Increasing Regional Economic Vitality through Transportation Performance Measures

The Roanoke Valley Transportation Planning Organization (RVTPO) held its second transportation performance measure workshop on March 13th at the Green Ridge Recreation Center, a follow-up to the first workshop on November 29. Transportation for America (T4America), an alliance of civic and business leaders dedicated to transportation investment solutions, and the Economic Development Research Group, a firm specializing in regional economic evaluation, analysis, and planning, hosted the event as part of the T4America technical assistance grant awarded to the RVTPO.

As state and federal performance measure requirements continue to change over the years, local and regional governments must find innovative ways to remain competitive in terms of jobs creation, economic growth, quality of life, and overall regional viability. In this light, the workshop focused its discussions on the nexus between performance-driven investments in transportation and regional economic vitality and growth.

The workshop specifically focused on the reliance of outcome-based decision-making in regional transportation planning and the ability to detect the outcomes that may or may not result from the direct products of transportation spending. How many jobs will a transportation project create? Are people going to be able to get to work faster? How will transportation spending affect downtown businesses? Will a transportation project promote greater multimodal use? These are just a few of the questions that arise when considering how transportation decisions achieve regional priorities.

There was also discussion on the critical importance of SMART SCALE, a transportation financial mechanism and premier project prioritization rubric for the Commonwealth of Virginia, and its implications on transportation planning within the Roanoke Valley.  Click here for a detailed summary of the March 13th workshop.

A wealth of knowledge and expertise was present at this event. Over 30 local officials, planners, engineers, and transportation specialists from the Roanoke Valley attended. Among the presenters were Chris Zimmerman (Click here for presentation) and Rayla Bellis of T4America, Leigh Holt from the Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization (Click here for presentation), Chad Tucker, Smart Scale Manager for the Commonwealth of Virginia, and Naomi Stein from Economic Development Research Group.

With the T4America technical assistance and input from the two workshops, the RVTPO will be working to incorporate more performance-based, outcome-based solutions to address many of the transportation needs in the Roanoke Valley.

New Public Participation Plan adopted

The Roanoke Valley Transportation Planning Organization (RVTPO) adopted a Public Participation Plan on February 22, 2018, replacing the 2007 Public Participation Plan.

The purpose of public participation is to support transportation planning and promote the integrity and transparency of the transportation planning process.

RVTPO wants public participation to be:

  • Meaningful to the public – People should feel that their comments matter. Public input into a transportation plan should be timely, happen early enough to influence the outcome, and continue as the plan develops. The RVTPO is accountable to the public for their input. RVTPO Policy Board decisions reflect the diversity of viewpoints.
  • High quality – When people understand that transportation planning is complex, regional, and long-term, they can give input that is relevant, thoughtful, and practical. The RVTPO educates and explains transportation planning. Clarity of purpose and clarity of expectation improve the quality of public input.
  • Variety of input – The RVTPO seeks a breadth of representation in public input that is from different points of view, different needs, and different backgrounds.
  • High quantity – The more people who are engaged, the better the RVTPO can understand the transportation needs and priorities of the region. The RVTPO will provide convenient and delightful ways to participate with many options of how to participate, and continue to seek new ways to invite participation.

The Roanoke Valley Transportation Planning Organization (RVTPO) fully complies with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and related statutes and regulations in all programs and activities. The RVTPO also complies with ADA requirements. For more information about Title VI and ADA compliance, click here.

RVARC researches online survey tools

Example of a MetroQuest survey

Choosing the right online survey tool is one of several critical aspects to a successful survey. RVARC staff researched other cities, states, and MPOs to learn which survey tools other agencies are using and for what purposes.

RVARC staff considered several factors in evaluating online survey tools. Online survey tools generally have standard options such as multiple choice, select all that apply, short answer, and long answer. Some survey tools allow image-based questions or skip-logic depending on how the respondent answers a question. Some create mobile-friendly surveys or surveys that can be embedded in a website. Some survey tools limit the survey to a single page. An integrated map tool is an essential feature for transportation-related surveys.

SurveyMonkey is a standard among many agencies, and inexpensive. The RVARC has subscribed to SurveyMonkey for years.

Google Forms is a free option that is easy to use and integrate into a website or email.

