TRF: WMATA and Public Transit in the DC Region December 21, 2016

posted Dec 17, 2016, 2:53 PM by Info@ Transiters   [ updated Dec 17, 2016, 4:22 PM ]








Wednesday, December 21, 2016



WMATA and Public Transit in the DC Region




Stuart M Whitaker


Whitaker Associates

In response to service problems and a decline in ridership, Washington Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld has proposed an unprecedented reduction in service and the elimination of 1,000 employees. Washington Post columnist Robert McCartney has identified four proposals to "save" Metro. While Metro is important, it doesn't operate in isolation, but rather as a component of the much larger regional transportation system. The broader transportation system is undergoing more significant changes than since the automobile became ubiquitous. This presentation will discuss Metro and the broad regional transportation system within which Metro operates.
Mr. Whitaker is a financial economist by training who works on policy and strategy at the intersection of government and private sector. Presently, he works on issues in the rapidly changing transportation industry. Previously, he worked extensively in the telecommunications industry, which is strikingly similar to transportation in terms of the "network effect," capital intensity, monopoly characteristics, susceptibility to technological developments, economic importance, use by end-users, and as an industries subject to government regulation of varying sorts. Whitaker has provided advice and analysis to private and public sector organizations in the US, Europe, and Asia. He has an AB and MBA from the University of Chicago.



12:00 noon Social Period; 12:30 PM Lunch; 1:00 PM Speaker



Old Ebbitt Grill, 675 15th St., N.W., Washington, DC 20005

Two blocks west of 13th & G Metro Center exit (serving Red, Orange, and Blue Lines)


Market salad, roasted chicken (you may request a vegetarian option instead), soda, tea, or coffee



$34 TRF members, full time students with current ID, and local young professional members (a category those 35 and younger can join for $25 that excludes some regular national membership benefits; sign-up forms will be available at the luncheon)

$42 non-members.

Payment by check (made out to TRF-Washington Chapter or TRF), cash, or credit card at the door (prepayment on website is temporarily discontinued while TRF shifts to new management company). Member price applies to non-members joining that day or to 10 or more attending from the same organization.


Call Jack Ventura ((301) 593-1872) or e-mail  for reservations no later than Mon., Dec. 19, 11:00 AM.  Please provide: (a) name and affiliation, (b) request, if you wish, for a vegetarian alternative, and, if non-member, (b) phone number.  If you’ve reserved but find you are unable to attend, you must cancel by Dec. 19 or find a replacement.  Because we must supply the restaurant a minimum guarantee, those who don’t cancel in time or provide a replacement will be subject to a $10 fee to help us make up the shortfall.  Send the no-show fee (by check made out toTRF Washington Chapter) to TRF Washington Chapter, P.O. Box 7346, Washington, DC 20044  


NOTE: The 2017 Annual Meeting of the Transportation Research Forum will be held in downtown Chicago on April 20-21, 2017.  For more information go to:

The Transportation Research Forum is an independent organization of transportation professionals. Its purpose is to provide an impartial meeting ground for carriers, shippers, government officials, consultants, university researchers, suppliers and others seeking an exchange of information and ideas related to both passenger and freight transportation. The Forum provides pertinent and timely information to those who conduct research and those who use and benefit from research. For more information or to join, see the TRF website at



Let’s avoid another transportation mistake

posted Jul 10, 2016, 7:57 AM by Info@ Transiters   [ updated Jul 10, 2016, 12:04 PM ]

(Originally published on the Washington Post, July 8, 2016, Stuart M Whitaker)

Two transportation mistakes generating frequent headlines are the condition of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority's Metrorail system, which has resulted in deaths and delays, and the performance of the Silver Line, which has attracted 30 percent fewer riders than had been promised. The mistakes are different in each case. Metro's mistake was failing to maintain the system. The Silver Line mistake was a failure to understand transportation demand.

The next mistake would be the approval by the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority of Transform 66 Outside the Beltway (OTB), a $2 billion plan to build toll lanes on Interstate 66 Outside the Beltway. The idea for Transform 66 didn't originate in Northern Virginia - it was proposed and is being heavily promoted by the administration of Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D). Although the administration said it would be privately financed, the project would require up to $600 million in state and local funds. Officials can and should refuse to provide this funding. Here's why:

* This project doesn't serve the region's primary transportation goal, developed and agreed upon by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, to "provide reasonable access at reasonable cost to everyone in the region." A recent NVTA survey found that "reducing travel time best motivates interest and support among residents." While some people complain about how long it takes to commute by automobile, commuting by public transit often not only takes far longer but also sometimes isn't an option. Travel during rush hour by Metrorail generally takes longer than by auto, and travel by bus takes even longer. We should invest in the transportation infrastructure that needs it the most, and that is public transit.

