Tag Archives: Transportation

Garden City Greenway

The first time I saw the Garden City Greenway I stopped and stared. It is one of the most unusual multiuse trails I’ve ever seen. The alternating white concrete and black asphalt brings to mind a chess board. I thought the contrast was to draw attention to the many driveways that cross the greenway. I invited Priscilla Cygielnik to chat about the unusual greenway she designed with the Pedestrian & Bicycle Advisory Committee.

The Garden City Greenway was initiated through a Safe Routes to School grant and completed with local and state revenue sharing funds. Therefore, its purpose is to provide a way for kids to walk and bike to school. Priscilla had many constraints when designing the trail. It was built as much as possible within the existing right-of-way of the Garden City Blvd. That makes it different from most greenways, which do not follow a road. Most greenways in Roanoke follow waterways: the Roanoke River Greenway, the Tinker Creek Greenway, and the Lick Run Greenway.

To keep it within the right-of-way of the road, it is mostly 8 feet wide, which is the minimum width for a two-way multiuse path. Bicyclists are more comfortable with 10 or 12 feet. For context, modern sidewalks are 5 feet, and most roads are at least 28 feet.

The narrowness and its location within the road’s right-of-way make it feel more like a glorified sidewalk than a bike path. But don’t take that as a criticism. Keep in mind the purpose of providing a way for kids to walk and bike to school. It serves that function very well. Other greenways have a more recreational purpose. The Garden City Greenway is not a great recreational greenway.

Even keeping it as much as possible within the road’s right-of-way, they still had to acquire some additional right-of-way. Acquiring right-of-way is the greatest expense and obstacle of most trails. In the original design, a portion of the greenway fronting one property would shrink to 5 feet because the landowner absolutely refused to sell or give up any land. However, during construction he approved of the improvements being made and agreed to sell the additional 3 feet necessary to make the improvement in front of his property.

Priscilla pointed out the driveway improvements have to do with the steep slopes downhill of the existing road.  To be able to navigate a vehicle in and out of a driveway, the entrances were specially designed to ensure proper drainage but reduce the pitch typical of standard entrances. Luckily, it was pouring rain as we walked, so we could see the drainage improvements in action.

Another landowner, this one a business, strongly opposed the project. He conceded the right-of-way needed but negotiated for having his parking lot repaved. But after the greenway was built, he called Priscilla. “I didn’t think this greenway was any good,” he told her, “but it turned out really nice.” He has new customers who walk and bike to his store.

The greatest weakness of this project, in my opinion, is the number of driveways that cross the greenway. I’ve heard more than one kid describe an experience someone backing out of their driveway hit the kid walking, biking, or roller skating down the sidewalk. Regardless of whose fault you think that is, we can reduce these incidents by reducing the potential conflicts. Priscilla said the contrasting concrete & asphalt that caught my eye was coincidence, but it is does draw attention to the driveways.

The location of the school on a busy road with lots of driveways was a decision made long ago when engineers, developers, and planners were only building for cars. Retrofitting our autocentric world to accommodate other types of travel is a long and expensive process. Many projects, like the Garden City Greenway, will just have to do the best they can, fixing the problems we can fix and living with the problems we can’t fix yet.

 

How does economic development relate to transportation infrastructure?

Economic Development Venn DiagramThere are a lot of opinions and some misconceptions about economic development out there in popular discussion.  Economic development is very important.  So, we should think through how it relates to transportation infrastructure.  Many people think of economic development in terms of its historic roots in real-estate development.  This is only a partial and incomplete picture of a dynamic and important topic.  Essentially economic development has three interrelated components:

  • Economic Efficiency – is necessary but not sufficient. This means that economic efficiency alone will not guarantee economic development.  Many proponents proclaim that all you have to do is to cut out a regulation here or tax there, and you get economic development via increased efficiency.  These “cut” approaches may be a good first step in cases of waste or economic distortion, but they will not necessarily guarantee growth or development.  In fact, a status quo economic process that is seen as self-evidently “efficient” may suffer from a “rest on your laurels bias” and new improvements may not be pursued to a collective chorus of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.”
  • Investments in transportation infrastructure may, on the other hand, help us become more economically efficient by allowing private sector businesses to reduce inventories, use just-In-time manufacturing approaches and better leverage logistics and supply chain efficiencies.  Expanding public transit can also expand the labor pool for businesses by allowing people to get to work at an industrial park that was previously inaccessible by transit.  Future automated and self-driving technologies, both passenger and freight, may have a big impact on improving economic efficiency.  Along these lines, we can think of improvements in the transportation of information (i.e. broadband) as having a beneficial and complementary role to investments in physical transportation infrastructure.
  • Economic Growth – is also necessary but not sufficient. Growth can come at the expense of quality of life or even economic improvement.  It can be the result of everybody working longer hours and not having time for family or other pursuits.  If inflation isn’t taken into account, growth can simply be the result of inflation without any real increase in goods or services.  Like economic efficiency, real “inflation adjusted” economic growth can provide us the fuel we need to arrive at economic development.  In this regard investments in transportation infrastructure can help us access national and global markets.   One example involves pursuing a Small Community Air Service Development Program Grant to access a new air service hub such as Denver of Dallas from the Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport.  Another would involve developing a regional intermodal freight center to connect rail with trucks and service increased container shipments through the soon-to-be expanded Panama Canal to the Port of Virginia.  This would allow us to take advantage of our geographic comparative advantages, which is a fancy way of saying further leveraging our strengths.
  • New Process, Technology or Business Model Development – This is the “development” part of economic development, the secret sauce. This is where a new way of doing business or a new technology helps us become more productive.  We develop new “strengths,” new comparative advantages and new industry clusters.  This is often where standards of living improve.  So how can transportation infrastructure help us with the “development” component of economic development?  One idea is to promote the region as an urban test bed to test market new technologies such as automated vehicle systems.  This would allow us to develop industry clusters around the new technologies and add new skills and strengths to a diverse regional economy.  We already have the Smart Road down at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI).  Why not extend that technology development cycle to position the Roanoke Valley as the live test bed for the next generation of transportation technologies?

So the next time that someone tells you that they have the silver bullet for economic development, you will know there is more to the story.  Economic development takes long-term investments in transportation and broadband infrastructure, so that we can get to the intersection of economic efficiency, economic growth and new process development which is “Economic Development.”

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?