Friday, February 27, 2009

TDCHR February 26, 2009

On Thursday afternoon the Transportation District Commission of Hampton Roads (TDCHR) held it's February meeting at Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) headquarters in Hampton.

There was good news from Washington. The House of Representatives has passed an omnibus spending bill that increases Federal mass transit spending by 6% (to $10.1 billion), while the bill contains a mark that frontloads Norfolk's light rail cash. If passed, Norfolk would this year get the final light rail money that it is scheduled to get over the next two years.

Two teams are in the running for the Virginia Beach light rail study contract. The contract will probably be awarded at the March TDCHR meeting, though maybe delayed to April.

Numbers from the draft FY 2010 TDCHR Budget were given to Commissioners. It proposes a Budget that would increase under 2%. A cut in state support will likely mean having to ask localities for more. However, the General Assembly is being asked to authorize a change in state law to allow state capital funds to be used for operations, which in turn would be supplanted by Federal stimulus money. In addition, a fare increase is on the table.

Speaking of Federal stimulus money, HRT will receive $24.1 million.

In the current fiscal year (FY 2009), HRT is $1.65 million under it's operating budget.

HRT Staff met with Newport News officials about a proposed Christopher Newport University to Huntington Pointe transit line. Newport News is now aware of what will need to be done to qualify for Federal funding.

Disappointment was expressed about the pending regional mass transit Vision Plan coming out of the MPO. If lackluster and if funds are available, HRT may consider doing it's own plan in-house.

TPPC February 26, 2009

The Transportation, Parking, and Pedestrian Committee (TPPC) of Virginia Beach's Resort Advisory Commission (RAC) met on Thursday morning. The meeting ran about a third longer than TPPC meetings normally.

The meeting began with a discussion of the charter buses shuttling convention delegates between their hotels and the convention center. Currently a number of the buses are either violating parking Ordinances or forcing drivers on Atlantic Avenue to break the rules of the road. In the end, the matter was sent to the City's traffic engineers. They are to report back with short and long term options and recommendations.

There was a long discussion about bicycles riding in the trolley lanes. After about 25-30 minutes, it was decided to leave the status quo.

Finally, there was a Presentation on the Pacific Avenue Trail extension. While supporting the concept, final design issues will be sent to the RAC's Plan/Design Review Committee (PDRC).

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

When You Ride HRT Often....

Many of the Operators will get to know you. Sometimes too well. This morning I was riding the Inbound Route 20. As we approached my home stop the Operator slowed the bus, anticipating that I'd pull the cord for a stop.

No, I wasn't going home. It's Ash Wednesday so I was on my way to Noon Mass at St. Gregory's.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Draft Regional Transit Vision Plan Meeting In Norfolk

Today were simultaneous meetings on the draft Regional Transit Vision Plan, one each in Norfolk and in Hampton from 4-7 P.M. Both meetings had two sessions comprised of an Open House with displays and a Presentation. Then participants were slated to break up into small groups to discuss three questions:

1. Among the transit improvements proposed, what are your priorities?

2. What are the benefits to the region of implementing the proposed transit improvements? Which benefits are most important to you?

3. How would implementing the proposed transit improvements affect your ability or interest in using transit?

I attended the Norfolk meeting. The 4:30 session had a good-sized crowd. The 6 P.M. session was small enough that we didn't break into groups, instead discussing as one large group.

My disappointment was that the vast majority of input was generic transit, not directly related to the Vision Plan. In the second session I tried to get things on track by talking about where I'd tweak the Plan. How many of the participants actually read the draft plan before coming?

The amusing part will be seeing Debbie Messina's story tomorrow. The Virginian-Pravda reporter arrived later, missing the packed first session. Reading our notes, can she flesh an accurate story out of it?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Should Have Seen This Coming

Last night I was playing Navy Field, the online naval shipbuilding and battle game.

One of the players had a new ship. It's name: Stimulus Ship.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Corridor 11

65% of you who voted have a MySpace or Facebook account. I now might have to look at getting one myself.

The new question is on Corridor 11 in the draft Regional Transit Vision Plan. 11 runs from downtown Newport News to Lightfoot. The draft calls for commuter rail along the CSX tracks there in the mid-range, with both commuter rail and light rail in the long term. Is that redundant, or does it make more sense to you than me?

(Hehe...did I throw you for a loop with a Peninsula question?)

Transit Advocates Demand Quality

Earlier this evening I e-mailed Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) my fifth Incident Report (i.e. CAF) in eight days. Someone has got to help clean up operational problems at HRT.

My point in bringing it up? If you listen to the Green Reednuts of the world, you'd believe transit users are "freeloaders" who simply want to throw large quantities of money into a black hole. First, no one knows the shortcomings of our current service better than those who actually ride it. Second, the astute riders realize we won't muster public support for increased service until we start cleaning up what's already out there.