MetroQuest surveys can get thousands of responses. MetroQuest specializes in public input for planning. MetroQuest developed a survey tool with the philosophy that public input should be a delightful experience.

Taking a MetroQuest survey is like playing a video game. Respondents drop virtual coins into different buckets representing road maintenance, transit, or sidewalks. They drag topics to the top of a list to indicate their priorities. They experiment with scenarios to modulate trade-offs among their priorities. They move pointers around on a map. MetroQuest is an excellent, though costly, survey tool.

Other survey tools that could be used for public input include PublicInput.com, Snap Surveys, Survey Act, Survey Gizmo, and SoGoSurvey. Tools for interactive forum discussions on individual projects include Mind Mixer, Peak Democracy, and Bang the Table.

You may see some of these tools employed in the next Long-Range Transportation Plan update.

How do you get your baby to the WIC office up the hill?

A steep hill to push a stroller on a hot day

“The bus doesn’t stop in front of the WIC office in the Northwest. Mothers have to walk two blocks to get there with babies and toddlers.”

This comment was a response to a survey question about long range transportation planning. The Northwest WIC clinic is at the First Church of the Brethren on Carroll Ave NW on top of the ridge. The nearest bus stop is only a quarter-mile away, but no one wants to push a stroller up that steep and treeless climb.

Betty at the WIC clinic gets off the bus four blocks away to avoid the arduous hill. The WIC clinic sees fewer clients than expected because of the hill. Mothers arrive hot and sweaty and asking for water.

The Public Participation Plan ad-hoc committee, tasked with developing a new public participation plan for the Roanoke Valley Transportation Planning Organization, reviewed the survey responses. After we read that comment, a member observed, “A mother trying to get her baby to the WIC office isn’t interested in a 20-year transportation plan.”

Does your long-range transportation vision include easy access to the WIC office for everyone? How would you solve this problem? What other problems would your solutions introduce?

SolutionFeasibility issuesIntroduced problems
Reroute the busAffects the rest of the route
Move the WIC officeInferior office space, cost
Run a van to the bus stopExpensive insurance, child seats, staff time
Call Uber for the last blockExpensive at $7.70, and no child seatsIntroduce traffic congestion
Automated vehiclesDon’t exist yetIntroduce traffic congestion

 

Over the past decades, the region and the nation has done an excellent job of making it easy for most people to get anywhere. The Roanoke Valley has lots of cars, lots of roads, and lots of parking places. Roanoke’s collective mobility is better than ever.

In making it so easy for most people to get everywhere, it’s become very difficult for some people to get anywhere. Over 13% of the Roanoke City households don’t have a car, but nearly all destinations can only be accessed by a car. More than 1 in every 10 people are virtually excluded from daily life: having a job, shopping, visiting the doctor, or going to church, just so that the other 9 of us can do all these things so easily.

This situation has been decades in the making, and will not change overnight. The long-range transportation plan, updated every 5 years, is about getting the balance right, keeping it easy for most people to get most places without putting a great transportation burden on the most disadvantaged.

What do YOU think about public participation?

Staff listen and talk to visitors at the Regional Commission Open House

Tell us what you think about public participation in transportation planning.

The following names are changed, but based on real people.

Keith drives by himself to work every day. His commute used to be an easy 15 minutes but now takes twice that or more because of congestion.

Michelle is disabled. She rides the bus to the grocery store, and schedules paratransit to the doctor. She would like to get a job at the mall, but the bus doesn’t run that late.

Carrie has a salon in a little commercial area. The truck carrying her order of hair product couldn’t get through the construction detour last week. Her customers are ordering it online instead—and she’s losing profits.

Jeff got rid of his car after one too many traffic tickets. He walks or bikes everywhere, occasionally calling Uber. Visiting his parents on the other side of the steepest hill in town is not easy!

Sarah is a Millennial who hasn’t learned to drive or ride a bicycle. Uber eats up a lot of her part-time, minimum wage job. She’s scared to walk the 1 mile or to try the bus.

Transportation is complex. Expert traffic engineers and planners are essential, but that’s not enough to design a good transportation system. A good transportation system requires YOU. Planners and engineers have training and expertise, but YOU help provide the comprehensive perspective of the entire community.