* Our transportation system is composed of highways, public transit, commuter rail, walkways and bikeways. People choose various modes of transportation according to the advantages of each relative to each other. One reason the Silver Line in particular and public transit in general isn't more heavily used is that people find driving more attractive despite all the complaints about traffic congestion.

The Virginia Department of Transportation forecasts that eastbound morning speeds on the proposed I-66 toll lanes would be at least 65 mph, up from 40 mph today. This would make driving even more attractive relative to public transit, bringing more cars on the road while reducing public transit use. Despite repeated requests, VDOT has failed to provide any estimate of the impact of this project on public transit ridership in the I-66 corridor (much less on the Silver Line).

* Not only would this project serve to reduce public transit use in general, but also the draft comprehensive agreement to build the toll lanes contains a provision that would effectively prohibit improving public transit by extending the Orange Line. VDOT and the prospective private-sector investors are working together to ensure that more and better public transit isn't able to compete with auto use. This is not in the public's interest nor what the public wants. Even people who don't take public transit benefit from its use because more people riding public transit means fewer cars on the road.

* Transform 66 is just one of 24 projects comprising a total price tag of $668 million being considered by the NVTA. With an annual budget of just $300 million, the NVTA would have to issue bonds to finance Transform 66. Borrowing money for this project would mean that the NVTA would have less money to invest in real terms to improve transportation.

* Transportation has undergone tremendous change over the past decade, with the development of GPS technology, Uber and Lyft, Zipcar and Enterprise CarShare, smartphones, Google Maps and Waze, electric cars, WiFi and 4G data communications. We can't see the future with certainty, but there is no reason to think that transportation won't change as much over the next decade. This project would create a 50-year partnership that would survive long past my lifetime and lock our children and grandchildren into an auto-dependent transportation model from the Eisenhower administration.

The NVTA should not select this project.

Northern Virginia Should Improve the Worst Performing Transportation Services First

posted Jun 20, 2016, 6:21 PM by Info@ Transiters

The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTAuthority) is deciding how to allocate transportation funds among competing regional transportation projects. While highway congestion in the region may be poor, public transit service is far worse. Greater public transit use will benefit everyone by taking more automobiles off the road, but public transit use won't increase unless public transit service is improved. We ask NVTAuthority not to invest in further major automobile projects, which will divert dollars from public transit projects, until public transit service reaches some level of parity with single occupancy vehicles. We submitted the following comments to NVTAuthority on June 17, 2016:

These comments are submitted on behalf of Transiters, a transit users group, and other transit riders.

We believe these projects should be evaluated against the community’s goals. The Metropolitan Washington Council of Government (MWCOG), has adopted a Vision Statement that lists as its first Goal:

"The Washington metropolitan region's transportation system will provide reasonable access at reasonable cost to everyone in the region."

Supporting that Goal, the first Objective in the Vision is "A comprehensive range of choices for users of the region's transportation system," and its first Strategy is "Plan, implement, and maintain a truly integrated, multi-modal regional transportation system." (

While NVTA is not subject to nor required by statute to comply with MWCOG’s Vision, every jurisdiction belonging to NVTA is a member of MWCOG and a number of elected officials serving on the NVTA board also serve on the MWCOG board. MWCOG does not build infrastructure, so it is incumbent on NVTA and similar organizations to effectuate the vision of reasonable access at reasonable cost to everyone.

An examination of transportation in Northern Virginia reveals that this region has failed miserably to achieve that Vision.

While there are frequent reports about how bad traffic is in this region, public transit is far worse. We saw an indication of that recently when the Washington Post reported that the Silver Line ridership was 30 percent below forecast for its first year. Even closer to home, the NVTA FY2017 Public Hearing held on June 9th further illustrates the neglect that public transit is afforded. While NVTA advertised that shuttle buses would transport people beginning at 5:40 from Dunn Loring Metro Station to the hearing, the first bus didn’t come until 7:15 -- an hour and fifteen minutes after the Open House began, fifteen minutes after the Open House ended, and fifteen minutes after the presentations began. The buses only appeared because Transiters were stranded at Dunn Loring and called NVTA to find out what happened to the shuttles. As a final illustration of how poor and neglected public transit is, not a single member of the NVTA board, NVTA staff, other hearing attendee, or even the Director of Fairfax County transportation took public transit to the hearing.

