Visualize 2045: A new long-range transportation plan for the National Capital Region

What’s in the plan?

Visualize 2045 will be a different kind of long-range plan for the region. One piece, the constrained element, is federally required and will include all the projects, programs and policies that are expected to be funded through 2045. Visualize 2045 will also include unfunded projects and priority aspirational elements including the five initiatives identified by the TPB’s Long-Range Plan Task Force, plus bicycle and pedestrian, freight elements, and more.

The first step is to develop the constrained element. The projects, programs, and policies submitted by the agencies must also be analyzed for their effect on the region’s air quality. To allow time for staff to conduct the analysis, all these inputs must be submitted at this time.

What’s new?

The new submissions build on hundreds of other projects contained in the 2016 amendment to the Constrained Long-Range Transportation Plan (CLRP). The public is welcome to comment on any of the projects submitted for air quality analysis.

Here is what is new or changed for Visualize 2045:

In the District of Columbia, six new miles of bicycle lanes throughout the District were submitted. The District is also removing three segments of its streetcar line. Learn more about these and other project changes.

In Maryland there is a range of new proposals from new toll lanes on I-270 and I-495 to a network of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) in Montgomery County. Also included in MDOT’s submissions are road widening, and reconstruction projects for Prince George’s County and Charles County. Learn more about these and other project changes.

In Virginia, submissions include a two-mile extension of the I-495 toll lanes to the American Legion Bridge, an auxiliary lane for southbound I-95 in Prince William County, and a road widening project for US 15 in Loudoun County. Learn more about these and other project changes.

Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority has also submitted projects for inclusion in Visualize 2045. WMATA has submitted a proposal to run all eight-car trains throughout the system during peak periods. The proposal also includes upgrades to accommodate the higher capacity trains. Learn more about these and other project changes.

What happens next?

The public comment period runs until January 13, 2018. At the TPB’s January 17 meeting, staff will present the comments received and the board will consider what is in the plan and how the air quality analysis will be performed. Staff will conduct the air quality and performance analysis during the spring and summer of 2018. In September, the public will have another chance to comment on the plan before the board considers it for final adoption in October.

Stay connected

Learn about key public input opportunities, decision points, and new data and analysis as it becomes available. Sign up for email updates and follow #VIZ2045 on Twitter.

Visualize 2045 is being developed by the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board, the federally designated metropolitan planning organization (MPO) for metropolitan Washington. The TPB is housed at and staffed by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG).

Link to more information: http://www.mwcog.org/visualize2045/

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New Plans for Transportation — Getting Us Moving

This week, the region’s Transportation Planning Board endorsed 5 initiatives out of the 10 that were part of its research designed by its Long Range Plan Task Force. Now comes the hard part.

Each of these initiatives would improve transportation in the region by reducing congestion, improving reliability, and shortening travel times. But only if they are implemented as designed and not compromised.

The policy endorsed by TPB that offers the biggest benefit is changing land use policies throughout the region. The recommendation: change where new houses and new offices will be built. Housing needs to move inward, from the outer suburbs to the inner ones, shortening commutes – and increasing the supply of housing to match demand, which will make the new houses more affordable for new homeowners. Our officials and planners will need the will to focus on more dense developments close to jobs or to transportation convenient to jobs. If each locality refuses to allow sufficient new housing stock, then we’ll get more sprawl and more traffic.

The second biggest impact would come from employer-based travel demand management policies, encouraging people to telecommute or to promote more efficient travel times and modes. The key to making this work is for policies to reward good behavior, and the danger is the temptation to build systems focusing on penalties. It’s been suggested that we dramatically limit parking or impose high tolls. More effective methods like subsidies or tax breaks are more likely to succeed and less likely to risk voter rebellion.

Transit in dedicated transitways is another important initiative. This could be bus rapid transit, light rail, Metrorail, commuter rail, etc. The key to keeping these effective is dedicated lanes – we’re already seeing BRT initiatives moving into mixed traffic. What is Bus Rapid Transit when you move the vehicles into mixed traffic and off of dedicated transitways? Um… it’s a bus. And it’s not rapid. The region has been investing in more transit even though transit usage is steadily declining. We need better transit, not the same old.

