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 Virginia Beach has been working on the Southeastern Parkway for 23 years now because it falls into their now-outdated plans to make the Corporate Landing office park successful.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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Light Rail in Chesapeake?

3 12 2009

On November 24th, the City of Chesapeake officially and unanimously voted to push for a light rail study for their inclusion into regional light rail plans. This is a major and definitive move for Chesapeake, showing that they support a regional mass transportation system. A Greenbrier line connecting to Norfolk Naval Station would be a tremendous asset to a fledgling light rail system such as ours. A Chesapeake line would also set the stage for a line through Portsmouth and out to Suffolk. A system with a strong East-West corridor (Downtown Norfolk-Oceanfront) and a North-South corridor (Norfolk Naval Station-Greenbrier) would increase ridership and overall importance as well as add fuel to an extension to the Peninsula, thus giving us a truly regional system. Good job Chesapeake. If Virginia Beach does, for some unseen reason, back out yet again from progress, Chesapeake will be in a position to surpass Virginia Beach as the largest city in Virginia.





Green Metropolis – A Book Review

9 11 2009

Green Metropolis - By: David Owen

Last Thursday, I purchased the book Green Metropolis, written by David Owen. This book was an incredibly well thought out, well researched book. Contrary to the popular held opinion that ‘being green’ involves CFLs and recycling, Owen argues that the greenest city in America is not in Maine or Oregon, but rather New York. In fact, he argues that New York City is the greenest city in America. I was confused too, at first, because the image that I (and most people) have of NYC is a dirty, concrete jungle full of traffic jams and smog. According to Owen’s research, despite the dirty nature of NYC, the city uses less energy per person than any other city in the USA. He uses gasoline as an example and compares NYC to Vermont. Most would agree that wehn you think ‘green,’ you are thinking about something that looks like Vermont: trees, clean air, clean water, etc. According to Owen’s statistics, Vermont residents, on average use 545 gallons of gasoline per person per year, whereas Manhattan residents use only 90 gallons of gasoline per person per year.

It is an interesting theory that the more compact a city is, the more energy efficient it is. There are many examples in this book that I think are important lessons for area, especially since the light rail will be opening next year and we want to expand it and we want it to succeed. Owen talks about light rail. He references it in multiple places. First, in order to be successful, he reinforces the fact that the area served by light rail (or any transit system) needs to be dense.  He references a specific density of seven people per acre. This gives us something to think about if we want to have a regional mass transit system. Hampton Road’s overall density is .625 people per acre. Of course that includes rural counties such as Surry and Isle of Wight. Norfolk’s density is 6.82; much closer to the 7/acre number referenced by Owen as essential for successful transit.  When you consider that there are many places in Norfolk that are not ever going to be ‘dense’ (such as the 1300 acre Norfolk International Airport), we really do have a good start. Virginia Beach has a little bit to go. Their density is only 2.67 people per acre. Granted, half of the city is rural, we will give them the benefit of the doubt and give them 5.4 people per acre. That takes into consideration that most of their people live above the self-imposed ‘green-line.’ In the past few years, they have made great strides increasing density. Town Center is a good example. The recently proposed redevelopment of the Newtown Road ‘Strategic Growth Area’ is another good start (also an attempt to capitalize off of light rail without officially supporting it). We must continue to make the corridors around the light rail lines and proposed light rail lines more dense. I specifically emphasize proposed because if we can make these corridors dense now, it will be easier to get funding and ridership once they are built.

Another thing that Owen’s emphasizes in his book is that, in order to make density and transit more effective, we have to stop catering to cars. If we keep building new roads and highways, we are only reinforcing the automobile’s ease of use. If it is cheaper and easier to drive to work than use transit, why would you bother? Instead, we should use a combination of tolls, gas taxes, congestion pricing, etc. to make driving more costly and less inviting. The proceeds from these revenue streams could be used to expand the transit system. We have to remember, though, that while we want to make driving more uninviting, we do not want to make transporting goods more costly, which would only raise prices of everything and hurt the economy. Truck traffic could face free tolls, lower diesel taxes, or designated lanes (these lanes would be removed from regular lanes, increasing congestion and making car travel even more uninviting). I am not saying to do this overnight, but it is certainly worth it. With a denser area that focused on efficient transit rather than wasteful suburbanism, Hampton Roads would be more likely to compete with other areas.

These are just some of the ideas that would be useful in creating a more efficient, more environmentally friendly metropolitan area. I strongly suggest that everyone reads this book. Especially those who identify themselves as environmentalists. Current ‘environmentalism’ is destroying the planet. Hybrid cars are terrible ideas and only firm up and strengthen our dependence on oil. Read this book. No matter who you are, you will gain something. No matter who you are, your opinions on environmentalism will change.

…in the long run, a car’s fuel gauge is far less significant, environmentally speaking, than its odometer. In the same way that life in Manhattan is inherently energy-efficient, whether or not residents consciously try to conserve, life in the suburbs and beyond is inherently wasteful, no matter what kind of cars the residents park in their garage, or how assidously they swap incandescent lightbulbs for compact fluorescents. It’s miles traveled, not miles per gallon, that make the difference. A sprawling suburb is a fuel-burning, carbon-belching, waste-producing, water-guzzling, pollution-spewing, toxic-leaking machine, and, unlike a Hummer, it can’t be easily abandoned for something smaller and less destructive. We’ve spent a century erecting our way of life. Now we must reconfigure it.

-Excerpt: Green Metropolis – By: David Owen





I ♥ Light Rail

2 11 2009

Now available! Get you I [heart] Light Rail gear today to show your support for Light Rail in Hampton Roads!

Available Products: Hats, Shirts, Coffee Mugs, Water Bottles, Mouse Pads, Tote Bags, and Stickers. Shirts and large tote bag also says “I support Light Rail in Hampton Roads” on one side. Ideal to wear to public hearings, work, school, shopping, or just walking around! Get ’em while they’re hot!

\/    \/    NEW CONTENT BELOW    \/    NEW CONTENT BELOW     \/    \/





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.