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.

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

Introduction

Urban Development Areas (UDA) have been a big topic of discussion and debate recently among Virginia localities, Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPO) and Planning District Commissions (PDC) as it relates to transportation and the HB2 project prioritization process.  The HB2 process, enacted in 2014 by the General Assembly, creates a new framework for the way in which the Commonwealth Transportation Board selects and prioritizes projects.

The Virginia Multimodal Transportation Plan (VTrans2040) contains a pre-screening for the HB2 process. This filter, if you will, ensures that a project application must fall into one of three categories:  Corridors of Statewide Significance (CoSS), Regional Networks and Urban Development Areas.  The focus on this, and a series of future articles, is the UDA.

As way of an introduction, let’s start with some fundamental facts about the legislation (§15.2-2223.1 of the Code of Virginia):

  • Any county, city or town may amend their comprehensive plan (and future land use map) to include UDA(s).
  • UDAs are designed to handle a locality’s projected residential and commercial growth from 10 to 20 years.
  • The Code recognizes that UDAs are designed to be ideal for high-density residential and commercial uses, due to their location to transportation networks.
  • UDAs must be zoned in order to accommodate a minimum development density of:
    • Four single-family residences
    • Six townhouses
    • 12 apartments or condominium units
    • Floor area ratio of at least 0.4 per acre for commercial development

Initial Comments

Over the past year, the Virginia Secretary of Transportation’s office held various public meetings and comment periods as it endeavors to implement HB2 policy. During that process, localities, MPOs and PDCs have provided input which has helped shape HB2 policy.  For context of where we are and where we have been, here are some initial comments submitted from the Roanoke Valley Transportation Planning Organization with applicable updates (in bold):

  • Hypothetically, if UDAs are not accepted by a community (prior to HB2’s implementation), what are the negative effects relative to project prioritization for such communities?  Localities cannot apply for local projects that must impact a UDA, and are therefore limited to applying to the other two categories.
  • With regard to compliance with HB2’s Land Use and Transportation Coordination factor, will there be a review and approval process for localities developing UDAs?  Guidance and grant assistance is being provided by the Office of Intermodal Planning and Investment, with localities submitting comprehensive plan amendments and/or resolutions for inclusion. 
  • Assuming that such guidance will be developed for communities that did not apply for Urban Development Areas Technical Assistance Grant Program, must a Comprehensive Plan refer to §15.2-2223.1 and/or is the community’s governing body required to make a resolution affirming compliance with the Code of Virginia?  Yes.  There is a two-pronged approach to UDA compliance:  formal establishment and naming of UDAs and the recognition of “UDA-like” areas which have existing elements but may be referred to as village centers, mixed-use districts, etc.
  • There is emphasis on the creation of UDAs for communities of all sizes, citing that the principles of urban/village development areas are applicable to all localities. With regard to predominately rural counties like those in far Southwest Virginia with little to no population growth, what is the correlation between the designation of UDAs and priority for HB2 governed transportation projects?  The creation of “UDA-like” areas may better suit rural localities, however, there remains concern that there be no priority distinction between these areas and formalized UDAs.

Next time we will discuss technical assistance and MPO/PDC review and consultation with localities when establishing UDAs.

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.

Effectiveness in Public Participation without Crowds at Public Hearings

A seemingly common measure of effective public participation, in the context of developing a public plan or program, is the number of people who attend a public meeting or hearing in the presence of a governing body, board or commission.  Oftentimes planners and elected officials are concerned with the lack of comments or speakers present during periods of public comment, and tend to deem the endeavor unsuccessful.  This often happens following robust public outreach campaigns (i.e. direct mailings, focused stakeholder meetings, newspaper articles, website postings, social media, videotaped meetings, etc.).

So where is the problem if the public fails to provide public comment in person or in written form?  Is there pervasive public apathy and indifference towards public plans and processes?  The short answers are:  1) A “problem” may not actually exist; and 2) In this growing technological age, there are more opportunities and outlets from which to solicit and provide public input.  This article will support the position that public plans and programs can be deemed successful without last minute public feedback at public hearings.

As an example, the Transportation Improvement COVER PAGE--TIP Citizens Guide FY15-18Program (TIP) is a four-year financial program that describes the schedule for obligating federal funds to state and local projects.  The TIP contains federal funding information for all modes of transportation including highways, transit and pedestrian facilities.  In 2014, the Roanoke Valley Transportation Planning Organization (RVTPO) held a public comment period (advertised in the local newspaper, social media and RVTPO website) prior to the public hearing held by the TPO Policy Board.  Access to the draft TIP was made available electronically or by paper copy.  Blog posts were written and posted on the TPO website and Facebook.  Additionally, a Basic Guide to the Transportation Improvement Program was developed to give the public a fundamental understanding of the TIP process and project selection.  After all of the opportunities to provide input, staff received one e-mail comment, which incidentally was a 100 percent increase over the previous TIP!  Additionally, no one was present to speak at the TPO’s public hearing. Did staff perform their jobs correctly in the development and execution of the TIP? Yes. Was this an example of a project that did not require public hearing feedback or comments to legitimize its effectiveness? Yes.

