Author Archives: Rachel Ruhlen

Faster, Dangerous Traffic: What is Roanoke doing about it?

This article appeared in the Roanoke Times on June 28, 2021

Pedestrian crashes in the Roanoke Valley from 2015 to 2020

The pandemic brought less driving – but more, and worse, crashes

During 2020, the year of the COVID-19 pandemic, driving dropped and traffic fatalities climbed – particularly pedestrian traffic fatalities. In Virginia, driving decreased 16.6% yet traffic fatalities increased 2.4% to 847 people killed in traffic, similar to national trends.

This is unexpected. In the past, the crash-rate rises when people drive more. When driving plummeted in the 2008 recession, traffic fatalities dropped too. As the economy rebounded, Americans drove more  and traffic fatalities climbed. In 2017, traffic fatalities in the U.S. hit a high at 37,473 and pedestrian fatalities reached 5,977. In the ten years before the pandemic, Virginia’s roadway deaths have grown from less than 700 in some years to over 850 in others.

The difference this year is that driving decreased but traffic fatalities didn’t. They increased.

Pedestrians are disproportionately represented in traffic fatalities and injuries

Traffic safety professionals say that pedestrians are “overrepresented” in traffic fatalities and injuries. meaning people walking are far more likely to get hurt or killed in a crash than we would expect, considering how many trips are made by walking. Two percent of travelers in Roanoke are pedestrians, but almost half of the people killed (7 of 16) and one-quarter of the people injured (70 of 297) in 2020 were walking and the outlook for pedestrians has gotten worse in recent years.

In 2020, the number of pedestrian fatalities in Virginia were about the same (123) as in 2019 (126), but when you consider that less driving happened, the rate of pedestrian traffic deaths actually increased 17%. The pandemic year was deadly for pedestrians in the Roanoke Valley. More pedestrians were injured (70) and killed (7) in 2020 than in any year since 2013.

The burden is not shared equally. Black and brown pedestrians are at greater risk of being injured or killed in a traffic crash than other people. In Roanoke, most pedestrian crashes occur in neighborhoods where more than ten percent of the population are minority race or ethnicity.

What’s going on?

There are many contributing factors, but one key suspect stands out: an increase in speeding during the pandemic.

Speeding is deadly. In a collision with a car traveling 20 mph, 95% of pedestrians survive, but in a collision with a car traveling 40 mph, 85% of pedestrians do not survive. And although traffic congestion feels dangerous, congestion actually slows down traffic speeds. Even if there are more crashes overall because of traffic congestion, they are fender benders with no injuries. Last year, with fewer people driving, there was less traffic congestion and therefore, faster (and deadlier) traffic speeds.

The Roanoke Valley saw a 178% increase in speeding-related fatalities. The City of Roanoke and Roanoke County both had double or more the number of speeding related-fatalities in 2020 compared to 2019.

What are we doing about it?

The City of Roanoke launched a pedestrian safety campaign in 2020, “Every Corner is a Crosswalk”, and this year is focusing on traffic speed awareness with the “No Need to Speed” campaign. Brandon Avenue, which was due for repaving, is getting a safety make-over which involved trying out temporary lane closures and a survey with hundreds of responses before the final design. In 2020 alone, the City invested over 1 million dollar in pedestrian safety improvements focused on intersection upgrades such as pedestrian push buttons, audible signals and more street lighting in the City Downtown and other pedestrian corridors like Williamson Road and 9th Street SE.

The Roanoke Valley Transportation Planning Organization developed a Pedestrian Vision Plan in 2015 with an interactive map. The Virginia Department of Transportation worked with the Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Regional Commission on the Roanoke Valley Regional Transportation Safety Study to understand regional issues.

The Virginia Department of Transportation has two initiatives that should make a difference. Its Strategic Highway Safety Plan, Arrive Alive, is similar to a Vision Zero goal of zero traffic fatalities as the guiding principle of its transportation planning. Its Pedestrian Safety Action Plan, created just a couple years ago and has already been updated, comes with funding to guide cities and counties to invest more in pedestrian safety. In the state legislature, a handsfree ban and removing a barrier for localities to lower speed limits may help.

Having local, regional, and state plans and initiatives in place is important to take advantage of federal funding that will have a strong impact in reversing the trend of rising traffic fatalities.

Community Mobility Design Challenge

In 2020, Botetourt County was selected as one of four communities by the National Center for Mobility Management (NCMM), for the Community Mobility Design Challenge to develop and test ways to address the particular mobility challenges experienced by low-income community members for whom a lack of transportation is an obstacle to the pursuit of economic, health, and social well-being. NCMM is a technical assistance center operated by the Community Transportation Association of America (CTAA) and funded through the Federal Transit Administration (FTA).

The Botetourt County team, led by the Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Regional Commission, focused on transportation access to healthcare for elderly and/or disabled people in rural Botetourt County. Before applying for the grant, the team researched the extent of the identified transportation challenge through interviews and other types of primary and secondary research. NCMM staff led the team in developing insights from a “deep dive” into the specific transportation needs of rural Botetourt County seniors and people with disabilities. The team has developed four options and is testing key assumptions about these concepts with potential users and other stakeholders. The team will modify the solutions to ensure they closely respond to the identified challenge and plan how to operationalize the solution, paying close attention to the financial viability and sustainability of the solution.

