and-forth dialogue with users. For example, MDOT recently released three YouTube videos on biking, transit, and ridesharing to promote a new web-based initiative called Mi Commute.34 MDOT heavily promoted the release of each video, which was staggered in two-week intervals.

CDOT mentioned that it uses a tool called Gov Delivery to send simple messages to the public through simple message services (SMS), cell phone texts, or emails about significant highway concerns and alerts. Users must subscribe to the service. When signing up, a user can check boxes of interest and will receive additional information based on their selections. The service is not advertised beyond the agency's own website where a phone/mail icon states that users may sign up for email and wireless alerts.

FHWA noted that that while many public agencies began using social media to disseminate information to the public easily and inexpensively, many of those efforts have been hampered because the agency had no policy in place to manage incoming and outgoing information. However, CDOT reported that its public engagement office does a good job to manage the agency's use of social media.

Several participants voiced concerns about social media tools being overwhelmed with citizens who might post inappropriate or inaccurate information. Additional issues and lessons learned related to transportation agencies' uses of social media are captured in a 2010 FHWA report.35

Other Media

QR codes are a two-dimensional barcode that can be read by smartphones enabled with QR reading software. The encoded information is frequently a link that will direct users to a specific website. Both MDOT and the City of Boulder reported using QR codes on publications or maps to direct users to a specific website to download additional information.

Traditional media such as newspapers and television were briefly mentioned. Participants discussed whether traditional media are still adequate for serving the agencies' public outreach needs. A few participants reported that one of the best ways to disseminate information to the public and conduct surveys is by attending local events such as farmers' markets and seasonal festivals. In some circumstances, this approach can provide a better range of input than traditional public meetings as some meetings are attended primarily by advocates for a specific agenda item.


A few agencies reported using GIS tools to allow the public to better envision a community's future given certain development scenarios. Some examples of applications mentioned include:

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V.   Conclusions

Agencies participating in the peer exchange had a range of experience with GIS/livability tools and technologies. Through sharing information about agencies' currently used GIS tools as well as knowledge regarding lessons learned, challenges encountered, and success factors, participants gained insight into how GIS tools can be developed, utilized, and deployed to support livability goals. Furthermore, the roundtable discussions provided opportunities for participants to share ideas about new trends affecting GIS technologies, geospatial data issues, performance evaluation, and use of GIS to support public participation. Overall, the presentations and roundtables allowed participants to better identify approaches to improve their agencies' development and management of GIS/livability applications.

The FHWA report titled “Applications of GIS for Livability: Case Studies of Select Transportation Agencies” provided a useful starting point for many of the discussions held during the peer exchange. However, the exchange presentations and roundtables showed that there are many topics of interest related to the use of GIS technologies to support livability goals that went beyond the scope of the report. The peer exchange supported development of a stronger peer network and community focused on uses of GIS for livability.

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Shana Baker
Community Planner
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
Washington, DC 20590
Albert Benedict
Senior Planner/GIS Analyst
Center for Neighborhood Technology
2125 West North Avenue
Chicago, IL 60647
Kami Brown
GIS Analyst
Michigan DOT
425 W. Ottawa Street
P.O. Box 30050
Lansing, MI 48909517-241-3513
Aaron Bustow
Statewide Transportation Planner
Federal Highway Administration
Colorado Division
12300 West Dakota Ave. Suite 180
Lakewood, CO 80228
Craig T. Casper, AICP
Transportation Director
Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments
15 South 7th Street
Colorado Springs CO 80905
719-471-7080 x105
Ping Chang
Program Manager
Southern California Association of Governments
818 W. Seventh Street, 12th Floor
Los Angeles, CA 90017
Ben Cotton
Community Planner
U.S. Department of Transportation
Volpe National Transportation Systems Center
55 Broadway
Cambridge, MA 02142
Cliff Davidson
Executive Director
North Front Range Metropolitan Planning Organization
419 Canyon Avenue
Fort Collins, CO 80521
Josh DeBruyn
Bicycle/Pedestrian Coordinator
Michigan Department of Transportation
425 W. Ottawa Street
P.O. Box 30050
Lansing, MI 48909
Larry Ferguson
GIS Analyst
City of Boulder
1777 Broadway
Boulder, CO 80302
Alisa Fine
Community Planner
U.S. Department of Transportation
Volpe National Transportation Systems Center
55 Broadway
Cambridge, MA 02142
Paul Haas
Chief Research Scientist
Center for Neighborhood Technology
2125 West North Avenue
Chicago, IL 60647
William Haas
Metropolitan Planner
FHWA Colorado Division Office
12300 West Dakota Avenue, Suite 180
Lakewood, CO 80228
William Johnson
GIS Data Management Section Manager
Colorado Department of Transportation
4201 E Arkansas Avenue
Denver CO 80222
Arvilla Kirchloff
North Front Range Metropolitan Planning Organization
419 Canyon Avenue
Fort Collins, CO 80521
Mark Sarmiento
Community Planner
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
Washington, DC 20590
Robin Smith
Transportation Planner
Federal Highway Administration
Colorado Division
12300 West Dakota Ave. Suite 180
Lakewood, CO 80228
Robin Reilley
Regional Land Use Planner
Denver Region Council of Governments
1290 Broadway, Suite 700
Denver, CO 80203
Randall Rutsch
Senior Transportation Planner
City of Boulder
1777 Broadway
Boulder, CO 80302
JungA Uhm
Senior Regional Planner
Comprehensive Planning
Southern California Association of Governments
818 W. Seventh Street, 12th Floor
Los Angeles, CA 90017

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New Trends

This topic focuses on recent geospatial and technological trends that could affect agencies' development of GIS/livability applications.