In conversations with the public, this writer has found that people do read draft plans, check updates on project websites and generally understand their content.  When questioned about a plan, many will express satisfaction or contentment with the content–with some inquiring about specific subject matter.  Bear in mind, such input was solicited and not volunteered.  From these types of conversations and interviews with the public, a picture begins to materialize–one of quiet success and consensus.

For years, the standard bellwether of good public input was standing-room-only rooms or filled sign-up sheets at a public hearing.  In most cases, the crowds were there speaking in favor or opposition to a controversial topic.  Attending many public hearings, one can clearly see a trend among concerned citizens to mobilize or band together, which strengthens and varies directly with the controversial nature of a plan/program.  Despite visible and vocal public participation on a controversial subject at a public hearing, the level of citizen involvement, understanding and participation by those not participating at such meetings is not so starkly less.  This is why, it is asserted, that many citizens choose to become involved earlier in a public process, providing valuable and tangible feedback which contributes to the final plan’s/program’s outcome.

Other reasons for increased attendance at public hearings arise when there are misconceptions, misinformation or a general disconnect regarding a plan or program.  This is sometimes resolved at a public hearing through discussion and interaction with staff.  As planners, if we apply this logic to these situations, could it not be argued that our effectiveness is measured in terms of how few comments were received? Conventional wisdom regarding the benefits of public hearings suggests they are a forum through which new ideas and points of view are presented. Given that many public hearings are first-chance last-chance opportunities to provide comments, the introduction of new ideas seems grossly untimely. It would seem somewhat of an uphill task to persuade public bodies to consider taking a new direction at the very end of a process.

Naturally there are public processes designed to engage and solicit public preferences and data.  With technology and industry tools ever changing, online surveys, design charrettes, visual preference surveys and mapping exercises seek and achieve effective public participation.  By engaging the public from the beginning, allowing them to help shape the plan or program, effectiveness skyrockets.  This technique not only educates and informs, but publicizes a project, sometimes more than conventional methods.

Some public projects obviously do not require COVER PAGE--Blue Hills Survey Analysis Reportpublic hearings as part of their processes. Such projects, however, can be heavily reliant upon public input. This input takes the forms of surveys, public brainstorming sessions, and interactive/visual exercises to determine needs and preferences. As an example, staff of the Roanoke Valley TPO met with business leaders from an industrial park who were concerned that existing and potential employees were not being adequately served by the public transit system. Following several meetings, staff developed a survey to be administered by employers and available online. The response rate exceeded 25%. The results of the survey were conveyed to the business representatives, and several meetings were held with local economic development and transit officials, who recognized the public need. The project is still ongoing, but it was fueled by public involvement and participation. The coordination and communication with a variety of stakeholders, throughout the process, insures efficiency on the part of the public agency and its employees.

Planners and elected officials should feel confident that initial and ongoing public participation efforts are paying dividends by the lack of plan and public hearing comments at, essentially, the end of the process and just before legislative action.  Employing various public interactive meetings, charrettes, surveys and the like, to inform and educate at an early stage, will continue to yield low turnout at required hearings. Attendance by public officials at such events will positively reinforce their opinions about participation levels.

Are citizens on the whole bored, indifferent and unengaged in public processes? No.

Please share any thoughts, comments, or experiences you have with public participation efforts.

In addition, as part of public engagement and input towards the VPS V 2.0--030415RVTPO Constrained Long-Range Multimodal Transportation Plan, this Visual Preference Survey was designed to gather public preferences on different types of transportation infrastructure.  Please click on the image to take the survey.  Thank you for your participation!

 

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.

Promoting a Stronger Regional Economy Through Multimodal Districts and Centers

On January 22nd, the Roanoke Valley Transportation Planning Organization (RVTPO) Policy Board approved the designation of Multimodal Centers and Districts through a draft map.  This concept originates from the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation’s Multimodal System Design Guidelines which encourages the planning and implementation of an integrated transportation system including automobiles, public transit, bicycles, and walking.  As recommended in the Guidelines, TPO staff have engaged local government staff to develop multimodal centers and districts, which can be generally described as follows:

Chapter 5 - City Market CaptionMM Corridors MapMultimodal District:  A portion of a city or region with land use characteristics that support multimodal travel, such as higher densities and mixed uses, and where it is relatively easy to make trips without needing a car as gauged by the number of bus routes available, and safe walking or biking paths – either currently or proposed in the future.