Things are already rolling at HRT Operations. Homer Carter was brought in as Senior Vice President of Operations about a year ago and has been cleaning house. First, separate dispatch offices were combined into Central Dispatch. Second. the Customer Service Manager, Southside Operations Superintendent, and Southside Maintenance chief (among others) have been relieved of their duties during that period. Homer isn't taking prisoners! Third, there's an ongoing effort to augment ridership participation in policing the system. Folks, we probably can turn this supertanker.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

If You Support Light Rail, Become A Republican State Convention Delegate

Yes, there's a connection between the two. The only member of the General Assembly to vote against Bob Tata's light rail for Virginia Beach bill was Ken Cuccinelli. The same Cuccinelli who is seeking the Republican nomination for Attorney General. The nomination will come at (you guessed it) the Republican State Convention in Richmond on May 29 & 30. (The AG vote most likely will be on the 30th.)

When I e-mailed Cooch's office for an explanation, the reply I got from an aide was that he favors Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), not liking fixed-rail systems. It may only be AG this time, but AG is usually a stepping stone to Governor. (Ask Jim Gilmore and Bob McDonnell.) Cuccinelli in the Governor's Mansion would be a crippling blow to Hampton Roads' mass transit future! We need to launch a preemptive strike in May, stopping Cuccinelli now.

In Virginia Beach, the deadline to file as a delegate is Noon on March 2. In other Virginia localities, check with your local Republican unit committee. I plan to go to Richmond as a Brownlee delegate.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Carol Hahn Shouldn't Be The New City Attorney

Today's Virginian-Pravda brings us a story on the process beginning to fill the City Attorney's position.

When I saw the name "Carol Hahn", it set off alarm bells in my head. As the paper points out, she was involved in the 31st Street saga. In 2002, a proposed new height Ordinance for hotels first came to City Council in Informal Session. When asked about it, Hahn replied that it would apply to 31st Street as well as other Oceanfront properties. What Hahn didn't tell Council is that the change had been specifically requested by the developer at 31st Street. E-mail later FOIAed on the subject had Hahn copied. She knew, but kept City Council in the dark.

We need a City Attorney who will give City Council "the whole truth and nothing but the truth" in order that they can make the correct decisions. Hahn has a history of not doing so. In addition, if she'll keep Council in the dark, how will she treat the residents? With other well-qualified candidates available, Council should look elsewhere.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Where I Differ On The Draft Regional Mass Transit Plan

While the Regional Mass Transit Plan is largely a huge step forward, I do have some differences with what's in the Draft.

1. Local Bus Service - while it would still account for the majority of routes in the long term, the Plan spends little time on it. Far too little.

2. Corridor 16 - why is a ferry from Norfolk to Hampton a mid-range project, to be replaced by light rail long range? We need a transit passenger ferry across the water yesterday.

Have you ever tried taking MAX Route 961 across the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel (HRBT) at rush hour? Don't. When I'm in Newport News in the afternoon, I go 967 to 962 back to Norfolk to avoid the 961 getting caught in HRBT traffic.

3. Corridor 5 - did anyone bother to tell the consultants that we're studying light rail EVMS - Norfolk NOB now? They have it as a mid-range project.

4. Corridor 10 - the Plan resurrects (get this!) a Resort Area-only Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system as a mid-range project. Did they live through the 2005 fun and games? Can't we get it done with enhanced bus (rather than BRT)?

5. Corridor 17 - lays out an interesting BRT route for Virginia Beach: Newtown Road LRT Station to Salem Crossing via Princess Anne Road, then north on Lynnhaven Parkway to the Lynnhaven Parkway LRT Station. With TCC - VB just a short distance away (Virginia Beach's largest bus transfer center), why not go there?

6. No new transit in southeast Virginia Beach for the Municipal Center, Sportsplex, or the Amphitheater.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Draft Transit Vision Plan Online!

The draft regional mass transit vision plan is finally online for review. It was supposed to be up yesterday, but technical glitches delayed posting it.

I took a quick glance at it (on my way to work): it's exciting, and not exactly what I expected. More analysis will be on this blog as I have time to read through it.

53% Want An Arena

53% of voters want to plan for a NBA-capable arena in the Pembroke Strategic Growth Area, while 46% were opposed.

Personally, I haven't followed the NBA much in recent years. (I prefer soccer and hockey.) However, if basketball is the sport that gets us on the radar screen of the rest of the country, so be it.

The new question: do you have a MySpace or Facebook account? For all the hours I spend online, I still have neither. Just trying to see how prevalent they are.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Nice Going, Public Libraries

This morning I spotted the bookmobile stopped at a location just off of Baker Road. Given that it's an "at risk" neighborhood for children, that's exactly the kind of thing we want to encourage the kids to do.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

VBCC WSPM 2009 Day 2

Today the Virginia Beach City Council held the second day of it's Winter Strategic Planning Meeting. Normally the Winter session is one day, but this year's format required two.

With the Budget needing to be cut, each operating department chief was marched to the hot seat to defend his fiefdom. The programs under each department were prioritized internally on perceived need, and Council members asked questions and made comments.

Two important dates coming up. On February 24, the City Assessor will give his annual report. On March 24 the draft Budget is scheduled to be released.

