Can we re-think the sidewalk and the bike lane?

Bicycle Lanes retrofitted into grocery store parking lot-small Bike and Pedestrian Lanes Mulhouse #3

I have placed these two images from Europe in several social media channels, in order to stoke discussion about whether similar approaches could work here.  For the sake of discussion let’s defer on whether the differences between European and American engineering design, safety standards and/or laws-ordinances would allow these or similar designs in the Roanoke Valley.  Instead, let’s assume that developers could re-purpose a portion of a mall or grocery store parking lot to contain pedestrian paths and/or bike lanes; or that local governments could re-configure the concept of a sidewalk as a multi-user path.

Do you think it would work here?  Would developers be interested in participating?  Would a different approach to the concept of a sidewalk help increase our “amenities” from economic development and transportation perspectives?  Do you have new and different ideas on non-motorized transportation?  Do you have your own pictures of non-motorized transportation infrastructure that you can share via a link in the comment box?

We would like your feedback and discussion.  Please use the comment boxes below to add your ideas. 

What are your ideas for Goals and Objectives?

Planners are often unfairly characterized as waiting to the last minute to seek input from the public.  This perception is driven by the public hearing and open meeting laws that require a public hearing be advertised in the newspaper a certain number of times/days before the hearing.  In our case, these laws apply to the RVAMPO’s Long-Range Transportation Plan (LRTP) and Transportation Improvement Program (TIP).  However, these laws have the unintended consequence of giving off the impression that planners wait until the last minute before seeking feedback through a “public hearing.”  In my experience, nothing could be further from the truth.  We planners need good constructive input and feedback from citizens to help us develop plans in the first place.  Gone are the days of the 1950’s and 60’s in which planners believed that there was one rational and comprehensive planning model that applies to all situations.  Now, the vast majority of planners see their role as using professionalism and tools to have a conversation with citizens (“the public”) and to facilitate joint creation of plans that reflect the values and aspirations of a community.  This new role redefines the way planners view the public involvement process, which was previously mechanical and primarily benchmark driven.

With the above in mind, many plans often begin with “Goals” and “Objectives.”  The next LRTP – due in the summer of 2015 – will be no exception.  So, we are asking – even imploring – you for your early input to help us develop the “Goals” and “Objectives” of the next Long-Range Transportation Plan.  We are not waiting for a “public hearing,” we crave your input and feedback now!  Please put your ideas for goals and objectives in the comment box below.  Let’s get a conversation going.

Here is a convenient and concise definition of Goals and Objectives – courtesy of the State of Michigan http://www.michigan.gov/documents/8-pub207_60743_7.pdf   – to help get you started:

 Goals and Objectives

Our High-Tech Future?

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Does this conceptual reversible lane system represent part of our high tech future? Comment below with your ideas.

When I was growing up, movies and TV shows depicted a high-tech future (now) of automated transportation and fast mag-lev trains.  It seemed that the high-tech future was always around the corner.  Some of these images were artistic license in order to make movies look interesting.  Other predictions were overly optimistic concerning the technical challenges involved.

However, due to real advances in automated systems, Google’s forays into self driving and driver assist vehicles are just one example, some version of the high-tech future for transportation may actually arrive within the next 20 years.  As we are developing the next regional Long-Range Transportation Plan (LRTP), we would like to hear from you.  Which technologies do you think will impact transportation and travel in the next 20 years.  What are the “game changers” in your opinion.  Use the comment boxes to put forth your ideas.

Beginning with the End in Mind!

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Image courtesy of the following blog: http://in-the-flow.com/beginning-mind/ Fair use standard assumed for informational and educational purposes.

I am a book on CD fan.  I mainly listen to business, leadership or other “nerdy” books.  In several leadership and self-improvement titles the concept of “beginning with the end in mind” is wholeheartedly advocated.  To give credit where it is due, this concept is especially prevalent in the late Stephen Covey’s work.