Public transit is not just a local concern to us in our increasingly urban environment -- it’s a global concern, as illustrated by this passage from the Encyclical Letter on Care for Our Common Home published last year by Pope Francis:

“The quality of life in cities has much to do with systems of transport, which are often a source of much suffering for those who use them. Many cars, used by one or more people, circulate in cities, causing traffic congestion, raising the level of pollution, and consuming enormous quantities of non-renewable energy. This makes it necessary to build more roads and parking areas which spoil the urban landscape. Many specialists agree on the need to give priority to public transportation. Yet some measures needed will not prove easily acceptable to society unless substantial improvements are made in the systems themselves, which in many cities force people to put up with undignified conditions due to crowding, inconvenience, infrequent service and lack of safety.” (

We have known for a long time the primary factors that affect the transportation mode -- auto, transit, bicycle, walking -- that individuals choose: cost and time (because time has value, we will refer to cost alone). NVTA’s objective of congestion reduction is not necessarily inconsistent with the vision of reasonable access at reasonable cost for everyone, and we believe that to achieve this end NVTA should select projects that will provide the greatest improvement to public transit.

Of particular concern is the Transform 66 Outside the Beltway and by extension the I-66 / Route 28 Interchange Improvements project 6T, which VDOT has incorporated into Transform 66. While Transform 66 is constantly being promoted as "Multimodal Solutions -- 495 to Haymarket," we don't believe that it is multimodal in any meaningful way. In fact, we believe that it is an automobility project that will further urban sprawl with all its associated negative externalities. Among those negative externalities will be further dampening of Silver Line and other public transit ridership.

We have two major concerns about this Transform I66/28 project.

First is that despite saying that this provides “multimodal solutions,” VDOT has failed to provide an estimate of the number of transit riders or the transit mode share that will result from this project. VDOT has provided an estimate of the impact that this project will have on average speeds along the corridor. We believe the failure to provide transit information belies the claim that this is a multimodal effort.

Second is the fact that while the draft Comprehensive Agreement Relating to the Transform 66 P3 Project (May 13, 2016) provides for payments for both highway and transit service -- labeled Support for Corridor Improvements and Transit Funding Payment -- there is a significant disparity in the terms of these payments. The Support for Corridor Improvements payments must equal a minimum Net Present Value (NPV) calculated at a specific discount rate, while the Transit Funding Payment need not meet a minimum NPV. In addition, this Comprehensive Agreement contains a provision that Virginia would be penalized if it were to invest in significant transit infrastructure -- the Orange Line -- within ten years of the completion of the Transform 66 P3 Project. This demonstrates continued prioritization of automobility over public transit.

We encourage NVTA not to fund this Transform 66 Outside the Beltway and by extension the I-66 / Route 28 Interchange Improvements project.

Fairfax County's Transit Network Plan Falls Short

posted Jun 5, 2016, 10:58 AM by Info@ Transiters

Comments were due June 3 on the Draft Final Report of Fairfax County, Virginia's Countywide Transit Network Study (CTNS). Transportation is going though a revolutionary period and the Report offers Fairfax County an opportunity to lay out a creative, long-term strategy that reflects the changes underway and positions the County to serve its needs. For a number of reasons, this Report does not do that.

First and foremost, it does not support the primary regional transportation goal articulated by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG):

"Goal 1: The Washington metropolitan region's transportation system will provide reasonable access at reasonable cost to everyone in the region."

In fact, under the plan outlined by this study, significant areas of the county will be practically inaccessible by individuals using public transit. Similarly, it appears as though there will be practically no connection to many areas outside of the county. For example, there does not appear to be any transit service being planned along Route 7 running from Tysons in Fairfax County to Leesburg in Loudoun County. In fact, there does not appear to be any transit crossing the northwest Fairfax-Loudoun border between Dulles Airport and the Potomac River, a distance of approximately 7.5 miles.

Second, according to the Report, transit service growth will come nowhere close to matching growth in either jobs or residents. The Report says that by 2050 the County expects jobs to increase by 72 percent and residents to increase by 42 percent (Summary, p3), and yet transit trips are expected to increase by only 16 percent over "base conditions" (Summary, p6). (It isn't clear exactly what base conditions are -- if base conditions indicate an increase in transit ridership, the total increase in ridership should be provided in order to have a useful understanding of the figures in this Report.)

