Author Archives: Bryan Hill

Notice of Public Comment Period for Fiscal Year 2018-2021 Transportation Improvement Program

Today begins a 45-day public comment period for the Draft Fiscal Year 2018-2021 Transportation Improvement Program for the Roanoke Valley Transportation Planning Organization (RVTPO).  The Transportation improvement Program (TIP) is a four-year capital improvements program for all regional transportation projects receiving federal funding.

The draft TIP document is being made available for public comment by accessing the following link.  Comments may be made by contacting Bryan Hill at 540-343-4417 or bhill@rvarc.org.  Public comment on the draft TIP will be open until Friday, March 24, 2017.  Additionally, on April 27, 2017, a public hearing will be held by the RVTPO Policy Board to consider adoption of the TIP.

How Pokemon Go Can be Used in Urban Planning

It has been almost two months since Pokemon Go was released and I still have not caught a Pikachu. I have walked 84.4 kilometers and caught 539 Pokemon in Roanoke, Blacksburg, and Northern Virginia, but the one Pikachu I encountered ran away from me.

Pokemon Go is the augmented-reality smartphone game from the 20 year-old Pokemon franchise, in which players search for Pokemon in the real world. Pokemania ensued upon the game’s initial release as millions took to the streets wandering aimlessly and gathering in parks at all times of the day and night in pursuit of Eevees, Psyducks, and Squirtles. It is so popular that businesses in Roanoke and across the world have been using it all summer to attract customers. The craze has simmered recently, but how and where people play Pokemon Go has potential to help urban planners identify desirable locations and engage communities.

Because Pokestops, map points where players can collect items to be used in the game, are located at landmarks and public art, they are heavily concentrated in urban environments. Pokemon are also more common and more diverse in denser areas, making it a city-centric game. Downtown Roanoke has a Pokestop around every corner and you are more likely to find a Tangela on Campbell Avenue than you are in Tanglewood Mall.

On any day of the week during lunchtime you can walk into the Elmwood Park Amphitheater and see about 10 people sitting and walking around staring at their phones and every few minutes a new person will walk in or walk out. During the first two weeks of Pokemon Go, this crowd was more than double. Informal gatherings like this are happening elsewhere such as New York’s Central Park and Blacksburg’s Market Square where it can be so crowded at midnight that there is nowhere to sit but the ground.

The game has caused more people to gather in public places than normal, especially at times of the day or night that those places are usually empty. Most planned public gathering spaces or parks are Pokestops, but some of those spaces are attracting large gatherings and others are not. Identifying places where people are gathering and comparing those to where they are not can inform planners about what spaces people want to come to and linger.

For instance, Elmwood Park at lunchtime is a quiet getaway spot from the rush of downtown Roanoke with plenty of green and places to sit. Market Square in Blacksburg at night has good lighting and is only a few steps away from a multitude of food options. Identifying these gathering spots is easy. People collect around Pokestops with lures which attracts more Pokemon than usual to that location. When playing the game, these stops will glow pink, and when a few stops in a small area are all glowing pink at the same time you can be sure that a public space has become an informal gathering spot

The location of these gathering spots may be based more on how many Pokestops are there rather than the place itself. Both Elmwood and Market Square are located at a triangular convergence of three stops making it easier to collect items and, when all three have active lures, are more likely to catch Pokemon. If places with multiple Pokestops in close proximity have the same type of gatherings, regardless of what the space is like, then gatherings are based off the location of the stops. But spaces with multiple stops, such as the Roanoke City Market, that would seem to attract more players don’t have the same effect on Pokemon gatherings that places like Elmwood has. The City Market has two stops close together and, although it could be the premier Poke-spot downtown, it does not seem like Pokemon Go is a significant factor in people gathering there. While these three comparisons–City Market, Elmwood, and Market Square–aren’t enough to base an assumption on, the latter two hint at which spaces are more desirable. Lures, ever present in Elmwood, are not activated at the same rate at City Market, making Elmwood the key spot for Poke-gatherings, and an important location to study.

There is also a potential for increased awareness and engagement for urban planning issues. Of course, Pokemon Go is a game based on players walking around searching for Pokemon. The game actually rewards you for walking–there are eggs which are hatched into Pokemon after you have walked a certain distance, and if you are over a certain speed it won’t calculate the distance you have traveled–you can’t cheat the game by driving. This basic function has brought people out on foot in swarms over the past month, and it has brought up concerns and complaints about player experiences.

