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Bicycling


A Washington Post writer advocates violence against people on bikes

Move over, Courtland Milloy and your desire to stick broomsticks through bicycle wheels. The Washington Post has a new columnist who's trying to inflame the populace for cheap clicks, and he suggests people should get cash for hurting people who ride bikes.


Photo by Allen McGregor on Flickr.

Fredrick Kunkle recently started the "Tripping" blog, which sometimes lives up to its name of giving you the transportation advice you might expect from Charlie Sheen.

It's the antithesis of the excellent and thoughtful Wonkblog—shallow and judgmental instead of informative and insightful. You could call Kunkle the anti-Emily Badger.

For his most recent attempt at clickbait (successful, obviously, since I'm writing about it), Kunkle wrote about a new law in Virginia that sets a $50 fine for opening a door and hitting someone on a bike. That's the good part, and he did a decent job of explaining it, including getting some backstory about how an aide to state senator Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax) got scars from being doored while biking, yet a police officer blamed him, the cyclist.

Kunkle went off the trail (or perhaps decided to try for more clicks) at the end, when he wrote, "We might argue that if you nail an adult riding his or her bicycle on the sidewalk, you should get a $50 award. Double, if it's during lunch hour on K Street."

This is encouraging violence. Yeah, yeah, it sounds like he thinks it's a joke, and I like a little light-hearted fun as much as anyone, but this isn't funny.

Just wait until some person, having a bad day, sees a cyclist, and in a moment of low self-control and without thinking very hard, opens the door anyway. Maybe if they then credit Fredrick Kunkle, he can say his supporters are "very passionate."

As one contributor put it in an email, "Advocating violence, even in a joking fashion, against people for doing things you dislike is beneath the Washington Post and they shouldn't publish trash like this."

Kunkle's earlier acid trips had him acidly sneer at Baltimore in a way reminiscent of New Yorkers ignorantly sneer at Washington. And this article on how Metro rated #1 in the nation is just inaccurate; the study rated Washington area transit, not Metro specifically.

I wouldn't be surprised if those stories performed well on the internal traffic metrics the Post watches. Needling cyclists with suggestions of violence will probably have the same effect, which will make his editor hallucinate that "Tripping" was something other than the bad trip it's been thus far.

Transit


Walking and transit score high in Virginia's transportation rankings

Scores that evaluate transportation projects in Virginia recently came out, and many of the highest belong to projects focused on walking and transit. That's because they provide the most bang for taxpayers' bucks.


West Broad Street and Oak Street in downtown Falls Church. Image from Google Maps.

In Northern Virginia, projects that focused on improving walking conditions and transit service came out on top in statewide rankings for cost-effectiveness. These included:

  • Sidewalk work in downtown Falls Church between Park Avenue and Broad Street (#2 statewide)
  • More marketing of transit and carpooling in the I-66/Silver Line corridor (#3)
  • Improving crossings at several intersections on Broad Street in downtown Falls Church, including at Oak Street (pictured above) (#8)
Passed in 2014, a state law commonly known as HB2 requires Virginia's Department of Transportation to use an objective and quantitative system to score transportation projects. The idea is to make planning more transparent, but high score doesn't guarantee funding nor does a low score preclude it.

In the most recent rankings, 287 transportation projects from across the state received two different scores, one based on the total projected benefit and one based on the benefit divided by the total funding request.

Each of the projects above would cost between $500,000 and $1 million, while most other projects would cost many times that amount. For total project benefits, the addition of High-Occupancy/Toll lanes to I-66 outside the Beltway has the highest score, but it requires a $600 million public investment.

Here's more detail about the law

Virginia law requires that "congestion relief" be the primary metric in scoring projects in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads. Scores also account for a project's environmental impacts, how it fits with local land use plans, and what it might do for economic development.

Three agencies developed the evaluation system: Virginia Department of Transportation, the Office of Intermodal Planning and Investment, the and the Department of Rail and Public Transportation.

The agencies have posted a wealth of data on the HB2 website. You can search for projects in various ways, including by jurisdiction. Data points such as whether or not a project has bicycle facilities, and how it is coordinated with nearby development projects, are posted in an easily navigable format.

What do you think of the analyses? Is there a project in your area that scores higher or lower than you would have expected?

Government


Northern Virginia has $350 million to spend on transportation. Here's what officials want to build

The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) controls a vast budget for transportation projects all over Northern Virginia. Now they're gearing up to build 34 new projects, including new Metro stations, more buses, and wider highways.