Tailored Solutions

This topic focuses on how agencies can identify and assess the need for GIS tools that support livability, build successful tools that meet users' needs, and evaluate tools' performance.

Data Considerations

This topic focuses on how agencies can better identify, collect, store, share, and update data related to GIS/livability applications. The topic also focuses on pre-requisites and approaches for incorporating data into applications to meet users' and agencies' needs.

Public Participation

This topic focuses on how agencies can use GIS/livability tools to support public participation and what factors are important to ensure these tools reach a broad public audience.

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Goal: Share lessons learned, best practices, and challenges in using GIS to meet livability-related goals.

Monday, July 18
1:00 pm – 1:30 pm Welcome, Introductions, and Background FHWA and City of Boulder
1:30 pm – 2:30 pm Overview of FHWA GIS and Livability Activities FHWA (Mark Sarmiento and Shana Baker)
2:30 pm – 2:45 pm Break
2:45 pm – 3:45 pm Roundtable 1 (All Participants)
New Trends
3:45 pm – 4:00 pm Day 1 Key Points/Wrap-Up FHWA (Mark Sarmiento)
6:00 pm Group Dinner (Walnut Brewery at 1123 Walnut Street)
Tuesday, July 19
8:00 am Travel to the 13th Street conference room at the City of Boulder's office (1720S 13th St.)
8:30 am – 8:45 am Day 1 Re-cap
8:45 am – 9:45 am Demonstrations/Presentations City of Boulder (Randall Rutsch and Larry Ferguson)
  • GIS conversion of multimodal corridors
  • Map It
9:45 am – 10:45 am Demonstrations/Presentations SCAG (Ping Chang and JungA Uhm)
  • Local sustainability tool
10:45 am – 11:00 am Break
11:00 am – 12:00 pm Demonstrations/Presentations Center for Neighborhood Technology (Peter Haas and Albert Benedict)
  • Newly expanded Housing and Transportation Affordability Index website
  • Transportation Energy Intensity Calculator
  • Housing and Transportation Affordability Planning Tool
  • Transit-Oriented Development Database
12:00 pm – 1:00 pm Lunch
1:00 pm – 2:00 pm Demonstrations/Presentations: Colorado Activities
Denver Region Council of Governments (Robin Reilley)
  • Solar Map
  • Transit-Oriented Development Website
Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments (Craig Casper)
  • Sustainability Tools
2:00 pm – 3:30 pm Roundtable 2 (All Participants)
Tailored Solutions
3:30 pm – 3:45 pm Day 2 Key Points/Wrap-Up FHWA (Mark Sarmiento and Shana Baker)
Wednesday, July 20
8:00 am Travel to the 13th Street conference room at the City of Boulder's office (1720S 13th St.)
8:15 am – 8:30 am Day 2 Re-cap
8:30 am – 10:00 am Roundtable 3 (All Participants)
Data Considerations
10:00 am – 10:15 am Break
10:15 am – 11:15 am Roundtable 4 (All Participants)
Public Participation
11:15 am – 11:30 am Peer Exchange Key Points and Wrap-Up FHWA (Mark Sarmiento and Shana Baker)

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1 The report is available at www.gis.fhwa.reports.aspx.
2 Additional information on the Partnership and the six livability principles is available at:
3 Additional information on the City of Boulder is available at
4 Additional information on Go Bike Boulder is available at Site no longer available. There is now a Boulder Bike Routes Interactive Map:¢er=-11716800.0%2C4869800.0%2C102100&level=12
5 More information on SCAG is available at
6 The software portrays different development types that represent a mix and intensity of land uses, housing and residential development, and density such as “suburban residential high mix,” “urban core,” or “neighborhood retail low mix.” The development types allow analysis at a 5.5-acre grid cell level.
7 For additional information on CALOTS, see
8 For more information on the National Historical GIS, see
9 More information about CNT is available at
10 For more information on I-GO, see
11 More information on the H + T index is available at
12 The tool is available at
13 More information on DRCOG is available at
14 The project viewer is no longer online.
15 The solar map is available at
16 For more information, see
17 DRCOG noted that this coordination has helped provide overall cost-savings for DRCOG, as the costs for contracting flown aerial imagery are shared among multiple entities.
18 Metro Vision is available at
19 Additional information on the workshops is available at
20 DRCOG also described a report completed by the City and County of Denver, the City of Lakewood, the Denver Housing Authority and Metro West Housing Solutions, and the Center for Transit-Oriented Development. The report, which outlined strategies for implementing successful TOD areas along the West Corridor light rail line (part of Denver's transit network), is available at
21 More information on PPACG is available at
22 This content is no longer online.
23 More information on the Pikes Peak United Way is available at
24 The 2007 Quality of Life report is available at
25 Information on the Quality of Life Indicators Project and the 2010 report is no longer available online.
26 Additional information about the SHRP2 C18 project and TCAPP is available at
27 Additional information on Moving Forward is available at
28 For more information on CycleTracks, please contact the San Francisco County Transportation Authority. Contact information is available at:
29 Google Maps is available at Bing Maps is available at
30 Additional information on PPACG's use of Google Earth is no longer available online.
31 SketchUp is available at
32 Examples of these measures include: change of VMT per capita, percentage of new homes built within key activity centers, increase of affordable homes, and decrease in rate of agricultural land lost to development.
33 The website is available at
34 Information about Mi Commute is no longer available.
35 This report explored select state DOTs' uses of social media and web 2.0 tools to support business objectives. The report is available at

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