The opportunity to play is not equally available to all who want to. Concentrations of Pokestops in cities have shown redlining. Poor neighborhoods with high populations of African-Americans have less Pokestops and gyms, giving these neighborhoods less access to the game. Since Pokestops are located around public art and other landmarks, it is possible that these neighborhoods lack those landmarks to merit a Pokestop. It is more likely that members of those communities did not play Niantic’s earlier game Ingress which gathered points of interest that would later become Pokestops. Either way, planners can use this redlining to study what can be done in these neighborhoods to improve walkability and vitality.

Because Niantic focused the game around walking and landmarks, suburbanites stand in stark contrast to city dwellers. There seems to be plenty of Pokemon Go players in suburbia, but they have been almost completely left out of playing because of the clash between the design of sprawl and the design of the game.  The center of a suburban town is the shopping center, a place with lots of parking and few landmarks. Tanglewood and other strip malls are empty spaces on a Pokemon Go map, with no Pokestops because there are no public destinations, and many times no Pokemon to catch.

Suburban players are inconvenienced because in a game based around walkability those shopping centers are not usually within walking distance of the homes of the people it serves, hence the large parking lots in front. Even when they are, there usually isn’t a safe way for people to walk to these shopping centers, meaning if there is a Pokestop there you are most likely driving and not collecting walking distance or catching wild Pokemon. Some suburban neighborhoods are built without sidewalks giving players no safe way to hunt. The exact reasons the game has worked so well in cities is the same reason it barely works at all in suburbs designed around the car.

Why is this important to planners? The majority of Pokemon Go players are young, the prized millennial generation, who are upset that they can’t play this game in their neighborhoods. They want destinations (and not just for Pokestops) that are within walking distance or only a short (bus, bike, or Uber) ride away, a point especially relevant for players without cars. There is an opportunity to educate and engage this younger generation on the issues of land use. They are interested in how the built environment affects them and they want access to more vibrant places. While this is not necessarily a new trend among this generation, they may be more interested when put in terms of the augmented reality of a game like Pokemon Go. They have become aware to the problems of where they live, and it’s now important for planners to put that awareness to action.

Pokemon1

Sarah’s Place in Roanoke offers Pokemon Go players a place to recharge their phones

Pokemon2

FPS in the Patrick Henry building uses lures to attract lunchtime customers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Article written by Ben Wolfenstein, Intern for the Regional Commission.

Provide Input to the Transit Vision Plan Through an Online Meeting

The Roanoke Valley is not like it was 25 years ago, nor will it be like it is today in 25 years.  In order to better meet the needs of citizens today and in the future, a Transit Vision Plan for the Roanoke Valley is under development.  Initial surveys and data analysis have been completed and results are available in the Technical Report to the Transit Vision Plan.

On November 5th, two public workshops were held to gather public input and preferences on the current and future state and use of transit in the Roanoke Valley.  Participants were able to draw preferences for transit on maps, place dots indicating preferences on boards, and complete comment forms as part of the meeting.  Following the two meetings, held at the Campbell Court Transportation Center and the Brambleton Center,

TVP Pub Mtg.--110515For those unable to attend the Public Open House Workshops on November 5, please click here to participate in the online public meeting.  The survey asks for the same input found on the maps and boards at the Open House meetings.

The survey will remain active until Friday, December 11th, at which point all responses received will be analyzed and incorporated into the final Plan.

For more information on the Transit Vision Plan, please visit the page here.

FY16 HB2 Project Applications Summary

Following last month’s TPO Policy Board meeting, six HB2 candidate projects were prioritized, which staff subsequently prepared and submitted by the September 30 deadline. Those six projects and their priorities are as follows:

COST ESTIMATES / FUNDING SOURCES TOTAL
I-81 NORTHBOUND AUXILIARY LANE FROM EXIT 141 TO 143 Preliminary Engineering (PE) $3,048,451.00
Right-of-Way Acquisition (RW) $540,722.00
Construction (CN) $26,241,543.00
Six-Year Improvement Plan Allocations $0.00
Other Committed Funding Amount $0.00
Total Proposed Project Funding $29,830,716.00
HB2 Requested Funds $29,830,716.00

Project Description

  1. Construction of a 12-foot auxiliary lane and new 12-foot outside shoulder along northbound I-81 between Exits 141 and 143.
  2. The lane will be an extension of the entrance ramp at Exit 141 to extend to the exit to Exit 143.
  3. Construction includes retaining and sound walls, and stormwater management facilities in various locations along the corridor.
  4. Project will provide additional capacity between NB Exits 141 & 143 and provide for safer merge movements between exits.
COST ESTIMATES / FUNDING SOURCES TOTAL
I-81 WIDENING FROM EXIT 140 TO 143 Preliminary Engineering (PE) $7,524,092.00
Right-of-Way Acquisition (RW) $700,000.00
Construction (CN) $64,768,551.00
Six-Year Improvement Plan Allocations $0.00
Other Committed Funding Amount $0.00
Total Proposed Project Funding $72,992,643.00
HB2 Requested Funds $72,992,643.00