I am encouraged by the progress TPB has made during the three years I’ve been a member of its board. We explored a variety of ideas and performed the research to model the results and make good selections. Implementing these without losing the core that makes them function is the work ahead.

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Improving Regional Transportation

 

The Long-Range Plan Task Force recommends 5 ideas

 

At the final meeting of the TPB’s Long Range Plan Task Force, the group recommended that five of 10 transportation initiatives, analyzed for their ability to improve the performance of the region’s transportation system, be sent to the TPB for endorsement on December 20.

The task force worked hard to come to consensus around these five initiatives; the group met 10 times over 9 months and participated in hours of discussion.

Their work began less than a year ago, and started with first identifying the region’s biggest transportation challenges.
The analysis indicated that each of the ten initiatives had some potential to improve the regional transportation system’s performance and to address one or more of the region’s major transportation challenges. The analysis also demonstrated that none of the 10 initiatives would address all the region’s transportation challenges.

Armed with this information, the task force next identified which of the 10 initiatives to recommend to the TPB for endorsement. As it selected initiatives for its recommendation, the task force considered several factors in addition to the technical results of the analysis. These included public support and implementation feasibility, ability to address mobility and accessibility disparities between the eastern and western parts of the region, and implementation costs.

The final meeting began with a straw poll to see which initiatives rose to the top for the group. Five initiatives clearly had the most support.

The five initiatives

Regional Express Travel Network: The region would have an extensive network of express toll lanes on existing highways. These lanes would use dynamic tolls to maintain desired travel speeds and be free to carpoolers and transit vehicles. New express bus service connecting Activity Centers would also travel on the network.

Regionwide Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and Transitways: BRT, transitway, and streetcar routes that are in jurisdictions’ plans but not yet in the TPB’s long-range plan would be added at various locations throughout the region. This initiative would also improve pedestrian access to transit stations and increase the amount of jobs and housing around the transit stations.

Metrorail Core Capacity Improvements: This initiative includes running eight-car trains exclusively on all Metrorail lines—replacing six-car trains entirely. It would also add a second Rosslyn station, and a new rail line across the Potomac River connecting the District and Virginia through Georgetown to Union Station towards Waterfront. It also would add better bicycle and pedestrian access to rail stations.

Optimize Regional Land-Use Balance: This initiative would optimize the balance of jobs and housing region-wide. The idea is to increase jobs and housing around underused rail stations and Activity Centers with high-capacity transit. Plus, it would encourage building additional housing in the region to match employment projections.

Employer-Based Travel Demand Management Policies: New policies would increase teleworking regionwide and increase the number of employees receiving transit and carpool subsidies. This initiative would also increase the price for most of the parking for work-trips in Activity Centers.

A TPB endorsement of any of the initiatives will allow the TPB to include these initiatives as the aspirational element of TPB’s long-range transportation plan, Visualize 2045. An endorsement would also move the ideas forward so TPB member agencies could study them in more depth. However, a TPB endorsement would not mandate member jurisdictions to alter their own local plans, programs, or policies or to design, fund, and implement these initiatives without further study.

The five recommended initiatives are all broad concepts. With more detailed collaborative study, TPB member agencies could implement these ideas themselves or collectively.
Task force members discussed the five initiatives

To come to consensus and better understand their decisions, task force members discussed the five initiatives. They talked through their lingering concerns and asked questions of each other to understand different opinions.

The task force discussed the challenges in securing the funding and broad support to implement some of the strongest ideas. The regional land-use optimization initiative was one.

Task force and TPB member Ron Meyer, noting that land-use planning is within the authority of the local governments, wondered how a regional body could do that. “My question is the how? What can we do about it as the TPB?”
Meyer also asked how much of a shift in jobs and housing between jurisdictions would have to happen to implement such an initiative and what it would mean for local jurisdictions.

TPB staff director Kanti Srikanth explained that one of the significant elements of this initiative is adding additional housing in the region to accommodate the workers needed to fill the jobs being forecast. “More people are coming and we need to plan for them,” he said. “Jurisdictions will need to add more households around existing and planned transit stations.”