The Roanoke Valley Transportation Planning Organization’s (RVTPO) Public Participation Plan is being updated, and the committee developing the new plan drafted the plan’s purpose and goals.

Why does the RVTPO want public participation?

What is important about public participation?

Share your thoughts! Take this short survey, and encourage your friends and colleagues to take the survey too!

Public Comment Period – Vision 2040: Roanoke Valley Transportation

The Roanoke Valley Transportation Planning Organization (RVTPO) extends an opportunity for public review and comment on the plan for the future of transportation in the Roanoke Valley.  The region’s Long-Range Transportation Plan (LRTP), Vision 2040: Roanoke Valley Transportation, is available at https://rvarc.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Vision-2040-plan-draft-6-14-17.pdf. The public comment period will be in effect for no fewer than 45 days from the publication of this notice.  An official “Public Hearing” will be held after the public comment period has elapsed.  Said “Public Hearing” will be duly advertised according to applicable laws. The LRTP development process includes a program of projects (POP) for transit. Public notice of public participation activities and time established for public review of and comments on the LRTP satisfy the transit POP requirements. The RVTPO strives to provide reasonable accommodations and services for persons who require special assistance to participate in public involvement opportunities.

To submit comments in writing or by phone, please contact Cristina Finch at 540-343-4417 or at:

Roanoke Valley-Alleghany Regional Commission
P.O. Box 2569
Roanoke, VA  24010

For special accommodations or further information, contact Cristina Finch (Ph: 540-343-4417, Fax: 540-343-4416 or E-mail: cfinch@rvarc.org). Hearing impaired persons can call 711 for access. The RVTPO fully complies with Title VI of the Civic Rights Act of 1964 and related statutes and regulations in all programs and activities. For more information, or to obtain a Discrimination Complaint Form, see https://rvarc.org/transportation/title-vi-and-ada-notices/ or call 540-343-4417.

To submit your comments on the Long-Range Transportation Plan, please complete the form below.

[si-contact-form form=’2′]

4-to-3 Lane Conversions

Cities around the nation are phasing out their four lane roads (2 lanes in each direction) because they are not safe or efficient. A popular method is the 4-to-3 lane conversion: Replacing two of the travel lanes, one in each direction, with a single center turn lane.

A 4-to-3 lane conversion in Reston, VA

A 4-to-3 lane conversion in Reston, VA

4-to-3 lane conversions reduce crashes and injuries[1], but the idea of removing lanes from a congested road alarms some people. Counter-intuitively, 4-to-3 lane conversion projects carry MORE traffic, despite ‘losing’ a lane[2].

The number of crashes decreases without impairing the number of vehicles after 4-to-3 lane conversions.

The number of crashes decreases without impairing the number of vehicles after 4-to-3 lane conversions.

 

The reason 4-to-3 lane conversions reduce crashes and carry more traffic is because of the center turn lane. Without the center turn lane, left-turners block a lane. Drivers are stuck behind the left-turner, waiting for traffic to clear in the right lane so they can go around. With the center turn lane, left turners are out of the way.

Many crashes involve attempts to merge from one lane to another. Reducing the number of vehicles that have to merge reduces the number of crashes. Providing a place for left-turners to wait that doesn’t block a lane allows traffic to flow more freely and efficiently. On a congested road, a 4-to-3 lane conversion actually improves traffic flow! On a lightly traveled road, the conversion has no effect (good or bad) on traffic flow, but does reduce crashes. The conversion paradoxically slows traffic even while carrying more vehicles—the traffic flow is steadier and more consistent, leading to faster travel times with slower speeds and less stop-and-go.

A bonus feature of the 4-to-3 lane conversion is that it frees up space for bicycle lanes, improving the safety of bicyclists as well as drivers. Nearly all 4-to-3 lane conversions include bicycle lanes. The 4-to-3 lane conversion is makes pedestrian crossing safer and easier as well—the middle lane can be used as a ‘refuge’ when crossing the street.

Of course, nothing is free, right? An amazing thing about the 4-to-3 lane conversion is that it is nearly free! Roads are expensive, but paint is cheap. Many 4-to-3 lane conversions happen when a road is due to be resurfaced. The stripes would be repainted anyway, so the conversion costs virtually nothing!

