What is Transportation Planning: Everything You Need To Know


In your job as a planner, we know you're often fielding basic questions about public transit. We hope this Remix Primer blog series offers another resource as you educate your constituents.

All those roads, bridges, train stations, bus stops, crosswalks, medians, and roundabouts didn’t just appear. All the ways residents and visitors get around a city start with a simple question, “What is transportation planning?”

In order to fulfill specific objectives, engineers, legislators, planners, and other professionals frequently meet — often with members of the public — to determine the best strategies for meeting their goals through a transportation system. It takes time to move from the creative “idea” stage through the approval process, all needed before the actual transport infrastructure is built.

Understanding the transportation planning process — and the objectives stakeholders seek to accomplish through it — can not only help facilitate decision-making, but also answer the question, “What is transportation planning?”

What is the Transportation Planning Process?

So, what is transportation planning? These public-facing initiatives recognize that transportation improvements are crucial for a sustainable economy and high-quality lifestyle that attracts and maintains residents and visitors. Transportation planners work to facilitate getting from home to work, shops, or entertainment as efficiently and affordably as possible.

The planning process has four distinct steps:

Step 1: Planners and development professionals will take surveys of the current transportation infrastructure and demand. They will overlay other relevant data, including population projections and development trends, to analyze the current and future transport needs of a community. This work may be done on a local, regional, statewide, or even national level, depending on the modes of transportation and objectives.

Step 2: Once planners know the traffic patterns and land use information, they can use what is known as a transportation model to predict future regional transport planning and requirements. Models vary but can include mathematical analysis regarding trip distribution, traffic assignments, and home-based trips.

Step 3: Transportation planners continue by overlaying forecasts of future land use and policies that have been used previously to determine transport infrastructure and flow. For example, if there are proposals for a massive residential community outside a county’s urban boundary, such needs to be considered before anyone works to complete the streets.

Step 4: Finally, these professionals evaluate the policies and concepts in relation to other ideas. They may hold public forums to get feedback from the community, discuss budgeting requirements for land purchases, and weigh the maintenance costs against other alternatives.

When people ask, “What is transportation planning?” they find the answer is even more complex than these four steps. Policies and decisions must coordinate with current economic realities as well as the various means of public transportation already in place. At times, professionals are faced with competing objectives that have a myriad of costs and benefits. However difficult this may be, they are tasked with creating a viable solution that solves the transportation needs of an area.

What are the Objectives of Transportation?

A regional transportation system is a complex method of helping people get to where they desire in the least amount of time, with the least damage to the environment, and in the most economically prudent way. The objectives of the transportation planning process are varied and context-sensitive.

Objective 1: Offer Economic Opportunities

Transportation is how people can get to work, but transportation infrastructure improvement projects create jobs as well. The American Public Transportation Association reported that $1 billion invested in public transit has the ability to create 50,000 new jobs.  

Objective 2: Improve Quality of Life

Instead of being stuck in traffic, members of the public can benefit from public transportation, improvement thoroughfares, and pedestrian-friendly communities when transportation planning is done effectively. Every planning organization seeks to improve equality and movement opportunities for all residents, from students to seniors.

Objective 3: Provide Safety for Travelers

Poorly planned and executed roads, railways, and other means of transit can result in serious injuries or death. At its heart, the transportation planning process is meant to keep the community safe as people get from point A to point B.

Objective 4: Be Cost-Efficient

Transportation is one of the biggest household costs in America, so a planning objective is to keep expenses low. Professionals use data analysis to suggest vital public transit initiatives and prioritize projects that are needed the most.

Objective 5: Reduce Environmental Footprint

Reducing both gasoline consumption and the community’s carbon footprint is another important objective of well-planned and sustainable transport. Added miles in private cars not only wastes time but resources too.

Why is Transportation Planning Important?

With so many different modes of transport, without planning it can be challenging for decision-makers to know what is best for their constituents. They must choose among:

  • Road transport, which can be fast to build but expensive to maintain
  • Railway transport, which can be used to move both people and bulky goods
  • Water transport, either over inland waters or through oceans
  • Air transport, including domestic and international flights

Of course, there are plenty of other means of transportation as well. Consider the need for pedestrian-friendly walkways, bicycle paths, cable cars, and even transportation using animals like horses. Weighing these needs are specific and individualized for every community.

Beyond choosing what type of transit would work best, those in charge of creating policies and funding decisions also need to use data and public input to decide on routes, costs, and much more. For example, a community may benefit from an elevated railway line, but residents may resist with dramatically altering the feel of their city. Planning helps resolve any conflicts before the work begins. That’s why the question “What is transportation planning?” is so complex to answer.

How Remix Plans Transit from Vision Through Implementation

Of course, transportation planners often require the help of seasoned expert consultants to create the best outcomes for their community needs. That’s where Remix comes in. With the work to prove it, this team of professionals assists stakeholders from all over the world by:

  • Making informed decisions through quick evaluation of tradeoffs and impacts, thanks to data visualized in one place. A case study with Ireland’s National Transport Authority illustrates Remix’s expertise in producing detailed and insightful visual data to inform decision making.
  • Saving time and money, by exploring design options and rapidly creating concepts in-house. Remix’s case studywith public transportation services in Västtrafik, Sweden showcases their know-how for improving and streamlining quality data analysis.
  • Building trust and consensus by facilitating and effectively collaborating with community members and decision-makers. A transportation case study in Strætó, Iceland, in the Greater Reykjavik area, highlights Remix’s proficiency in expanding public outreach and engagement while reducing project time and costs.

To learn more about how Remix can help answer “What is transportation planning?” log on to our Transit Solutions page today.