Thursday, July 30, 2015

I Like the Bus: There’s something to be said for taking the long way home.

As a traveler, my competitive advantage is laziness. I truly do not mind sitting still in one spot for hours on end with nothing to do but read or listen to music. In fact those are three of my favorite things—music, reading, sitting. And I cherish when circumstances give me an excuse to spend my time that way, rather than worrying that I could be being more active, or productive. Because I am doing something productive—I’m going somewhere.
This sort of me-time can be achieved on many forms of transportation—planes, trains, and automobiles (ones I’m not driving anyway) but the one I most enjoy is the bus. Earlier this week, at The Billfold, Ester Bloom wrote that she enjoys the bus (Megabus, to be exact) the least of all methods of transportation, ranking it below “being dragged by the hair.” That’s okay. Life, and travel preferences, are a beautiful potpourri of differences.
But I like the bus. I like the city bus—especially as opposed to the subway, how it takes you through the streets instead of below them—and I like the long-distance bus. The Megabus and its ilk. The bus to me is a meditative space, a safe place, a bubble out of time and away from life that moves me gently from one place to another.
Maybe it’s because I used to live much closer to my childhood home, so the bus was the most logical and economical option. Most of my trips during college and a couple years after were shuttling between my old home and my new on that blue and yellow bus, stopping at the Love’s rest stop in Marshall, Michigan, with its odd assortment of snacks, clothing, and holographic religious posters for sale. I have to fly to visit my family now. The bus is better.
It’s cheaper. You can bring liquids. There’s no security. You just get on, and get off. The cost is more one of time (though depending where you’re going, if you factor in the time you spend getting to the airport and going through security, you may end up breaking even). And it’s time, I think, worth spending.

Read the rest of the story here.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

$6.3 Million Contract Awarded To Improve Accomack County Road

RICHMOND, Va. – At its monthly meeting today, the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) awarded a contract worth approximately $6.3 million to improve a road in Accomack County.
The CTB awarded the contract to E.V. Williams Inc. of Virginia Beach, Va., to widen Route 709 (Horntown Road) between U.S. 13 (Lankford Highway) and Route 679 (Fleming Road) in the village of Horntown. 
The 3.99-mile project is in the Hampton Roads District of the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT).
The improvements on this major rural collector road include two 11-foot lanes with six-foot graded shoulders to accommodate bicycles as well as upgrades for drainage, signs and pavement markings.
The project is scheduled for completion in June 2017.
More information about the project is available at
The following chart tracks the dollar amount of major contracts the CTB has awarded in calendar year 2015:

In advance of each CTB meeting, VDOT Commissioner Charlie Kilpatrick also approves contracts up to $5 million in value. From the June bid lettings, the commissioner approved 19 contracts worth an approximate total of $17 million for construction and maintenance projects on Virginia’s interstates and primary and secondary roads.
Appointed by the governor, the 17-member CTB establishes the administrative policies for Virginia's transportation system. The CTB allocates highway funding to specific projects, locates routes and provides funding for airports, seaports and public transportation. The board normally meets on the third Wednesday of the month in months when action meetings are scheduled,
For more information:

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Safety Projects Help Reduce Roadway Deaths And Injuries

RICHMOND  – Virginia’s Highway Safety Improvement Program is showing life-saving results. In the last decade, crashes with fatalities have dropped by 92 percent and injury crashes by 55 percent where 113 highway safety projects have been deployed. These projects, managed by the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), include improved traffic signals, better warning signs, rumble strips and other practical and lower cost safety improvements.
“While the total number of crashes in Virginia has remained steady at about 120,000 annually over the past eight to 10 years, the number of severe crashes has dropped significantly in that time,” said Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne. “This shows the coordinated efforts by VDOT, the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, the Virginia State Police and local and non-profit organizations are making an impact on safety. Virginia’s ultimate goal is to reach zero deaths on the state’s roadways.”
The Virginia Strategic Highway Safety Plan addresses some of the most common types of crashes, including those related to alcohol, speeding and failure to use a seat belt. The plan sets a goal to reduce deaths and severe injuries by half by 2030.
VDOT Commissioner Charlie Kilpatrick added, “VDOT continues to focus public dollars on projects that help prevent motorists from driving off the road, as well as those that reduce intersection crashes and improve bicycle and pedestrian safety. Practical engineering solutions combined with education and enforcement save lives. Safety is also a personal responsibility, in which all of us must drive without distractions and focus on the road, particularly in construction work zones.”
Through the Six-Year Improvement Program, VDOT has funds dedicated to improve the safety of roadway curves andinstall rumble strips to prevent motorists from veering off the road.  Funds will also be used for flashing yellow lights, enhanced traffic signals and better signal timing to help reduce the severity of crashes at intersections as well as separating bike lanes from traffic by restriping to enhance safety for cyclists, and reduce vehicle speeds and crashes.
For more information:

