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Even as complex visual representations of data become common, many people still don’t understand what land-use and transportation modelers do. In April, state and local planning directors met to address that and other issues they’ll increasingly face in the coming years. The Oregon Modeling Collaborative convened the Oregon Transportation Policy Forum for guidance in developing the tools agencies will need and to keep agencies talking about transportation issues.

Giving a complex topic such as global warming the video game treatment could make it easier to grasp, said Angus Duncan of the Oregon Global Warming Commission. “I have yearned for something that’s the greenhouse gas equivalent of a ‘Sim City,’ “ Duncan said at the forum. “Something simple enough that kids can play with it, but something you can use for communication.”

Developers have gotten much better at representing data, said Tom Schwetz, director of development services for Lane Transit District, but leaps in handheld devices such as iPhones have raised expectations still higher. Transportation models are getting more complex and, at the same time, people are demanding their information quicker and quicker.

Modelers struggle, Schwetz said, both because people don’t understand the complexity of the models and because modelers themselves don’t explain themselves clearly. The models then become easier to attack than to defend. “There is a credibility issue,” he said. “It’s too easy to...

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