James Davenport Transportion (Past, Present and Future)

22Aug/19Off

The Galapagos Islands and Climate Change (Small Actions Matter)

Have you ever heard the phrase, “every little bit helps?” It is a shame there are things we want to accomplish but we get discouraged because certain goals seem insurmountable. We may not realize that some of the things we already do may help reach that goal.  For instance, I got back from a trip to Galapagos Islands a few months ago. And as I was thinking about the trip, it occurred to me that the Galapagos Islands are like a naturalist paradise. As we make commitments to address climate change (big or small), we are moving closer to the goal of reaching a naturalist paradise of our own.

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In looking as something as insurmountable as resolving climate change, it’s always a good idea to break a goal down to various phases or parts and strive toward intermediate steps of success. Even if solving climate change seems to be unrealistic, the various steps one can take to help reach that goal is not unrealistic.

One good example of this in the transportation world is  the “Vision Zero” campaign. I remember when it was called “Toward Zero Death” way back when. The idea is to set a goal of achieving no traffic fatalities and serious injuries from car crashes over a certain number of years. One’s first reaction is that it is an unattainable goal. OK, but then you tell me if there is a group of people whose life we can accept losing on the highway or local streets, since this goal is so “unattainable?” Could that be your wife/husband or significant other, child, parent, good friend, even an acquaintance? You can’t really identify someone to fit into that particular group. So we set about working with key partners and stakeholders to redesign dangerous intersections, install traffic calming devices such as roundabouts, reduce the speed limit, install pedestrian road crossings, etc. We may not reach the ultimate goal but we will probably see success in reducing traffic fatalities.

Again, the Galapagos Islands are a place where humans and animals live mostly in perfect harmony in the natural environment. If that is the ultimate goal of completely addressing the impacts of climate change, any steps toward doing that is well worth it.

My trip to the Galapagos Islands, off the coast of Ecuador in South America, was in the early part of May, 2019. We visited the islands of North Seymour, Bartolome, Rabida, Fernandina, Isabela, Santiago, and Santa Crua. I was excited to see many species of plants and animals and had various opportunities to see them both on land and in the water. I will also say that some of the islands had very little transportation infrastructure, if any at all. In other words, I didn’t experience any rush hour unless you count the group of Orcas we saw one morning as we crossed the equator on the fourth day of our trip.

 

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I went on this trip with my sisters Virginia and Karen and my brother-in-law Stephen. I had no idea what to expect but I was pleasantly surprised with the sights and the activities of this trip, and will always remember it. We were able to witness nature whether from a shoreline tour on a zodiac boat, snorkeling along some of the inlets, doing a short hike along some of the natural trails and beaches or kayaking along the shores. One thing I like about traveling is being able to share my experiences with friends and colleagues. And boy did I take many pictures.

I won’t kid you, Galapagos has had its own issues in the past in which humans have introduced invasive species that have threatened the islands. But many foresighted naturalists and scientists have been able to mitigate some of those impacts, preserve the Islands and closely manage human interaction through limited tours. The wildlife is so used to visitors they don’t view humans as a threat and rarely scatter when you approach them. Nothing like being up-close and personal with a Blue Footed Boobie. Or a Sea Lion.

In fact, when we arrived at the hotel in Guayaquill, Ecuador and as we were about to take the trip from Ecuador to the islands, we were issued a transit control card. This card was given to all of us and was issued by the Government Council for Galapagos as a measure towards “sustainable human development and conservation of the Galapagos Islands.” I looked at the card as similar to a permit to enjoy the entire this natural paradise while at the same time maintaining its integrity and natural beauty.

What can this trip teach us about the importance of climate change? Whether you believe in the impacts of human behavior on climate or not, any action you take or day-to-day practice you follow that helps reduce the carbon footprint is a good thing. It surely doesn’t hurt.

Now, I am not pushing major policies, such as Cap and Trade, that are being hotly debated right now. It is clear to me we will have to make critical decisions in the future and we need to understand what are the ramifications of action and inaction in addressing climate change.

