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  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.

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

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

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

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

3D Printing

Chapter 1.5 3D Printer - Public DomainThe goal of this post and of planning in general is to anticipate possible and plausible future conditions to better help leaders make informed decisions along the way.  According to (accessed 09-23-2014)

“3D printing or additive manufacturing is any of various processes for making a three-dimensional object of almost any shape from a 3D model or other electronic data source primarily through additive processes in which successive layers of material are laid down under computer control.  A 3D printer is a type of industrial robot.

The above image is of a 3D printer that prints using plastic polymers.  Advances are being made in the printing of metals and even food grade materials.  The advantage of 3D printers is that final printed object contains no scraps or waste.  The printer only uses the amount of material necessary for production.  This could have wide-ranging implications for the size and scale of manufacturing and how it fits in with urban form and transportation demand.  3D printing’s implications for long-range transportation planning and related decisions by leaders and elected officials revolve around it’s potential to affect both “economies of scale” and “economies of agglomeration.”

Economies of scale are savings that occur to an individual entity (i.e. factory) or process when there are high fixed costs and the price per item manufactured goes down as the volume goes up.  Essentially, each additional item manufactured helps repay the high fixed costs, so “the more the merrier!”  The classic example is a large factory.  Since traditional manufacturing processes can require large volumes to reach economies of scale, manufacturing is typically located away from residential, commercial and retail uses.  3D printing has the potential to alter the volume necessary to reach economies of scale.  3D Printing based manufacturing could potentially be small enough to co-exist with commercial, retail and in some cases residential land uses.

Economies of agglomeration are savings and benefits to a company or organization when it locates close to other businesses and organizations.  These savings are usually due to potential productivity gains, savings on input costs (i.e. labor), and knowledge spillovers from the concentration of professionals, entrepreneurs and other creative individuals within a given geographic area.  The potential for 3D printing to operate at a small scale may allow it to be located near complementary business and markets thus reducing transportation demand.

Since 3D Printing is in its infancy, the extent to which it alters typical economies of scale and economies of agglomeration of manufacturing and thus manufacturing derived transportation demand remains to be seen.  Therefore, as we develop the next long-range transportation plan we would like to ask for your feedback on several questions.  Please provide answers in the comment box below.

  • Will 3D Printing and other advanced manufacturing technologies dramatically reduce the size and scale needed to reach economies of scale?
  • Will small scale 3D printing based manufactures locate in urban and other mixed-use environments?
  • Will these impacts account for a significant portion of the manufacturing sector or just niche and custom portions?
  • What other questions did we miss/would you suggest?

New Long-Range Transportation Plan Builds On Livable Roanoke Valley Scenario Planning and Adds Marketing Style Segmentation

Although scenario planning is not a new concept, the upcoming Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Constrained Long-Range Transportation Plan will use it in an innovative way.  As a way of definition, scenario planning is the framework of performing a future risk assessment and benefit analysis to determine potential strengths and weaknesses which affect our region.  This assists in current and long-range local/regional planning pursuits.

In 2014, the Steering Committee of the4-Scenarios Diagram
Livable Roanoke Valley Plan developed
four scenarios, which focus on preparedness and ability of the Valley to thrive and prosper.  The scenarios were used to determine a future vision for the Roanoke Valley, and became part of the Livable Roanoke Valley Plan.

As the MPO staff begins development of the 2040 Constrained Long-Range Transportation Plan, we will be utilizing the four Livable Roanoke Valley scenarios:  Paradise Valley, Light at the End of the Valley, Happy-Go Lucky Valley and Unhappy Valley.  The four scenarios will play a critical role in making population and employment projections within Traffic Analysis Zones (TAZs)–areas developed locally for calculating traffic related data.  Using 2040 population and employment estimates compiled for each of the 204 TAZs in the Roanoke Urbanized Area, staff has developed corresponding projections based on each future scenario.  These projections will lead to more precise analysis and policy recommendations, based on future outcomes; and staff will utilize the scenarios to plan with an eye towards preventing the worst possible regional future.

In addition to using scenario planning to anticipate population and employment changes in the TAZs, MPO staff utilize GIS software maker ESRI’s Tapestry Segmentation to incorporate an additional data layer.  Simply stated, Tapestry Segmentation is a method of surveying and analyzing large populations in order to quantify diversity, trends, lifestyles and life stages.  It takes into account population, household, migration, housing, economic, educational and income characteristics and produces a “fabric” of a particular geography.  By utilizing this approach, it is like what people in marketing use as a marketing framework strategy.