The project has brought together partners from the Eagle Rock Ruritan Club, Botetourt County, the Botetourt Resource Center, transportation, and other community agencies. The team will also create performance measures to show the projected impact of the project, among other key indicators.

Through research, conversations with stakeholders, and workshops, the team generated four options. The team identified assumptions underlying the four options and is in the process of testing these assumptions. For example, a ride-match app assumes that Botetourt seniors who need rides have access to the internet and are able to use the technology. Since that is probably not true for many residents, the team must consider strategies to overcome these limitations.

Option #1: Weekly Transport – Eagle Rock to Roanoke
A weekly shuttle for rural seniors and people with disabilities will pick up riders from their home or a central pick-up point and transport them to their appointments in the Roanoke Valley.

Option #2: Replacing Trips with Tech
Replace van trips with prescription delivery by drone and telehealth hubs at
community centers.

Option #3: Creating Community Connections
A customer map will help us better understand the needs and current gaps in service. An inventory of providers in Botetourt, Alleghany, and Rock Bridge Counties will allow riders to be seen closer to home and reduce travel time. A new scheduling technology will allow for scheduling more than one rider at a time. A strategic marketing and rider-engagement plan will reach seniors through social media, phone, e-mail, and engage with riders continuously to create community and connection.

Option #4: Connect to Healthcare
A web-based volunteer driver management app will match riders with volunteer drivers. Community organizations will assist riders and drivers with using the app, providing internet access and technical assistance. Volunteer drivers will receive incentives or subsidies to offset their costs.
For more information, please contact Rachel Ruhlen at rruhlen@rvarc.org.

Traffic Congestion Management Process

The Roanoke Valley doesn’t have much severe traffic congestion – and we want to keep it that way! After the population of the urbanized region exceeded 200,000, the RVTPO adopted its first federally required congestion management process in 2014. The 2020 Traffic Congestion Management Process, approved on October 22, is the first update, incorporating changes in technology and regulations, data analyses, and stakeholder input.

The update identifies five priority corridors for congestion management identified through analysis of real-time data collected from GPS-equipped vehicles and mobile devices as well as corridors of concern identified through public input. View the interactive map of corridors for congestion management here.

Learn more about the update of the Traffic Congestion Management Process here.

Transportation Improvement Program

The survey is now closed.

The Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) is a four-year schedule of all federally-funded and regionally-significant transportation projects to be implemented in the RVTPO region. It functions like a budget and projects can only be funded if they are consistent with the goals of Vision 2040. RVTPO is updating the TIP and would like to know what you think of the proposed projects.

Review the complete TIP here: Transportation Improvement Program 2021-2024.

 

Traffic Congestion Management Process

The Roanoke Valley doesn’t have much severe traffic congestion – and we want to keep it that way! The RVTPO updated the Traffic Congestion Management Process in 2020.

Modern technology has revolutionized our ability to define and objectively measure traffic congestion. Using “big data” collected from GPS-equipped vehicles and smart phone apps, we can literally see where traffic congestion occurs, how long it lasts, and how often. The traffic congestion metric that the Roanoke Valley uses is Planning Time Index.


Click on the image to see how Planning Time Index changes throughout the day.

Analysis of this data shows that the Roanoke Valley traffic congestion is not widespread, does not last a long time, and does not occur very often. Four corridors may be at risk of performing poorly:

Another corridor that may be at risk is Gus Nicks Boulevard / Washington Avenue, but travel time data is not available.

View a map of Priority Corridors for congestion management and Other Corridors.

Outreach

Input from locality staff, freight logistics managers, and the public guided this update.

  • Locality staff attended a Congestion Workshop on November 6, 2019.
    • The Land Use focus group discussed how local government can guide or nudge land use through the permitting process to manage traffic congestion while promoting economic growth.
    • The Transportation Demand Management focus group discussed the efforts of RIDE Solutions, the local transportation demand management organization that promotes carpooling, transit, and bicycle and pedestrian travel.
    • The Performance Measures focus group discussed technical details about monitoring traffic congestion regionally and at specific locations.
  • Freight logistics managers provided input through individual interviews about how traffic congestion affects freight movement.
  • A survey collected input from 304 participants who provided 527 comments.

Guide to Getting Around Roanoke Valley

There are many ways to get around the Roanoke Valley without a car. This guide explores  independent transportation options including buses and trolleys, transportation for people with disabilities, taxis, rideshare (Uber & Lyft), bikeshare (Zagster), rental bikes, and rental cars. Intercity bus, passenger rail, and air passenger services provide longer distance options.

Download the Guide To Getting Around Roanoke or visit 313 Luck Ave SW and get your copy today!

Public Right-of-Way Accessibility

People with certificates

Left to right: Tiffany, Dr. Eck, Rachel, and Garrett

RVARC staff and volunteers learned about the Public Right-of-Way Accessibility Guidelines (PROWAG) during a workshop from the University of Virginia Transportation Technical Academy. PROWAG ensure that all people can navigate safely on foot in the public right-of-way.