For the sake of this blog, I just want to point out that you yourself may already be doing your part in addressing climate change. Whether you carpool to work over driving alone, or compost food scraps instead of throwing it out into a landfill, recycle cans and bottles, walk to the store instead of drive, we are all doing our share to maintain natural integrity of our environment as best we can. Can we reach the ultimate goal of a Galapagos Islands in your neighborhood? Of course not, but in these actions, we are doing our small part in making the world a little more sustainable and a little more pleasant to live. We are helping to preserve our environment for future generations.

By the way, my favorite part of the trip was the last day when we visited the Charles Darwin Research Station, located near Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island, to see the big turtles.

We went to the center not only for the big turtles, but to see how the station raises young giant tortoises and then releases them into the wild. We saw some of the small turtles in their pens. This program is run in conjunction with the Galapagos Park Service. Since 1970, more than 2,000 tortoises have been hatched, raised and released. Later we went to a nature preserve in Puerto Ayora and were able to see the large turtles in their natural habitat. Again, we were able to be with the turtles, up-close and personal.

 

Written by nspiregreen on August 21.

 

 

 

19Feb/18Off

Didn’t see This Coming – Dulles and National Airports up for Sale?

I just read earlier this week from the Washington Business Journal that a part of President Trump’s Transportation Infrastructure Plan calls for the possible sale from the federal government of both Dulles and National Airports to a public and/or private entity. Sorry, I still refer to the airport in Arlington as National Airport. I’m used to the older name and never felt it necessary to change it. I was quite taken by surprise from this proposal. I understand that the current administration would like to divest itself from major funding responsibilities that the federal government had taken on for many, many years, but I didn’t think the administration would specifically identify these key facilities in the Washington DC area.

As the article stated, the administration’s justification for the sale is that local agencies and/or the private sector may be better at managing these facilities. The administration is looking for the federal government to off-load the infrastructure, thinking that the taxpayers will benefit from the sale since more funds will then be available in the federal coffers. The future costs for capital improvements, operations and maintenance would be covered more by the users of the facilities and/or the local entities, whether private or public. To me, it looks like a Federal Government fire sale.

National Airport
Credit - NBC News

Local officials are saying it is difficult to say what the impacts would be at this point. Dulles and National Airports are the only two federally owned airports in the country. I would presume members from the US Congress would not favor such a sale as it may inhibit members being able to push the airports to include flights that best meet their schedules. Maybe this would provide more local autonomy in the management of the two airports.

The first question would be - is this even possible? In listening to Kojo Nnamdi’s show this afternoon, there is doubt that this will even happen. And it is impossible to determine at this point what the impacts would be. It seems to me, on the surface, it’s just another way the federal government is looking to divest itself of past responsibilities and put more of the burden on local and state government.

Many living in the region probably thought the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority (MWAA) owned the airports anyway, since they operate them. MWAA operates both the airports under a long-term contract with the feds. MWAA is governed by a 17-member Board of Directors which establishes policy and provides direction to management. Members of the Board are appointed by the Governors of Virginia and Maryland, the Mayor of Washington, D.C., and the President of the United States. Would MWAA be the logical choice to take this on? Do they have the resources to do so? What would be the impacts on local governments within the region and its citizenry?

Again, there are just too many unknowns here. It seems like it would make sense for MWAA to take on ownership, but do they have the capacity to do so? Surely state and local governments cannot purchase the airports. Private ownership of the airports would have its issues as well. Cost of using the facilities, such as airline tickets and long-term parking, would probably increase.

This proposed sale concerns me because it appears to be a part of an overall effort for the federal government to de-invest in our nation’s infrastructure. We all were encouraged by the president identifying transportation infrastructure being a priority, but funding amounts he is proposing just don’t add up. In the announcement of his infrastructure plan, The White House says its plan will “create $1.5 trillion for repairing and upgrading America’s infrastructure. However, only $200 billion of that would come from direct federal spending, the rest is supposed to come from state and local governments, which are expected to match any federal allocation by at least a four-to-one ratio.”