Map of project locations from NVTA.

What's NVTA?

NVTA may be the most important infrastructure agency in the Washington area that few people know much about. "The authority," as officials call it (to distinguish it from the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance, a lobbying organization that favors aggressive highway-building), gives Northern Virginia the ability to raise and spend its own money on its own priorities.

That's the theory, anyway. But the Virginia General Assembly requires NVTA to prioritize projects that reduce road congestion. Before NVTA can fund any projects, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has to run each proposal through a computer model that rates its ability to reduce congestion.

"Congestion reduction" sounds great, but it doesn't work

VDOT's rating system for NVTA projects rewards expansions of the busiest highways, on the assumption that more road capacity will reduce congestion. It's a flawed 20th century metric that ignores decades of real world experience that bigger roads actually make congestion worse.

The VDOT system does not measure things like how a project might benefit safety, or increase accessibility, and doesn't take into consideration how land use changes are driven by infrastructure.

The biggest problem is simply that VDOT's model doesn't know what to do with short distance trips, which are the exact type of trip that transit-oriented development produces more of. So when a transit or pedestrian project makes it possible for thousands of people to walk two blocks instead of drive five miles, the VDOT model doesn't always show that as reducing congestion.

Thus, road expansion projects end up looking good, and other things have trouble competing. Transit does OK if it relieves traffic on a major road, but pedestrian or bike projects are almost impossible.

Many other regions are using broader metrics for measuring transportation performance and congestion mitigation, but Northern Virginia can't because the General Assembly won't let it.

NVTA's proposed project list

NVTA has announced a draft list of 34 projects the agency recommends for funding over the next two years. The list includes 18 road projects and 16 transit projects, totaling about $350 million.

Road projects include widening Route 1, Route 7, Route 28, and Loudoun County Parkway, as well as intersection expansions along Route 50 in the City of Fairfax, new interchanges in Leesburg, and more.

Transit projects include money for the Innovation Center and Potomac Yard Metro stations, a new entrance at Ballston station, VRE platform expansions at Franconia-Springfield, Rippon, and Crystal City, Metrorail power upgrades, and new buses for WMATA, Loudoun, Fairfax, and Fairfax City.

Here's the complete list. Projects that NVTA staff is recommending for construction are highlighted in yellow.

Over the next week NVTA is holding a series of town hall meetings on its project list, and a public hearing in Merrifield on Wednesday, March 25 (tomorrow!), beginning at 6:00 pm.

It doesn't end with this list

NVTA is also developing a long-term regional plan to guide decisions from 2018 on.

NVTA's last long-term plan, TransAction 2040, is an aspirational list of projects that was developed before the agency had any funding. Now that it has money, NVTA is developing a more structured framework to determine how to prioritize funds.

Building the new regional plan will take two years, and there should be many opportunities for citizens to engage in it. A critical issue will be how NVTA and VDOT choose to measure "congestion reduction" and the cost-effectiveness of projects, and to what extent they will take into account the benefits of shifting more single-occupant car trips to pedestrian, bicycle, and transit ones.

Watch for news on the next TransAction plan later in 2015.

Government


Virginia takes the politics out of transportation spending

A newly-passed General Assembly bill will make transportation spending in Virginia more practical and less political, by replacing ad-hoc funding decisions with more transparent performance measures.


Photo by Virginia Guard Public Affairs on Flickr.

HB1887, the "omnibus transportation bill" which the General Assembly passed this session, makes dozens of changes to the complicated web of formulas and regulations that govern Virginia's transportation budget.

The biggest change completely replaces the state's system for deciding which local road projects to build. Other changes set aside more money to maintain existing roads and bridges, and add more money to transit.

The new legislation will "revolutionize the way Virginia invests taxpayer dollars to restore aging roads, build new capacity and increase transit," says Virginia secretary of transportation Aubrey Layne in an op-ed for the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Funding decisions should become less political

Proponents of HB1887 argue it will make transportation planning and budgeting far less political.

Currently, a group called the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) makes decisions about what projects to advance, and where to spend money. But CTB members are appointed by the governor, and it's common for governors to fire and replace any CTB members who don't toe the party line, or who toe the wrong party's.

HB1887 changes that. Not only does it restrict governor's ability to fire CTB members without cause, it also requires the CTB to follow objective performance measures when allocating certain pots of money.

