Tag Archives: Long-range transportation plan

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.

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?

 

Come to the Public Workshops for the Region’s Transit Vision Plan

The RVTPO is currently working on a long-term Transit Vision Plan that will help shape future investments and planning for the Roanoke Valley’s transit services in the urban portions of Bedford County, Botetourt County, Montgomery County, City of Roanoke, Roanoke County, City of Salem, and the Town of Vinton. The workshops will be offered at two locations in the Roanoke Valley.

• 3 to 5 p.m. at Campbell Court, 31 Campbell Ave. S.W. (to RSVP or share this event, visit https://www.facebook.com/events/480784788760676/)
• 7 to 9 p.m. at the Brambleton Center, 3738 Brambleton Ave.

RoanokeValley TPO from Dale Saylor on Vimeo.

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?

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 wikipedia.org (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?

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:  http://rvarc.org/attend-the-livable-roanoke-valley-summit-on-june-25th/

The Livable Roanoke Valley Summit – June 25th – provides a larger context for transportation!

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 transportation 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.

The Livable Roanoke Valley Plan provides this larger context for transportation.  The multi-year planning process is culminating in a Livable Roanoke Valley Summit on June 25th.  Please see the original blog post announcing the summit below (originally published on May 23, 3014)

Attend the Livable Roanoke Valley Summit on June 25th

vision-valley

Please join us for a half day Summit to unveil the final Livable Roanoke Valley Plan.  The Summit will feature a keynote address by Bill Shelton, the Director of the VA Dept. of Housing & Community Development and community leaders that have agreed to champion initiatives in the areas economic development, workforce, health, and natural assets. By attending to the event you will receive a bound copy of the plan, as well as a networking breakfast and lunch.  You can view the completed plan and supporting information at www.livableroanoke.org.

Register Here

PROGRAM

7:30AM   Networking Breakfast

8:30AM   Welcome and Opening Remarks
Wayne Strickland, Executive Director of the Regional Commission

8:45AM   Keynote Address
Bill Shelton, Director of the Virginia Dept. of Housing & Community Development

9:15AM   Livable Roanoke Valley Plan – Strategies and Champions
Lisa Garst, Chair of The Partnership for Livable Roanoke Valley

10:00AM   Break

10:15AM   Featured Economic and Workforces Development Initiatives
High Speed Broadband – Kevin Boggess
Regional STEM-H Programs – Jonathan Whitt
Xperience – Thomas Becher
Industry Sector Partnerships – Zenith Hamilton

11:15AM   Featured Health and Natural Asset Initiatives
Stormwater Banking Program – Mike McEvoy
Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program – Brent Cochran
Alternative Transportation – Jeremy Holmes
Community Dental Clinic – Eileen Lepro

12:30PM   Networking Lunch
Meet the Champions 

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

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.