Monday, July 27, 2015

Virginia Outlines Process For Outside The Beltway Procurement

RICHMOND, Va. – Today, Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) Commissioner Charlie Kilpatrick briefed the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) on the process to determine a preferred procurement option for the Transform66: Outside the Beltway project. At this point, the Commissioner outlined that procuring the project as a design-build public finance or as a public-private partnership both remain viable options
“The McAuliffe Administration believes that all options for delivering large scale transportation projects must be explored,” said Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne. “We must deliver the right project with the right financing. The only predetermined outcome in this process is to ensure that taxpayers are protected.”
As a part of project development the Commonwealth developed a public finance option and draft term sheet for this project which outlines the benefits and risks of publicly financing the project. This due diligence will serve as a comparison to potential private sector proposals for delivering the project.
Recently VDOT in coordination with the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation and the Virginia Office of Public-Private Partnerships met with interested private parties to discuss the draft term sheet. In these meetings several of the private parties indicated that they could deliver the project with benefits to the Commonwealth that are materially similar to those outlined in the draft term sheet.
Based on these meetings Commissioner Kilpatrick has made a conditional recommendation that delivering this project as a public-private partnership may be in the Commonwealth’s best interest. The Commissioner’s recommendation will be reviewed and considered by the Transportation Public-Private Partnership Advisory Committee. Secretary Layne has called a meeting of the Committee for August 17, in Richmond, VA.
“At this point we need to see the next card,” said Commissioner Kilpatrick. “We are not ‘all-in’ on a public-private partnership at this point but we are interested in seeing if we can make something work.”
If the Committee affirms the Commissioner’s recommendation, then VDOT will issue a Request for Qualifications with the purpose of holding confidential meetings with qualified private parties this fall to confirm that they can deliver the project in a manner that provides benefits that are materially similar to the draft term sheet for the public finance option.
A decision on a preferred procurement will be made by December 15. Regardless of the decision, a public finance option will continue to be developed to ensure competition and provide the Commonwealth with an option to deliver this project.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

District Government Gives Green Light To Parks In Parking Spaces

In the past week, carpenters screwed 10 banana-and-mustard-colored triangular planters, a bench and a table to a plywood platform taking up two parking spaces on K Street NW. Then they came back and touched up the paint and put up reflective safety posts. On Sunday, ferns and lavender are set to go in.
And on Tuesday, Washington’s newest park is to open to the public.
“I told my sister, ‘Hashtag: It-just-popped-up!’ ” said Randy Parz, one of the builders.
The District has started allowing people to take over parking spaces and turn them into year-round mini-parks. San Francisco helped spawn such spaces, dubbed “parklets.”
Read the rest of the story at the Washington Post.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Streets and Sidewalks Should Be Used to Improve Our Health

Streets and sidewalks take up 25 to 50 percent of a typical U.S. city’s land. New York City, for example, is on the lower end of that scale at 28 percent and Chicago (42 percent), Washington D.C. (43) and Portland, Oregon (47) are at the higher end.

This, believe it or not, presents a huge opportunity for us to address mental health through urban design. Problem is, streets and sidewalks represent space that’s largely under control of our city governments. In most cases our local departments of transportation.

Read the rest of the story at Mobility Lab.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

What does "Smart Growth 2.0" mean for Arlington?

In discussing the state of the county, Arlington County Board chair Mary Hynes recently called on residents to help "chart a new course" to plan for the future. Hynes says we need a "2nd generation of Smart Growth," and ArlNow called Hynes' vision Smart Growth 2.0. What do you think Arlington's priorities should be?

Photo by Cliff on Flickr.
Arlington officials will soon unveil a new county transportation plan, prioritizing transit improvements between Crystal City, Columbia Pike and Rosslyn. What, exactly, will be in that plan is still unclear.
In her State of the County address last Friday, Hynes said increased competition, strained resources and little remaining developable space demand that we update how we approach transportation and development.
"Those incredible ups that we had are not going to come Arlington's way again," Hynes said. "I challenge each of you to be part of the solution."
Read the rest of the story here.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Gov. McAuliffe Announces Deal Ensuring No Tolls on the MLK Freeway Extension in Portsmouth