Srikanth also noted that the initiative’s overall objective is balancing jobs and housing in the best way this can be achieved.

Task force and TPB member Neil Harris noted that some of the concepts have been examined and pursued to some degree in the past. He talked about earlier regional planning strategies, like the 1964 Wedges and Corridors plan, that focused on anticipated growth to the year 2000. “I think it’s time for this region to look at the next 50 years,” he said. “We need to have that discussion. To me, it’s a big set of questions and a discussion to start having over the next 10 years.”

By the end of the discussion, with no dissent, the task force agreed to recommend the five initiatives to the TPB for endorsement.

“The task force’s work in reaching broad agreement on a set of recommendations is a significant example of regional collaboration,” said task force chairman and TPB vice-chairman Jay Fisette. “Our work indicates that we must move past our focus on projects alone, and include more strategic and sustained work on policy changes, particularly on land-use and travel demand management, to truly reduce congestion and enhance regional mobility. The recommended initiatives rose to the top for having the most potential to improve the performance of the region’s transportation system and deserve to be comprehensively examined for implementation.”

The TPB will consider endorsing these five initiatives at its December 20 meeting.

http://www.tpbne.ws/…/the-long-range-plan-task-force-recom…/

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Gaithersburg Police Deploy Body Worn Cameras

Press release from the City of Gaithersburg:

The Gaithersburg Police Department (GPD) will deploy Body-Worn Cameras (BWC) this week with selected officers. The deployment with the selected officers is intended to test the body-worn camera system before a Department-wide roll out that will be conducted in three phases in November, December and January. All uniformed GPD officers are expected to be deployed with and carrying body-worn cameras by the end of January 2018.

The Police Department has been exploring and preparing for the implementation of a body-worn camera program for several years. The exhaustive process included exploring financial and infrastructure needs, working with outside agencies, researching and implementing policy and procedure best-practices for body-worn cameras, meeting with community stakeholders and elected officials, and meeting with GPD officers to develop a governing policy that will work best within the Gaithersburg community. Sources of best-practice ideas for the body-worn camera policy include the Maryland Police Training Commission, International Association of Chiefs of Police, Police Executive Research Forum, ACLU, Civil Rights Principles on Use of Body Cameras, Montgomery County Police policy, and a focus group of GPD officers.

Body-worn cameras allow the Department to capture both audio and video interactions between officers and individuals. The program can help document police and citizen behavior, help resolve citizen complaints, and can be used as evidence in criminal proceedings and civil litigation.

Guidelines and instructions for officer use of body-worn cameras can be found in General Order 619.4. The General Order, as well as additional background information on the body-worn camera program, can be found here. For more information please contact the Gaithersburg Police Department at 301-258-6400.

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WHEN YOU’RE IN A DEEP HOLE: Infrastructure Deficits in Montgomery County

My post was originally published on the Seventh State blog, August 8, 2017

In a recent meeting with the capital improvements team at MCPS, I suggested that it would take $1 billion in extra capital funding to provide enough classrooms and to fix dilapidated schools. The staff responded that the number was more like $2 billion or more. Ouch.

My guess was based on the basic cost for classroom space of $40K per student. So, an elementary school for 750 kids would cost $30 million. And we have 9,000 kids in portables ($360 million worth of classrooms) and we’re adding 2,500 new students each year ($100 million). I guessed at double that for renovations, but apparently that number is way worse than my rough guess.

In transportation, the situation is even worse. Not only is our system the most congested in the country, but in 25 years the congestion is projected to be 72% worse! In the past 15 years, we’ve added several hundred thousand new residents to the mid- and up-county, and the population will grow by 20%. We’re not keeping up.

The National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board (TPB) made projections based on the regional long-range plan, which includes all the projects proposed and expected to be funded. The TPB recently looked at the 500 projects proposed but not expected to be funded, and building all of them “only” makes congestion 28% worse. I repeat: building every project proposed still makes congestion 28% worse!

