Tag Archives: urban planning

Telework continues to gain popularity in metro Washington as technology advances, employers grant more flexibility

More than 600,000 people in the Washington region telework “at least occasionally” and another 500,000 say they “could and would” work remotely if given the opportunity, according to the results of a 2010 Transportation Planning Board survey of commuters’ travel patterns. That’s nearly half of the region’s 2010 workforce of around 2.4 million people.

Of the 600,000 people already teleworking, about half did so at least one day a week, according to the survey, which is conducted every three years. Seventeen percent reported teleworking three or more days per week. The average frequency was 1.3 days per week.

Source: 2010 TPB State of the Commute Survey

All together, more than 200,000 peak period commuting trips were taken off of crowded roads on any given weekday in 2010 thanks to telecommuting, resulting in 4.1 million fewer vehicle miles of travel per day, and annual emissions reductions of more than 1,100 tons of smog-forming pollutants and 527,000 tons of carbon dioxide.

Teleworking has been gaining in popularity in the Washington region for more than a decade: the share of the workforce that reported working from home or working remotely at least occasionally doubled between 1998 and 2010, from 12% of the workforce to 25%, according to the survey.

Source: 2010 TPB State of the Commute Survey

Most recently — between the 2007 and 2010 surveys — the federal agencies in the region posted the biggest gains in the share of their workforce that was teleworking, jumping from 16% to 27%.

That increase brought the share of federal employees in the region who telework in line with the shares of the private sector and non-profit workforce who work remotely. About half as many people in state and local government agencies in the region telework — around 13% as of 2010 — due mainly to the in-person nature of the work that many local government agency employees need to perform.

The TPB has been involved since the late 1980s in studying the impacts of and potential for teleworking in the Washington region, and since the mid-1990s has proactively promoted teleworking as a way to reduce congestion and improve the region’s air quality.

Reviews of telework pilot programs in Los Angeles, California, and in Arlington County, Virginia, and monitoring of the federal “Flexiplace Program” and state-level telework initiatives in Virginia and Maryland were the subject of the TPB’s earliest telework-related efforts in the late 1980s.

In 1996, the TPB launched an aggressive outreach campaign through its Commuter Connections program to educate the business community and the general public about the benefits of teleworking.

That work included developing “how-to” kits and instructional videos for employers and employees, as well as annual telework seminars for employers to talk about the challenges of employee supervision and accountability, managing relations between workers who are allowed to telework and those who aren’t, and the technological obstacles to expanding telework opportunities.

Today, Commuter Connections promotes teleworking as part of the broader package of alternatives to driving alone to and from work, and provides online telework resources for commuters and employers, including employer case studies and a dedicated Facebook page for collaborative discussions on current telework issues.

Commuter Connections also supports local jurisdiction telework efforts by providing on-call assistance to employers interested in starting or expanding telework programs.

As technology continues to advance — providing easier, cheaper, more reliable ways to work remotely — more people are likely to be able to telework, and those who do may well be able to telework more often.

Employer flexibility is also expected to continue to increase as teleworking comes to be seen as a more necessary tool in attracting and retaining talented workers who are seeking ways to balance the demands of work and life and to ease the burden of daily commuting.

The TPB’s next survey of the daily commuting patterns of the region’s workforce, scheduled for next year, will show whether teleworking has continued to grow since 2010 and might suggest what the future of teleworking in the region will look like.

The TPB Weekly Report is a regular feature on The Yardstick and is designed to provide brief, timely summaries of recent research, analysis, outreach, and planning by the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board (TPB). Follow the TPB on Facebook and Twitter.

Can ‘Bus-on-Shoulder’ work in metropolitan Washington?

More express and local transit buses that operate on the region’s highways could eventually, in select locations and under certain traffic conditions, be allowed to use shoulders to bypass especially bad congestion in regular travel lanes if a new task force set up by the Transportation Planning Board finds that it would be safe, practical, and advantageous to do so.

Final approval and implementation of such operations would come from the state departments of transportation that have jurisdiction over the highways, and both the federal government and the agencies that operate the region’s bus transit services would have to agree to such operations, too.

Several metropolitan areas around the country and overseas have implemented “bus-on-shoulder” provisions to help transit buses bypass critical chokepoints and maintain their on-time reliability.

In the United States, one of the most extensive bus-on-shoulder networks is in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area, where buses can use the shoulders of nearly 280 miles of highway whenever traffic in regular travel lanes drops below 35 miles per hour and when buses stand to save at least 8 minutes per mile in travel time.

Courtesy: University of Minnesota

In the Washington region, buses are already using shoulders in Virginia on a short segment of the Dulles Airport Access Road near the West Falls Church Metrorail station and in Maryland on Route 29 near Burtonsville. Interstate 66 inside the Capital Beltway is currently the subject of a Virginia Department of Transportation study to assess the feasibility of bus-on-shoulder operations there.

Members of the TPB called for the creation of a task force to conduct a full, regional study of the feasibility of allowing buses to use shoulders because they said it could be a way to move more people more efficiently using infrastructure that’s already in place.

The TPB task force will review local bus-on-shoulder experiences and the experiences of other regions to see what safety, engineering, and operational issues are important to consider, like appropriate operating speeds, shoulder widths and pavement materials, signage, and merging procedures.

The regional group will work with the departments of transportation and transit agencies in the region to look for sections of highway where allowing buses to use shoulders makes sense. Ideal segments are those where congestion regularly impacts the on-time reliability of buses, where shoulders are either ready for use by buses or could be made so with minimal improvement, and where highway and transit agencies are able to coordinate a safe and successful implementation.

Ultimately, determining where bus-on-shoulder operations make sense will consist of weighing the benefits of doing so — mostly travel time savings and reliability for riders — against the costs of implementation — like making any necessary safety or engineering upgrades to the shoulders and training bus drivers in safe bus-on-shoulder operations.

Creation of the bus-on-shoulder task force builds on previous work by the TPB to find ways to improve the on-time reliability of buses throughout the region, including a recent study that identified the top “hot spots” where buses encounter the greatest delays on city streets and recommended physical and operational improvements to help buses avoid delay in those locations.

The 495 Express Lanes in Virginia — which are planned to open later this year — and the Inter-County Connector (ICC) in Maryland also help buses maintain on-time reliability by allowing buses to travel in lanes that are kept congestion-free by charging drivers of personal vehicles a toll to use the lanes.

The TPB task force will work through the fall and into the spring to complete its study, with a final report due in May 2013.

A number of regions throughout the United States and around the world allow transit buses to use highway shoulders to avoid traffic back-ups. The Transportation Planning Board’s task force will determine whether expanding bus-on-shoulder operations in the Washington region makes enough sense to move forward with implementing such a system. If it does, and if the appropriate highway and transit agencies can implement it, commuting by bus on the region’s highways could become more reliable for the thousands of people who do it every day.

The TPB Weekly Report is a regular feature on The Yardstick and is designed to provide brief, timely summaries of recent research, analysis, outreach, and planning by the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board (TPB). Follow the TPB on Facebook and Twitter.

Crystal City: An Activity Center in transformation

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been discussing the role of updated Activity Centers in metro Washington. Now we’re going to take a look at some specific Centers, starting with Crystal City.

Located in Arlington County between Route 1 and the RF&P railroad, Crystal City provides an interesting example of how key investments can shape Activity Centers into more dynamic and successful communities.

Major redevelopment in the 1960s transformed Crystal City’s industrial landscape into a major commercial center that was marked by large office buildings, superblocks, and pedestrian tunnels.

Crystal City’s central location and connections to Downtown DC, the Pentagon, and National Airport made it an ideal location for its federal and defense contractor tenants. More recently, challenges such as the 2005 BRAC recommendations relocating 13,000 jobs out of Crystal City, the departure of large employers, and aging building stock have prompted Arlington County government and business leaders to reposition Crystal City.

To this end, the Crystal City Sector Plan, adopted in 2010, provides a framework to guide future development, addressing the area’s transportation, land use, density, urban design, and public space and parks.

The Crystal City Business Improvement District (BID) is spearheading a number of efforts to create a vibrant mixed-use community, engaging the area’s businesses, residents, workers, and visitors. Today, Angela Fox, President and CEO of the Crystal City BID, writes about some of these changes.

Almost a decade ago, Crystal City stakeholders began a systematic process to reinvent the area. Those seemingly simple yet deliberate steps forward began a movement that no one could have expected – and, to this day, the results continue to reap major benefits.

With the formal approval of the Crystal City Sector plan two years ago this month, the Arlington County government and area developers have committed to continue this reinvention. Today, the progress is palpable as the County begins public infrastructure investments on the two-way conversion of Crystal Drive and new transit services and as private development has already begun at 1900 Crystal Drive, 1400 Crystal Drive, and Boeing’s new regional headquarters.

As Crystal City’s overarching physical transformation is underway, the Crystal City BID is working to enhance the present day experience through its active, artful, accessible, and green programs.

As an active place, the Crystal City BID hosts numerous bike races, from the Air Force Cycling Classic to the Diamond Derby (the region’s only indoor garage bike race). Crystal City also has free outdoor yoga and Zumba classes throughout the summer, hosts 5k races every Friday in April, and outdoor recreational volleyball and street hockey leagues.


Proposed tower in Crystal City (Credit: The Washington Post)

The Crystal City BID believes that an area must also be artful. The Crystal City BID has transformed stark walls into canvas through its Art Wall program. Works from local artists are reproduced and hung on buildings throughout the area. The area is filled with fun wine events in September, outdoor movies in the summer, and fashion shows in February.

Crystal City is one of the most accessible areas in the region. With Metro, VRE, easy access to the highways, connections to two regional bikeways and an airport that one can walk to, few areas can claim anything close to the location and access that has been the foundation of Crystal City’s long-term success. The Crystal City BID works to enhance these assets with creative extensions, such as Capital Bikeshare, redesigned gateways, better connectivity, and free nightly retail parking. They have also expanded information access with free Wi-Fi in all of its open spaces.

Crystal City is also the area’s emerald city, as green is a fundamental part of its fabric. All of the Crystal City BID’s events are low-to-no waste and 50 recycling cans line the streets to keep materials out of landfills. Every April, the yearly Power Purge & Shred safely and securely keeps tons of electronics and documents out of the trash stream. Starting in May and running through November, the weekly FRESHFARM Farmers Market gives area residents and workers access to local and fresh produce and other products, and includes free composting services. Pole banners are recycled into bags, landscaping features are redistributed in floral frenzy programs, and eco-friendly forms of transportation are actively supported.

Crystal City is in a state of dynamic transformation, which can be seen in the new art walls that have turned the area into a living gallery of color, heard in the sounds of jazz emanating from events in the area, and felt in the energy and spirit of racers, runners, walkers, and spectators at area cycling and running events. Parking lots have been turned into festivals and athletic fields, a food court into a fashion night club, and a courtyard into an outdoor movie theater for more than five years running. Old buildings are coming down, and bright new ones are going up. Crystal City is in flux, and the future looks brighter than ever.

Metro Washington investing in a vision for dozens of “downtowns”

Guest post by Tom Fairchild, the Director of Mobility Lab, which is working with COG and other partners to make the updated Activity Centers a tool for managing growth and development in metro Washington.

Read more about how the updated Activity Centers will be more effective than previous versions.

We all want to live in communities that offer us the chance to interact with other people and feel like we’re part of something vibrant. However, if one or two investments are off-base or not aligned with the vision of what the community wants, it can derail our hopes and dreams.

The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) has a visionary plan, implemented in 2008, called Region Forward. Mobility Lab has recently signed on as a partner to help figure out how 136 communities being calling “activity centers” (see map) – or, essentially, mini-downtowns where the majority of the region’s future growth will occur over the next 30 years – can succeed and thrive, and continue to make the DC region the kind of place where the next generations of people want to call home.

NoMa Summer Screen (Photo Credit: NoMA DC BID)

The idea of activity centers is not really anything new. There are plenty of places in, for example, Arlington County, Virginia that nobody in the past would have thought of as activity centers. But because of deliberate planning, formerly parking lot-centric Ballston is no longer referred to “Parkington” and Pentagon City has transformed from a brownfield into a shopping district with some of the highest retail sales per-square-foot in America.

What is new is that Mobility Lab and others have joined COG to invigorate the intense academic work that has already gone into examining market strength and a massive list of place-based physical characteristics. The Center for Transit-Oriented Development, Reconnecting America, Urban Imprint & State of Place, the Urban Land Institute of Washington, and Robert Charles Lesser & Company will bring this work into practice – by helping make the case for the right kinds of investments – with a series of upcoming workshops, webinars, and trainings – and lots of media coverage.

Region Forward is all about vision and planning – and sticking with that plan, which is often really, really difficult to do. And it’s why this foundation for the activity centers – whether they are undeveloped and laying the foundation for future investments or already have high-density development and want to build upon their market strength – is so crucial to moving forward in visionary ways.

Further, no community-development plan is complete without some thought given to transportation options – which just happen to be the bread and butter of Mobility Lab. What is impressive – and revolutionary – about the Region Forward plan is that it aims to connect activity centers with dozens of other activity centers throughout DC.

The new metro stations and the enormous activity center coming to life in Tyson’s Corner will be really good for the rest of Arlington County. People there will be living a lifestyle on a daily basis in which there will be less need for a car. They will also be more likely to visit other activity centers with the knowledge that they don’t need to get there with a car but can instead use other options – like Metro buses and rail, biking, and even walking – that will improve the quality of their lives.

It will be really exciting to work with COG, local governments, investors, transit agencies, developers, state and federal agencies, and the public as these activity centers come alive and thrive.

Another exciting element is the feedback Region Forward is soliciting from the public. Through October 1, anyone can submit an idea to make help make sure DC has lots of activity centers that make us want to live, work, and play here for many more years.

Cross-posted at Mobility Lab.

New federal transportation law brings changes, opportunities for region

Three years and eleven short-term extensions after the previous funding act expired, Congress in June passed a new law authorizing the expenditure of federal funds for transportation through September 2014.

The new Congressional authorization — referred to as Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century, or MAP-21 — authorizes $54.6 billion in spending on transportation in each of the two years during which the law will be in effect, starting October 1. That amount is equal to existing funding levels under the previous authorization plus a small increase to account for inflation.

Congressional authorization is required before the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) can provide funds to assist in the construction, maintenance, or operation of transportation facilities like roads, transit systems, and bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.

Along with the funding in the new law come changes to the national programs and policies that guide transportation investment at the regional, state, and local level. Several of the changes will affect the Transportation Planning Board and the Washington region.

One of the most significant changes is the consolidation of nearly 90 different funding programs into fewer than 30, a change that will impact two programs that the TPB has been responsible for administering for the last six years: Job Access Reverse Commute, or JARC, and New Freedom.

The new law eliminates the JARC program, transferring to the transit agencies in the region the responsibility for implementing projects and programs that assist low-income commuters.

Funding for New Freedom will continue to flow to the Washington region, but will be combined with funds from another program that also supports transportation projects and programs that aid individuals who have disabilities or age-related mobility limitations.

In addition to JARC and New Freedom, MAP-21 also consolidates the existing pedestrian and bicycle, recreational trails, Safe Routes to School, scenic overlooks, and historic preservation programs, among others, into one new program called Transportation Alternatives.

Under the law, 2% of each state’s total annual allotment of federal dollars for transportation will be designated for use under the new program. Half of the money will go directly to the states, which can choose not to spend the money on such projects under certain conditions, while the remaining half will go to metropolitan areas — in some cases directly to metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) like the TPB — to be awarded to implementing agencies or organizations in each region based on a competitive selection process.

The TPB will also be affected by a provision in the new law calling for states, MPOs, and transit agencies to move toward a performance-based approach to transportation planning, using performance measures established by USDOT to set achievement targets and monitor progress toward reaching them. The new requirements will support existing work by the TPB to develop a Regional Transportation Priorities Plan for the Washington region built on measures of progress made toward achieving goals already agreed to at the regional level.

Another new item in the law affecting the region more broadly is a provision expanding the authority of states to toll interstate highways, which Virginia is preparing to do on the Capital Beltway with the 495 Express Lanes and which others, including the TPB, are studying elsewhere in the region. The law says that states can only toll lanes that are added to the existing roadway or converted from existing High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes.

MAP-21 also expands the scope of the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality program, or CMAQ, which supports measures that are likely to reduce congestion and help metropolitan areas reduce vehicle-related emissions.

Under the law, states with areas that are in “nonattainment” or “maintenance” for federal standards for fine particle pollution emissions, or PM2.5, will be required to spend 25% of their CMAQ funding for those areas on efforts to reduce such emissions. MAP-21 also authorizes use of CMAQ funds for building or installing electric and natural gas vehicle recharging and refueling stations, something not included in the previous authorization.

Transportation projects of regional or national significance will also continue to be supported under MAP-21 in the first year of the law, when up to $500 million in funding will go to the kinds of projects previously supported under the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program, or TIGER.

Finally, the new legislation calls for a nearly ten-fold expansion of the federal Transportation Infrastructure Finance Innovation Act program, or TIFIA, which provides loans to attract investment in major transportation projects that will generate revenue over time. TIFIA currently provides $122 million a year in loans, but that amount will grow to $1 billion by 2014.

Although the TIFIA expansion provides new financing opportunities, it does not address the need to secure new sources of funding for transportation in the long-term.

The federal gas tax, which is the main source of current transportation funding, hasn’t been raised since 1993, and inflation alone has eroded more than a third of its purchasing power over the last twenty years. Rather than addressing the need for long-term funding sources, the new law relies on short-term fixes using transfers from the general fund that will be offset by obscure revenue sources like pension insurance premiums and taxes on “roll-it-yourself” cigarette machines.

Despite its lack of new long-term funding solutions, the new Congressional authorization for federal transportation programs through September 2014 is a welcome alternative to the short-term extensions that, until July, had been keeping the federal program afloat. In the wake of the MAP-21 legislation, many states, MPOs, and transit agencies — including the TPB and others in the Washington region — will have to make some changes to existing programs and operations, but will be presented with new opportunities and will benefit from the certainty of sustained federal funding over the next two years.

The TPB Weekly Report is a regular feature on The Yardstick and is designed to provide brief, timely summaries of recent research, analysis, outreach, and planning by the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board (TPB). Follow the TPB on Facebook and Twitter.

New Activity Centers: smaller, more numerous, and more effective

Last week Sophie Mintier, a Housing Planner at MWCOG, provided an overview of the Activity Centers 2012 Update and asked readers to submit ideas for how these Centers can best be used to guide sustainable development in metro Washington. This week Sophie gives us more detail on how the new Centers differ from previous versions.

Throughout the process of updating the Activity Centers map, we’ve received surprised – and sometimes alarmed – reactions to the number of Activity Centers we’re proposing. For the 2012 update, the number of centers has more than doubled, from 59 Centers in 2007 to 136 Centers today. We expected these initial reactions; after all, Activity Centers are a growth management tool, so having fewer of these focus areas would seem to make sense.

To explain how we ended up with this larger set of Centers, it’s helpful to understand how they differ from their predecessors. In the past, Activity Centers were defined solely based on future employment forecasts, resulting in large Centers and a map that showed only the most regionally-significant places.

Many of these centers were between 3,000 and 5,000 acres – larger than the entire area of Falls Church, Manassas Park, or Fairfax City. In some cases these Centers were consistent with local plans, but in other cases there were disconnects.

For example, the Prince George’s County General Plan sought to focus new development around Metrorail stations, but these growth areas were largely absent from the old map because they weren’t major employment centers. Other local jurisdictions did not have any Activity Centers, and therefore their elected officials viewed any implementation policy focused on the Centers as a losing proposition for their constituents.

New Carrollton, MD (image credit: Ben Schumin)

As a result of these disconnects between local and regional planning, the Transportation Planning Board and MWCOG could not use the map for policy or implementation purposes. That’s why so far, Activity Centers have mostly been a tool for scenario studies and other analytical efforts.

We sought to address these shortcomings through the 2012 update. There were two goals for this process: first, to better align local and regional planning, and second, to create a policy and implementation tool for different planning purposes, such as transportation, land use, and economic development. We developed a new approach to identifying Activity Centers, resulting in key changes that increased the number of Centers, as described below.


Proposed 2012 Activity Centers Update. Click image for more detailed information.

Formerly large Centers have been broken into multiple smaller centers. This change accounts for much of the increase in the number of Centers. For example, Tyson’s Corner was previously one very large Center; now it’s four smaller Centers that are better aligned with Silver Line stations and the newly adopted comprehensive plan for Tyson’s. Most of the new Activity Centers fall within old Center boundaries, and together they account for less land area than the old Centers. Most importantly, smaller centers are a much better size for implementing the types of place-based improvements that will transform them into walkable, mixed-use Complete Communities with the right mix of jobs, housing, and transportation choices.

Due to the new selection criteria, Activity Centers now include more diverse types of places. The 2012 update still recognizes major employment centers, but also includes many mixed-use centers, whether they’re highly urbanized places, smaller traditional downtowns, or something in between.

On a related note, every MWCOG jurisdiction now has a least one place that qualifies as an Activity Center. This is important because Activity Centers provide a way for all jurisdictions to contribute to our shared regional goals and it reduces fears that member jurisdictions will miss out on development and growth opportunities.

Several additional transit stations are now included as Activity Centers. Many local governments are planning for major development and growth at their transit stations and the 2012 Centers update recognizes those places that are identified as local priorities. The region boats some of the nation’s best examples of transit-oriented development. To ensure our future competitiveness and quality of life, we need to greatly expand on this success.

The Region Forward team would like your input on how these Centers can best be used to guide sustainable development in metro Washington.

We want your input: How can Activity Centers guide development and move the Region Forward?

Sophie Mintier, Housing Planner at MWCOG working on the update of the Region Activity Centers Map

This is part one of a multi-part series on the new Activity Centers for metro Washington. Read part two which provides more detail on how the new Centers differ from previous versions.

1.6 million. That’s the population of the city of Philadelphia. That’s also the number of people MWCOG forecasts will move to metro Washington by 2040. Accommodating this high rate of growth without exacerbating our already notorious traffic congestion and extending suburban sprawl requires effective planning and targeted development.

MWCOG has recently developed a new set of Regional Activity Centers to shape the region’s future development. The suburban office park has become an obsolete development model. Instead, businesses—and the young professionals they need to employ—increasingly want to locate in higher density, mixed-use places with access to transit.

Rosslyn (Arlington County)

Examples of Activity Centers can be found throughout metro Washington, including highly urbanized areas, such as Downtown Washington and the Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor, emerging growth centers like New Carrollton, and traditional towns, such as Manassas. While these places take very different forms, they share the same basic concept: concentrate development in areas that will have the planning and infrastructure in place to support it.

Activity Centers are the cornerstone of the Region Forward vision, which recommends that a majority of metro Washington’s future growth be focused in these activity centers—75 percent of new commercial construction and 50 percent of new households.

However, the Region Forward Baseline Progress Report recently showed new growth had fallen short of the region’s targets in 2010. Activity centers only captured 46 percent of new commercial construction and 31 percent of household growth.

The Activity Centers concept has been in place in metro Washington for about 10 years. The first regional map of Activity Centers was approved in 2002, with an update in 2007. For the last 10 years, MWCOG has mainly used Activity Centers to conduct technical analysis and transportation planning, such as developing growth forecasts, measuring commercial construction activity, and modeling transportation capacity.

But with Activity Centers as the main spatial component of Region Forward, we think they could also be used to guide policy, planning, and investment decisions at the local and regional levels. In launching a new update to the Activity Centers earlier this year, MWCOG staff decided to take a different approach to identifying Activity Centers from past rounds.

Downtown Frederick, Maryland

We started by looking at local planning documents – comprehensive plans and sector plans – and working with local planning staff to identify the places in each city and county that are identified as centers or preferred growth areas. From there, we applied a combination of mandatory and optional attributes to identify centers. These included a mandatory density requirement (combined population and employment), and optional requirements focused on transit capacity, intersection density, land use mix, and housing and transportation costs. The result of this approach is a set of 136 centers throughout the region. There are many more centers than in the previous round, but they are smaller, providing a more focused scale for placemaking. You can learn more about how the centers were identified and view the proposed map here.

Over the coming weeks, we’ll be featuring a range of perspectives on why centers are important to the region. In the meantime, we want to hear from you. We are now soliciting new ideas for how we can use Activity Centers to enhance our communities and accelerate progress toward the Region Forward vision. Potential ideas include using centers to prioritize and phase investments, or identifying grant programs to fund capital investments in the centers. Please submit your ideas for how Activity Centers can be used to move the region forward.

Drive ’til you qualify?, massive loss of agricultural land in the region, and tackling the Legion Bridge problem

Seeing as it’s summer and you’ve hopefully been enjoying some well-earned vacation, we thought we’d share some of our favorite posts featured on The Yardstick over the past couple months in case you missed them:

Drive ‘til you qualify doesn’t hold up logically: Americans spend more than 50% of their income on combined housing and transportation costs. Conventional wisdom used to argue that you could save money by moving further and further away from core areas, but even though housing may become more affordable by distance, transportation expenses quickly pile up and these costs are significantly greater for low- and moderate-income families.

Sixty years ago, Fairfax County’s principal economic output was milk. Today it is the region’s most populated jurisdiction with an economy led by fortune 500 corporations. Between 1987 and 2007, metro Washington’s agricultural land declined by 23%.

This trend – metro Washington losing more than one percent of agricultural land per year – represents a huge shift culturally and economically for the region. Economic growth and development need not be at odds with preservation and environmental protection if better land-use decisions prevail.

Homeless and working: The problem of homelessness among the working poor, especially in a region like ours with very high housing costs, is exacerbated due to a lack of affordable housing. The annual count of the region’s homeless population found that 35% of adults in homeless families are employed, as are 17% of homeless single adults and 14% of homeless unaccompanied youth.

Affordable housing and its connection with homelessness and the working poor is a crucial issue. If jurisdictions put policies in place to vastly increase the amount of affordable housing, we can reduce homelessness in metro Washington. On the other hand, if housing costs are allowed to increase, the rate of people who are working and are still unable to afford housing will correspondingly increase.

Economy, time of year impacts rate of travel, auto emissions: The economic downturn is causing people to take longer to replace their cars. This is leading to an older-than-expected fleet producing greater-than-expected emissions. Also, despite the overall rate of travel remaining essentially unchanged, traffic delays decrease by nearly 20% in metro Washington during the summer months due to a people traveling more at off-peak times.

Taking a bilateral approach to a transportation problem: Traffic congestion knows no jurisdictional boundaries. One of the most obvious examples of this reality comes in the form of the highly-traveled and highly-congested American Legion Bridge, which traverses the Potomac River to connect Fairfax and Montgomery Counties.

At their first-ever joint meeting, officials from the region’s two most populous jurisdictions had a frank and honest discussion about the problems posed by the bridge and potential solutions, especially in light of the soon-to-open HOT lanes in Virginia that are likely to increase bottle-necking at the Legion Bridge.

Long-Term Transportation Plan for Metro Washington Informed by Regional Growth Forecasts

As it adopted updates to the region’s 30-year transportation plan during its most recent meeting on July 18, the Transportation Planning Board at the same time made official new regional forecasts of population and job growth that were compiled by the MWCOG earlier this year. Together, the long-range plan and the new growth forecasts make it easier to see what the Washington region will look like in 2040 under current trajectories of planning and funding.

The new growth forecasts, referred to as Round 8.1 of MWCOG’s Cooperative Forecasts, were mainly an effort to adjust earlier forecasts to reflect updated population data collected during the 2010 Census. The previous round of forecasts — Round 8.0 — was adopted by COG and the TPB in November 2010 before the results of the decennial census were available.

In many cases, the counties, municipalities, and neighboring regions that provide independent forecasts of population and job growth as part of the regional forecasting effort had to revise their predictions of future growth upward or downward based on the new “starting point” provided by the census. About as many jurisdictions had previously overestimated the 2010 population as had underestimated it.

Some jurisdictions also made adjustments to their earlier forecasts of population and employment based on continued economic uncertainty, changes in the number of permits for new construction that have been granted since 2010, or changes to longer-term plans for future commercial or residential development.

As the regionally adopted forecasts of future growth, the Cooperative Forecasts are a key input into the TPB’s annual Air Quality Conformity Analysis, which is a federally mandated process for determining whether total future vehicle-related emissions in the region will comply with federal standards.

To forecast future emissions, MWCOG’s population and job growth forecasts are used in conjunction with the TPB’s plans for the future of the transportation system to predict where, when, and how often people will travel and whether they are likely to drive, take transit, or bike or walk to their destinations. Such analysis must be completed before the TPB can approve changes to the long-range plan.

The TPB also uses forecasts of future travel patterns to assess the degree to which the transportation system as it is currently planned will handle the demands that future population and job growth will create.

MWCOG and the TPB coordinate the adoption of updates to the Cooperative Forecasts with adoption of updates to the region’s constrained long-range plan (CLRP) because changes in population and job growth — and changes in where that growth will occur — affect and are affected by decisions about the future of the transportation system.

One example of why such coordination is important is the addition to the CLRP in 2004 of the Inter-County Connector (ICC) between Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties in Maryland. Before the project could be added to the plan, forecasts of changes in population and employment patterns that were anticipated to occur as a result of the new highway had to be included in the TPB’s 2004 Air Quality Conformity Analysis.

In 2000, MWCOG also had to add new jobs and new residential units to the area near what is now the NoMa-Gallaudet U stop on Metrorail’s Red Line before the TPB could add the station to the plan. The District of Columbia Office of Planning revised previous forecasts of population and job growth to reflect the changes in land-use that were anticipated to occur near the new station once it was constructed.

The most recent changes to MWCOG’ Cooperative Forecasts, while mostly technical in nature, reflect a continuing need to update land-use plans and transportation plans in a coordinated manner. These updates provide a realistic, up-to-date baseline of anticipated future conditions that planners, decision-makers, and the general public can use to assess the benefits of potential new land-use and transportation proposals in the Washington region.

The TPB Weekly Report is a regular feature on The Yardstick and is designed to provide brief, timely summaries of recent research, analysis, outreach, and planning by the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board (TPB). Follow the TPB on Facebook and Twitter.

Improving travel over Legion Bridge focus of first Montgomery-Fairfax joint meeting

Traffic congestion knows no jurisdictional boundaries – that’s a fact repeated often by local and regional leaders in metro Washington.

One of the most obvious examples of this comes in the form of the highly-traveled American Legion Bridge, which traverses the Potomac River to connect Fairfax County, Virginia with Montgomery County, Maryland.

At the first-ever joint Montgomery County Council and Fairfax County Board of Supervisors meeting held yesterday at WMATA, elected officials from the region’s two most populous jurisdictions had a frank and honest discussion about the major transportation challenges they face as well as opportunities for solving these challenges together.

Montgomery County President Roger Berliner opened the meeting by noting that although the two counties are “fierce competitors” vis-à-vis economic development, they need to be “just as fierce when it comes to collaboration.” Fairfax County Chairman Sharon Bulova echoed Berliner’s call for cooperation, saying the “next-door neighbors” have much more in common than they have differences.

It was unanimous among the participants that the American Legion Bridge is a good starting point for such collaborative problem solving, given its importance to both counties and to the region as a whole.

Following the opening remarks, Ron Kirby, MWCOG’s Director of Transportation Planning, provided a report with statistics on the Legion Bridge itself, as well as on the commuting patterns between Fairfax and Montgomery Counties.

More than 230,000 people crossed the bridge every day in 2010, an increase of 10% over the 2000 level. And it’s not just the bridge that is experiencing this increased traffic – almost the entire section of the corridor, from Chain Bridge Road in Fairfax to River Road in Montgomery, is “congested” or “severely congested” during peak traffic periods, according to MWCOG figures.

When the project formerly known as HOT Lanes, now rebranded as the 495 Express Lanes, comes into service in Northern Virginia later this year, it will add two lanes of additional capacity in each direction, from the Springfield Interchange to just north of the Dulles Toll Road. The project will hopefully alleviate congestion for some commuters, though it is likely going to create difficulties for others.

The Express Lanes terminate before the Legion Bridge and do not continue into Maryland. What is already a major traffic headache is likely to become even more frustrating as commuters heading from job centers like Tysons and Dulles back home to Montgomery County experience major bottlenecking at the bridge.

That’s the major impetus behind yesterday’s gathering. Participants acknowledged that widening the bridge is unlikely to happen quickly, though there was interest in seeing if additional capacity could be generated on the existing bridge by narrowing lanes and making room for a dedicated bus and HOV lane. During yesterday’s meeting, WMATA noted that the lack of a dedicated right of way is one of the primary reasons why former Metrobus service in the corridor failed.

However, a longer-term solution – widening the bridge and extending the toll lanes into Maryland – also received support from several of the participants. This could potentially be part of a larger regional network of variably-priced lanes (VPL).

Although no “silver bullet” solution came about from yesterday’s first-ever meeting of its type, the participants had a very substantive discussion, pushed forward analysis of options for the bridge and the corridor, and agreed to make the joint meeting a regular occurrence.

In a region with two states, the District, and numerous localities, cooperation like this isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity.

Traffic delays drop significantly during summer, VMT essentially unchanged

Travel delays on freeways in the Washington region dropped by 18% between June and July of last year thanks in largest part to changes in daily travel patterns that accompany the arrival of summer.

According to traffic information collected by the Transportation Planning Board, the average daily delay per traveler on most of the major limited-access highways in the region dropped from 25.1 minutes in June 2011 to 20.6 minutes in July 2011.

Delay is caused by traffic back-ups, which can result from heavy traffic volume, traffic incidents (like accidents and stalled vehicles), construction, or adverse weather conditions. The TPB calculates total travel delay by comparing observed travel times to what would be expected under free-flow conditions. Per-person delays are an average; some travelers experience more delay while others experience less.

Prevent Sprawl and Enjoy Local Food: Save Agricultural Land in Metro Washington

Between 1987 and 2007 metro Washington’s agricultural land declined by 23%, according to the recently released Region Forward Baseline Progress Report.

Currently, the entire region has less agricultural land than neighboring Fauquier County alone. This trend in which metro Washington is losing more than one percent of agricultural land per year represents a huge shift culturally and economically for the region.

At the current rate, metro Washington will drop below the Region Forward target of preserving at least 450,000 acres of agriculture land very soon. Now is the time to observe the positive and negative impacts of our development choices and determine what we want our future to look like. As we noted last week, economic growth and development need not be at odds with preservation and environmental protection if better land-use decisions prevail.

Metro Washington is one of the fastest growing regions in the nation. Sixty years ago, Fairfax County’s principal economic output was milk. Today it is the region’s most populated jurisdiction with an economy led by several fortune 500 corporations. This type of shift has occurred throughout the region and it has brought increased prosperity and resilience to our economy. However, this shift has also resulted in a rapid and fundamental change to our environment that will continue to impact all residents into the foreseeable future.

For several decades, land use and transportation policy encouraged expansive low to moderate intensity development characterized by single family homes and auto oriented commercial facilities. However, the dominance of this highway-centric development model is quickly fading. Over the past two decades the region has chosen to plan for fewer and fewer new highways, opting instead to pursue transit-oriented development and promote other alternatives to automobile travel, such as walking and biking.

This development pattern is more compact, devouring less land to house the same number of people and companies and has led to creation of vibrant new centers of activity throughout the region as well as the revitalization of areas that had been in decline.

Communities throughout the region have successfully implemented different approaches to development. Some jurisdictions have opted to concentrate growth in key areas; others have decided to preserve their environmental resources first. As we continue to grow, we are quickly reaching a critical point at which we must decide as a region 1) whether we want to preserve local agriculture? And 2) what tradeoffs are we willing to accept to preserve open space?

Every year more acres of agricultural land are developed for commercial purposes. If we wait too long to decide what we want from these resources they will be gone.

Program Helps Connect Transportation and Land-Use at the Local Level

Imagine the consequences of unexpectedly getting your bicycle wheel stuck in a new streetcar track. Or try to picture just how much water runs off into nearby streams after a heavy rain on an urban street with almost no natural landscaping in sight. And what happens when industrial land uses aren’t near transportation infrastructure that can carry high-volume freight shipments?

These planning challenges were the subject of three studies funded in 2011 by the Transportation Planning Board under the Transportation/ Land-Use Connections (TLC) Program. Since it began in 2007, the TLC Program has funded 56 such planning studies throughout the Washington region to identify small-scale transportation and land-use improvements that help local jurisdictions coordinate transportation and land-use planning activities. Projects have focused on topics like transit station accessibility, mixed-use and transit-oriented development opportunities, pedestrian and bicycle planning, and streetscape design and corridor planning.

In 2011, the TLC program funded eight projects in seven local jurisdictions in the region. One study, in Arlington County, Virginia, sought to identify best practices for safely accommodating bicyclists in two corridors where new streetcars were planned: Columbia Pike, and Crystal City/Potomac Yards. Because of the way streetcar tracks are built into the pavement of existing roadways, and typically in the same direction as the regular flow of traffic, bicyclists are at an increased risk of accidents because their bicycle wheels can easily get stuck in the tracks.

The 2011 TLC study included an extensive review of strategies for safely accommodating bicyclists and streetcars that have proven effective elsewhere in the United States and overseas. The study outlined some basic recommendations for ensuring adequate separation of bicycle lanes from streetcar tracks, appropriately orienting and marking bicycle facilities, and safely channeling bicyclists around streetcar passenger platforms.

Another study in 2011 was carried out in the area around the Van Ness-UDC Metrorail station in Northwest Washington. The purpose of the study was to identify streetscape improvements along Connecticut Avenue in the vicinity of the station that would improve the flow and safety of pedestrians and bicyclists, and also help to manage the amount of water running off into nearby streams following heavy rains. The final report provided several recommendations, including the removal of sidewalk segments between existing street trees, and adding more trees, low shrubs, and groundcover to help intercept runoff currently flowing unchecked into the gutter and drainage system. In some areas, the report recommended construction of sunken tree pits to capture even more water.

A third TLC project completed in 2011 took place in Frederick County, where consultants looked for opportunities to maximize the utility of freight rail and truck corridors in the county. The consultant team analyzed traffic, land use, and economic data, and identified numerous strategies to improve coordination of freight-oriented land-use and transportation investments. The final report recommended a number of low-cost actions, including promotion of identified industrial corridors and exploration of funding opportunities to improve industrial properties near rail facilities. The report also suggested better integrating parking for freight trucks, developing industrial land buffer zones, and clustering industrial land uses around major transportation facilities.

Over the last six years, the TPB’s Transportation/Land-Use Connections Program has supported dozens of local planning studies to identify strategies for better coordinating land-use and transportation planning. On July 18, the TPB is scheduled to approve a new round of projects for FY 2013, adding both to the diversity of issues addressed by the program and to the diversity of solutions and recommendations that result from the studies it supports.

The TPB Weekly Report is a regular feature on The Yardstick and is designed to provide brief, timely summaries of recent research, analysis, outreach, and planning by the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board (TPB). Follow the TPB on Facebook and Twitter.

Report underscores urgent need for better land-use patterns in metro Washington

Metro Washington could grow more efficiently and reduce its notorious traffic congestion by making better use of existing capacity in underutilized parts of the region instead of continuing costly, unsustainable expansion into undeveloped areas.

Such underutilized areas include the eastern half of the region as well as previously developed areas throughout metro Washington ripe for infill development or redevelopment.

The recently released Region Forward Baseline Progress Report, which measures how the region is doing on meeting the targets adopted in 2010, shows that despite the national and regional trends favoring urbanism rather than sprawl, we’re still not developing enough around activity centers.

In 2010, 46% of the region’s new commercial construction and 31% of new housing was built in activity centers, far below the Region Forward targets of 75% and 50%, respectively. Traditionally, activity centers are places throughout the region with a high concentration of employment.

Through the Region Forward Coalition, these activity centers are currently being updated to better reflect regional priorities such as transit connectivity, residential development, and sustainability. Targeting development in activity centers is a more efficient way to accommodate the region’s growth, which is predicted to bring at least two million more residents to metro Washington by 2050.

When development takes place on previously undeveloped land it requires lots of new infrastructure, such as roads, transit lines and stations, power lines, sewers, etc. However, if development occurs where the infrastructure is already present – such as around many of Prince George’s County’s Metro stations – the resulting economic and environmental costs are much lower. Concentrating development and in turn infrastructure investments is a key step in ensuring that our region’s economy remains resilient.

In addition to lower direct costs, promoting development in activity centers will also help alleviate metro Washington’s infamous traffic congestion, which costs the region millions of dollars in lost productivity each year and negatively impacts the region’s air quality. As of now, the dearth of jobs in the eastern part of the region exacerbates the traffic problem by forcing residents to traverse the region to more job-rich jurisdictions.

As noted in the Baseline Progress Report, a development rebalance that links land-use planning, economic development, and transportation demand is essential to the region’s ongoing economic growth and environmental sustainability.

Economic downturn has mixed impact on auto-related emissions

Despite forecasts of slower-than-expected growth in population, employment, and driving in the Washington region through 2020 because of the economic downturn of the last few years, vehicle-related emissions of harmful pollutants could still be as much as 16% higher in 2020 than previously expected because economic conditions have also slowed the rate at which consumers are replacing older vehicles with newer models that have significantly lower emissions.

The detailed findings come as part of an annual analysis conducted by the Transportation Planning Board to estimate future emissions in the region based on forecasts of population and employment growth and existing plans in Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia to expand the region’s roadway network and transit system.

This year’s analysis relied on the latest update to the region’s long-range transportation plan and population and employment forecasts that were recently revised by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments to reflect the results of the 2010 Census and other trends caused by the economic slowdown. Recent traffic counts were also used to get a better idea of existing travel patterns in the wake of the slowdown.

Forecasts of the total number of households in the region by 2020 were revised downward by 0.5% — or about 14,100 households — while employment was revised downward by 0.4% — approximately 17,400 jobs. Construction of new highway capacity was reduced by nearly 200 lane-miles, mostly just outside the region in Howard and Anne Arundel Counties. Together, these changes are expected to result in 0.8% fewer vehicle trips and 2.3% fewer vehicle miles of travel in the Washington region in 2020 compared to forecasts made during last year’s analysis.

Under economic conditions like those prior to the national downturn, such decreases in driving overall would have been expected to result in emissions in 2020 being about 1% lower than previously forecast. But the results of a 2011 “vehicle census” by the TPB show that, since 2005, the average age of all the cars and trucks on the region’s roads has increased by 1.21 years. Using this more recent snapshot of the region’s vehicle fleet, which shows older vehicles with higher emissions staying on the road longer, the TPB’s analysis found that emissions of harmful pollutants would be higher in 2020 than previously thought.

In the latest analysis, emissions of fine particle pollution (PM2.5) — which causes respiratory ailments — would go up 1.5%, emissions of smog-forming volatile organic compounds (VOCs) would go up 12.8%, and emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) — another ingredient in the formation of smog — would increase by 15.7%. The increases are so sizeable because newer vehicles in the last few years have been equipped with more sophisticated emissions controls that make them much cleaner to operate than the older vehicles they are replacing.

These results demonstrate the important effect that consumers’ vehicle-purchasing behavior can have on air quality, and that the effects of vehicle-purchasing can significantly outweigh the effects of reduced driving. Although forecasts of higher-than-expected emissions in 2020 are not a major cause for concern with regard to public health, they do matter to those responsible for setting future emissions reductions targets for the region. Under federal regulations, the region must set and demonstrate progress toward achieving such targets in order to continue receiving federal funding for transportation.

The economic downturn of the last few years has resulted in forecasts of population, employment, and driving that are lower than previously thought. More important from the perspective of vehicle-related emissions, however, is the simultaneous slowdown in the rate at which individuals, families, and businesses are replacing older vehicles with newer models that have significantly lower emissions. By 2020, this trend could push emissions of some harmful vehicle-related pollutants up by nearly 16% compared to forecasts made just last year. Such information will be of use to those trying to determine how best to ensure that the region’s air quality continues to improve over time.

The TPB Weekly Report is a regular feature on The Yardstick and is designed to provide brief, timely summaries of recent research, analysis, outreach, and planning by the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board (TPB). Follow the TPB on Facebook and Twitter.