Let’s try a version of “beginning with the end in mind” with regards to the next regional long-range transportation plan (LRTP 2040), which will be completed in the summer of 2015.  In planning “beginning with the end in mind” does not mean deciding plan recommendations ahead of time. Plan recommendations are developed throughout the process with public and stakeholder involvement.  However, “beginning with the end in mind” can mean thinking through the structure and form of the final end product – the plan itself.  In that spirit, below is a screenshot of the draft table of contents for the plan.  Please comment with your own feedback and suggestions in the comment boxes below.

Why do we have a long-range transportation plan?

We are about to kick off a process that will update the regional long-range transportation plan (LRTP) for the urban area.  The updated LRTP will be completed by the end of summer 2015.  This begs the question “Why do we have a regional LRTP in the first place?”  There are two good, straightforward answers to this question:

1) Every urbanized area with a population over 50,000 in the US must have a regional LRTP in order to get federal transportation funds

2) The process of planning itself brings forth the questions, discussions and tradeoffs necessary to make better decisions.

According to the website Wikiquote, President Dwight D. Eisenhower made the following assertion in a 1957 speech:

I tell this story to illustrate the truth of the statement I heard long ago in the Army: Plans are worthless, but planning is everything. There is a very great distinction because when you are planning for an emergency you must start with this one thing: the very definition of “emergency” is that it is unexpected, therefore it is not going to happen the way you are planning.

Although this quote states that plans are worthless, it makes the point that the planning process that leads to the plan is absolutely necessary and extremely valuable.  I suspect that the plans are worthless part of the quote was probably said for effect, and it is unlikely that Eisenhower only valued the process and not the outcome.  Rather, I think that Eisenhower wanted to emphasize that extremely important decisions, such as where durable long-lasting transportation infrastructure is built, should not be the subject of arbitrary, knee-jerk, go-with-the-gut, or spur-of-the-moment decisions.  And, we should not expect planners to predict the future with infallible accuracy and precision. 

After all, few of us would actually expect private sector Wall Street Analysts to predict exact stock prices for individual stocks 20 years from now.  Rather, we should expect planners to anticipate scenarios, envision possible trends in the future, and to lead us through a process that helps us make the best decisions we can today given uncertainty and limited resources. It is just such a process that we are kicking off from now through the summer of 2015.  We will need your participation and feedback, in order to, advise our local elected officials on wise and prudent decisions regarding transportation funding.  Please stay tuned and stay engaged.

Region’s First Ever Congestion Management Process (CMP) Plan Approved

The region’s first ever Congestion Management Process (CMP) Plan was approved by the Roanoke Valley Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (RVAMPO) on January 23, 2014.  The CMP Plan is a new federal requirement for the RVAMPO, due to the fact that we became a Transportation Management Area (TMA) status MPO.  This new TMA status is a result going over 200,000 in population within the urbanized area according to US Census Bureau definitions. 

The Regional Commission and its staff viewed this new requirement as an opportunity to get ahead of future traffic congestion and to discuss multi-modal strategies to address current and future congestion.  We feel that we broke new ground with our first ever CMP, compared to examples from similar sized regions that were already TMA status MPOs.  Our first CMP is truly multi-modal in nature and incorporates strategies directly from local comprehensive plans, regional corridor, greenway and bicycle plans so that the strategies and suggestions from these plans can live on in our region’s first CMP.  In addition, we developed a new way of internal collaborative document development where more than one staff member can work on a plan simultaneously.  This allowed us to be both efficient and effective within our limited time and budget constraints.  We feel that we developed a much better plan than would have been the case if we would have approached the process in a traditional manner.

You can download the CMP here. (warning large file size 19.2Mb)

Passenger Rail, the Long-Distance Commuter and Megaregions

This blog post was originally published on February 22, 2013 on the RIDE Solutions blog: http://ridesolutions.org/passenger-rail-the-long-distance-commuter-and-megaregions/ The original post along with a sample selection of some of the 27 comments follows.

