Beginning in early 2018, MTC and ABAG conducted an 18-month effort called the Horizon initiative. An ambitious, innovative regional initiative, Horizon explored the challenges and opportunities likely to face the Bay Area between now and 2050, including the emergence of driverless vehicles, rising sea levels, earthquakes, changing economic conditions and political unrest, among others.

The Horizon initiative was MTC and ABAG’s first comprehensive Bay Area planning effort to look not just at transportation and housing but also economic development, climate resilience and the effects of emerging technologies, all while prioritizing equitable outcomes for all Bay Area residents.

The Horizon initiative considered questions such as:

  • How should different levels of autonomous vehicle adoption inform our traditional transportation investments?
  • What strategies should we consider to better prepare our neighborhoods, business centers and other built infrastructure for increasingly frequent disasters?
  • How should the Bay Area respond to sudden booms and busts of economic output, population and employment?
  • What actions can the Bay Area take to improve our resilience to national and international geopolitical and economic shifts?

The Work Elements of Horizon

The 18-month Horizon process included four core work elements:

  1. Futures Planning: Central to Horizon was the development and study of three divergent what-if scenarios called “Futures” in order to identify how a range of forces will potentially shape the Bay Area. Futures Planning transcended previous scenario planning efforts by including a greater variety of political, technological, economic and environmental challenges that will impact Bay Area residents. Foundational to the Futures Planning process was the innovative use of gamification to inform and drive the planning process. You can learn more about the games developed by staff using the tabs below.
  2. Perspective Papers: A series of white papers, known as Perspective Papers, explored strategies for issue areas previously outside the scope of past long-range planning processes. Each paper proposed a set of priority strategies for further investigation in the Futures Planning process.
  3. Project Performance Assessment: Similar to prior planning cycles, Horizon included a robust Project Performance Assessment for major transportation investments. In addition, for the first time, MTC and ABAG opened up the process to the public by issuing a request for Transformative Projects, and assessed the top Transformative Projects alongside those submitted by partner agencies. The assessment identified costs and benefits of different transportation projects in each of the three Futures mentioned above. The Project Performance Assessment was designed to help policymakers and partners make data-driven decisions about future transportation investments in an era of uncertainty, in parallel with the strategies analysis done for Futures Planning.
  4. Public Engagement: Finally, Public Engagement wove together all the components of Horizon, providing an opportunity for community members to offer input on the most effective strategies and investments to address current and future regional challenges. Staff organized workshops, convened “pop-up” forums at community events, hosted committee meetings and webinars, and attended events hosted by community-based organizations to hear from as many voices as possible.

Guiding Principles

MTC and ABAG developed Guiding Principles at the start of the Horizon initiative to define a vision for region’s future. The Guiding Principles have been used consistently across both Horizon and Plan Bay Area 2050.

What have we learned from the Horizon initiative?

The Horizon initiative was the first step for MTC and ABAG to explore what the Bay Area can do to address current challenges, avoid future obstacles and leverage opportunities. The resulting Futures Final Report explored how a potential suite of transportation, housing, economic and environmental strategies could put the Bay Area on a more resilient and equitable path forward over the next 30 years.

Findings from the Horizon initiative provided the Bay Area with a foundational analysis to start discussions on which strategies the Bay Area might consider if it wants to improve affordability, connectedness, diversity, environmental health and economic vibrancy.

The Horizon initiative played an integral role in the development of Plan Bay Area 2050’s Draft Blueprint.



This innovative approach to regional planning decision-making aimed to craft possible divergent “Futures” for MTC and ABAG staff to analyze. In designing the game, the agencies sought to create shared ownership of regional planning by bringing people directly into the process. During a full-day, in-person workshop, participants collaborated to define different versions of a future shaped by various environmental, political, economic, land use and transportation forces that could affect the Bay Area in the decades ahead. Rather than asserting what the region wanted the future to look like, the exercise underscored the need for resilience in an uncertain future by taking into account forces beyond the region’s control at the global and national scales. Learn more about the Create-a-Future™ game.

This novel in-person game worked off of the findings from the Create-a-Future™ game. Participants worked together to develop a package of strategies that could better address the various external challenges of the three Futures defined by the Create-a-Future™ game. Groups of eight participants collaborated to help solve the challenges in one of the three Futures, using limited funds. Learn more about the Transform-the-Future game.

The Mayor of Bayville was MTC and ABAG’s very first online game. Set in the fictional Bay Area city of Bayville, it allowed participants to play as Mayor and spend a fixed planning budget. By giving each participant a budget of 100 “coins” for each of the four Horizon topic areas (Transportation, Housing, Environment, Economy), the game encouraged participants to “invest in what you believe in,” and the results were used to refine and prioritize strategies for inclusion in Plan Bay Area 2050. Learn more about the Mayor of Bayville.