Project Description

  1. Addition of one lane NB and one lane SB on Interstate I-81 between Exits 140 & 143.
  2. Lanes will be 12′ wide with 10′ paved shoulders.
COST ESTIMATES / FUNDING SOURCES TOTAL
U.S. 220 COMMUNICATIONS AND ADAPTIVE SYSTEM PROJECT Preliminary Engineering (PE) $42,000.00
Right-of-Way Acquisition (RW) $0.00
Construction (CN) $380,500.00
Six-Year Improvement Plan Allocations $0.00
Other Committed Funding Amount $0.00
Total Proposed Project Funding $422,500.00
HB2 Requested Funds $422,500.00

Project Description

  1. U.S. 220 in the City of Roanoke at the intersection of U.S. 220 and Valley Ave./Southern Hills Dr. SW (Lowe’s) and terminates in Roanoke Co. at U.S. 220 and Clearbrook Village Ln. (Walmart). There are five signalized intersections within the study area.
  2. All intersections will be synchorinzed to allow better morning and afternoon peak traffic flows. New cameras will be installed at all five intersections allowing VDOT to remotely access the traffic volumes and view live traffic to monitor coordination on the corridor.
COST ESTIMATES / FUNDING SOURCES TOTAL
INTERCHANGE LIGHTING AT I-81 EXITS 137-150 Preliminary Engineering (PE) $841,000.00
Right-of-Way Acquisition (RW) $0.00
Construction (CN) $7,569,000.00
Six-Year Improvement Plan Allocations $0.00
Other Committed Funding Amount $0.00
Total Proposed Project Funding $8,410,000.00
HB2 Requested Funds $8,410,000.00

Project Description

  1. This project seeks to light interchanges along I-81 beginning at Exit 137 and continuing with exits 140, 141, 143, 146, and 150. The project area is roughly 13 miles along I-81, and passes through Roanoke County, the City of Salem and Botetourt County.
COST ESTIMATES / FUNDING SOURCES TOTAL
ROANOKE RIVER GREENWAY–GREEN HILL PARK TO RIVERSIDE PARK Preliminary Engineering (PE) $785,000.00
Right-of-Way Acquisition (RW) $370,000.00
Construction (CN) $6,877,031.00
Six-Year Improvement Plan Allocations $3,489,926.00
Other Committed Funding Amount $0.00
Total Proposed Project Funding $8,032,031.00
HB2 Requested Funds $4,542,105.00

Project Description

  1. Construction of 1.875 miles of Roanoke River Greenway in Roanoke Co. and the City of Salem, from Green Hill Park upstream of Diuguids Lane to Riverside Park, downstream of Mill Lane.
  2. This section will include two 12′ bridges across the Roanoke River, a separated grade crossing at Diuguids Lane and an at-grade crossing at Mill Lane, where topography prevents a separated crossing.
COST ESTIMATES / FUNDING SOURCES TOTAL
I-81 AUXILIARY LANES EXIT 150 TO WEIGH STATION & RAMP EXTENSION Preliminary Engineering (PE) $5,489,735.00
Right-of-Way Acquisition (RW) $1,832,530.00
Construction (CN) $40,422,324.00
Six-Year Improvement Plan Allocations $0.00
Other Committed Funding Amount $0.00
Total Proposed Project Funding $47,744,589.00
HB2 Requested Funds $47,744,589.00

Project Description

  1. Construct 12′ auxilary lanes NB and SB from Exit 150 to the truck weigh station, including bridge replacements over Tinker Creek.
  2. Construct an extended deceleration lane northbound into the weigh station; and construct an extended acceleration lane southbound out of the station.
  3. Establish a three-lane road, both NB and SB between Exit 150 and the weigh station, extending ramps south of the station.
  4. Provide additional capacity between Exit 150 and the station.

