Join us for the 10-year Greenway Plan Update

Greenways are a great asset to the Roanoke Valley. Our community loves walking, biking, and skating on greenways throughout the valley. These trails range from the heavily used Roanoke River Greenway, which extends past Roanoke Memorial Hospital in the City of Roanoke and also contains sections in Salem and Roanoke County, to the winding cinder path of Wolf Creek Greenway in the Town of Vinton. While the size and shape of greenways may vary, all of them are part of a conceptual network for the broader Roanoke Valley which was created with the 2007 Greenway Plan Update.

Now the Greenway Commission and its member localities, with help from RVARC, are ready to revisit that vision. You can participate in shaping that vision by attending one of the meetings below.

Meetings will be broken into two types for this update. Regional Meetings, which focus on the broader regional vision, will be held on March 21st at the Greenfield Education and Training Center in Daleville, and on March 30th at Fishburn Elementary School in Roanoke.

Additional local meetings will drill down into specific, local greenway networks. One will be at Mountain View Elementary in the Hollins area, and will focus on Tinker Creek Greenway. That meeting takes place on March 27th. Two other meetings in Roanoke County will take place at the Glenvar Middle School on April 6th and South County Library on April 3rd. The Town of Vinton will also hold an input meeting in conjunction with Roanoke County at the Vinton War Memorial on April 10th. Additional local meetings may be scheduled by Botetourt County and the City of Salem.

Attendees of all meetings will have a chance to speak to new regional connections and priorities for greenway construction. All meetings will be held at 6:30 pm.

If you cannot make one of these meetings, we encourage you to take the online survey. It should take you about 10-15 minutes on a computer, and a bit longer on a smartphone.

 

 

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 do YOU go to work?

Annette Dickerson arrives at work on Bike to Work Day

Annette Dickerson arrives at work on Bike to Work Day

How do YOU go to work? Take the survey! (and enter to win one of ten $5 Starbucks gift cards)

Imagine if you didn’t have to sit in traffic on your way home, staring at the exhaust fumes of the car in front of you.

Imagine starting and ending your day with a leisurely 20-minute bicycle ride, waving at your neighbors as you pedal past.

Imagine coasting right up to the front door of your workplace, instead of circling the lot looking for the best parking spot.

Imagine all the money you save on gas and car repairs when you leave the car at home.

Imagine the look on your doctor’s face at your low heart rate, blood pressure, and cholesterol.

Imagine breathing cleaner air because you and your co-workers, and hundreds of others like you, bicycle to work.

Bicycling to work can be good for you, good for your workplace, and good for your community. Employees don’t have to bike far, or bike every day, to experience the benefits of bicycling. Whether you want to bike or not, we’d like to know more about how you or your employees get to work. Take the Bicycle to Work Survey and enter to win a Starbucks coffee!

Employees who bicycle to work:

  • Are healthier and happier
  • Save money on transportation
  • Enjoy the ride

Employers benefit when employees bicycle to work:

  • Fewer absentee days
  • Reduced parking costs
  • Healthier, happier, and more productive employees
  • Employee retention and recruitment
  • Showcase sustainability

However, employees face many obstacles to bicycling to work:

  • No bicycle parking at work
  • No place to clean up after bicycling
  • Dangerous roads
  • Managers and co-workers hostile to bicycling
  • Live too far to bicycle

We’re studying how employers in our area can facilitate bicycling to work. If you are an employer or an employee in the Roanoke Valley, please complete this survey and enter to win one of ten $5 Starbucks gift cards. Please encourage your employees, co-workers, and employer to complete the survey too!

Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority Recognized with Governor’s Award, Grows Staff to accommodate increasing demand

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RVBA Board Members (left to right) Tom Gates, Gary Larrowe, Kevin Boggess. Chris Morrill; not pictured Mike McEvoy

Roanoke Va. – (Sept. 27, 2016) – On September 7, 2016, the City of Roanoke and the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority received the prestigious Governor’s Technology Award for Cross-Boundary Collaboration at a ceremony during the annual COVITS conference in Richmond, Virginia.

The Award recognizes local, state and educational public sector information technology (IT) projects that have improved government service delivery and efficiency as chosen by Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, Secretary of Technology Karen Jackson and Chief Information Officer of the Commonwealth Nelson Moe.

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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.

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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.

What is in a name? Environmental Justice (EJ) may not mean exactly what you think it does!

EJ Map - Allison Homer

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.

RVARC Executive Director, Wayne Strickland has been Elected to the National Association of Development Organizations Board of Directors

Wayne_nadoWashington, DC – Wayne Strickland, Executive Director of the Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Regional Commission in Roanoke, VA, was elected to the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO) 2016 – 2018 Board of Directors on April 13, 2016.  Founded in 1967, NADO provides advocacy, education, research, and training for the nation’s 540 regional development organizations.

NADO member organizations serve local governments and the public within their regions through various programs focused on diversifying local economies, assisting businesses, creating jobs, and providing community services.  The NADO Board of Directors oversees the association’s budget and operations and develops policy on issues affecting regional development organizations.

“We are honored to have Wayne serve on NADO’s Board of Directors.  Wayne brings a wealth of expertise, knowledge, and leadership on regional community and economic development issues to the national level,” stated Joe McKinney, NADO Executive Director.  “Most importantly, Wayne is focused on helping our nation’s local communities pursue comprehensive regional strategies for remaining economically competitive in today’s rapidly changing global environment.”

NADO’s Board of Directors includes member organizations that represent a broad section of the United States including the Central, Eastern, Midwestern, Southeastern, Southwestern, and Western regions.  The two-year term for Board members begins on May 1, 2016 and runs through April 30, 2018.

