Horizon Peer Exchange and Preliminary Futures

By Chirag Rabari

Some of the biggest challenges faced by regional planners over long time horizons are risk, and uncertainty. New technologies, unexpected natural or man-made disasters, economic booms and busts, and political volatility can all lay waste to the most diligent and careful planning efforts.

As the nine county San Francisco Bay Area’s transportation and land use planning agencies, respectively, MTC and ABAG are jointly responsible for developing the region’s long-range Regional Transportation Plan and Sustainable Communities Strategy (RTP/SCS). Our most recent RTP/SCS, Plan Bay Area 2040, discusses how the region will grow over the next two decades and identifies transportation and land use strategies to enable a more sustainable, equitable and economically vibrant future.

The RTP/SCS has its limitations though. While a long list of statutory requirements ensure the plan is doing what it is intended by law to do, these requirements can also constrain the types of issues that can be explored, modeled and ultimately acted upon. This makes it difficult to incorporate outside-the-box – yet essential – thinking about emerging issues into the RTP/SCS’s policy and project framework.

Enter Horizon, an exciting new effort from MTC and ABAG that will allow the public, planners and policymakers to wrestle with challenging questions about the external forces that could shape the Bay Area through 2050. Horizon will explore a range of pressing issues and attempt to put the region on sounder footing as it prepares for, and tries to shape, a trajectory that is both equitable and resilient to potential headwinds.

Horizon will identify a suite of potential external forces and allow residents, planners and decision-makers alike to think through policy and investment solutions that make sense in each distinct future. Ultimately, policies and projects that perform well regardless of what happens in the decades ahead will be identified as top priorities going forward. This planning initiative will inform the next regional transportation and land use plan, a separate but closely related effort that will kick off in mid-2019.

Currently, major Horizon work efforts have been directed towards establishing Guiding Principles that will help orient the process, as well as on identifying the future scenarios themselves. On April 23, MTC-ABAG and the Federal Highway Administration hosted the Horizon Futures Creation Peer Exchange. In attendance were peer experts on innovative scenario planning, new mobility, the future of jobs, and resilience, along with approximately 40 Bay Area stakeholders from various sectors and organizations. At the event, approximately 10 “futures” defined by external forces – rising sea levels, natural disasters, political and economic conditions, and technological advances – were developed by stakeholders, each of which would require the Bay Area to respond in very different ways. The results of this peer exchange, as well as a technical discussion held with peer experts on April 24 to further inform futures selection and development in the coming months, are presented below. Highlights from the day’s events are also provided in the video above.

Horizon Preliminary Futures – Description


Horizon Preliminary Futures – Summary of External Forces

By June, this group of eight futures will be consolidated into a preliminary shortlist of three or four futures slated for detailed analysis through spring 2019. These will then be introduced for discussion among stakeholders including the Regional Advisory Working Group, relying on a set of preliminary criteria to review each future and create a shortlist (i.e., potential impact on the Bay Area, likelihood of occurrence, region’s ability to mitigate impacts). The final set of futures will go to the MTC Planning Committee and the ABAG Administrative Committee in July as an information item, after which staff will begin land use and transportation modeling and analysis in advance of the Horizon policy/strategy prioritization workshops this fall.

Key Documents

Horizon Project Page

Panel Presentations from Horizon Peer Exchange

Horizon: Updated Guiding Principles

Horizon and Plan Bay Area 2050: Project Performance Assessment Overview

Horizon and Plan Bay Area 2050 (RTP/SCS): Key Milestones 2018–2021


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