Money for repairs and key projects

Once signed into law, HB1887 will direct a larger percentage of Virginia's transportation budget to maintaining and replacing old bridges and roads, as opposed to building completely new highways. The CTB will develop a priority ranking system to distribute those funds, so the money will go where it can do the most good.

Still, a lot of money will go towards projects to expand interstates, major roadways, and rail lines across Virginia. The CTB is also responsible for distributing these funds, but under new, more mode-agnostic criteria mandated under last year's HB2 legislation.

Improvements to local project funding

Another large pot of money will go to road projects that local jurisdictions request funding for directly, via Virginia's nine road construction districts. Any county, city, or town can apply to its VDOT construction district for a grant. VDOT will analyze each request according to pre-determined performance measures, and fund as many as it can each year.

Northern Virginia's district includes the cities of Alexandria, Falls Church, Manassas, and Manassas Park, along with Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William counties.

"Projects selected will receive full funding for all phases, allowing projects to proceed more quickly from design to construction," wrote Layne. He adds, "this is a significant improvement from the old system" which guaranteed a small amount of money to each jurisdiction every year, and "in which communities often "banked" funds for five to ten years so they had enough money to build the projects they wanted."

$40 million for transit

The bill also moves $40 million statewide from highways, ports, and aviation toward transit projects, such as new buses or railcars, and rehabilitating track. This transfer is key, because without it Virginia's transit capital funding would drop 62% in the coming years.

That's only a partial win. The coming drop in transit funding is close to $100 million, so there will still be less money for transit in the future than there's been in the past. But $40 million is better than nothing.

By comparison, individual highway interchanges frequently cost over $40 million each.

Other good transportation bills also passed

In other good news, legislators amended HB1915/SB1314, which would have forced officials to use highway-favoring "congestion metrics" in choosing transportation projects, to be less damaging to transit, bike, and pedestrian projects. And HB1886 passed, which partially reforms the Public Private Transportation Act, meaning Virginia should see even more accountability and transparency.

Transit


Bills in the Virginia General Assembly would hurt and help transit and cyclists

As the Virginia General Assembly session heats up, there's a lot percolating on smart growth and transportation. Key bills on congestion metrics, funding, and bicycle and pedestrian priorities are up this week.


Photo by Virginia Guard Public Affairs on Flickr.

Congestion metrics

For years, highway advocates and others hostile to transit have tried to make roadway "congestion reduction" metrics the primary way we choose which transportation projects get funding.

HB1470 and HB1915/SB1314 would do just that for the Northern Virginia regional transportation plan, local comprehensive plans, and new transit projects.

If passed, these bills would have serious impacts on Virginia's transportation planning. In effect, when selecting new projects to build, Virginia officials would have to ignore the many benefits of transit for moving more people and building strong communities, and focus solely on how a project affects the capacity of existing highways to carry cars.

Undermining pro-transit jurisdictions

Another bill, HB2170, would merge the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission, which funds and manages Virginia's portion of Metro, into the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, a broader agency that includes more of the outer suburbs, and has a multimodal focus rather than transit-only. Combining them would reduce the voting power of transit-dependent jurisdictions to control transit decision-making.

Funding and oversight

Comprehensive "transportation omnibus" bill HB1887 is receiving a lot of attention because it would partially fill a hole in state transit funding and increase funding for structurally deficient bridges, deteriorating pavement, and local transportation needs. It's a huge bill with a ton of provisions, some good and some bad.

Another bill, HB1886, would reform the Public Private Transportation Act (PPTA), establishing new oversight and accountability for public-private partnerships in transportation projects. This is particularly important following debacles like Hampton Roads' Route 460 project, which wasted $300 million in taxpayer funds without having permits in hand.

Bicycling and pedestrian priorities

Delegate Riley Ingram (R) of House District 62 (outside of Richmond) has introduced HB1746, a "mandatory sidepath" bill, which would prohibit bicyclists from riding in the road wherever there's a sidepath or bike lane available. Obviously, this bill would have major negative impacts on the many Northern Virginia cyclists who use bicycles for transportation.

SB781, which would make it legal for cars to cross the double yellow line to pass bicyclists, with the required three foot safety distance, has passed in the Senate and is headed to the House. Another bill, SB882, would make dooring illegal, and would also make it easier for cyclists to be compensated after being injured by dooring.