PORTSMOUTH – Gov. Terry McAuliffe today announced an agreement that ensures no tolls will be collected on the Martin Luther King (MLK) Freeway extension project, a key achievement in his work to reduce the financial impact of major construction improvements on motorists in Hampton Roads. 
The agreement also includes provisions to ease the tolling burden related to projects on the Midtown and Downtown tunnels for residents who are most severely impacted due to financial, medical or other circumstances. The MLK extension, the new Midtown Tunnel under construction, and the rehabilitation of the Midtown and Downtown tunnels are collectively known as the Elizabeth River Tunnels project.
“After a great deal of work, we now have a plan in place to ease the financial pressure of tolling, particularly for Portsmouth residents,” said Gov. McAuliffe. “The Elizabeth River Tunnels project must be built to reduce congestion, increase safety and improve the economy. This is the right project, but a bad deal reached under the prior administration. Since I took office, toll rates on the tunnels have been lowered during construction. We have worked with our private sector partner to ensure there will be no tolls on the MLK extension.  Imposing a toll to finance the improvements would have placed an unfair burden on the citizens of Portsmouth. It is not good policy for Portsmouth to bear the cost of this project when it is also sharing the tolling burden with other motorists in the region who travel the Midtown and Downtown tunnels.”
The state will transfer $78 million that was set aside for Route 460 improvements in southeast Virginia to buy out the tolls on the MLK extension project.
“Regarding the Midtown and Downtown tunnels, there will be some relief to ease the tolling burden on those residents who are the most financially impacted,” added Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne.  “Our contractor, Elizabeth River Crossings (ERC), has agreed to pay $500,000 a year for 10 years to help offset the cost of tolls to those toll users who are the most financially stressed. I have directed Deputy Secretary of Transportation Grindly Johnson to lead this effort and work with the local community to ensure these monies are invested in the most beneficial way to ease the financial burden of tolls on those residents who need the help the most.”
The cost for toll violations will be capped. The highest amount that ERC can charge for violations regarding unpaid tolls, fees and court courts cannot exceed $2,200.  VDOT will be working in collaboration with ERC and the community to better inform and educate the region about the EZPass program, making tolling as easy and convenient as possible for motorists. 
The Department of Rail and Public Transportation will work with Hampton Roads Transit to make certain the state’s subsidy of $2 million will be used specifically to move more people with fewer cars through the tunnels. 
For more information on the project, go to

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

How to Make Smart Growth More Lovable and Sustainable

While on my way to a dental appointment last week -- not my favorite activity, truth be told -- I had the distinct pleasure of walking through Georgetown, Washington's oldest neighborhood and one of its most lovely. As I ambled through the historic, tree-lined streets, I was reminded of how our older neighborhoods so often embody the characteristics that we now ascribe to "smart growth."
In particular, Georgetown has a walkable urban density; well-connected streets and sidewalks that make it notably pedestrian-friendly; a central, convenient location just a mile or so from the heart of downtown; good transit service; many shops, restaurants and civic amenities mixed in with, or a ridiculously easy walk from, the neighborhood's homes. These attributes are the essence of what those of us who advocate smart growth advocate for. And, while Georgetown's historic district is the one closest to my home, DC certainly has other lovely old neighborhoods with similar features, and so, actually, do most cities in America. Perhaps you have your own favorite.
Read the rest of the story at Huffington Post.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Gov. McAuliffe Announces Settlement to Recover Taxpayer Dollars From Route 460 Contract

CHESAPEAKE – Gov. Terry McAuliffe today announced that his administration has reached an agreement with U.S. 460 Mobility Partners, the company that was contracted to execute the now-cancelled US Route 460 public-private partnership, which will return $46 million in already-spent funds back to taxpayers and cancel an additional $103 million claim the company had filed under the contract. The total $149 million swing is the result of months of negotiations between the McAuliffe administration and the company.  
“This settlement will bring millions in taxpayer dollars that were wasted on the U.S. Route 460 project back to taxpayers and prevent the Commonwealth from having to pay millions more,” said Gov. McAuliffe. “While this is a positive development, the fact remains that Virginians have already spent hundreds of millions of dollars on a project that will never be built because state officials negotiated a contract that left the Commonwealth holding the bag when the environmental risks were too great to move forward. I regret that that contract did not allow for greater steps to mitigate the impact of this failed project, but I am proud of the bipartisan reforms we worked with leaders like Delegate Chris Jones to make to prevent disasters like this from occurring in the future.”
Gov. McAuliffe announced the settlement at a ceremonial bill signing for new bipartisan legislation that reforms Virginia’s approach to public-private transportation projects in the wake of the failed U.S. Route 460 project. House Bill 1886 reforms how Virginia finances transportation projects under the Public-Private Transportation Act, or P3 program. The new law will prevent bad P3 deals and identify beneficial opportunities to protect the public’s best interests.
House Bill 1886 requires three key factors:
  • An independent screening committee, with representation from the General Assembly, will decide if a transportation improvement should be financed as a P3 project. These meetings will be open to the public.  For the first time, the General Assembly will be involved and engaged from the beginning. 
  • Critical to the decision making is the level of risk involved. The risk must be transferred from the taxpayers to the private sector. Decision makers will have access to all the risks involved in a potential P3 deal so they can make the right decision. The law puts in place new procedures for high-risk projects that will shield the public from unexpected liabilities.     
  • The legislation will draw clear lines of accountability. The secretary of transportation will be required to sign a document attesting that the project qualifies as a P3 project, meaning risk has been transferred to the private sector and that the original purpose of the procurement has not changed. 
“There will be no way to duck responsibility for transportation decisions,” said Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne.  “It will protect taxpayers from undue risk, while using the P3 process in the intended way to deliver projects that move Virginia’s economy.”

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Businesses Moving to Where the Public Transportation Is – Downtown

The deciding factor in Panasonic’s move of its North American headquarters from Secaucus, New Jersey to Newark was public transportation, according to Jim Reilly, vice president of corporate communications.

The company relocated from a large corporate campus with lots of green space to an amenity-rich downtown location. Reilly said his company’s relocation has been “transformative” and has created a more collaborative company culture.

After years of locating in car-dependent, suburban office parks, large numbers of companies are now moving back downtown.

Read the rest of the story here.