One problem for the TPB is that the projects on their list are proposed by local jurisdictions: the states, counties, and cities, and are most often focused on local needs. There is no central authority over regionally significant ideas that will serve to improve transportation for everyone.

Another challenge is that there is such a huge focus on new transit that it crowds out roads. If you build a new Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) on a Metro Station and 60% of the new residents use Metro, then there are still 40% of the new residents in cars. One mode is not enough, and the current plans look like they are out of balance, with the vast majority of trips by auto in 25 years but most funding going to transit and not highways. To be clear: in 25 years with $100 billion spent on transit in our region, we increase ridership by 2% for work trips, with a huge increase in auto trips and little improvement in our road network.

The TPB bravely took it upon ourselves to develop a list of 10 “potentially game changing” projects, programs, and policies to study, to learn if there are ways to actually reduce congestion instead of surrendering to it. This has been a controversial process thanks to inclusion of a new northern Potomac crossing, but the TPB has recognized that desperate times require desperate measures.

So, where would the money come from to fix these problems, assuming we find good answers and the political will to address them?

For transportation, Northern Virginia has taken the lead. The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority collects a small surcharge on some taxes to create $330 million in new funding to reduce congestion. Under this new program, the state and the local jurisdictions are not allowed to reduce transportation funding, so the money goes directly to new programs.

For schools as well as transportation, Adam Pagnucco suggested that Montgomery County’s annual revenue grows by about $140 million each year due to increased income and property tax revenue. How about dedicating all this growth to infrastructure for the next few years, instead of operations? In five years or so, we could be all caught up.

These aren’t the only ways to get out of the hole. We could build schools like the Monarch Global Academy in Laurel, which cost one-third to one-half what MCPS spends on each school. That would stretch our dollars. We could look at the cost-effectiveness of transportation projects already in the pipeline and refocus on ones that make more of a difference.

I hope with the big election year in Montgomery County next year, we can direct the candidates to solve these big challenges as their top priority. We need to understand what projects will actually help and then find ways to pay for them.

Whatever we do, we know one thing – when you are in a hole, first stop digging.

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Predictions from the CEO of Mercedes

The CEO of Mercedes posted an article with predictions of the future. Here is a selection focused on public policy matters:

• Autonomous cars: In 2018 the first self-driving cars will appear for the public. Around 2020, the complete industry will start to be disrupted. You don’t want to own a car anymore. You will call a car with your phone, it will show up at your location and drive you to your destination. You will not need to park it, you only pay for the driven distance and can be productive while driving. Our kids will never get a driver’s license and will never own a car.

• It will change the cities, because we will need 90-95% less cars for that. We can transform former parking spaces into parks. 1.2 million people die each year in car accidents worldwide. We now have one accident every 60,000 miles (100,000 km), with autonomous driving that will drop to one accident in 6 million miles (10 million km). That will save a million lives each year.

• Insurance companies will have massive trouble because, without accidents, the insurance will become 100x cheaper. Their car insurance business model will disappear.

• Real estate will change. Because if you can work while you commute, people will move further away to live in a more beautiful neighborhood.

• Electric cars will become mainstream about 2020. Cities will be less noisy because all new cars will run on electricity. Electricity will become incredibly cheap and clean: Solar production has been on an exponential curve for 30 years, but you can now see the burgeoning impact.

• Last year, more solar energy was installed worldwide than fossil. Energy companies are desperately trying to limit access to the grid to prevent competition from home solar installations, but that can’t last. Technology will take care of that strategy.

Some conclusions: these changes would/will have a profound effect on infrastructure. We would reclaim the land now reserved for parking lots. The power grid is greatly diminished (don’t invest in electric utilities!). With electric automobiles, the oil business goes in the tank — which is why they are fighting so hard for every dollar they can get today.

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MCPS Planning Discussions

On Friday, we had another meeting with MCPS, this one with planning staff and their consultants. We talked about the need for school capacity.

In our city, we go through stages of project approvals for new housing – the master plan, sketch plan, schematic design plan (SDP), and permitting. It’s only at the last phase when a project is considered funded and eligible for MCPS to consider school capacity issues. But by then it’s really too late – people start moving in within a couple of years, but MCPS takes 6 years or more to provide capacity.