HB1402/SB952 would make sure local jurisdictions don't lose state funding if they implement road diets, with bike improvements on local streets. Under current law, replacing a car lane with a bike lane reduces a jurisdiction's road funding, because the state funding formula is based on car lane miles.

SB1279 would ban use of any personal communications device while driving, unless that device is hands-free or the vehicle is stopped.

More information

The Virginia Bicycling Federation has an excellent online spreadsheet which they update regularly, detailing the status of bicycling bills this session. And the Coalition for Smarter Growth has a take-action tool to help Virginia residents contact their state legislators to support or oppose these bills.

Bicycling


What to watch for in the 2015 Virginia General Assembly

The Virginia General Assembly's 2015 session kicks off today in Richmond. Smart growth and environmental advocates are gearing up for a busy, if short, session. While things evolve quickly at the beginning of any legislative session, there are already several issues and bills to look for that may impact smart growth in Northern Virginia.


Photo by Virginia Guard Public Affairs on Flickr.

Transit funding

Because legislation over the past four years didn't make transit a priority, it faces big funding shortfalls. 65% of Virginia's population and gross state product lie within the urban crescent (from Northern Virginia to Hampton Roads), and with an aging population in rural areas, transit needs are growing.

Yesterday, Governor McAuliffe announced a package of transportation initiatives including a proposal to shift $50 million per year from ports, aviation, highways, and freight rail to transit. This helps, but isn't a long-term solution.

Transportation policy reform

Advocates expect that bills to reform the Public Private Transportation Act (PPTA) will try to prevent future disastrous project decisions, like Route 460 out of Hampton Roads, which wasted $300 million in taxpayer funds without having permits in hand. This year, proposed reforms to the PPTA include requiring better risk analysis and greater legislative oversight.

Highway advocates hostile to transit have tried for many years to make "congestion reduction" the main criterion for selecting transportation projects. Last year, the smart growth community won important amendments to a bill, HB2, which set more balanced criteria to give transit projects a fair chance at funding.

Unfortunately, transit opponents are back this session with bills to force VDOT to evaluate Northern Virginia projects solely under the congestion reduction standard. This would force officials to ignore the benefits of transit for moving more people, providing an effective commute option, reducing air pollution, promoting smart growth development, and maximizing walk, bike and transit trips.

Bicycle and pedestrian priorities

Legislators are proposing bills to improve safety for bicyclists and pedestrians, including anti-dooring bills, bills to make it easier to safely and legally pass cyclists with a 3-foot buffer, and bills to require stopping for pedestrians in crosswalks.

Another bill would ensure localities don't lose state funding if they make bike improvements on local streets. Today, changing road from two lanes each way to one lane each way, plus a center turn lane, plus bike lanes (as Fairfax County did with Lawyers Road) could reduce a jurisdiction's funding under the state formula.

Standards for Uber, Lyft, and other services

Ride-hailing services have hit the scene across the country, offering new options for getting around without owning a car. States are addressing how to properly regulate these services, and Virginia is no exception. Issues include insurance, background checks for drivers, access for the disabled and those without credit cards, and use of hybrid or other high-efficiency vehicles.

Threats to land conservation

Virginia's very successful Land Preservation Tax Credit program is facing significant cuts, even though it has effectively helped Virginians to voluntarily conserve tens of thousands of acres in farms and forests, and helped communities reduce sprawl and the costs of public infrastructure.

Opponents of land conservation are also pushing legislation designed to undermine the conservation easement program, impacting the right and ability of private landowners to conserve their land. Expect to see smart growth and conservation groups across the state partner to defend this program.

Potomac bridges

It seems that each year brings new bills pushing for new highways across the Potomac far upstream from the American Legion Bridge. New bridges have the potential to impact Great Falls, Reston, and eastern Loudoun, fueling more sprawl and diverting funds need for investing in transit and fixing the American Legion Bridge. Each year, we've won bipartisan support to stop these bills. We'll see if they pop up again.

Specific details on particular bills will become available on the legislative system as they are filed and published. We'll follow up with bill numbers, details, and links in upcoming posts as the legislative session continues.

Roads


Virginia's unpaved roads bill acknowledges that it's not all about cars

Virginia legislators are considering a bill that would repair preserve nearly 300 miles of unpaved roads in western Loudoun County. While it may not seem relevant to the state's urban areas, it would make the state consider more than cars in assessing the needs of a street.