In the days since the application deadline, applications have undergone validation at the VDOT District, VDOT Central Office and screening through the Office of Intermodal Planning and Investment (OIPI).  OIPI verifies that each candidate project meets at least one of four needs in VTrans2040, the Virginia Multimodal Transportation Plan.  Currently, all projects submitted by the RVTPO, for the exception of the I-81 Interchange Lighting project, have been forwarded to and successfully screened in by OIPI.  Once that verification process is complete, the candidate project is forwarded to a scoring panel of statewide transportation and public policy officials.  The scoring process will be ongoing this fall and into the beginning of 2016.  It is anticipated that the project award announcements will be made in January 2016.

Future posts will discuss the type and nature of HB2 projects submitted statewide and provide insights and impressions of this inaugural prioritization process.

RVARC, RVTPO and Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce Announce a Joint Open House to Hear Public Comment on Regional Transportation Projects

On Thursday, September 17, 2015, the Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Regional Commission, the Roanoke Valley Transportation Planning Organization and the Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce will hold a joint open house from 8:00 to 10:00 a.m. at Chamber offices located at 210 S. Jefferson St., Roanoke, VA 24011.

The public is invited to attend to provide input on urban and regional transportation projects that are being recommended for application to the Virginia Departments of Transportation and Rail and Public Transportation for competitive scoring.  The recommended projects, if approved, will be formally applied for by the Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Regional Commission and the Roanoke Valley Transportation Planning Organization–two eligible applicant organizations.

For your convenience, please click here to provide input on projects being submitted by the Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Regional Commission.  Likewise, click here to provide input on transportation projects being submitted by the Roanoke Valley Transportation Planning Organization.

For more information, contact Bryan Hill at 540-343-4417 or by e-mail at bhill@rvarc.org.

Notice of a Public Hearing to Receive Comment on House Bill 2 Applications to be Submitted by the Roanoke Valley Transportation Planning Organization

 

The public is invited to review and comment on House Bill 2 applications to be submitted by the Roanoke Valley Transportation Planning Organization (RVTPO). A public hearing will be held during the RVTPO Policy Board Meeting to be held on Thursday, September 24, 2015 at 1:00 p.m. at the Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Regional Commission office – Top Floor Conference Room (313 Luck Ave., SW, Roanoke, VA 24016). For questions or directions, contact Mark McCaskill at Ph: (540)343-4417, Fax: (540)343-4416, Email: mmccaskill@rvarc.org. The RVTPO strives 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. The TIP development process satisfies the requirements for public participation in the development and adoption of the Transit Program of Projects. 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.

Notice of a Public Hearing to Receive Comment on House Bill 2 Applications to be Submitted by the Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Regional Commission

The public is invited to review and comment on House Bill 2 applications to be submitted by the Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Regional Commission (RVARC). A public hearing will be held during the Regional Commission Board Meeting to be held on Thursday, September 24, 2015 at 3:00 p.m. at the Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Regional Commission office – Top Floor Conference Room (313 Luck Ave., SW, Roanoke, VA 24016). For questions or directions, contact Bryan Hill at Ph: (540)343-4417, Fax: (540)343-4416, Email: bhill@rvarc.org. The RVARC strives 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. The RVARC 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.

Volunteers Needed for 2015 National Bicycle and Pedestrian Documentation Project

The Roanoke Valley Transportation Planning Organization (RVTPO), with assistance from the Regional Bicycle Advisory Committee, is participating in the 2015 National Bicycle & Pedestrian Documentation (NBPD) Project. Volunteers are needed to conduct manual counts of bicyclists and pedestrians at locations throughout the RVTPO study area during specified time(s).

2015  NBPD Project Volunteer Sign Up Form

Official 2015 NBPD counts will be conducted at each location on one (1) weekday and one (1) weekend day as follows:

  • Thursday, September 17, 5:00 pm – 7:00 pm (rain date if needed: Thursday, September 24, 5:00 pm – 7:00 pm)
  • Saturday, September 19, 12:00 pm – 2:00 pm (rain date if needed: Sunday, September 20,12:00 pm – 2:00 pm )

Each count period is 2 hours in duration, plus additional time to set up prior to conducting count (5 minutes or so). Volunteers will receive NBPD Project training and all requisite data collection materials (instructions, data collection sheets, pens, safety vest, etc.) prior to count date(s). Upon completion of the Volunteer Sign Up Form, the count manager will contact you, via email, to confirm your participation and provide training and related information. Volunteer Counters will be assigned a count location once confirmed.

ABOUT THE NBPD PROJECT
The NBPD Project, co-sponsored by Alta Planning and Design and the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) Pedestrian and Bicycle Council, is a nationwide effort to provide a consistent model of bicycle and pedestrian data collection for use by planners, governments, and bicycle and pedestrian professionals. 2012 was the initial year of RVTPO participation in the annual NBPD and will serve as the baseline data year for future NBPD comparisons. Additional information:
http://bikepeddocumentation.org.

