San Francisco’s Guidance for Incorporating Sea-Level Rise in Capital Planning – Transportation Implications

The City and County of San Francisco (CCSF) adopted Guidance on how city and county agencies must consider sea-level rise for new capital improvement projects, including transportation improvements. The Guidance was adopted by the Capital Planning Committee (CPC) in September 2014 and revised in December 2015; the CPC makes recommendations to the Mayor and Board of Supervisors on all capital expenditures and approves the City’s 10-year Capital Improvement Plan.  The Guidance provides direction to all CCSF departments on how to consider sea-level rise in all new construction, capital improvement, and maintenance projects. All new transportation projects considered in San Francisco (including roads, bridges, culverts, pump stations, port facilities, transit facilities, and ferries) must be vetted according to this Guidance for approval from the CPC.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency reviewed the CPC Guidance in November 2014 to develop a framework for incorporating the requirements into SFMTA planning processes. The Guidance identifies and describes four key steps for CCSF departments to assess and adapt to the effects of sea-level rise in capital projects:

  1. Sea-Level Rise Science Review - Assess the most up-to-date sea-level rise estimates for the project site over the project’s projected lifespan (functional working life), and in consideration of other factors such as storm surge and wave run-up.  The report describes various tools that agencies and departments can use to assess sea-level rise projections including:  sea-level rise inundation mapping prepared by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) in conjunction with the Sewer System Improvement Program (SSIP); and the 2012 National Research Council (NRC) Report, “Sea-Level Rise for the Coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington: Past Present and Future,” adopted in March 2013 by the state’s Ocean Protection Council as the best available science on sea-level rise for the state.  When selecting a sea-level rise scenario to use, the Guidance recommends that capital project planners estimate the functional lifespan of the asset.
  2. Vulnerability Assessment – Based on the climate science review and selected sea-level rise scenario, perform a vulnerability assessment to assess the exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity of the project and rate each asset or project component as having high, medium or low vulnerability.
  3. Risk Assessment – Assess risk to the project by determining the likelihood and consequences of impacts to the asset.  To assess the consequence of impacts, CCSF departments are directed to consider the level of possible damage and costs of repair or replacement; the level and length of disruption that would be caused by damage; and other costs associated with the damage and disruption (e.g. secondary economic impacts and threats to public health, safety and welfare posed by damage. The consequences likely depend on the function or type of service that the asset provides.
  4. Adaptation Planning – For assets identified as vulnerable, develop adaptation strategies that are feasible and cost-effective for reducing risks to the asset over its lifespan.  Strategies could include modifying or changing the project’s footprint to accommodate higher sea-levels, designing the project to withstand future impacts, or constructing flood protection features.

This resource was featured in the June 15, 2017, ASAP Newsletter.

"Under the direction of Mayor Ed Lee, the City and County of San Francisco created the city’s first official policy directing its response to the threat of sea level rise: Guidance for Incorporating Sea Level Rise into Capital Planning in San Francisco: Assessing Vulnerability and Risk to Support Adaptation."

A Project Planning Checklist was also created as a tool for project managers to use when implementing the SLR Guidance; the Checklist is provided as Appendix 4 to the Guidance. Like the Guidance, the Checklist is to be used by CCSF departments to guide the evaluation of projects near or within areas at risk of future sea-level rise.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) oversees transit, streets, ports, and ferries in the city of San Francisco. SFMTA developed a framework for incorporating the CCSF Guidance into their planning processes.  For each of the four steps in the process (sea-level rise science, vulnerability assessment, risk assessment, and adaptation planning), SFMTA is establishing “Sea-level rise and Planning” strategies for both existing and new assets. Existing assets will be assessed for vulnerability by exposure, sensitivity and adaptive capacity; as well as rating each asset for the likelihood and consequence of damage.  In the adaptation planning phase, the vulnerability/resiliency ratings for each asset will be incorporated into the SFMTA capital planning process.  Adaptive strategies for existing assets will be developed and “prioritized accordingly against other needs of the agency.” For new assets, SFMTA will assess the vulnerability and risks during planning phases, and resiliency measures will be incorporated into the new project capital planning process.

Under Mayor Edwin M. Lee's leadership, the San Francisco Department of the Environment, in partnership with the Public Utilities Commission and Planning Department, convened an inter-agency Climate Adaptation Working Group also known as SF Adapt.  This Guidance was prepared by the Sea-level rise Committee of SF Adapt for the San Francisco Capital Planning Committee. The Guidance document was approved and adopted into the CPC 10-Year Capital Plan.

This Adaptation Clearinghouse entry was prepared with support from the Federal Highway Administration. This entry was last updated on March 28, 2016.

Publication Date: September 16, 2014

Related Organizations:

  • City and County of San Francisco, California

Related Resources:


Resource Category:

Resource Types:

  • Agency guidance/policy

States Affected:


Go To Resource