Fairfax Gets It, Why Can’t We?

9 12 2009

Fairfax recently released a new 10-year plan aimed at making transit travel more attractive the vehicle travel. The plan would increase service and frequency, create new routes, and use innovative techniques such as tying traffic lights to bus schedules, so that they never wait at lights. They also plan on utilizing dedicated bus lanes and fixed-route-style fare collection on some bus routes to speed the buses through stops. These new routes, including their already planned BRT routes, would work in unison with METRORail to make transit commutes faster than traditional, usually single-occupant, private car transportation.

My only question is why can Hampton Roads not come up with something this comprehensive. We did work on a plan for the future of transit but it seems to be viewed more as a dream and less of an actual this-is-what-we-need-to-work-for plan. Think about it. You see city after city create plans and actually follow them. Our area can do that too. Virginia Beach has been working on the Southeastern Parkway for 23 years now because it falls into their now-outdated plans to make the Corporate Landing office park successful. Why can’t we work this hard to make transit plans come through? If you ask any city, they will tell you that they want it to work, but nobody seems to be actually pushing for it.

In my opinion, the reason for the lack of drive for this issue is the lack of regional cooperation. Fairfax’s plan will work and has support because it only deals with one locality, Fairfax County. It ties into existing routes that go into other municipalities, but the plan itself, only expands service inside county lines. Here, however, our plan encompasses Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Portsmouth, Suffolk, Newport News, Hampton, Williamsburg, James City County, and York County. In fact part of our Transit Vision Plan extends service toward Moyock, NC. How in the world do our leaders think that they can make something this expansive work if they can’t make simpler regional systems work. It is hard enough to get two cities to work on a bus route together let alone a system including both light rail and commuter rail. We need a functional regional government. If our localities could combine services and resources, we could actually overcome the problems that we face now. Look around. we are facing budget cuts all the time and money can no longer be guaranteed by the state. We have to help ourselves. Nobody else is coming to our rescue.

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My Trip to DC/Maryland

12 10 2009

This past weekend (Oct 8-11) my girlfriend and I took a trip. It was quite possibly the cheapest DC-area vacation ever. Fuel to drive to and from Hampton Roads was the most expensive (around $90 total). Food was second, at around $65. We found a MD-State-managed place near Brunswick, MD that would allow us to camp, free of charge, each night that we were there. Friday, we spent the whole day in DC. We did not drive, however, but rather utilized mass transit the whole way. We took the MARC train from Brunswick to DC and back ($8 per person per trip). The train was actually quite nice. It was about an hour and a half ride. On the way back we sat up front in the “quiet car,” which was just that. No cellphones, loud talking, etc. While in DC, we picked up a couple of Metro Day Passes ($7.80 each) and used the Metro to get around. In addition to checking out the National Natural History Museum and the National Zoo, we spent a couple hours on the National Mall, where we poked around the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon. On Saturday, we visited Harper’s Ferry, WV, although we did have to drive, because, since the MARC is a commuter rail, it only runs Monday through Friday. Harper’s Ferry was incredibly interesting. If you have never been there, it is similar to Colonial Williamsburg in nature except that the town flows seamlessly into the park boundaries. Sunday, we decided to go back to the Solar Decathlon and look at a couple more houses. Not wanting to drive to and park in DC, we once again looked to the Metro. We drove into the first stop we could, the Shady Grove stop on the Metro’s Red Line.  We opted for the Day Pass again, checked out the Decathlon and returned home.

Along the way, I made a few interesting observations. First, anyone that says Hampton Roads drivers can’t drive, should visit the DC area. After that most drivers here appear to be slow, incredibly considerate nuns traveling from homeless shelter to homeless shelter. Those people couldn’t stop at a red light if their lives depended on it. I actually saw a guy beep at a police car for blocking the road with his lights one. Ridiculous.

Regardless, I specifically want to talk about the Metro for a minute. I liked it. It was convenient. It was reliable. It was affordable. I understand that I was only there for a couple of days, but there is no way that what I experienced was a one-time good performance. They had large park and ride garages at each of the outer stops. There were densely developed areas around each of the outer stops.This weekend they had to close a few stations for maintenance. These closings were well publicized and detours were clearly marked inside the stations.

I think that we can all agree that the DC Metro is decent example of a mass transit provider. Sure, every long-standing entity has had its share of problems in the past, but all-in-all, I think that they are doing a decent job. Especially, when you consider that they have no dedicated funding source, but instead must beg each jurisdiction that they serve for money each year. Sound familiar? It should. That is exactly how Hampton Roads Transit gets funding. The DC Metro is currently having some financial problem due to this. I think that the Hampton Roads area should look at identifying some way to pay for our mass transit for the future. There are many options, none of which fit us perfectly, so I think that we need a home-grown mix. I have some ideas, which I will post later. Until then, think about it. I know that I would rather pay a few dollars here and there versus pay a huge chunk later down the line.