A gravel road in Loudoun. Photo by mdmarkus66 on Flickr.

HB 416, sponsored by Delegate Randy Minchew (R-Leesburg), requires the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) to maintain Loudoun's unpaved road network, many of which date to before the Civil War. The roads are narrow and some feature old stone walls or are steeply banked. But some are still heavily used and have become badly rutted, frustrating residents who otherwise prefer unpaved roads.

If passed, it means VDOT would have to consider more than just the movement of cars when assessing the needs of these roads. Notably, the bill also asks that VDOT maintain the roads as is "whenever practicable," rather than paving, straightening, or widening the road.


Unpaved roads in Loudoun County.

In this case, the bill is aimed at keeping roads that already demand careful driving the way they are. But the unpaved road network also adds to the value of rural communities. People enjoy the aesthetics of the road and don't want to give that up in exchange for pavement and a slightly faster commute.

This supports Loudoun County's policy as well, since officials want most of development to go to the eastern half of the county closer to Dulles Airport, allowing the rest to remain rural. It also helps the county support its growing agritourism industry.

Recreational cyclists appreciate the gravel roads as well. "Gravel Grinders" are cycling enthusiasts who like riding on unpaved roads. Blogger DKEG has a self-made map of many of Loudoun's unpaved roads that any cyclist in the DC area could enjoy.

The proposed new standards are a tacit acknowledgement that people in rural and more car-dependent areas also appreciate calmer streets, and that wider or faster isn't always better. Communities can make drivers more mindful of their surroundings by narrowing or removing lanes, but in this case the roads are already narrow. It's great that Virginia and Loudoun County want to keep it that way.

Roads


VA legislative update: Bike safety bills advance, while some still try to limit Northern Virginia

As Virginia's legislative session continues, House Republicans are still trying to take local planning authority from Northern Virginia cities and counties. Two bicycle safety bills have moved forward. And Hampton Roads may get a regional transportation authority of its own.


Photo by William F. Yurasko on Flickr.

Bike bills seek to prevent "dooring"

Two bicycle safety bills have passed the Senate and are heading to the House of Delegates, including a bill that would require three feet of clearance when passing a cyclist. Another bill, Senate Bill 225, codifies that a car driver or passenger must ensure that the road is clear before opening their car door into traffic. And the House of Delegates passed HB 82, which specified that non-motorized transportation was included in the law that prohibits drivers following too closely.

However, two road safety bills that would have clarified a driver's duties to pedestrians in crosswalks were defeated in the House.

Delegates rewrite bill stripping Northern Virginia's ability to plan for itself

In our last update, we talked about HB 2, which would reduce Northern Virginia's ability to plan its own transportation projects. It's been significantly rewritten to put transit projects on more equal footing with roads and highways.

It will allow the state to evaluate projects on economic development, safety, accessibility, and environmental quality in addition to congestion relief, which would have been the only factor under the previous bill.

Meanwhile, HB 426, from Chantilly Republican Jim LeMunyon, has been tabled. It called for a "study" of transportation options on I-66 that only included more lanes for cars. It's unlikely that it will come up again this year.

But Delegate LeMunyon did get a House Bill 793 out of committee. That bill would have VDOT recommend specific transportation projects to the groups that plan these projects in Northern Virginia. Bills like this want to ensure that there's always someone advocating for highway projects that local governments may have already said they are not interested in. And this one violates the spirit of last year's transportation bill, which allowed Northern Virginia counties to plan for more public transportation solutions to congestion rather than pursuing a strategy that only focuses on newer and wider roads.

Another bill that we covered and is aimed at pushing a transportation solution that local counties may not want is House Bill 1244 from Delegate Tom Rust (R-Herndon), which would study and likely advocate for another highway crossing of the Potomac River as part of the Outer Beltway. It's been referred to the appropriations committee.

And HB 957, which would delay giving the state more control over VRE's executive board, passed the House. The bill initially called for repeal but this delay means that repeal can be considered again next year.

Good news for red-light cameras, Hampton Roads

The Hampton Roads area may soon be getting a local transportation planning authority similar to the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority with HB 1253, which has moved out of committee. This may be a benefit to Northern Virginia since such a group could bolster the argument that transportation decisions can be answered effectively by local governments.

Meanwhile, House Bill 973, which would have repealed localities' authority to install red light cameras, has been defeated.

We'll keep you updated on what happens to these bills.

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