Maps provided by Allison Homer
Environmental Justice (EJ) has a slightly misleading name. It is more of a social justice and fairness concept. It does have a connection to the physical environment through emphasizing that traditionally underrepresented communities, low-income and minority communities, should not be adversely affected by disproportionate exposure to pollution, or other adverse impacts, from transportation projects. However, the central meaning behind EJ is more about not disrupting the social fabric, cohesion and development of traditionally underrepresented communities. Disruption could occur by separating communities with large thoroughfare transportation projects that don’t directly serve the communities and may serve as barriers. At its core EJ seeks to learn from the mistakes of the “Urban Renewal” era of the 1960s and 70s in which vibrant and successful urban neighborhoods were divided by freeways and highways subsequently harming the economic health and social fabric of the neighborhoods. More information about the official history of the EJ concept with its origins in Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Executive Orders 12898 and 13166 in the late 90s and early 2000s can be found in the RVTPO Title VI, Environmental Justice and Limited English Proficiency (LEP) Plan.
EJ concepts extend beyond the planning phase through the project development, engineering and construction phases. For our purposes as a federally recognized Metropolitan Planning Organization (We go by the name Transportation Planning Organization in our region), EJ concepts will primarily be implemented at two separate levels:
- In the long-range plan at the planning level to the financially constrained list of projects; and,
- When RVTPO implements long-range plan by applying for SMART SCALE High Priority funding (the Virginia Prioritization and Programming system) over successive application cycles. SMART SCALE is the effective link between the long-range transportation plan and the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP).
These two levels, separated in time, allow us to use a “canary in the coal mine” approach in the long-range plan. The EJ Framework will primarily identify red flags and screen out any patently inappropriate projects from the long-range plan. Later, before projects are actually applied for in SMART SCALE, we can use the framework again, in a more robust manner, to modify the scope of the SMART SCALE application to address any additional EJ concerns that arise.
In order to evaluate EJ impacts, both positive and negative, we will use our new EJ Benefits and Burdens Framework that was developed for the RVTPO in the form of a Master Degree Thesis by Allison Homer at Virginia Tech. We are fortunate to have this up-to-date framework that can incorporate new tools such as the Environmental Protection Agency’s EJSCREEN and go beyond these tools for a robust planning level implementation of EJ concepts. Please look forward to more news on the applying EJ through the new Constrained Long-Range Multimodal Transportation Plan 2040 in the coming months.
It can be difficult to craft a long-range transportation plan. As you can imagine, much of the feedback we get from citizens and stakeholders involves day-to-day questions such as; “Who will pay for all of this?” This natural question helps to illustrate the basic challenge that we have as long-range planners; “How do we develop and communicate a long-term vision, when many people naturally think in terms of day-to-day decisions?”
The ultimate goal is to craft a long-term leadership vision that can be implemented through prudent and strategic day-to-day decisions. It is the old “Eat the elephant one bite at a time!” proverb. However, we live in a world of complex social and economic interactions that defy “one size fits all” approaches. One way to think through this tension between long-term vision and day-to-day decisions is to use economic frameworks. I do a lot of personal study and reading in economics. It is a deep interest of mine, and I think it helps inform our work as planners. I especially think that Behavioral Economics will prove to be very informative to planners in the coming years.
That said, many people think of economics in terms of Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand . Although this is a useful metaphor for many basic day-to-day market interactions, there are times when it doesn’t necessarily hold. For instance, imagine that you are at a football game and everyone is comfortably seated and can see the game. Then a few people stand up to get a better view, then more and soon the whole stadium is standing. The end result is that everyone pretty much has the same view as before; however, they are less comfortable. If an announcer communicated the “vision” to request everyone to please sit down over the loudspeaker, or if stadium rules didn’t permit standing during the game then the cycle could be broken.
Long-range plans are similar in this regard. In essence they are just trying to point out that everyone is standing, when they could be better off being comfortably seated and watching the game. Popular leadership and business books espouse this idea when it comes to individual career development and organizational development. In essence they tell readers to craft a personal vision (or organizational vision for leadership books) and then act on that vision through day-to-day workplace decisions. This advice is well received by the majority of professionals in the workforce as evidenced by how big the business, management and leadership category of books is in bookstores or on Amazon. All we are saying is to think of regional long-range transportation plans as crafting a vision for the community and then encouraging leaders to act on that vision through day-to-day decisions. Most of us already accept this advice in our professional lives via business books. Why not accept the same approach for the community through long-range plans?