Urban Development Areas–Linking Transportation and Land Use in Virginia: Part II

Introduction and Background

This is the second article in a series of posts concerning Urban Development Areas (UDA) as it relates to transportation and the HB2 project prioritization process.  The HB2 process, enacted in 2014 by the Virginia General Assembly, creates a new framework for the way in which the Commonwealth Transportation Board selects and prioritizes projects.

As was explained in the previous article, the Virginia Multimodal Transportation Plan or VTrans2040, has an initial screening process for potential HB2 projects.  One of these three “screens”, as it were, is a UDA.  The important takeaway here is that if the project does not serve a Corridor of Statewide Significance (CoSS) or Regional Network, a UDA or UDA-like district must be served by a proposed project.  Many localities’ comprehensive plans have Village Center, Traditional Neighborhood Development, or Mixed-Use districts which are typically considered UDA-like.

State Grant Programs

Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPO) and Planning District Commissions (PDC) throughout the Commonwealth have several opportunities to provide technical assistance to their member localities seeking UDA or UDA-Like designations.

The State’s Office of Intermodal Planning and Investment (OIPI) has issued opportunities to Virginia localities, in the form of direct on-call consultant support, and will assist local governments in one or more of the following:

  1. Plan/designate at least one urban/village development area in a locality’s comprehensive plan;
  2. Revise zoning and land use ordinances to incorporate the principles of traditional neighborhood design; and
  3. Assist with public participation processes, and other tasks.

The OIPI assistance is available through an application and award process with a deadline of August 31, 2015.  This assistance is open to Virginia communities of all sizes.  More information can be found on the OIPI website.

BotetourtFULMap Two of the localities served by the Roanoke Valley Transportation Planning Organization (RVTPO), Botetourt and Roanoke Counties, went through comprehensive plan processes to include either UDAs or high growth areas in their respective Future Land Use Maps.  In Botetourt County’s 2011 Comprehensive Plan update, mixed-use target areas were identified on the Future Land Use Map along with references to the 2007 UDA legislation.  Further, the County defined mixed use/village centers and provided design guidelines with the intent of coordinating land use and transportation.

 

 

 

RoanokeCoFULMapRoanoke County identified village and mixed use centers on their Future Land Use Map and defined them in the comprehensive plan.  The governing body ultimately did not approve the UDAs, however the framework is virtually in place in the County’s Comp Plan.

 

RVTPO Assisting its Localities in UDA Development

Here are some of the ongoing efforts that the RVTPO is doing with its localities to develop UDA/UDA-Like areas:

  1. The City of Salem, is currently underway with its OIPI-awarded technical assistance grant, and is on the way to UDA designation.  RVTPO staff will be working with them in FY16 on phase II of the Salem Downtown Plan and provide applicable UDA technical assistance.
  2. Roanoke County will most likely pursue UDA-Like designated growth areas.  Staff will coordinate with Roanoke County as they develop language for the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors.
  3. The City of Roanoke’s Planning Commission met in June to recommend to Council the development of the city as a UDA.  Staff will review any final proposal from the City for compliance with the Code of Virginia.
  4. Botetourt County will have comprehensive plan amendments going to public hearing in September and RVTPO and County staff will collaborate to develop the appropriate language and mapping.

There are several ways for MPO staffs to provide technical assistance and not feel as if they are taking a backseat.

  1. MPOs and PDCs have an obvious state mandated role in providing assistance.  In 15.2-2223.1 (D) of the Code of Virginia, “Localities shall consult with adjacent localities, as well as the relevant planning district commission and metropolitan planning organization, in establishing the appropriate size and location of urban development areas to promote orderly and efficient development of their region.”
  2. MPOs and PDCs can initiate conversations with their localities to provide UDA technical assistance. The RVTPO is doing this through general technical assistance and specific projects in its Unified Planning Work Program.
  3. Be in the loop—MPO staff can perform specific tasks in connection with or separate from on-call consultants.  The RVTPO is doing this with the City of Salem who was awarded a technical assistance grant.
  4. Work with localities to develop future growth areas or UDAs in a smart an organized fashion, not just as a means to a “transportation end”.

Consequences of Not Having UDAs or Future Growth Areas

If a locality’s project does not serve a CoSS or regional network, it will not be considered a qualified project under HB2.  If not submitted by October 1, 2015, localities will have to wait until the next year’s cycle to apply, provided they have received approval from OIPI in the year since.