Few topics are as top-of-mind in the world of transportation these days as resiliency. From natural disasters to global pandemics, the hazards threatening our communities put transportation systems to the test, raising critical questions about how we’re building communities to stand the test of time.
Resiliency is defined as “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties.” In a transportation context, the goal of proactive resiliency planning is to set up communities to do just that. But how are transportation professionals thinking about resiliency today? What do we need to be resilient against? What are the barriers to building resilient infrastructure?
Earlier this year, we surveyed our audience of newsletter contacts and resiliency planning was the most requested article topic on the list. The challenge, of course, is it’s difficult to provide conclusive guidance on planning for resiliency, because communities everywhere are trying to figure it out at the same time. Kittelson project teams are learning, but we don’t have all the answers. So instead, we’ve been asking questions. And we’re here to pass along what we’re learning.
We recently interviewed several clients who are forward thinking in their approaches to resiliency: Space Coast Transportation Planning Organization, Oregon Department of Transportation Climate Office, and Ocala Marion Transportation Planning Organization. Each of these agencies is in the early stages of developing plans and tools that support building resiliency throughout their systems. Here’s how they are thinking about these important questions.
What does “resiliency” mean to you?
Katherine Silva, Adaptation Program Manager, Oregon Department of Transportation Climate Office: Resiliency means “bounce back” – the ease (or lack thereof) in recovery after an interruption to the transportation system. Resiliency in the context of climate change means the transportation system will still function in the face of climate change impacts (hazards) and extreme weather and that people and goods will be able to move throughout the state despite those impacts.
Rob Balmes, Director, Ocala Marion Transportation Planning Organization: Resiliency is the ability to withstand and react quickly and effectively to any adverse situation. A key to overcome any situation, whether it be a natural disaster or human-caused event, is largely tied to having the capacities to properly withstand and respond. Therefore, to ensure a community has a resilient transportation infrastructure, leaders and staff need to ask themselves two key questions: Are we prepared? How will we respond?
Sarah Kraum, Senior Transportation Planner, Space Coast Transportation Planning Organization: Resiliency, in the context of transportation, is the ability for a transportation system or facility to withstand and recover adequately from a major disruption, incident, or disaster.
A key to overcome any situation, whether it be a natural disaster or human-caused event, is largely tied to having the capacities to properly withstand and respond.- Rob Balmes, Ocala Marion Transportation Planning Organization
What are you seeking to be resilient against?
Katherine: We want to be resilient against the increasing uncertainty about the robustness of existing systems and historical knowledge, as well as increasing tests to the system from more intense and frequent (hazardous) weather events (e.g. coastal erosion, wildfires, extreme heat or precipitation, etc.).
Rob: From a transportation infrastructure perspective, there are many areas to be resilient against in Marion County. This includes extreme weather events that may involve flooding and hurricanes; annual seasonal fluctuations in weather that act as compounding stressors over time; human-caused events that may be tied to power or cyber breakdowns; events that happen in other regions of the state or southeast that may indirectly impact our region; and others such as the continuous effort through asset management to ensure good condition/stability of roads and bridges.
Sarah: We are currently developing our Transportation Resiliency Master Plan. The plan is going to focus on resiliency against sea level rise, hurricanes and wind damage, shoreline erosion and storm surge, flooding, heat/drought/fire, and beginning to look at the transition into Intelligent Transportation System (ITS)/Transportation Systems Management and Operations (TSMO) technologies and cyber security. The Space Coast TPO also has their Vision Zero program which is working towards reducing traffic fatalities and crashes: an important aspect of an equitable, resilient transportation system. Finally, we monitor our system through our annual State of the System Report. This helps us understand trends in our transportation system and can help us build a more resilient transportation system through congestion management.
We want to be resilient against the increasing uncertainty about the robustness of existing systems and historical knowledge, as well as increasing tests to the system from more intense and frequent (hazardous) weather events (e.g. coastal erosion, wildfires, extreme heat or precipitation, etc.).- Katherine Silva, Oregon Department of Transportation Climate Office
What is the biggest challenge you’re facing when it comes to resiliency planning?
Katherine: Coming to a common understanding of what resilience means to all the people who impact it, which may ultimately effect some very necessary coordination and decision-making processes.
Rob: A first big challenge is to get our arms collectively around the two key areas mentioned related to transportation infrastructure – are we prepared; how will we respond. This will be tied to likely more extensive data collection, state-local partnerships, soliciting more expertise and guidance, and leadership support from the community.
Sarah: Funding. Transportation funding problems and pitfalls has been a long-standing challenge in planning and implementation of projects and goes beyond resiliency. Just like any transportation planning project, we can develop a plan and come up with solutions and projects, but unless there is a sustainable funding source to implement the resiliency projects needed and identified, what was the purpose of developing the plan?
How are you measuring your community’s resiliency?
Katherine: Work is in progress to develop clear measures for climate resiliency. We are actively working to measure this in a qualitative way through direct discussions about resilience (identifying our strengths and areas where we can improve) with each business-line within the agency. We are also identifying and maintaining open communication channels resilience “champions,” across business-lines in each region, who will be helping to craft conversations, discuss resilience concepts with their networks, and ultimately play a significant role in ushering the successful adoption of initiatives and actions designed to fully integrate resilience and adaptation in agency work over the near-, mid-, and long-term.
Rob: At this time, we’re in the initial stages and are looking to the Resilience Guidance paper by Kittelson and Associates to better formalizing the process, and then assessing next steps.
Sarah: I think before you can measure your community’s resiliency, you must first understand the shocks and stressors your community is or will be facing. We had previously conducted a Sea Level Rise Vulnerability Assessment. The study was a high-level analysis of sea level rise impacts to various transportation facilities and critical infrastructure. It helped us begin to have conversations regarding sea level rise and resiliency planning. It also helped highlight the corridors that were at the most risk.
We will be conducting further analysis on other shocks and stressors to understand the threats our transportation system faces through our Transportation Resiliency Master Plan. Another important aspect is moving beyond just the presence or absence of a shock or stressor along a corridor, but also the importance of that corridor. We want to consider aspects such as evacuation routes, economic drivers, transportation disadvantaged populations, and redundancy when looking at the resiliency of the community and system.
Our Transportation Resiliency Master Plan will help us begin to measure our resiliency and provide direction on what we can do to strengthen and enhance our transportation systems.
Before you can measure your community’s resiliency, you must first understand the shocks and stressors your community is or will be facing.- Sarah Kraum, Space Coast Transportation Planning Organization
We look forward to continuing to engage in these conversations and learn from agencies who are taking a proactive, equitable approach to resiliency planning. If you have any additional insights to share for a future edition of Streetwise, we invite you to reach out to continue the conversation!