[1] The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) examined data from 4-to-3 lane conversions at 45 sites in Iowa, California, and Washington and found as much as a 47% reduction in crashes. The effect on safety was lower on roads that did not have as many crashes to start with. Furthermore, the FHWA found that average annual daily traffic increased after the 4-to-3 lane conversions—an indication that traffic flow improved.

[2] 4-to-3 lane conversions are not appropriate for roads that carry more than 20,000 vehicles per day. Examples of 4-lane roads in the Roanoke area that carry less than 20,000 vehicles per day include Williamson Rd in Roanoke, Main St in Salem, and By Pass Rd in Vinton.

 

How do YOU go to work?

Annette Dickerson arrives at work on Bike to Work Day

Annette Dickerson arrives at work on Bike to Work Day

How do YOU go to work? Take the survey! (and enter to win one of ten $5 Starbucks gift cards)

Imagine if you didn’t have to sit in traffic on your way home, staring at the exhaust fumes of the car in front of you.

Imagine starting and ending your day with a leisurely 20-minute bicycle ride, waving at your neighbors as you pedal past.

Imagine coasting right up to the front door of your workplace, instead of circling the lot looking for the best parking spot.

Imagine all the money you save on gas and car repairs when you leave the car at home.

Imagine the look on your doctor’s face at your low heart rate, blood pressure, and cholesterol.

Imagine breathing cleaner air because you and your co-workers, and hundreds of others like you, bicycle to work.

Bicycling to work can be good for you, good for your workplace, and good for your community. Employees don’t have to bike far, or bike every day, to experience the benefits of bicycling. Whether you want to bike or not, we’d like to know more about how you or your employees get to work. Take the Bicycle to Work Survey and enter to win a Starbucks coffee!

Employees who bicycle to work:

  • Are healthier and happier
  • Save money on transportation
  • Enjoy the ride

Employers benefit when employees bicycle to work:

  • Fewer absentee days
  • Reduced parking costs
  • Healthier, happier, and more productive employees
  • Employee retention and recruitment
  • Showcase sustainability

However, employees face many obstacles to bicycling to work:

  • No bicycle parking at work
  • No place to clean up after bicycling
  • Dangerous roads
  • Managers and co-workers hostile to bicycling
  • Live too far to bicycle

We’re studying how employers in our area can facilitate bicycling to work. If you are an employer or an employee in the Roanoke Valley, please complete this survey and enter to win one of ten $5 Starbucks gift cards. Please encourage your employees, co-workers, and employer to complete the survey too!

How Pokemon Go Can be Used in Urban Planning

It has been almost two months since Pokemon Go was released and I still have not caught a Pikachu. I have walked 84.4 kilometers and caught 539 Pokemon in Roanoke, Blacksburg, and Northern Virginia, but the one Pikachu I encountered ran away from me.

Pokemon Go is the augmented-reality smartphone game from the 20 year-old Pokemon franchise, in which players search for Pokemon in the real world. Pokemania ensued upon the game’s initial release as millions took to the streets wandering aimlessly and gathering in parks at all times of the day and night in pursuit of Eevees, Psyducks, and Squirtles. It is so popular that businesses in Roanoke and across the world have been using it all summer to attract customers. The craze has simmered recently, but how and where people play Pokemon Go has potential to help urban planners identify desirable locations and engage communities.

Because Pokestops, map points where players can collect items to be used in the game, are located at landmarks and public art, they are heavily concentrated in urban environments. Pokemon are also more common and more diverse in denser areas, making it a city-centric game. Downtown Roanoke has a Pokestop around every corner and you are more likely to find a Tangela on Campbell Avenue than you are in Tanglewood Mall.

On any day of the week during lunchtime you can walk into the Elmwood Park Amphitheater and see about 10 people sitting and walking around staring at their phones and every few minutes a new person will walk in or walk out. During the first two weeks of Pokemon Go, this crowd was more than double. Informal gatherings like this are happening elsewhere such as New York’s Central Park and Blacksburg’s Market Square where it can be so crowded at midnight that there is nowhere to sit but the ground.

The game has caused more people to gather in public places than normal, especially at times of the day or night that those places are usually empty. Most planned public gathering spaces or parks are Pokestops, but some of those spaces are attracting large gatherings and others are not. Identifying places where people are gathering and comparing those to where they are not can inform planners about what spaces people want to come to and linger.