Notice of a Public Meeting to Receive Comments on the Roanoke Valley Transportation Planning Organization’s (RVTPO) Planning Process
The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) will hold a public meeting in coordination with the RVTPO regarding the RVTPO’s Federal Certification Review. Representatives from the FHWA and the FTA will be present and are interested in hearing from the public. The primary purpose of the review is to certify that the RVTPO is satisfactorily meeting the planning requirements as defined in Federal laws and regulations. The review also provides FHWA and FTA the opportunity to add value to the RVTPO’s planning processes through the sharing of best or innovative planning practices, techniques, and/or technology.
This is an opportunity for the public to express their thoughts and comments about the transportation planning process; to allow the Federal Review Team to obtain a better understanding of the community’s issues; and to inform the public about the Federal transportation planning requirements.
A public meeting will be on Wednesday, March 2, 2016 from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at Campbell Court (31 Campbell Ave. SW, Roanoke, VA 24013) – Second Floor. For questions or directions, contact Mark McCaskill at Ph: (540)343-4417, Fax: (540)343-4416, Email: email@example.com. The RVTPO will strive to provide reasonable accommodations and services for persons who require special assistance to participate in public involvement opportunities. Hearing impaired may dial TTY/TDD at 1-800-828-1120 or 711 for access. Contact the Public Involvement and Community Outreach Coordinator at (540) 343-4417 for more information.” The RVTPO fully complies with Title VI of the Civic Rights Act of 1964 and related statutes and regulations in all programs and activities. For more information, or to obtain a Discrimination Complaint Form, see http://rvarc.org/transportation/title-vi-and-ada-notices/ or call (540)343-4417. If you are unable to attend the meeting in person you can provide your feedback at the following link from now until March 2nd : https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/RVTPO
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The RVTPO is currently working on a long-term Transit Vision Plan that will help shape future investments and planning for the Roanoke Valley’s transit services in the urban portions of Bedford County, Botetourt County, Montgomery County, City of Roanoke, Roanoke County, City of Salem, and the Town of Vinton.
In November, members of our regional community attended our first Transit Vision Plan Workshops, where we focused on identifying critical transit connections and citizen’s general service preferences.
Building on the November sessions, the next phase will begin Thursday, January 21 and will focus on obtaining public input on draft short, medium and long term recommendations for regional transit. There are 2 locations. The open house style workshops will have short formal presentations at 12:30pm and 1:30pm (Campbell Court) and at 5:15pm and 6:15pm (Vinton Library). Refreshments will be provided.
The workshops will be offered at two locations in the Roanoke Valley.
CHOOSE 1 OR BOTH MEETINGS
Both locations are wheelchair accessible.
Thursday, Jan. 21, Noon–2pm @
Thursday, Jan. 21, 5pm-7pm @
the Vinton Library (Directions)
If you are unable to attend, please see meeting materials and provide comments via: www.rvarc.org/transit
Media inquiries contact: Cristina Finch firstname.lastname@example.org | (540) 343-4417
Video courtesy of Dale Saylor on Vimeo.
The RVTPO is currently working on a long-term Transit Vision Plan that will help shape future investments and planning for the Roanoke Valley’s transit services in the urban portions of Bedford County, Botetourt County, Montgomery County, City of Roanoke, Roanoke County, City of Salem, and the Town of Vinton. The workshops will be offered at two locations in the Roanoke Valley.
• 3 to 5 p.m. at Campbell Court, 31 Campbell Ave. S.W. (to RSVP or share this event, visit https://www.facebook.com/events/480784788760676/)
• 7 to 9 p.m. at the Brambleton Center, 3738 Brambleton Ave.
RoanokeValley TPO from Dale Saylor on Vimeo.
Coworking spaces such as the Grandin CoLab allow small businesses and startups to pay a monthly fee in order to use shared space within the facility. In many ways this is similar to an individual joining a fitness center. This idea is that business startups and home (garage) based businesses get to a point where it is not useful from a professional image or branding perspective to invite clients, partners or investors to meetings over the kitchen table or out in the garage anymore. A more polished business presence is needed in order to scale-up to the next level. This describes a target market for coworking spaces, however, what is really going on under the hood from an economic development and transportation planning perspective?
Essentially coworking spaces allow members to share the high fixed-costs that are associated with a nice, well-done commercial space in a central commercial location in an urban area. All businesses face two types of costs: fixed and variable. Startups may have heretofore dealt with fixed costs by running their business out of their home or garage. However, when it comes to graduating to a commercial space, the high fixed costs can be daunting for a small business which may not be able to easily get conventional commercial financing. Coworking spaces solve this dilemma beautifully with their membership model that shares fixed costs widely among many startups. This allows for entrepreneurial business development that otherwise might have been stymied by high fixed costs thus developing the regional entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Interestingly the observation that high fixed costs can have a dampening effect on entrepreneurialism and business creation dates back to the planning classic “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” by Jane Jacobs where she observed that one benefit of the so called “urban decay” of the 1960’s was that it kept rents (i.e. fixed costs) low so that small businesses would have a place to develop. Thankfully, coworking spaces are the exact opposite of “urban decay” and can provide high end and urban edifying amenities that can be affordable due to shared fixed costs in a commercially viable urban setting.
