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SCENARIO PLANNING TOOLS: RapidFire and UrbanFootprint

UrbanFootprint Work Flow
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Project Summary

Client: Various
Type:Scenario Development and Modeling Tools
Program:Spreadsheet and GIS-based scenario planning tools
Various Locations

Please visit for regional planning and modeling work, including the UrbanFootprint and RapidFire models.

Calthorpe Associates develops and deploys two cutting-edge scenario development and modeling tools to express the varying impacts of development and infrastructure investment choices at a variety of scales. Our models are being deployed statewide in the Vision California project, and at the regional and county scales in the San Francisco Bay Area, Southern California, San Diego, San Joaquin Valley, Honolulu, and other regions. They were also used to provide timely, critical information for California’s greenhouse gas reduction target-setting process, and are being calibrated and customized for use in international settings.


The RapidFire model is a user-friendly, spreadsheet-based tool that is used to produce and evaluate statewide, regional, county, and jurisdiction-level scenarios. It emerged out of the need for a comprehensive modeling tool that could inform state, regional, and local agencies and policy makers in evaluating climate, land use, and infrastructure investment policies. The model produces results for a range of critical metrics, including:

  • Land consumption
  • Infrastructure cost (including capital and operations & maintenance (O&M))
  • City/jurisdictional revenues
  • Vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and fuel consumption
  • Transportation GHG and air pollutant emissions
  • Building energy and water consumption and related GHG emissions
  • Household costs for transportation and utilities
  • Public health (air pollution-related as well as automobile-pedestrian/bicycle collision) impacts and costs

Results are calculated using empirical data and the latest research. The model constitutes a single framework into which research-based assumptions can be loaded to test the impacts of varying land use patterns. The transparency of the model’s structure of input assumptions makes it readily adaptable to different study areas, as well as responsive to data emerging from ongoing technical analyses by state and regional agencies.


The fully open source geo-spatial UrbanFootprint model was first developed and deployed across California’s major regions as part of the Vision California process. Calthorpe Associates completed the first fully-operational version of the model in 2012, and is now working to advance the model for use by a broad range of public agencies and organizations. Software development, customization, and deployment activities are underway with the Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG), San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), and the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG). 

The geospatial UrbanFootprint platform serves as a complete scenario development and analysis ecosystem and includes powerful data organization tools as well as scenario creation and analytical capability. It is built with 100% open source software products (i.e. Linux, PostGIS, PostgreSQL) and is designed to work via a cutting edge web-based interface. The power and speed with which UrbanFootprint operates allows it to undertake much more sophisticated geographical analyses, for larger analysis areas, than previous generations of GIS-based sketch models.  

UrbanFootprint allows for detailed mapping and ‘painting’ of land use and transport futures and can work at regional, subregional, and local planning scales. It includes the ability to analyze scenarios based on a full range of fiscal, environmental, and public health metrics. Major model components include:    

  • A full library of 35+ detailed and researched place types built up from a set of 50+ building types, each one mixed from three to over a dozen actual real-world built or planned buildings 
  • The ability to load, view, and build scenarios with multiple geographies, including parcels, grids, and other custom/regionally-specific units  
  • Scenario translation capability that converts regional or other scenarios into UrbanFootprint place types 
  • Web-based scenario ‘painting’ and editing of scenarios and land uses 
  • An 8-D sketch travel model built with Fehr & Peers to accurately assess the travel behavior impacts of changes to land use scenarios  
  • Public health analysis engine, including respiratory and activity-related disease incidences and costs 
  • Climate-sensitive building energy and water modeling, including water-energy modeling capability 
  • Fiscal impacts analysis, including local infrastructure capital and operations & maintenance costs 
  • Greenhouse gas and criteria pollutant emissions modeling  
  • Policy assumptions customization for energy, water, vehicle, fuels, and other critical policy variables or options 



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UrbanFootprint Work Flow
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UrbanFootprint Flow Diagram
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SACOG 2050 Blueprint Scenario Translated into UrbanFootprint Place Types
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SCAG Base Year 2008 VMT per Capita
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RapidFire Model Flow
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RapidFire Land Use Illustrative
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UrbanFootprint Painting Tool Screenshot
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RapidFire GHG Results Sample
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RapidFire Household Costs Results Sample
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RapidFire Model Screenshot
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UrbanFootprint Base Data Loading Process
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UrbanFootprint Translation Diagram
Rapid Fire V 2.0 Tech Summary.pdf2.68 MB
UrbanFootprint Technical Summary - July 2012.pdf4.64 MB
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