MegaRegions-3January 8, 2014 – Mark McCaskill

Megaregions are commonly defined as a large network of metropolitan regions that are tied together economically in such a way that they are becoming the new competitive units in the global economy.  The Regional Plan Association, a non-profit organization, recognizes 11 megaregions in the United States.  In the map above, the area in the black circle, located between three megaregions, roughly corresponds to an area starting around Charlottesville in the north and approaching the Tennessee border in the south.  This area lies between the Northeast Megaregion (Washington to Boston Corridor), the Piedmont Atlantic Megaregion (Charlotte to Atlanta Corridor) and the Great Lakes Megaregion.  There is likely to be a strategic economic development opportunity to being so conveniently geographically positioned, provided that we can develop the appropriate economic connections from the megaregions to our area.

Completion of the Trans-Dominion Express (TDX) Passenger Rail service from its current terminus in Lynchburg to include Roanoke and extend to the Tennessee border, eventually connecting with any future passenger rail service in Tennessee itself, will provide one such opportunity.  The important point about passenger rail is that it would largely complement our current highway and airline connections to the megaregions, not substitute for them.  Passenger rail is useful for business people, who want to get work done, prepare a presentation/proposal or rest before a meeting while travelling.  With regard to economic development, passenger rail can be useful to several target markets:

·         The Retiree Entrepreneur/Consultant – educated and successful retirees who retire from their corporate careers before they turn 65, and who re-locate to lower cost of living regions who win “Best Places to Retire” mentions in magazines, like our region.

·         The Large Corporation Looking for a Satellite Office – large professional service firms who want to tap a talent pool who can easily travel to clients in multiple megaregions from one satellite location.

·         The Recent Graduate Entrepreneur – recent graduates from Virginia Tech, UVA, Radford University and a variety of other regional colleges and universities, who start technology businesses in our area and need to travel to see clients in multiple megaregions.

There is now renewed interest in getting passenger rail extended from Lynchburg to Roanoke and beyond.  The Honorable David Trinkle and the Honorable Ray Ferris, both members of Roanoke City Council, recently wrote an Op-Ed in the Roanoke times describing this renewed interest in passenger rail.  Passenger rail is much more than train enthusiasts and tourism; it has real potential to foster strategic economic linkages that takes advantage of our geographic position between multiple megaregions.  Passenger rail coupled with an enhanced broadband network could be the combination needed to allow highly experienced and educated entrepreneurs and consultants to live and work in our region while cultivating clients and business relationships in multiple megaregions.  This will be a 21st century version of a long-distance commuter.  These three recent blogs (blog 1, blog 2 and blog 3) have explored a similar economic development potential of alternative transportation.  We should encourage the extension of passenger rail for its economic development potential.

A sampling of comments to the original blog post:

  1. Hi Mark,
    Thanks for the update on the “renewed interest” in brining passenger rail…I have been commuting into the D.C. Metro area ~25 times/year for over 14 years for work/would take the passenger train if available vs. driving. The opportunity costs associated with commuting via vehicle have been great (e.g., hours of lost productivity). What is the anticipated timeline for extending service to Roanoke? Passenger rail would not only offer a much needed transportation alternative for professionals currently living or seeking to live in the Roanoke Valley Region/want to commute into DC Metro area on an ad hoc basis, it would also be a great vehicle to boost tourism in our region. Plus, it would provide access to DC for those who may not be able to and/ or want to drive to the D.C. Metro area. Anything residents can do to help move the process along?

    Thanks,

    Angela L. Conroy

  2. Rex Hammond on said

    Thoughtful article on an important issue. Passenger rail is also an effective way to foster economic development by transporting tourists to a region’s communities and their respective amenities. Visitors from other countries are particularly accustomed to passenger rail options. I strongly agree that passenger rail is not intended as a replacement to travel by highway or air. Ideally, transportation modes should be coordinated to maximize transportation options and commerce.

    I agree that passenger rail would not negatively impact airline service, and it would give citizens many more options for heading north and east. I also worked for several years in the DC area making trips 3 to 4 times a month. Driving was my only alternative because Dulles did not connect with the Metro.
    I would also like to comment that many of us have regular meetings in Richmond and having an airline or a rail alternative to driving would also be a boon. I imagine it would be full both ways during the legislative sessions.