Coworking spaces also provide “Economies of Agglomeration” which is a fancy way of saying the benefits that a business gets by being near other businesses. This can can be thought of as crosspollination of ideas and/or as spillovers from businesses in close proximity being each other’s’ customers and suppliers. Essentially co-working spaces produce internal economies of agglomeration within the one building. And, the building itself can be located in a downtown or village center and member benefits can benefit from the next level of agglomeration effects that come from being in a mixed-use urban context.
As far as transportation is concerned it is precisely these agglomerating and concentrating effects of coworking spaces that encourage businesses to locate in urban areas where transportation already exists. This is in stark contrast to situations in the past where businesses would sprawl out further and further looking for cheaper rent. Also, the new transportation services such as car sharing, think Zipcar, ridesharing, or vanpooling which also benefit from users sharing the fixed costs of vehicle ownership are good complements to the coworking model. Such services as well as public transportation can be conveniently located nearby. Any dollar that an entrepreneur saves on transportation costs can be plowed back into growing their business.
Disclaimer – In this blog post I have specifically referred to a successful coworking space in Roanoke, Virginia called the Grandin CoLab (http://www.grandincolab.com/). The concepts are generalizable and would apply to any coworking environment. This post is not a public sector endorsement of one particular private coworking environment over any other.
There are a lot of opinions and some misconceptions about economic development out there in popular discussion. Economic development is very important. So, we should think through how it relates to transportation infrastructure. Many people think of economic development in terms of its historic roots in real-estate development. This is only a partial and incomplete picture of a dynamic and important topic. Essentially economic development has three interrelated components:
- Economic Efficiency – is necessary but not sufficient. This means that economic efficiency alone will not guarantee economic development. Many proponents proclaim that all you have to do is to cut out a regulation here or tax there, and you get economic development via increased efficiency. These “cut” approaches may be a good first step in cases of waste or economic distortion, but they will not necessarily guarantee growth or development. In fact, a status quo economic process that is seen as self-evidently “efficient” may suffer from a “rest on your laurels bias” and new improvements may not be pursued to a collective chorus of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.”
- Investments in transportation infrastructure may, on the other hand, help us become more economically efficient by allowing private sector businesses to reduce inventories, use just-In-time manufacturing approaches and better leverage logistics and supply chain efficiencies. Expanding public transit can also expand the labor pool for businesses by allowing people to get to work at an industrial park that was previously inaccessible by transit. Future automated and self-driving technologies, both passenger and freight, may have a big impact on improving economic efficiency. Along these lines, we can think of improvements in the transportation of information (i.e. broadband) as having a beneficial and complementary role to investments in physical transportation infrastructure.
- Economic Growth – is also necessary but not sufficient. Growth can come at the expense of quality of life or even economic improvement. It can be the result of everybody working longer hours and not having time for family or other pursuits. If inflation isn’t taken into account, growth can simply be the result of inflation without any real increase in goods or services. Like economic efficiency, real “inflation adjusted” economic growth can provide us the fuel we need to arrive at economic development. In this regard investments in transportation infrastructure can help us access national and global markets. One example involves pursuing a Small Community Air Service Development Program Grant to access a new air service hub such as Denver of Dallas from the Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport. Another would involve developing a regional intermodal freight center to connect rail with trucks and service increased container shipments through the soon-to-be expanded Panama Canal to the Port of Virginia. This would allow us to take advantage of our geographic comparative advantages, which is a fancy way of saying further leveraging our strengths.
- New Process, Technology or Business Model Development – This is the “development” part of economic development, the secret sauce. This is where a new way of doing business or a new technology helps us become more productive. We develop new “strengths,” new comparative advantages and new industry clusters. This is often where standards of living improve. So how can transportation infrastructure help us with the “development” component of economic development? One idea is to promote the region as an urban test bed to test market new technologies such as automated vehicle systems. This would allow us to develop industry clusters around the new technologies and add new skills and strengths to a diverse regional economy. We already have the Smart Road down at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI). Why not extend that technology development cycle to position the Roanoke Valley as the live test bed for the next generation of transportation technologies?