Tapestry Segmentation MapBased on the data collected for each geography, ESRI has 12 uniquely designated Lifemode Summary Groups, which take into account lifestyles and various stages of life (e.g. Upscale Avenues and American Quilt).  Within these Lifemode Groups are 65 segments, which reveal more specific characteristics.

In the months to come, as MPO staff analyzes future trends by projecting population and employment based on both the four scenarios and the Tapestry Segmentation Lifemode Groups, we hope to discover additional dynamics to allow us develop better transportation policies and recommendations.

Electric Vehicles – Which comes first the Chicken or the Egg?

Electric Vehicle Charging Stations at Public Parking - Nashville (1) - small Electric Vehicle Charging Stations at Public Parking - Nashville (2) - small

The images above are courtesy of a colleague who recently went to Nashville, TN.  They depict publicly available electric vehicle charging stations in public parking lots.  Many new technologies, such as electric vehicles, beg the question of “Which comes first the chicken or the egg?”

This is where we would like your feedback, as we muscle through the regional financially constrained multimodal long-range transportation plan (CLRTP 2040) planning process.  Should we plan for and anticipate providing infrastructure, such as electric vehicle charging stations, before there is a critical mass of ownership in or region?  Or should we wait?

Other aspects of this question to consider are:

  • What about travelers and tourists?  Would providing charging stations attract electric vehicle owners to visit the Roanoke Valley?
  • Is there a branding effect?  If we become known for this type of cutting edge infrastructure does the positive PR compensate for the costs?
  • Is there a negative branding effect?  If electric vehicles don’t take hold quickly would this be seen as a boondoggle?
  • Is this a “leadership by example” type of situation?
  • Can the private sector be counted on to provide infrastructure in anticipation of market demand?
  • Are there other technologies on the horizon?
  • Other?

We need you feedback on all of the above and other aspects of this question.  Please don’t be shy add your feedback in the comment section.

Website Now Includes Google Translate Widget


The Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Regional Commission (RVARC) website now contains the Google Translate Widget which is located below the “Latest Updates” sidebar.  This includes the pages related to Roanoke Valley Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (RVAMPO) work.  This is a part of our continued efforts to involve all stakeholders, including those with Limited English Proficiency (LEP) in our planning process.  Planning is a collaborative endeavor where we co-create compelling visions of our community’s future.  All interested citizens should have the opportunity to join us in the planning process.

Would a Clay Tinted Shoulder Work Here?

Hard Shoulder Lane on Interstate 66 in Northern Virginia

Interstate 66 in Northern Virginia has recently added clay colored surface treatment to the shoulder to allow traffic to use the shoulder during rush hour.  It is difficult to explain how this works in words so here is a video from a TV station in the area.

Do you think that such an approach would work in the Roanoke Valley?

  • Would it work in the future when there is more traffic?
  • Would it work on I-81?
  • Would it work on I-581?
  • Would it introduce safety issues our area?
  • Would it provide any spillover benefits such as saving money, or making the area look more urban and advanced to visitors and economic development prospects?

Please answer these questions and provide your own ideas in the comment boxes below.  Let’s get a conversation going.

The client, citizen and stakeholder – a larger context for transportation planning

Business books and business classes at universities focus on the importance of providing value to external customers and clients.  Without customer value there is no business.  In the transportation planning context providing value means focusing on transportation systems that get people to work, appointments and play.  Economists call transportation a “derived demand” meaning that people use transportaChapter 1 - Smart Waytion to accomplish a primary activity such as showing up to work.  In that sense, the transportation system’s ability to provide value to citizens rests in part on the Roanoke Valley continuously improving as a livable and dynamic place to work, do business and enjoy life.

In a separate and complementary planning effort, the Partnership for a Livable Roanoke Valley contracted with Virginia Tech to perform a statistically valid telephone survey of 1,030 citizens of the greater region.  “Economic development, job creation and keeping jobs in the area” was the top priority of survey respondents with 92% of the 1030 respondents rating this as a regional top priority.  The Livable Roanoke Valley survey a good proxy for estimating what citizens and stakeholders in our region value.  In our development of the next regional long-range transportation plan, this means planning for transportation facilities and systems that:

  • promote economic development – such as freight facilities improve business logistics and supply chain connections or bicycle and pedestrian facilities that are valued by knowledge workers;
  • promote job creation – such at public transit services that expand the available workforce for businesses by providing access to employees who may not have been available without the service; and,
  • keep jobs in the area – such as passenger rail facilities and services that expand access to customers outside of the region.

In short, transportation planning should focus on the concept of “Ladders of Opportunity” for individuals to access employment and services.

The Livable Roanoke Valley will have a summit on June 25, 2014 to capstone the multi-year planning process.  Please plan on attending, more information can be found here: