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Transit Vision Plan Public Workshops- January 21, 2016 Sessions

IMG_2888The 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 @ Campbell Court (2nd floor) (Directions)
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 cfinch@rvarc.org | (540) 343-4417

Video courtesy of Dale Saylor on Vimeo.

 

Come to the Public Workshops for the Region’s Transit Vision Plan

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.

How Coworking Spaces Benefit Transportation and Promote Economic Development!

CoLab provided by Ariel (1)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.CoLab provided by Ariel (2)

CoLab provided by Ariel (3)

RVARC Receives Transportation Planning Excellence Award from FHWA and FTA

bustop accessibility covershot

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and Federal Transit Administration (FTA) jointly announced the Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Regional Commission (RVARC) as one of this year’s eight Transportation Planning Excellence Award (TPEA) recipients.

“Building a world-class transportation system doesn’t happen overnight, and never by accident,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “These important awards recognize the critical role planning plays in meeting America’s future transportation challenges.”

The RVARC’s “Bus Stop Accessibility Study” was recognized as a national example of addressing the link between pedestrian and transit, and developing new ways to determine, evaluate and compare bus stop activity. It used survey data to identify the most active bus stops and those with the greatest number of mobility impaired riders. The study’s results led to more accessible bus stops with better overall system efficiency.

“Given the limited funds available for infrastructure improvements, data-driven tools like this one help to prioritize local transportation investments,” said Acting Federal Highway Administrator Gregory Nadeau. “Thanks to pioneering work like theirs, the transportation community is now able to specifically pinpoint the areas needing improvements, and why they are needed.”

Selected by an independent panel, the awards are a biennial recognition by the FHWA and FTA of outstanding transportation planning practices performed by planners and decision makers in communities across the country.

Project leader, Cristina Finch of the Regional Commission, states, “We are so grateful for this award; there is no higher honor than to be recognized as a national leader in planning.  This Study reflects new ways to use existing data to better understand and justify the improvements needed for people to access transit.  With so many bus stops in the transit network, this Study provides direction on where investments are most needed.”

This year, eight winners were selected of 35 TPEA submissions from around the nation. Criteria for selection included: community, public involvement and partnerships; context sensitive solutions; innovation and effectiveness; equity; implementation and strategy; multi-modalism; and potential for long-term benefits.

“It’s important to recognize the creative efforts of the nation’s transportation planners,” said Acting Federal Transit Administrator Therese W. McMillan. “The future of our infrastructure system begins with their vision. RVARC’s innovative evaluation process led to a major bus route adjustment and pedestrian enhancements to bus stops along a high-activity, low-income corridor.”

How does economic development relate to transportation infrastructure?

Economic Development Venn DiagramThere 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.”

Millennials and Vehicle Miles Traveled per Capita

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

Chapter 1 VMT Per Capita”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?

Economic Development, Networking and Public Transit

12-04-2012 - Campbell Court - between 315 to 320 pm (5) - smallA 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.

Technology and “Peak First” or “Base First” Design

visualizationfinal_Page_09How will technology allow us to reuse existing infrastructure or make different choices in designing new infrastructure?

The focus of transportation related technology, commonly called Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS), has shifted over time from a strong operations, management and systems vantagepoint to a blended focus that includes in-vehicle systems.  We are currently developing the region’s Long-Range Multimodal Transportation Plan 2040 (LRMTP 2040), so we will need to anticipate the possibility of automated – popularly referred to as self-driving –  personal and freight vehicles.  There are many levels of driver assist technologies before reaching full automation.  The scope of potential ITS benefits includes but is not limited to:

  • Benefits for public transportation;
  • Effective capacity increase for highways due to automated platooning;
  • Improvements in transportation safety;
  • Effects on intermodal freight, the supply/logistics chain; and
  • Potential of ITS technologies to both complement and substitute for existing design approaches.

The question of whether we should design for peak transportation demand, which leaves infrastructure underutilized much of the time; or, whether we should design for base transportation demand and address peak demand through ITS, is at the heart of the aforementioned list.  Highway capacity has traditionally been designed for peak hour demand which leaves large highways and thoroughfares underutilized at off peak times such as during the night or mid-day.  Public transit systems have typically had more of a choice concerning whether to design for peak demand or base demand.  Public transit systems that design for “peak first” see the peak service as the most fundamental product, while those that design for “base first” see the normal pattern as the fundamental product with the peak demand addressed by supplemental “peak” service.

In the past, Traffic Engineers heavily favored a “peak first” design for highways.  However several technological and environmental changes may allow Traffic Engineers to choose “base first” design and supplement peak service using ITS technologies such as managed lanes, reversible lanes, adaptive speed limits, High Occupancy Tolling (HOT), or in-vehicle systems that allow automated platooning of vehicles.  “Base first” design, supplemented by ITS, would have the added benefit of making it easier to comply with stormwater and impermeable surface regulations.  There is a real tension and trade off between adding transportation capacity and complying with increasingly strict stormwater regulations.  “Base first” design coupled with ITS technology could give Traffic Engineers more choices in design of new facilities.  When full automation (i.e. self driving) vehicles finally arrive in large quantities, “base first” design may become the natural choice with automation addressing peak demands.

What are your thoughts?  Please use the comment boxes to tell us how you think technology will change the way transportation is designed and delivered.

Introducing the “Roanoke Valley Transportation Planning Organization” (RVTPO)

TPO Name Change Resolution 09-25-2014 – small (Resolution establishing that the RVAMPO should be commonly referred to as the RVTPO)

It has been observed that the term Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) does not directly communicate the transportation planning focus and role of the MPO to the public at large.  Therefore, the RVAMPO Policy Board decided that henceforth the RVAMPO should be commonly referred to as the Roanoke Valley Transportation Planning Organization (RVTPO).  The use of RVTPO more clearly communicates the purpose and role of the body.  The official name for contracts, agreements and memorandums of understanding (MOUs) will remain the RVAMPO.  For day-to-day planning activities, plans and routine matters facing the public, we will henceforth refer to ourselves as the RVTPO.  Please bear with us as we make the transition over the next several months.  The Policy Board did not want us to go through undue extra expense in this transition.  So we will be gradually transitioning letterhead and other items as our stock is used up and replaced.

You can think of RVTPO as a friendly nickname that makes us more personable.  Instead of going by William we are now going by Bill by way of analogy.