Assessing Regional Transportation Plan Projects by County
The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) is charged with charting the future of transportation in the Bay Area, touching the lives of millions of people. The commission makes extensive use of geographic information and even develops custom applications, like this searchable web map for Regional Transportation Plan projects, as well as this searchable open data site.
Access to high quality, well-documented data that can be used to study and document potential environmental and land use impacts associated with transportation improvement projects, remain a key challenge for MTC's GIS Staff. "Our team is often hard-pressed to keep up with the needs for complex analysis of project impacts across a whole range of variables, from conservation values to economic and demographic concerns. This tool represents a unique opportunity to collaborate with key stakeholder groups and the public to gain a better understanding of the impacts of planning for the future mobility of the residents of our region."
That's why Kearey Smith, MTC's Senior GIS Planner and Analyst, is considering using the Bay Area Greenprint to rapidly analyze project footprints across whole counties for the Regional Transportation Plan (RTP).
Laura Thompson manages both the Priority Conservation Area program and the Bay Trail for the Association of Bay Area Governments, which has recently merged with MTC. "The new merged agency isn't just a transportation agency anymore," says Thompson. The Greenprint tool's coverage of multiple benefits and the ability to see overlap will help MTC paint a more complete picture of conservation values in the Bay Area. This will be particularly important as MTC continues to broaden its focus beyond transportation.
Aligning Agriculture, Habitat, and Recreation Benefits
Matt Gerhart, Bay Area Regional Manager for the California Coastal Conservancy, foresees using the Bay Area Greenprint to help guide his agency's work across conservation, recreation, and agricultural preservation.
"We've guided our work using the Conservation Lands Network," says Gerhart, "and now we can add in these co-benefits." Finding alignment between different areas of emphasis can help conservation partners understand where to focus effort as well as where to more carefully plan around multiple conservation issues.
Using the Conservation Assessment layer sliders, for example, Gerhart zeroed in on lands prioritized for biodiversity and ones open to, or planned for, public use. Where regional trails and priority lands and corridors converge, there is great potential value and potentially a need for investing planning resources.
Similarly, looking for ecological co-benefits within the region's increasingly fragmented agricultural landscapes could help prioritize resources and build a broader case for protecting ag.
"Especially in areas where bottomland agriculture is being challenged by urban development, and the land is expensive, we can't afford easements over large areas," says Gerhart. "So this tool helps you evaluate your choices through a multi-benefit lens."
Understanding the Stakes at Sand Creek
The Sand Creek Focus Area covers more than 2,700 acres in the City of Antioch. The area is currently under discussion for significant housing development and sits within Antioch's urban limit line.
"This has been a controversial area for development for some time now and Antioch residents' concerns are only growing" says Joel Devalcourt, East Bay Regional Representative for Greenbelt Alliance. "This is one of the largest at risk areas in the entire Bay Area Region."
Currently, the City of Antioch has approved two developments in the area and is considering several more, while also moving forward with a related General Plan update soon to be in Environmental Review period when there will be opportunity for public comment.
Using the Greenprint tool and uploading the area's outline (as a shapefile from ArcGIS or as Google Earth format KML), we get a very nuanced view of what's at stake in this area. The data also provides a complex picture of the natural and agricultural benefits of this land:
- 81% is Farmland of Local Importance
- The land provides recharge to groundwater, equivalent of annual household water consumption for 1,734 households
- More than 20% of the land is a natural Active River Area that contributes to the maintenance and improvement of water quality.
- Virtually the entire area is within a Priority Conservation Area (East Contra Costa County HCP/NCCP)
- 48% is part of the Conservation Land Network (a region-wide prioritization of lands considered important or essential to preserving biodiversity). Not surprisingly this land provides good connectivity, which means wildlife can move relatively freely.
- This area is a hotspot of habitat for species that may require mitigation from transportation infrastructure indicating that development in this area could have high mitigation needs
None of this is to say that the Greenprint Tool dictates that development should or shouldn't happen within this large area. But the tool does provide crucial and easily accessible context to all stakeholders involved in the current discussions.
"What it did was it started a conversation," explains Devalcourt. "This tool has allowed us to look at sensitive natural lands and mitigation potential across the entire Sand Creek Focus Area. We can also educate and engage local residents in Antioch with a more detailed assessment of the values of the land in their backyard. With this data in hand, we can push for stronger protections for these important natural and agricultural lands."