Dulles Airport
Credit - Huffington Post

States have gradually assumed more of the responsibility for funding infrastructure in recent years, and the White House says it wants to accelerate that trend. Yes public/private partnerships have worked in some areas, and the Commonwealth of Virginia has led the charge. But there are examples where they have not worked. Route 460 comes to mind.

If the President was truly serious and committed to improving our nation’s infrastructure, especially our highways and transit systems, he would seriously consider a gas tax increase in addition to leveraging funding from other sources. In fact, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has proposed “hiking the federal gas tax, which hasn’t gone up since 1993, to raise $394 billion over 10 years. The White House is open to that idea, but hasn’t ruled anything out.” I would like to have seen a more enthusiastic endorsement of gas tax increase, than “the White House is open to that idea.”  Relying more on state and local governments to fund more of these transportation improvement projects may become impractical since most state and local governments are already cash strapped.

Please let me know how you think the sale of the airports will play out. Is it good for the DC metropolitan region?

 

8Feb/18Off

What to do about Route 28? Not all Solutions may be so Expensive

What do you think when you hear about snarling traffic in the DC Metropolitan area? Well, the Capital Beltway comes to mind, I-66, I-95, I-270. During our commutes every day, there are non-stop reports of delays and crashes further exacerbating those delays and bottling up the region’s highways. Recently a new face to the region’s traffic woes came up front and center. Yes, I am talking about Route 28.  A recent article described how various changes may have led to Route 28 moving into the spotlight and how significant the congestion challenges are on Route 28, from one end to the other.

Officials estimate that the entire Route 28 corridor from Fauquier County to Loudoun County will take an estimated $1 billion in proposed improvements. And while these improvements are necessary, it is imperative that transportation officials and decision makers along the corridor also consider strategies and policies to reduce travel demand, or to redistribute this demand in time or in location. Yes, I am talking about Transportation Development Management (TDM).

Credit: Virginia Department of Transportation

To get a better perspective of the Route 28 corridor, I will refer to our old friend Wikipedia. State Route 28 is a “primary state highway that traverses the counties of Loudoun, Fairfax, Prince William, and Fauquier in the U.S. state of Virginia. It is a major artery through Northern Virginia, particularly the portions within western Fairfax County and eastern Loudoun County, where most of the route is a 6-lane freeway.” You do get a good sense of how the corridor changes as it runs west to east through the farms and rural section of Fauquier County and Prince William County, then the suburban parts of Prince William County and the denser commercial areas of Manassas and Manassas Park. Then you travel through Fairfax and Loudoun Counties, where the road is a six-lane divided highway, and you see quite a few businesses and corporate headquarters along that section of the corridor. That also includes the Air and Space museum and Dulles Airport. The road has as many personalities as Sybil.

There is no denying the severity of congestion on this road, and that can be the case no matter where you are along the road. Kudos to the recently elected Delegate Danica Roem who made Route 28 a major issue in her campaign for the 13th House of Delegates District in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Her district covers the city of Manassas Park and a portion of northern Prince William County.  It’s about time that congestion on Route 28 rises to the top of transportation challenges in the region. Prince William, Fairfax, and Loudoun Counties have worked to address the congestion challenges on Route 28 with various improvement projects. But movement is slow and very expensive.

What low cost approaches can be implemented to help address these issues? Can we afford future major improvement on the road? Are transit improvements such as BRT and or light rail viable?

Credit: WTOP.com

The thinking is that any answer to relieve congestion along this corridor will cost a lot of money. Unfortunately, studies have shown that the density is not at a level to warrant any type of major investment in transit such as BRT or light rail. I have read that Delegate Roem is looking at alternatives to traffic lights and removing them in sections where possible. That won’t be easy given the number of businesses along Route 28 in the vicinity Manassas Park and northern Prince William County. The article referenced a study that narrowed down options to improve Route 28 moving from Manassas, Manassas Park and Prince William County to the Fairfax County line at Bull Run. These options include widening of the facility and three bypass possibilities around the Route 28 corridor in that area. All the options have their own cost and Right-of-Way challenges. Many difficult decisions will have to be made and it is going to take a lot of time, a lot of resources, and a lot of debate. And that debate could lead to heated squabbling.

