We have demonstrated to our policy committees, board of directors, various stakeholders, and residents that spatial analysis allows us to make more data-driven decisions and promote social equity throughout the region.
SANDAG Proposes 5 Big Moves to Forever Change Transportation in the San Diego Region
If given the right transportation alternatives, would people change their travel patterns? Leaders at the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) are posing that very question to elected officials, stakeholders, and the public. Through a data-driven approach, they are aiming to understand community characteristics, lifestyles, and travel patterns to and from destinations such as employment and activity centers. These leaders' objective is a transformative plan that will provide a faster, fairer, and cleaner transportation system for generations to come.
The San Diego region of Southern California is one of the fastest growing areas and economies in the nation. By 2050, San Diego County will be home to more than 3.75 million people.
With this growth come new challenges: increased traffic, new travel patterns, and changing transportation needs. So much depends on resolving these transportation challenges as the area's economy thrives on efficient connections between housing and jobs; retail centers and business hubs; students and education; and visitors and attractions.
SANDAG, a Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), serves the governments of San Diego County and the 18 cities in it. One of SANDAG's primary roles is to develop a long-range regional transportation plan that provides efficient transportation systems and improves quality of life. In a bold move to design a new vision that would deliver a world-class transportation system for the region, SANDAG turned to data and location intelligence from a geographic information system (GIS). The technology supported the organization's work in crafting a vision—which SANDAG calls the 5 Big Moves—that will take the region into the future.
Creating the 5 Big Moves
Below are the key strategies needed to execute SANDAG's vision:
- Next OS—Enable new and better services for residents, transportation operators, and planners through technology
- Complete Corridors—Provide safe and reliable travel for everyone, whether they walk, bike, take public transit, or drive
- Transit Leap—Build on the current transit services through new and enhanced commuter rail, light-rail, and bus services
- Mobility Hubs—Bring together better transit and travel options for people to explore communities without relying on a car
- Flexible Fleets—Include micromobility strategies, ride share, and microtransit options that would make first- and last-mile options safer and more convenient
Using Data to Draft the 5 Big Moves
SANDAG has been leveraging data and GIS to support transportation planning and modeling since 1971. It has a long history of using Esri technology—in fact, the organization was Esri's 54th customer. This long history includes developing and maintaining regional datasets and performing spatial analysis to inform decision-making. The work has provided a solid foundation for preparing the long-range regional transportation plan every four years.
With SANDAG's recent strategic initiative to become a data-driven organization, staff saw the regional plan development cycle as an opportunity to apply data and analytics in creating a transformative vision for the region.
For their plan to have the most impact, and to arrive at data-driven alternatives, staff used GIS and a wide range of socioeconomic and transportation data. They analyzed travel patterns, land-use and employment characteristics and demographics as well as resident feedback. Seeing so much crucial information together on a map helped SANDAG better understand how people want and need to travel around the region. Building on recent analysis of where people live and work—which identified a wide range of accessibility characteristics around SANDAG's employment center data—was the next step. SANDAG planners, data analysts, and modelers—with support from their consultant, HNTB—took a deeper dive into the previous analysis to determine travel characteristics for the region's activity centers for non-work related commute purposes.
The staff also conducted proximity and propensity analyses to identify potential system demand and accessibility needs. This helped create a more integrated system with higher-speed transit connected by flexible fleet modes such as microtransit, Transportation Network Companies (TNC), and micromobility (e-scooters, e-bikes, etc.). Planners were able to define mobility hubs based on geographic focus areas.
The idea centers on a seamless operating system supported by emerging technologies. This regional vision will create a future transportation system that improves access to jobs, education, services, and places of recreation. It will ultimately support the overarching goals of greater equity and improved quality of life for future generations.
For more details on SANDAG's data-driven approach and the supporting technical methodology of developing the 5 Big Moves, see SANDAG's network development summary report, a companion document to the Transformative Transportation Vision ArcGIS StoryMaps story.
Implementing Human-Centered Design to Meet Resident Needs
With the goal of analyzing and better understanding current travel patterns, SANDAG members focused on listening to their community's concerns and needs. They used a human-centered design approach that included stakeholder workshops and interviews. Community input provided insight into how current transportation experiences affect people's daily lives, and the types of transportation choices that could improve quality of life.
Using community input, the SANDAG team developed personas showing how residents would interact with the 5 Big Moves and the region's transportation systems. Based on common behaviors and lifestyles, these personas—or, as SANDAG called them, user journeys—allowed the team to explore how residents such as students, young professionals, or retirees would be affected by proposed projects, programs, and policies. The team also considered travel patterns and human movement in relation to development, events, and proposed or existing infrastructure to better match each transportation system to the way people interact with and move about that system.
One of the most difficult tasks in developing a visionary, long-term plan is communicating it in a way people understand as well as conveying the personal impact it may have. Using the StoryMaps story and SANDAG'S on-site Vision Lab, SANDAG leaders shared their vision, engaged with the public, and presented complex ideas in a simplified way. The StoryMaps story includes details about the 5 Big Moves, the different personas people could identify with, and the data-driven process behind the strategies. The work shows the thought behind this new approach and policies—how SANDAG would create faster, smarter, and more accessible and flexible transportation options for all residents. This work has also helped SANDAG overcome one of the biggest challenges of trying to execute a long-range plan with massive infrastructure changes and impact: building community consensus.
Improving the Lives of Residents Comes First
SANDAG's vision, 5 Big Moves, is a bold approach to rethinking mobility in a region. It addresses current needs while prioritizing and preparing for long-term trends. And SANDAG is not waiting for these trends to happen—the organization is planning for them now.
GIS played a role in almost every element of SANDAG's planning process. Relying on decades of experience with GIS technology and out-of-the-box thinking, staff were able to do the following:
- Use spatial analysis to understand present conditions and existing stresses on the transportation network
- Leverage demographic and lifestyle data to understand the current and future needs of residents based on population, housing and employment growth, proposed development patterns, and potential recreational opportunity areas
- Provide an open line of communication with residents, letting them voice their concerns or provide feedback
- Create a suite of transportation alternatives that promote social equity values and meet state and federal requirements
"We have and will continue to leverage GIS to support our regional plan," said Pat Landrum, director of data and modeling for SANDAG. "We have demonstrated to our policy committees, board of directors, various stakeholders, and residents that spatial analysis allows us to make more data-driven decisions and promote social equity throughout the region."
SANDAG is a model for other regional governments, using GIS to rethink regional planning and transportation projects, quality-of-life improvements for more residents, and communication with the community.