So the next time that someone tells you that they have the silver bullet for economic development, you will know there is more to the story. Economic development takes long-term investments in transportation and broadband infrastructure, so that we can get to the intersection of economic efficiency, economic growth and new process development which is “Economic Development.”
The citations and graph in the following post come from “Beyond Traffic 2045, Trends and Choices” published by the U.S. Department of Transportation accessible here: http://www.dot.gov/sites/dot.gov/files/docs/Draft_Beyond_Traffic_Framework.pdf
”The travel behaviors of young adults matter. Today there are more Millennials than there are Baby Boomers. There are 74 million Americans aged 18 to 34, compared to 68 million Americans aged 50 to 68.” (Beyond Traffic, 17) By the mid-2000s vehicle miles traveled (VMT) per capita started to decline for the first time since the oil crises of the 1970s. There are various explanations for why this may be happening; however, there is not a consensus with respect to which factors have the strongest influence or whether these trends will continue. Some suspect that Millennials, who came of age using the internet, are more apt to substitute mobile technology and social media for social oriented travel that characterized previous generations of young people. Also it has been observed that Millennials have delayed getting driver’s licenses and starting families when compared to previous generations. However, it is still unclear whether Millennials are driving less as a matter of choice or out of economic necessity. And it is unclear how this trend will hold up when Millennials do start to have families in significant numbers. (Beyond Traffic, 15-18)
It is clear that our next long-range transportation plan will need to anticipate the possibility that future VMT per Capita could indeed remain flat or even slightly decline over time as the tastes and preferences of future generations change. This effect could combine with technology changes, such as various levels of vehicle automation, to allow current infrastructure to successfully accommodate future travel demand to a greater extent than is currently anticipated. It may be difficult to quantitatively apply these trends to funding decisions in our next long-range transportation plan; however, project and policy decisions should at least consider the trends on a qualitative level.
What are your thoughts? Please use the comment boxes to provide feedback to the following questions:
- Do you think that Millennials will continue to drive less than previous generations as they age and have children?
- Do you think that technological advances, Intelligent Transportation Systems and some level of driver assist or vehicle automation, will allow current roads to accommodate much of the travel demand in 2040?
- Do you think that we will need new terrain roads and highways in the future to the extent that we have in the past?
A well-traveled public transit system can resemble a networking session at a conference. Plenty of opportunities for networking and information exchange.
Economic development relies on economic efficiency, economic growth and process/technology development. Typically, none of these three are sufficient in isolation for economic development, but all three are necessary to some degree or another in combination. Let’s take a look at each one in turn:
- Economic Efficiency – The neoclassical model of economics presupposes, among other things, that all relevant information for market decisions and market opportunity is readily and freely available. In the complex world that we live in this is easier said than done. This is especially true if we are isolated and alone for our commutes. Carpooling, vanpooling and public transit offers the possibility to network and make connections. You can think of this as your own mini-conference or business meeting on the way to work.
- Economic Growth – Economies can often grow when business and economic activity between suppliers and customers increases within a given geography. In general the ability for a business to capture benefits when it locates among other businesses is called “Agglomeration Economies.” When the supply chain relationships between numerous businesses are concentrated and well defined we often call them “Clusters.” Public Transportation can serve such industrial clusters by opening up a wider labor market to the businesses involved. Sometimes those who are in the market for a prevailing wage, let’s say $10 per hour for argument sake, live in another part of the urban area from where such jobs are offered. For instance, these jobs may be in an economic development or industrial park and job candidates may not have reliable transportation to get between the two. When this happens we say that there is a “spatial mismatch.” Public transportation can help businesses grow by addressing this spatial mismatch and delivering the employees that a growing business needs. Please see the recent RCIT/Blue Hills Transportation Survey Analysis Report for more on these topics.
- Process and/or Technology Development – The economist Joseph Schumpeter articulated the concept of “Creative Destruction” by which new business processes and technologies displaced older less efficient processes and helped lead to economic development through entrepreneurialism. New process and technology ideas often come about through deep reflection on experience and/or by the cross-pollination of ideas by people in different businesses and industries. Often the process is a combination of both in mutually-supportive economic environments. Public transportation can provide the time to read, reflect and think that is important to this process. This is easy to observe in large urban areas such as the Washington DC metro area where many catch up on reading or work on the metro. Likewise, public transportation can provide the fertile ground for the cross-pollination of ideas through networking and conversation similar to that experienced at a conference. Finally, public transportation can be a place of creativity in general as is being demonstrated in the ongoing “Art by Bus” project.
Who knew that public transportation could accomplish so much for economic development? The benefits can accrue even if you only carpool, vanpool or take transit once a week. A longer list of employer benefits can be found here.