It would be best if we could get on the MCPS list as early as possible, probably at the sketch plan stage. It’s hard to approve more housing if we don’t know if there will be room in the local schools. A true chicken-and-egg problem.

We discussed some creative approaches. For example, there are new housing developments moving through the stages for the Kentlands commercial district. We suggested potential sites for a new school close by.

MCPS planning pushed back, saying that it is more efficient to build additions to small schools like Dufief, where 350 students could be accommodated in a bigger school, rather than a new school for 750 where there are not enough students to fill it up yet.

The openness for discussions and for creativity is healthy, but there are challenges caused by the slow timetables at MCPS and the quicker ones here in Gaithersburg.

Toward the end of the discussion, I raised the issue of the deep deficit in classroom space in the system. By my math, MCPS needs to spend $500 million just to get kids out of portables and to handle the growth already known, plus perhaps another $500 in deferred maintenance. The MCPS staff said that they thought the deferred maintenance number was more like $2 billion.

It’s clear that MCPS is in a huge capital deficit, and we need to make sure our state and county officials recognize how important it is to fix. When you are in a hole, the first thing to do is: stop digging!

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Affordability of Housing

County Council Member Nancy Floreen posted information from a study on the amount and affordability of housing in the county. I asked Gaithersburg staff how we compare. Here is the result:

County: 33 percent of all residential housing units are rental units;

Staff: From our most current, published population report (ACS 5 year, 2015: verified apples to apples because Kirk includes the County for comparison, and the County is listed as 33 percent): Gaithersburg: 46 percent

County: 74 percent of renter households earn less than 100 percent of area median income;

Staff: From ACS, 5 Year, 2015, S2503: This is a trickier calculation. First, the income break nearest the AMI for a family of 4 is $110,300 is $99,999. I would say that we could factor in income rising, since Census data is kind of on the elderly side, but income isn’t really rising at all. That’s convenient for this purpose (only). The best we can do is an approximation to get a general sense of where we stand. There are 23,550 total households in Gaithersburg. 12,843 are owner-occupied (54%), and 10,707 (the 46% listed above) are renter occupied. So far so good. Census breaks the info down into groups of $5,000 to $50,000, and then lists $150,000 or more as its top tier. Since AMI is $110,300, then the tier listed as $75,000 to $99,999 along with the top tier is where we need to focus our number. Here’s how I would do the math, although you and Neil might think about this differently:

Renters at $99,000 and below: 79.1%
Renters between $100,000 – $149,999: 12.4%
Renters at $150,000 and above: 8.4%

Since AMI is $110,300, we could add 20% of 12.4% to 79.1% to capture those in the income category who edge into that middle tier. That would not make a huge difference, though. I would say between 79% and 80% of Gaithersburg renters earn less than 100% of AMI. That is consistent with what we know about Gaithersburg, generally.

County: and only 19 percent of rental units are affordable to households earning less than 50 percent of area median income.

If 50% of AMI is $55,150, then they should pay no more than $1,145 with no utilities (25%) and $1,378 if utilities are included (30%). First, the median rent in Gaithersburg is $1,542. Already not so good for low income renters. According to the ACS, there are 10,524 occupied units paying rent. Again, Census breaks don’t make this precise, but it is a close approximation. Their tiers are:

Less than $500: 408
$500-$999: 768
$1,000-$1,499: 3806

By those estimations, only 1176 (11%) are definitely affordable to those at or below 50% of AMI. You may want to bust the next category up another way, but I would say it would be fair to take 20% of the 3806 and classify that as “somewhat affordable” to those at or below 50% of AMI. That’s another 761, bringing the grand total up to about 18%.

Neil: How do we compare?

Not too far off. Although we are now on the good side of renter vs. owner, we still have more renters than the County. We have marginally more renters who are below 100% of AMI for the region. Very like the County, we have far too few units affordable to those at or below 50% of AMI. Thanks to progressive Council members, we are actively working on these issues every single day!

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