How did we get into this predicament in the first place? Were there unwise development decisions made in the past, a case of growth with very little planning or forethought? Land along the corridor was cheap at one time so residential development popped up all over the place; and as a result, the only way to get around anywhere was by automobile. Maybe that was the case, but communities have a right to grow and develop as they see fit. It is unfortunate that the error of one’s ways may not even be felt until way down the road. Though, there are folks who will tell you congestion on Route 28 has been an issue for up to 30 years.

One encouraging development is the proliferation of TDM strategies. Simply put, TDM addresses traffic congestion at the demand side rather than the supply or infrastructure side. It generally involves working with local employers to develop alternative ways for their employees to commute to work. This may involve setting up a van or bus pool, encouraging carpooling, tele-commuting, offering flex-time work days and workweek options, etc. There are multiple options.

Residents living near the vicinity of I-66 will see quite a bit of these approaches during the construction phase of I-66, especially outside the beltway. VDOT and DRPT are working with transit agencies and local governments along the corridor to devise approaches to provide options for commuters to get to work during the construction phase of the I-66 improvements. This is referred to as the Transportation Management Plan (TMP). I encourage those of you who live along the I-66 corridor to check out what your options may be during this period. Please peruse the Transform I-66 website.

Many TDM projects are already in place throughout the Washington region. In reviewing the Transportation Planning Board Commuter Connections program webpage, I came across a table of “Ongoing Local Jurisdictional Demand Management Strategies” that was put together for 2016 Congestion Management Process Technical Report. The table listed 104 projects across the region. Again, this was from 2016 so there will probably be more programs when the table is updated for 2018.

Many of these projects are in Prince William County/ Potomac Rappahannock Transportation Commission (PRTC), Fairfax and Loudoun Counties. These programs, along with state, regional, and Transportation Management Association (TMA) strategies, will go a long way to help address congestion along the Route 28 corridor. The challenge would be the promotion of these strategies and developing ways to further encourage commuters to use these programs rather than driving solo to work. TDM can be cost effective in reducing SOV and as a result, reducing congestion. This may sound like a no-brainer but for TDM strategies to be successful, commuters must use the services, provided by the strategies, and use them continuously.

Credit: Commons Wikimedia.org

Local governments and transit agencies should continue working with their state, regional, and TMA entities to expand TDM and make it a viable option to reduce congestion along the region’s roadways, especially along Route 28. State and regional long-range transportation plans that provide a road-map (pun intended) for transportation projects 20 to 40 years in the future are including TDM projects. The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority recently updated its long-range plan, TransAction, and it includes 12 TDM projects out of the 352 projects in total. While that may not seem like a lot, this is the first time any TDM projects have been included in TransAction. And if you include non-motorized and ITS/ICM projects, that is 22% of all the projects in the current TransAction plan.

Having worked in a County Transportation Department for three years, I know how costly and long-term many transportation projects are, whether it’s a road widening, converting an intersection to an interchange, or a new Bus Rapid Transit. Though the necessity of these projects is obvious, the politics can derail it or even take it off the table for further discussion. I have seen how effective TDM projects can be, sometimes inadvertently. In 2015, the pope planned a visit in late September to the DC area. Hardly any traffic issues or congestion incidents occurred on that day. People simply stayed home and worked. When Metro shut down its entire operation one weekday a few years ago, for necessary repairs, there were hardly any traffic issues. I had to drive into the District from Prince William County for a meeting on that day. It took me only about 35 minutes – quicker than usual.

I know those scenarios are unusual and transportation agencies can't implement a "everyone stay home" strategy as a viable approach to reduce congestion in the region. But TDM programs contain effective strategies and they should be a part of any agency's toolbox to reduce congestion. And that includes for Route 28.