Third, while forecasts and metrics may vary significantly from actual results, they can be useful. However, the "measures of effectiveness" employed in this Report are of very little value. The measures used include a forecast of 103,000 additional households and 270,000 jobs within 1/2 mile of high quality transit stations and an estimate that the average County resident will be able to reach 90,000 more jobs within a 45 minute transit commute (Summary p6). The most important factors in transportation mode choice -- auto, transit, walking, biking -- are absolute time and cost, and time and cost of each mode in comparison to each other. It doesn't matter if every job and every household is within 1/2 half mile of a high quality transit station or if 1,000,000 jobs are accessible within a 45 minute transit commute: if alternatives to transit are faster and cheaper, transit won't be heavily utilized. Though we don't see any information comparing transit time and cost to alternatives, we assume the limited projected increase in transit ridership is due to a recognition that transit for a great many people in Fairfax County will a be poor choice relative to the alternatives.

Fourth, the revolution in transportation, driven by technology and reflected in the explosion of transportation network companies (TNCs) such as Uber, is bringing more change to this industry than has been seen in decades. This Report should address how Fairfax County will respond to those changes.

Fifth, we do not see any information about the demographics of the population that will be served by the proposed system.


The CTNS provides an opportunity for the County to develop plans for a transit system which begins to serve transit users well. This Report should be revised with a robust transit service plan whose ridership growth will, at a minimum, match and hopefully significantly exceed, the projected increase in households and jobs.


posted Apr 16, 2016, 2:20 PM by Info@ Transiters   [ updated Apr 16, 2016, 2:26 PM ]


March 10, 2016

Stuart M Whitaker

When Abraham Lincoln declared, in 1863, that the battle of Gettysburg must ensure "that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth," he was not merely being aspirational. At the onset of the Civil War, the United States of America had one of the highest rates of suffrage in the world. The question is not whether Lincoln truly meant "government of the people" but what our country has, throughout its history, taken the political term people to actually mean.—Ta-Nehisi Coates

Everyone travels. Yet while most people use multiple forms of transportation (which is to say they are multimodal), while one-third of the population doesn't have a driver's license or own an automobile, and while the use of transportation modes vary by demographic group, too many government officials believe that from a transportation perspective, the only people they serve are automobile drivers. Two examples illustrate this point: a recent winter snow storm and plans for a $2-3 billion highway expansion in Virginia.


The blizzard that hit portions of the mid-Atlantic and northeast section of the United States in January maybe a distant memory, but blizzards will return, and blizzards such as this demonstrate is that it takes more than an investment in infrastructure to ensure a functioning transportation system. A functioning transportation system also requires operations. This is an examination of a particular blizzard, a transportation system, and the degree to which government officials and organizations respond to the needs of all its citizens. The example discussed involves Virginia, but the issues are universal.

Even with preparation, blizzards will continue to disrupt transportation systems and impose a significant economic costs. For one estimate of the cost, consider the Fairfax County Public School system in suburban Washington, DC. This system, which serves 187,000 students, was shut down for seven days. With an annual budget of $2.7 billion and a 180 day school year, this represents a loss of over $100 million.

Preparations for this storm varied by organization. Fairfax County itself has a snow removal plan covering 152 building complexes, critical and non-critical walkways, and 75 roadway segments. The Washington Metropolitan Transit Administration (WMATA), after shutting down for two days during the storm, cleared the snow from its MetroRail lines and station properties, and resumed MetroRail, MetroBus, and MetroAccess service. The Commonwealth of Virginia and the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), which owns most of the roads, was clearing roads with 4,000 trucks and plows. While clearing sidewalks is generally considered the responsibility of businesses and homeowners, VDOT does not accept responsibility for clearing any of its own sidewalks. As a result, auto users were able to resume normal activities much more quickly and safely than individuals who used other forms of transportation, and some people who would otherwise not drive were forced to drive congested roadways.


Sidewalk cleared by WMATA at their West Falls Church Metro station.


WMATA's cleared sidewalk at West Falls Church Metro Station meets VDOT's uncleared sidewalk on Haycock Road.


Uncleared sidewalk on VDOT's Haycock Road bridge across I66.

Why does VDOT only service automobile users? VDOT simply says it is policy. State and local elected officials were not much help. One state elected representative suggested that clearing cul-de-sacs is a higher priority—that would be fine if sidewalks were a priority at all. In fact, if priority is based on the number of people endangered or inconvenienced by snow, sidewalks on busy roadways would often rank higher than individual cul-de-sacs. This same representative indicated that there hadn't been many calls about sidewalks and suggested therefore that they aren't important. The fact that more people might call about getting out of their own cul-de-sac than would call about a public sidewalk is not surprising—people tend to take care of their own "private" goods better than they do other "public" goods. Consider of personal versus rental cars and think of how people take care of their own yard versus a public park.

It doesn't have to be this way. In Copenhagen, for instance, snow is removed from sidewalks, bike lanes, and roadways. At least one Virginia county—Arlington—has a "multimodal clearing" policy that covers sidewalks, shelters, walks over bridges, overpasses, and bike lanes.


Copenhagen, Denmark


Arlington, Virginia


US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx says transportation is undergoing some of the dramatic changes we have ever seen. As an example, per capita vehicle miles traveled (VMT) declined from 2001 to 2009 for all all age groups, and the share of licensed drivers under the age of 35 fell from forty-six percent in 1981 to thirty percent in 2012 ("The 10 Biggest Factors Changing Millennial Driving Habits," Eric Jaffe). The conception and design of transportation systems has been changing as well. A number of transportation experts believe that building more roads induces more traffic and often fails to relieve congestion. A study prepared for the California Air Resources Board (CARB) found that adding capacity to roadways fails to alleviate congestion for long because it actually increases VMT ("Increasing Highway Capacity Unlikely to Relieve Traffic Congestion," University of California, Davis). After the state of Texas spent $2.8 billion to expand the Katy Freeway to 23 lanes, it soon found that congestion was just as bad as it had been before. In response, some places such as Melbourne, Australia, are actually reducing their roadway miles (@WRICities, January 14, 2016). Technology is having a huge impact as well, with the development of car sharing companies such as Zipcar, Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) such as Uber, bike sharing, and a wide variety of mobile transportation apps.



Multimodal refers to the various forms of transportation including public transportation, bicycles, walking, and automobiles. While there have been calls from many quarters to reduce automobile trips and to increase use of other modes of transportation, Pope Francis made this call last year, offering a broad range of justifications, including protection of the health of humans, the earth, and providing better economic opportunity to everyone ("LAUDATO SI,’" Pope Francis). Closer to home, Secretary Foxx recognizes that transportation impacts the "quality of life, mobility, economics, and opportunity.” Illustrating the administration's priorities, the US Department of Transportation's 2017 Budget Highlights includes a picture of the Long Street bridge—a multimodal solution—in Columbus, Ohio, that restored connection between the King-Lincoln District, a neighborhood that was cut off in the 1960s by construction of an interstate highway from the city’s center and economic opportunity.


Long Street Bridge, Columbus, Ohio


According to some reports, the Washington, DC region has some of the worst traffic in the nation ("This city has the absolute worst traffic," Jonathan Chew), and though congestion is a regional issue, the individual jurisdictions of the District of Columbia, the State of Maryland, and the Commonwealth of Virginia are left to find their own solutions. Virginia's Governor Terry McAuliffe is proceeding with a $2-3 billion fifty-four mile highway expansion to link suburban Virginia to the District of Columbia. This is not a 21st century solution, but the sort of auto-centric solution that we have seen for half a century. While the McAuliffe administration and VDOT, which is responsible for this project, call this a "multimodal" effort, they have not provided a forecast for the mode share that will result from this project. VDOT has provided an estimate of the share of auto trips on a ten mile portion of the project: the auto mode share is actually expected to rise. VDOT estimates that automobile trips currently constitute 91% of the trips a separate twenty-five mile segment outside Beltway but has not provided an estimates of the change in the share that will result from this project. There is no reason to believe that auto mode share will decline.

It seems clear from Virginia's policy concerning snow removal and its plans for further highway expansion that Virginia has little multimodal commitment. Aside from prodding from Pope Francis, why should anyone care about sidewalks and multimodal transportation?

There are many reasons. Fiscal conservatives should care because it costs more to build highway infrastructure for automobiles than to build infrastructure for other transportation modes. People who are concerned about reducing congestion and travel time should be interested in moving people from automobiles to other transportation modes. People who are concerned about health should understand that public transportation and active transportation are better for them than sitting in an auto. People who are concerned about their personal finances should realize that automobiles are often more expensive than alternatives. People who are concerned about enabling everyone to be able to travel, regardless of age, disability, or income, should support alternatives. People who are concerned about reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions should choose something other than an auto. People who are concerned about reducing fossil fuel consumption shouldn't use an auto. People who are concerned about other environmental damage should support highway alternatives. People who are concerned about reducing the risk of pedestrian deaths from autos should support providing adequate and safe places to walk. People who are concerned about the risk from traffic deaths should realize that autos are more dangerous than the alternatives.

Officials at local, state, and national levels should serve the needs and interests of everyone.

Comments to the Virginia CTB on Transform66, December 8, 2015

posted Mar 24, 2016, 4:32 PM by Info@ Transiters

I am here to speak in opposition to Transform66. 

There is an old and apt cliche that if you don't know where you are going, any road will take you there.

Do we know where we want to go in terms of local transportation?

I know that members of the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) are from all over the Commonwealth, but all of you must be familiar with the Transportation Planning Board (TPB), the federally designated Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) for the region. After what the TPB describes as an extensive three year public outreach, the TPB articulated its goals and objectives.

Goal 1 reads "The Washington metropolitan region's transportation system will provide reasonable access at reasonable cost to everyone in the region."

Objective 1 reads "A comprehensive range of choices for users of the region's transportation system."

I think the TPB's vision articulates where we should go in terms of transportation. Does Transform66 help achieve our goals and objectives?

There are a few key questions we should ask about this and other transportation projects.

The first question is what does it mean to provide reasonable access at reasonable cost to everyone?

I don't think that means that we should have a system for white people and a system for black people, or a system for affluent people and a system for poor people. But that's what we have today. Take our local bus system. Metro reports that while the majority of people riding MetroRail are white, the vast majority -- 75% -- of the people riding buses are non-white.

What does that matter?

After Hurricane Katrina, researchers studied car ownership to understand who was and who was not able to move to safety as the hurricane bore down on the city. What they found is that nineteen percent of non-white households didn't have access to an automobile so they were dependent on public transportation. Non-white households were four times as likely to be without access to an automobile as white households.

I hope no such disaster befalls this area but reasonable access at reasonable cost with a comprehensive range of choices should be provided to everyone.

So, is Transform66 really a multimodal solution like VDOT likes to say? The I66 Multimodal Study Inside the Beltway from August, 2013 shows current auto mode share -- the share of trips taken by different modes of transportation -- of 70. Projected auto mode share in 2040 under the current proposal is 72%. Yes -- auto share is projected to increase. That doesn't sound like multimodal to me, it sounds more like unimodal.

What about outside the Beltway? The Tier 2 Draft Environmental Assessment dated May 2015 reports that the average auto mode share in the corridor outside the Beltway is 91.2%. Despite numerous requests to and promises from VDOT staff, no one has ever provided projections for future mode share. What are they hiding? We don't know.

I think it is clear. This project does not meet the goals and objectives of this community today or tomorrow. It does not take us where we want to go and it should not be approved.

- Stuart M Whitaker, Founder

The Commonwealth of Virginia should do its part in clearing snow from Commonwealth property

posted Feb 7, 2016, 12:10 PM by Info@ Transiters   [ updated Mar 24, 2016, 4:42 PM ]

The Commonwealth of Virginia should do its part in clearing snow from Commonwealth property. While it clears roadways, it refuses to accept responsibility for clearing sidewalks. One result is that pedestrians are forced to walk in the roadways, disrupting traffic and risking their lives. The Commonwealth's policy is in contrast to that of Fairfax County, which has a snow removal policy that includes sidewalks. This is in contrast to WMATA's practice, which is to remove snow from all its stations. This is in contrast to Copenhagen's practice, which is to clean sidewalks before or along with roadways.

Finally, besides interfering with traffic, besides the risk to pedestrians, and besides the commercial impact, the Commonwealth's failure to clear snow presumably contributed to the announcement this afternoon by Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) that it will remain closed the remainder of the week. According to the announcement, "numerous unclear sidewalks and bus stops" were factors in their decision.

If the Commonwealth continues to refuse to do its part, the legislature should instruct them to do so.

Before the Virginia Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB), May 20, 2015

posted May 31, 2015, 12:50 PM by Info@ Transiters   [ updated Jun 5, 2015, 3:17 PM ]

My name is Stuart M Whitaker. I am a financial economist by training, a businessman by experience, and the founder of, a transit users group.

I was delighted with the news reports of the analysis of financing alternatives -- Public versus Private or some combination thereof -- announced and presented, according to these reports, by Secretary Layne here yesterday. I agree that it is the responsibility of the Commonwealth to pursue a strategy that is in the best interests of its citizens and that the Commonwealth should not automatically choose one financing approach or another. I also agree that this is an important matter deserving thorough and transparent review.

But financing isn't the primary matter at hand, it is only a secondary matter. The primary matter is what in fact is it that we will buy?

We know a lot about transportation, but recent research has told us two new things about the role of transportation in our economy.

First, researchers at the University of Chicago and the University of California at Berkeley(1) have estimated that the “housing crunch” represents more than a $1 trillion annual drain on our economy and that high quality transit can play an important role in reducing that cost.

Second, a recent study at Harvard(2) found that commuting time is the “single strongest factor in the odds of escaping poverty. The longer an average commute in a given county, the worse the chances of low-income families there moving up the ladder. The relationship between transportation and social mobility is stronger than that between [social] mobility and several other factors, like crime, elementary-school test scores or the percentage of two-parent families in a community.”

So while the project financing alternatives, a matter of secondary importance, are being offered for careful examination and scrutiny, the actual project plan, which is of primary importance, has been presented as a fait accompli. Three general lanes and two toll lanes, with projected public transit ridership of only 10%. This plan is inconsistent with what we have learned from researchers at Chicago, Berkeley, and Harvard, and this approach is in stark contrast to the approach being followed concerning the project financing alternatives.

I urge the CTB to pursue the same thorough and transparent approach to the I66 plan as it is pursuing with respect to the I66 project financing.

(1) Chang-Tai Hsieh and Enrico Moretti. "Why Do Cities Matter? Local Growth and Aggregate Growth," No. w21154. National Bureau of Economic Research, 2015

(2) Mikayla Bouchard, "Transportation Emerges as Crucial to Escaping Poverty," New York Times, May 7, 2015

Before the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) on the I66 Corridor Improvements Project, Tier 2 Draft Environmental Assessment (EA), May 28, 2015

posted May 31, 2015, 12:11 PM by Info@ Transiters   [ updated Jun 2, 2015, 1:59 PM ]

My name is Stuart M Whitaker. I am the founder of, a transit users group.

We all know that driving and congestion is a problem. Transit is worse.

Based on my review of this Environmental Assessment, I don't consider this to be a multimodal project, as it has often been described. It is more accurate to simply call this a highway project.

As Fairfax and Loudoun counties urbanize, I think it is reasonable to expect to see transportation metrics that are similar to the transportation metrics of our neighbors in Arlington. Yet while Arlington boasts, for instance, that there is one transit trip for every two auto trips in the Ballston-Rosslyn corridor, this draft Environmental Assessment forecasts that there will be only one transit trip for every ten auto trips in the year 2040. Some have asked, why is it that Arlington gets to be a multimodal community? I don’t think that is the right question. The right question is, why can’t Fairfax and Loudoun be multimodal communities?

Why is public transit is important? Let me mention two new findings about the role of transportation in our local and national  economy.

First, we all know that housing costs have skyrocketed. Researchers at Chicago and Berkeley(1) have estimated that the resulting “housing crunch” represents more than a $1 trillion annual drain on our economy and that high quality transit can play an important role in reducing that drain.

Second, a recent study at Harvard(2) found that commuting time is the “single strongest factor in the odds of escaping poverty ... The relationship between transportation and social mobility is stronger than that between [social] mobility and several other factors, like crime, elementary-school test scores or the percentage of two-parent families in a community.”

While academic studies can feel abstract, nothing is more real than the prospect of losing one's home. I think the only thing worse than losing one's home to a transportation project would be knowing that the project wasn't really necessary.

I'm glad that Ms. Hamilton from VDOT showed the chart earlier that listed the five top performing alternatives. What she didn't mention is that none of those alternatives involved five lanes of traffic as is being proposed today. Each alternative did include robust transit which is not being proposed today.

Current and projected transportation requirements can be met, without adding fifty new miles of pavement, by including high quality high volume public transit. Such a project can be developed based on the Tier 1 Record of Decision that has already been completed. I ask that VDOT develop a true multimodal project.

(1) Chang-Tai Hsieh and Enrico Moretti. "Why Do Cities Matter? Local Growth and Aggregate Growth," No. w21154. National Bureau of Economic Research, 2015

(2) Mikayla Bouchard, "Transportation Emerges as Crucial to Escaping Poverty," New York Times, May 7, 2015

I66 Corridor Coalition Sends Second Letter to Secretary Layne

posted May 31, 2015, 9:25 AM by Info@ Transiters   [ updated May 31, 2015, 12:05 PM ]

The I66 Corridor Coalition, of which Transiters is a member, sent Virginia Transportation Secretary Layne the following letter May 18th (.pdf below):

I-66 Corridor Coalition

May 18, 2015

The Honorable Aubrey L. Layne, Jr.
Secretary of Transportation
Patrick Henry Building
1111 East Broad Street, Third Floor
Richmond, Virginia 23218

Dear Secretary Layne:

We are writing to you following the recent release of the draft Environmental Assessment on I-66 Outside the Beltway. The I-66 Corridor Coalition agrees that addressing the I-66 corridor is a top priority for the region and for the entire Commonwealth. However, we are deeply concerned that the proposed plans to widen I-66 outside the Beltway will degrade our streams, increase air pollution and global warming emissions, will not meet the transportation demands of the future, and will not serve the economic needs of Northern Virginia.

The Coalition continues to urge for a more comprehensive analysis of the I-66 corridor that evaluates a full range of alternatives, and that I-66 be treated as part of a broader approach that addresses transportation, transit-oriented development, and neighborhood and environmental issues.

We appreciate VDOT and the Department of Rail and Public Transportation’s commitment to integrating transit, pedestrian and bicycle facilities into the proposed project, but are concerned that the commitments do not go far enough to truly relieve congestion in the I-66 corridor. The planning process for evaluating and identifying alternatives has been fundamentally flawed, resulting in a proposed project that will have significant impacts on the homes and lives of people living along the I-66 corridor while failing to address induced traffic and the underlying causes of congestion. This is an outdated and expensive short-term solution that will limit responsible and cost-effective land-use and transit planning in this corridor for decades. Both the Tier 1 and the draft Tier 2 environmental studies have failed to analyze a transit-first alternative and land use scenarios that would maximize walking, bicycling, and transit, while reducing extra long-distance auto commutes.

Our major concerns with the proposed project are as follows:

● Lack of coordination with land use planning: Congestion on I-66 is a result of poor land use decisions that have made driving alone the only viable option for most residents outside the Beltway. The Commonwealth’s draft long-range transportation plan, VTRANS2040, emphasizes the need to better coordinate transportation and land use, and this emphasis needs to be applied to this project. The managed lanes are likely to fuel continued auto-dependent development far from the core of the region, and induce new traffic demand over the long term. In addition, motorists will likely take advantage of the new lanes to shift trips to peak hours or take more single-occupancy trips.

● Low transit projections in the Environmental Assessment: The projected number of transit trips is low because of the failure to measure the benefits of land use changes and because the new highway capacity could undermine transit demand. Long-term congestion relief requires compact, walkable mixed-use development tied to good transit and protection of rural land in Prince William County, and strong transit-oriented development in the commercial areas of Fairfax County. While the new proposed transit routes and park and ride lots will improve transit service, transit will be much more effective in attracting riders and relieving pressure on I-66 if it is linked to these land use changes.

● Stormwater management and stream restoration: The addition of impervious surface and construction impacts will significantly add pollution and runoff and further degrade the health of our streams. These impacts will only partially be offset by the proposed stormwater management improvements, because VDOT is reportedly seeking exemption from current stormwater regulations for the existing roadbed. VDOT is presenting a false choice between stormwater management and preserving homes and community green spaces. Instead, VDOT should either find an alternate approach that minimizes the construction footprint while meeting the current stormwater management requirements, or reevaluate the proposed managed lanes project.

● Bicycle and pedestrian facilities: We appreciate the incorporation of bicycle and pedestrian facilities in I-66 crossings. However, the proposed plans lack specific details about parallel bicycle facilities and connectivity to transit stations along the corridor. Studies by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority show that investments in bicycle and pedestrian accessibility to transit stations can significantly increase transit ridership and at a capital cost that is orders of magnitude less than building costly parking structures.

The Coalition will support Virginia’s efforts to implement long-term solutions to transportation requirements in the I-66 corridor by working with local, county, state, federal, and non-profit entities to incorporate high-capacity transit, improved biking and walking connections, and land use scenarios for more compact, mixed-use communities linked to transit and the preservation of existing contiguous neighborhoods. This approach addresses traffic congestion while maximizing value to taxpayers and reducing disruption of communities and our environment.

Thank you for your consideration of our views.


Stewart Schwartz, Executive Director, Coalition for Smarter Growth
Sonya Breehey, Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling
Kris Unger, Primary Conservator, Friends of Accotink Creek
Christine Elrod and Cristina Lewandoski, Co-Presidents, Herndon Environmental Network
Tania Hossain, President, Providence District Council
Stuart M. Whitaker, Founder, Transiters
Douglas Stewart, Transportation Chair, Virginia Sierra Club

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