 

Roanoke River Blueway Wins 2016 Governor’s Environmental Excellence Award

roanokeriverblueway-logoThe Roanoke River Blueway has won the 2016 Governor’s Environmental Excellence Silver Award in the Virginia Outdoors Plan Implementation category. The 2016 Governor’s Environmental Excellence Awards were announced on April 7, 2016 at the 27th Environment Virginia Symposium in Lexington.  The awards recognized the significant contributions of environmental and conservation leaders in four categories: sustainability, environmental project, land conservation, and implementation of the Virginia Outdoors Plan.  They are given to businesses and industrial facilities, not-for-profit organizations, and government agencies. The Roanoke River Blueway pblueway-award-photorovides cost-free opportunities for canoeing, kayaking, fishing, tubing, wading, wildlife viewing, and watershed education with convenient access to other outdoor and cultural amenities in Virginia’s Blue Ridge all year long. The 45-mile Blueway, which includes 15 public boating access points, aims to promote healthy living and economic sustainability through increased use and awareness. Access points are located in local parks allowing for shared parking. In addition, information is provided for using the Valley Metro and bicycle accommodations. Watershed management and stewardship through education are supported through a dedicated webpage to water quality. Another educational tool is the Roanoke River Blueway Interactive Map which provides a range of information to facilitate safe use and enjoyment of this regional resource. Funding for the Blueway was leveraged from a variety of sources including private donators, the Virginia Tourism Cooperation (VTC) Market Leverage Program, American Electric Power, and Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF).

What do regional long-range plans and business books have in common?

Bike and Pedestrian Lanes Mulhouse #3

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?

 

Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority Completes Outside Construction

New High-Speed, Open-Access, Municipal Fiber Network now in final stages of preparation before first customer rollouts

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RVBA Chairman Kevin Boggess at Blue Ridge PBS

Roanoke, Va. (April 5, 2016) – The Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority (RVBA) is pleased to announce that forty-seven-miles of new, high quality, fiber-optic broadband cable is now buried beneath the cities of Roanoke and Salem, VA.

RVBA vendor partners Thompson & Litton and USC (Utility Service Contractors) completed the Outdoor Plant construction on April 5, 2016 at the Valley View Point of Presence (POP) location. The completion of the new network’s “outside plant” marks a major milestone for the public-private partnership’s regional investment.

The project, which broke ground last summer, was designed to spur regional economic development by increasing access to extremely secure, high-speed, affordable, and un-throttled fiber-optic Internet service.

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Crews use microtrenching to install fiber

The new conduit network has been threaded with 144 threads of fiber optic line, each thread capable of delivering secure, private, terabit-level upload and download connections for future RVBA customers.

It is anticipated that the new highly resilient, synchronous, and self-healing system will provide tremendous benefit to enterprise-level clients (corporate, government, and education) across the region. The new open-access network has also been designed to spur additional private sector telecommunications investment by lowering the barriers of entry required to deliver competitive services in the Roanoke Valley.

“Throughout the new networks’ physical build-out process, we worked hard to maximize the projects long-term value while minimizing any inconvenience for Roanoke Valley citizens and visitors. All in all, and thanks to the support of our team of experienced vendor partners, things went very smoothly.” Frank Smith, Executive Director of the RVBA, said. “We used a wide variety of cutting-edge techniques to both plan and build the physical network infrastructure and these efforts are sure to pay dividends over the long-haul. Now, with outside plant construction complete, our first customers are only weeks away from realizing the results of everyone’s hard work.”

The new network, built on defense-grade equipment, directly connects the Roanoke Valley to two international Internet switching stations. Now that construction of the outside plant is complete, local project teams will spend the next few weeks stress-testing the system and configuring the switching centers for an official service lighting event later this spring.

Prospective customers interested in learning more about the RVBA’s new service availability, packaged offerings, pricing, and adoption timelines should contact Frank Smith, Executive Director at (540) 904-1073 or, via email, at fsmith@highspeedroanoke.net. More information is also available online at www.highspeedroanoke.net

The next meeting of the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority is open to the public and is scheduled for April 15, 2016 at 8:30 am in the Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Region Commission Building (313 Luck Avenue SW, Roanoke, VA 24016).

History of the RVBA

In 2011, at the urging of several concerned citizens and local business owners, four regional municipalities (The City of Salem, The City of Roanoke, Roanoke County and The County of Botetourt) and several highly invested local business owners joined forces to conduct a study on fiber-optic Internet access across the region
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When it was discovered that the Roanoke Valley lagged behind the rest of the country with only 8% of the metro population having access to fiber networks (compared to the national average of 24%), a task force was formed to develop specific recommendations that would make the Roanoke Valley a better place to both live and work.

In January of 2014, the four municipalities officially took action on these recommendations by forming the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority (RVBA) to expand the regional broadband infrastructure and make it easier for both new and existing providers to deploy their technology and offer price-competitive services across the Roanoke Valley.

The RVBA was charged with a number of specific initiatives, including:
•Developing a master plan for construction and operation of a high-speed, redundant regional network “ring” to reach schools, industrial parks, large employers and other economic centers,
• Developing cooperative agreements for localities with technical specifications and commercial terms for operating the network and exchanging data across municipal boundaries
• Developing dig once requirements for construction projects, including the placement of open-access conduit for optical fiber cable
• Communicating broadband related activity to the public
Taken together, the RVBA was tasked with driving measurable improvements to fiber-optic Internet accessibility, affordability, reliability, and Internet speeds for the purposes of advancing the long-term economic prospects of the region.

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Related photo archive access and interview requests should be sent to:

Jennifer Eddy
Chief Strategist
540-878-9681 (C)
202-709-7509 (W)
202-706-7342 (F)

Eddy Communications Corp.
www.eddycommunications.com

http://www.linkedin.com/in/jennifereddy

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