Multimodal Center:  Compared to a multimodal district, a multimodal center is a smaller area of even higher multimodal connectivity and more intense activity, roughly equivalent to a 10-minute walk or a one-mile area.

The combination of population and employment density per acre is described in the Multimodal Design Guidelines as activity density.  Activity density can be used to identify multimodal centers and distinguish between land use intensities (urban to rural).

The Roanoke region’s economy is greatly supported by the economic activity that occurs in multimodal centers and districts.  Strengthening these areas, and connecting them with good transportation options bolsters the economy, allows for growth and the use of land more wisely, and creates numerous opportunities to move people and goods more efficiently.

By pursuing transportation projects that aim to better connect regional multimodal centers and districts, as a planning tool, the multimodal centers and districts will continue to be useful in local and regional land use and transportation planning.  The RVTPO has employed the use of the Multimodal Centers and Districts in its recently adopted Regional Pedestrian Vision Plan and will be incorporated in the upcoming Constrained Long-Range Multimodal Transportation Plan.

Visual Preference Surveys and Eliciting Incremental Reactions from Citizens

Visual preference surveys (VPS) are utilized in the planning profession as tools to gauge public interest and desire for certain urban design aesthetics in the built environment.  These elements include, but are not limited to:

  • streets and traffic
  • commercial development
  • residential development
  • pedestrian realm
  • public spaces
  • parking
  • transit and mobility
  • signage

In a typical VPS, the public participants VPS Public Meetingare presented with photos of various urban design elements and asked to rate their preference (in general) or appropriateness (project specific area).  Many visual preference surveys also incorporate demographic surveys and mapping exercises, which further solicit public preferences.

In their development and execution of a VPS, sometimes planners and/or consultants can fall victim to polarizing the public through an “all-or-nothing” exercise.  For example, the two photos below were used in a VPS, to represent commercial development options.  Imagine if citizens were only given these two photos.  Although this particular project utilized a range of photos for participants to rate, it becomes clear that the “good” photo will almost always prevail.

Bad Commercial

Good Commercial

 

 

 

 

The Roanoke Valley Transportation Planning Organization (RVTPO) staff are currently developing a rudimentary VPS designed to elicit a basic, instinctual, and “gut-level” response when asking about transportation accommodations.  RVTPO staff are careful to take an incremental approach to the VPS – by providing a subtle spectrum of photographic choices – which will more accurately depict public opinion.

This VPS is experimental in nature and it is expected to evolve as time progresses.  The purpose of ongoing iterations of the VPS is to gauge public preference regarding transportation accommodations (such as sidewalks, bike lanes, roundabouts, etc.) and to serve as recommendations for future regional transportation plans like the Constrained Long-Range Multimodal Transportation Plan, expected to be completed in 2015.

To the right, is a fill-able PDF of the visual preference survey.  Visual Preference Survey--121714Please feel free to complete it, save it and e-mail to bhill@rvarc.org.  You may also take the survey online by clicking here.  RVTPO staff would also like to hear public feedback on survey instrument itself–any modifications or improvements that could be made to improve its effectiveness and delivery.

 

 

 

Analysis of Regional Employment and Transit Reveals a Spatial Mismatch

In 2013, tenants of the Roanoke Centre for Industry and Technology (RCIT) met with staff from the Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Regional Commission (RVARC), City of Roanoke Economic Development Department and Greater Roanoke Transit Company (Valley Metro) to discuss the potential of providing transit service into the industrial park.  Several large tenants of the RCIT had expressed to the City a growing need, by employees, for a transit stop closer than the existing one of 3/4 – 1 mile from their facilities.  Further, many company representatives indicated that prospective employees were discouraged from applying for jobs at the RCIT due to a lack of efficient bus service from their homes into the industrial park.  This concept of disparity between the location of low income households and appropriate employment opportunities is known as spatial mismatch.  Through a series of meetings to address this and other issues, a transit needs assessment survey was developed and administered to RCIT employees.

RCIT Blue Hills Transportation Survey Analysis CoverIn March 2014, RVARC planners presented the RCIT/Blue Hills Transportation Survey Analysis Report to the RCIT tenants.  Overall, there were 528 respondents to the survey.  The overall response rate for the survey was 23.4%, based on the 2,255 employees in the RCIT.  The concerns raised by the tenants regarding the unwillingness of many prospective employees to apply for jobs in the park due to a lack of sufficient transit, were considered and reflected in the survey analysis.

