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Top Ten Elements in Regional Plans: Our Peers Have Set a High Bar


By Dave Van Hattum, Senior Policy Advocate, & Bill Neuendorf, Director of Policy and Advocacy

The Met Council has recently begun a two-year process to update its long-range development plan for the Twin Cities region. Known as Thrive MSP 2040, the over-arching regional plan creates the foundation for four system plans – Transportation, Aviation, Water Resources, and Parks. If done well, this plan will provide a persuasive, strategic vision for the region, including greatly expanded, more affordable and sustainable transportation choices.



Thrive MSP on Metropolitan Council web site


Other regions similar to the Twin Cities have recently completed long-range regional plans or regional transportation plans. While each is unique to the region and its people, the plans emerging from our peers in Atlanta, Denver, Portland, Salt Lake City, Sacramento, San Francisco, and Seattle share a number of key themes. Here are ten themes consistently advanced by our peer cities.

1) An inspiring, non-bureaucratic, name for the plan. Regional planning documents are now being written for the general public not just government agencies. Their names are meant to inspire action rather than be cataloged on a shelf. Salt Lake City’s plan is called “Wasatch Choice” while San Francisco’s transportation/land use plan is entitled “Change in Motion”.

2) Well defined metrics of success. Measures of progress are identified in advance and in plain English. The use of quantifiable goals increases understanding, transparency and accountability

3) Explicit attention to equity considerations. It is not good enough to assume that equitable opportunities will magically happen for people of all incomes and ethnic backgrounds. Specific steps are identified so that public investments benefit all people. One of the leading regions is San Francisco, whose plans call for equitable mobility and access “for all Bay Area residents and visitors, regardless of race, age, income or disability”.


Regional Plans for San Francisco, Salt Lake, Denver, and Atlanta


4) Future development targeted in well-defined centers. Places like Denver and Seattle identify strategic centers and corridors as higher priorities for investment and redevelopment.

5) New road pricing strategies. Innovative road pricing strategies, such as rush-hour tolls on congested highways, can promote consistent travel times, encourage transit and carpooling, and achieve the highest people-moving results from all transportation investments.

6) Reprioritization of new public investment. After decades focused on highways, regions such as San Francisco and Denver now place greater emphasis on transit and bicycling infrastructure.

7) Cross-silo innovation. Results-oriented plans realize that comprehensive outcomes can best be achieved by breaking the mold of traditional governmental departments and agencies. In San Francisco, multi-jurisdictional programs are grounded in the Three E’s of Sustainability: economy, environment, and equity.  The identification of broad contextual goals supports policy makers in taking actions that deviate from outdated programs that may no longer deliver the most effective results.

8) Making the business case. To promote implementation of the plan, peer regions have embraced input from the community and business-sector from the earliest stages. Sincere collaboration between public and private sectors has resulted in more holistic buy-in. Salt Lake City is a particularly strong example.

9) Technical assistance to local government.  Educational materials, best-practice guides, and other types of technical assistance are frequently provided to local municipalities. These materials and programs simplify and promote the implementation of regional policies at the local level.

10) New public involvement strategies. In San Francisco, for example, they are not merely holding formal public hearings. They are also seeking direct input via on-the-street interviews and collecting ideas in non-traditional places. 

Much can be learned from the bold strategies incorporated elsewhere in the U.S. Meaningful public involvement will be necessary so that policy makers include the best options to make the Twin Cities an even better place to live and do business in the years ahead.


Links to Peer Cities’ Regional Plans




Salt Lake City: 


San Francisco:



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