Rachel Ruhlen felt the training would enhance the bike/walk/disability audits that the Regional Bicycle & Pedestrian Advisory Committee has been doing with locality staff. During these audits, locality staff are always impressed watching Garrett Brumfield, a committee member, or Tiffany Lee, a volunteer, navigate the sidewalk and streets in their wheelchairs, or blind volunteers find their way around using sound and touch. The audits often turn up simple repairs that can make a big difference to a person with vision or mobility impairment.

RVARC sent Rachel, Garrett, and Tiffany to the workshop to learn PROWAG, the best practices for accessibility, developed by the US Department of Justice Access Board.

RVTPO brings Title VI Training to Roanoke

Mohamed Dumbuya, Title VI Coordinator and Civil Rights Program Manager for the Virginia Division of the Federal Highway Administration, gave a Title VI training to 23 people representing 12 agencies on February 27, 2019. Metropolitan planning organizations like the Roanoke Valley Transportation Planning Organization (RVTPO) that receive federal transportation funds and must have a Title VI process to ensure compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and its related authorities (executive orders, related legislation, court decisions, and other regulations).

Roanoke, like many cities, used urban renewal in an unfair and discriminatory manner, with consequences that are still felt today. These practices prompted the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other legislation throughout the decades. Another change since the days of urban renewal is the creation of metropolitan planning organizations which coordinate transportation planning between localities throughout the region. Abiding by Title VI and its related authorities at all steps of transportation planning ensures that the benefits and burdens of transportation projects are shared equitably.

RVTPO worked with FHWA and VDOT to bring Mohamed Dumbuya to Roanoke. Staff from RVTPO, VDOT, localities, and other MPOs took advantage of the Title VI training opportunity.

Title VI and its related authorities prohibit discrimination, intentional or unintentional, on the basis of race, color, national origin, disability, sex, and age. The related authorities protect minorities, people of low income, handicapped persons, and people with limited English proficiency and mandate fair and equitable treatment of persons displaced as a result of programs and projects receiving federal funds.

For the RVTPO, Title VI means:

  • Ensuring that all stakeholders have opportunity to comment on plans, programs, and projects,
  • Making sure that the benefits and burdens of plans, programs, and projects are shared equitably,
  • Documenting the methods of administration, and
  • Documenting Title VI data.

RVTPO will be updating its Title VI Implementation Process in the coming months.

Congestion Question

The last time you experienced traffic congestion, where were you trying to go? Tell us with our first ever crowdsourcing map app!

Report congestion here. Use the buttons in the upper left to get help, add a point or a line with a comment, or view the legend.

Having trouble getting started? Click the help button in the upper left corner of the map: 

Still not sure what to do? Use the mouse to pan and the mouse wheel or the “+” and “-” buttons  to zoom in until you see the place where you experience traffic congestion. Use the search box to quickly find an address or street.

Click the “Edit” button and select “New Feature” to add a point or a line. For example, you might add a point at an intersection or specific address. Or you might draw a line along a longer segment where you experience congestion.

If adding a line, double-click to the end the line.

After adding a point or line, you can enter a comment. Tell us where you were going when you experienced traffic congestion.

The comment will be saved when you click “Close”.

RVARC receives bronze Bicycle Friendly Business designation

RVARC is now a League of American Bicyclists recognized Bronze Bicycle Friendly BusinessSM (BFBSM)!

On December 18, RVARC joined a cutting-edge group of over 1,300 local businesses, government agencies, and Fortune 500 companies across the United States that are transforming the American workplace.

“Business owners and employers across the country are looking for simple, straightforward ways to build their companies, do right by their workers and customers, and contribute positively to their local communities,” says Executive Director Bill Nesper of the League of American Bicyclists. “Boosting participation in bicycling achieves all of that and more, and BFBs such as RVARC are wonderful models of that success. We congratulate this latest class of business leaders for recognizing that one of the oldest and easiest forms of transportation still generates significant economic and societal rewards today.”

BFB requirements identify incentives, programming, and amenities proven to enable and inspire more people to ride bikes. RVARC offers free bikeshare membership to its employees, maintains the Regional Bikeway Plan and interactive bike map, and works with localities to implement bicycle improvements. In addition, RVARC staffs the Regional Bicycle & Pedestrian Advisory Committee. RIDE Solutions, a program of RVARC, launched Zagster bikeshare in 2017, and administers the Bike Hero award and the bicycle rack donation program. RVARC planner Rachel Ruhlen likes working for a BFB because, “As a planner, I know that the more people who bike to work, the stronger the community is. Working for a BFB inspires me to bike to work more.”

According to RIDE Solutions employee Tim Pohlad-Thomas, “the most significant actions taken by RVARC in the past year have been expanding the new Zagster bikeshare program and reenergizing the Regional Bicycle & Pedestrian Advisory Committee, which conducts bike/walk/disability audits of on-road bike/ped facilities for localities.”

Learn more about the League’s Bicycle Friendly Business program at bikeleague.org/business.

Bicycle Friendly Business and BFB are Service Marks of the League of American Bicyclists; used with permission.