For instance, Elmwood Park at lunchtime is a quiet getaway spot from the rush of downtown Roanoke with plenty of green and places to sit. Market Square in Blacksburg at night has good lighting and is only a few steps away from a multitude of food options. Identifying these gathering spots is easy. People collect around Pokestops with lures which attracts more Pokemon than usual to that location. When playing the game, these stops will glow pink, and when a few stops in a small area are all glowing pink at the same time you can be sure that a public space has become an informal gathering spot

The location of these gathering spots may be based more on how many Pokestops are there rather than the place itself. Both Elmwood and Market Square are located at a triangular convergence of three stops making it easier to collect items and, when all three have active lures, are more likely to catch Pokemon. If places with multiple Pokestops in close proximity have the same type of gatherings, regardless of what the space is like, then gatherings are based off the location of the stops. But spaces with multiple stops, such as the Roanoke City Market, that would seem to attract more players don’t have the same effect on Pokemon gatherings that places like Elmwood has. The City Market has two stops close together and, although it could be the premier Poke-spot downtown, it does not seem like Pokemon Go is a significant factor in people gathering there. While these three comparisons–City Market, Elmwood, and Market Square–aren’t enough to base an assumption on, the latter two hint at which spaces are more desirable. Lures, ever present in Elmwood, are not activated at the same rate at City Market, making Elmwood the key spot for Poke-gatherings, and an important location to study.

There is also a potential for increased awareness and engagement for urban planning issues. Of course, Pokemon Go is a game based on players walking around searching for Pokemon. The game actually rewards you for walking–there are eggs which are hatched into Pokemon after you have walked a certain distance, and if you are over a certain speed it won’t calculate the distance you have traveled–you can’t cheat the game by driving. This basic function has brought people out on foot in swarms over the past month, and it has brought up concerns and complaints about player experiences.

The opportunity to play is not equally available to all who want to. Concentrations of Pokestops in cities have shown redlining. Poor neighborhoods with high populations of African-Americans have less Pokestops and gyms, giving these neighborhoods less access to the game. Since Pokestops are located around public art and other landmarks, it is possible that these neighborhoods lack those landmarks to merit a Pokestop. It is more likely that members of those communities did not play Niantic’s earlier game Ingress which gathered points of interest that would later become Pokestops. Either way, planners can use this redlining to study what can be done in these neighborhoods to improve walkability and vitality.

Because Niantic focused the game around walking and landmarks, suburbanites stand in stark contrast to city dwellers. There seems to be plenty of Pokemon Go players in suburbia, but they have been almost completely left out of playing because of the clash between the design of sprawl and the design of the game.  The center of a suburban town is the shopping center, a place with lots of parking and few landmarks. Tanglewood and other strip malls are empty spaces on a Pokemon Go map, with no Pokestops because there are no public destinations, and many times no Pokemon to catch.

Suburban players are inconvenienced because in a game based around walkability those shopping centers are not usually within walking distance of the homes of the people it serves, hence the large parking lots in front. Even when they are, there usually isn’t a safe way for people to walk to these shopping centers, meaning if there is a Pokestop there you are most likely driving and not collecting walking distance or catching wild Pokemon. Some suburban neighborhoods are built without sidewalks giving players no safe way to hunt. The exact reasons the game has worked so well in cities is the same reason it barely works at all in suburbs designed around the car.

Why is this important to planners? The majority of Pokemon Go players are young, the prized millennial generation, who are upset that they can’t play this game in their neighborhoods. They want destinations (and not just for Pokestops) that are within walking distance or only a short (bus, bike, or Uber) ride away, a point especially relevant for players without cars. There is an opportunity to educate and engage this younger generation on the issues of land use. They are interested in how the built environment affects them and they want access to more vibrant places. While this is not necessarily a new trend among this generation, they may be more interested when put in terms of the augmented reality of a game like Pokemon Go. They have become aware to the problems of where they live, and it’s now important for planners to put that awareness to action.

Pokemon1

Sarah’s Place in Roanoke offers Pokemon Go players a place to recharge their phones

Pokemon2

FPS in the Patrick Henry building uses lures to attract lunchtime customers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Article written by Ben Wolfenstein, Intern for the Regional Commission.