Question #6 of the survey asked about the mode of transportation the employee uses most often to get to work during the average week.  Of the 521 respondents to this question, 85% or 440 indicated that they most often used a single occupancy vehicle (car [driving alone]) to travel to work.  Forty-eight respondents or 9% who stated that they most often used a bus to travel to work.

Question #10, “In the past year, how often did you use Valley Metro to get to work?”, received 516 responses.  Of those respondents, 83% or 426 indicated never having used Valley Metro in the past year as a means to get to work.  The remaining 17% of respondents (90) indicated using transit, at some frequency to get to work.  Of those users, 52 (58%) indicated that they ride the bus daily to work.

In Question #11, 517 respondents replied to whether or not they would use Valley Metro or a specialized bus service that provided them with frequent and convenient service to businesses along Blue Hills Drive.  While 53% or 273 respondents said they would not consider using bus service, 47% or 244 indicated they would. It is important to note the willingness of employees to consider using a new or specialized service, nearly half, when currently 83% do not use bus service at all.

The survey analysis presented several conclusions which illustrate the current spatial mismatch:

  1. Based on the survey response rate, there is a desire among employees in the RCIT for bus service.  This is based on 47% (244) of the respondents indicating they would consider using some sort of transit service to Blue Hills Drive.  This is significant insofar as 83% of all respondents indicated not using bus service at all.
  2. 17 percent (90) of respondents use Valley Metro to get to work anywhere from once a month to daily.  Many of these individuals have a commitment to using Valley Metro service and would most likely continue and/or increase their frequency in riding if the service were provided to or along Blue Hills Drive.
  3. In terms of economic development and employment opportunities, many respondents and tenants indicated that more people would apply for jobs at RCIT if there was more convenient and nearby bus service to Blue Hills Drive.

Since the release of the survey analysis, Valley Metro and RVARC staff continue to work with the RCIT tenants to improve transit service to employment destinations in the industrial park.  Such an improvement to the transit system would help eliminate the spatial mismatch, make jobs available to more people, and solve employment issues with RCIT businesses.

Statewide Six-Year Improvement Program Prioritization Process

The Virginia Department of Transportation’s FY2015-2020 Six-Year Improvement Program (SYIP) was recently revised to reflect Code of Virginia §33.1-23.5:5. Statewide prioritization process for project selection.  This legislation relates to the prioritization of projects funded by the Commonwealth Transportation Board.  Public hearings were held in September and October statewide to receive citizen and stakeholder input, as well as to inform the public of the new prioritization legislation.  The general purpose of the legislation is as follows:

The General Assembly declares it to be in the public interest that a prioritization process for projects funded by the Commonwealth Transportation Board be developed and implemented to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the state’s transportation system, transportation safety, transportation accessibility for people and freight, environmental quality, and economic development of the Commonwealth.

As such, the CTB and the Virginia Transportation Secretariat have been diligently taking their message about the new prioritization legislation to localities across the Commonwealth.  Each of the state’s construction districts will have an assigned prioritization of projects to be used in developing the SYIP and must consider, at a minimum:  highway, rail, transit, technology operational improvements and transportation demand management strategies.  For those VDOT construction districts containing Metropolitan Planning Organizations, such as the Roanoke Valley Transportation Planning Organization (RVTPO) in the Salem District, the MPO and the CTB shall cooperate to develop prioritization factors.  As a result of the Revised FY2015-2020 SYIP, the Salem District and MPO had no projects which were adversely affected due to the prioritization process.

The five factors to be analyzed are:  congestion mitigation, economic development, accessibility, safety, and environmental quality.  For those MPOs with populations exceeding 200,000 persons, or Transportation Management Areas (TMA MPOs), there is a sixth prioritization factor of land use and transportation coordination.  The RVTPO was designated a TMA MPO following the 2010 Census and is subject to this sixth prioritization factor.

Currently, the RVTPO Policy Board, various committees and staff are providing input on the weighting of the factors that will be used in scoring eligible projects in the SYIP.  Once the process is complete, projects in the SYIP subject to prioritization will be scored based on a weighting of the six factors out of a possible 100 percent.  The CTB will begin selecting projects based on this legislation beginning July 1, 2016.

Below is the chart used to provide input on the statewide prioritization process.  Please feel free to provide us with your feedback on what you believe to be important prioritization factors in ranking candidate projects for the SYIP.  In your response(s), – comment box provided below post – please indicate the factor and assign a percentage to each, ensuring that they equal an even 100 percent.

Prioritzation Factors Table

Thank you for your assistance in this process.  The results of the official prioritization for the Salem District will be announced in a future posting.