The fun part of the day was under the City Attorney's office. Ron Villanueva commanded an "All Rise" for soon-to-be-judge Les Lilley. Having called himself Council's "catcher", he was given a baseball glove and a softball signed by all 11 Council members.

It is hoped that the input of the past two days will aid Council in cutting the Budget.

VBTA Craps A Huge Turd

Late Monday afternoon the Virginia Beach Taxpayers Alliance (VBTA) released a Statement on Light Rail. I recognized that it largely was the very same light rail Statement the VBTA issued about a year ago. At today's Council Strategic Planning Meeting, an observer called it "the most ridiculous thing I've ever seen." In fact, the Statement repeatedly misspelled the name of Mayor S-e-s-s-o-m-s. Let me get out the pooper scooper here and take on it's absurdities:

1. "VBTA members and Board of Directors (BOD) have no emotional or ideological position on the subject of light rail."

The Statement actually begins with that incredulous sentence...and the Statement's credibility hits the toilet with it. If you believe that, meet it's good friends Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy.

2. "VBTA is of the opinion that the only legitimate vehicle for Virginia Beach to change the public's opposition to light rail is another voter referendum."

Multiple polls show light rail drawing the support of a clear majority of residents.

3. "VBTA shares the commitment of Mayor Sessom (sic) that the question of the light rail should not go before Beach voters until a fully vetted and objective analysis of light rail is available for public review."

The Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) timetable would mean no referendum any earlier than November, 2011. Therefore, if you actually believe that, why put out a Statement 33 months prior?

4. "VBTA trusts that City Council was as disturbed as our members that officials of HRT publicly acknowledged that they removed costs that they knew they would have to add back later in order to meet the federal government's qualifying cost-benefit criteria."

What items that were removed were done at the request of the Bush Administration's Federal Transit Administration (FTA). Same thing happened in Charlotte, Phoenix, and Portland.

5. "VBTA trusts that case studies across the the full spectrum of light rail deployments are documented in HRT's light rail feasibility study."

What goes in light rail studies is mandated by Federal law. The VBTA can't amend Federal law.

6. "VBTA is very much in favor of a light rail proposal that delivers real measurable improvements in mobility and that can recover its capital, operating, and depreciation costs from the users and those receiving measurable direct benefits."

How? First of all, the VBTA later writes "VBTA offers by policy, that no existing residential neighborhoods be included in any tax increment financing district or special service district that may be established to finance the acquisition, operations, maintenance, any recapitalization of light rail and it's associated feeder bus system." To draw a TIF or SSD around the Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) zones of the stations, you'd hit some "existing residential neighborhoods." In addition, Federal law prohibits surcharging users of existing transit systems for capital money of new light rail lines.

7. For all of the VBTA's screaming about light rail's cost, it then asks for 13 additions to any proposal.

Can you say "sandbag"? They want to up the cost to try to induce a public outcry.

8. "VBTA offers the city policy must be that no single family neighborhoods shall be...."

There you have it: unless you live in a single family detached house, the VBTA doesn't give a rat's arse about you. Thanks for the slip, idiots!

9. "VBTA offers that by policy, should a referendum be approved to construct and operate a light rail and feeder bus system, that the City of Virginia Beach should directly manage the acquisition and construction of said system, and then contract out the operation and maintenance under a government owned and operated company construct."

In flagrant violation of Federal law.

10. "2. No real estate tax revenue derive from residential property at the existing or future rate will be used to finance light rail or its associated feeder bus system,"

Besides being grammatically incorrect, that ignores how existing bus service is paid for. I'll take the VBTA seriously on financing mass transit now when they come out for a dedicated revenue source for HRT.

11. "VBTA requests an invitation to any process or committee on the issue of light rail."

Talk about letting the fox into the hen house!

The bottom line: the VBTA put out a statement that tried to sound mainstream in order to steal a seat at the table...and no one is being fooled by the ruse.

The VBTA may be able to get their cultists to believe anything their BOD says, but City Council and the general public wouldn't be duped by such a sham.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Transit Day 2009

Today is Transit Day in Virginia, with mass transit advocates from across the Commonwealth converging on Richmond for activities.

Earlier a delegation from our region visited legislators' offices, spearheaded by members of Hampton Roads Transit's (HRT) User Citizen Advisory Committee (UCAC). They delivered a letter from UCAC Chairman Henry Ryto covering a couple points the UCAC wished to have underscored: the need to minimize cuts to Hampton Roads' already inadequate transit system, and the need for support of the pending regional mass transit plan.

Senior HRT Staff will be having dinner with legislators in the capital this evening to push HRT's wish list.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Pembroke Area Implementation Plan, Charrette 1, Night Session

On Thursday evening there was the third public input meeting on the Plan, this time at Strayer University's Town Center campus. The session started with a half-hour briefing, then everyone went to presentation stations for individual input. A couple things for the habitual complainers:

1. Last night's comments from the general public largely dovetailed with the Thursday and Friday input. So while a number with vested interests were there for the day meetings, ordinary citizens looking at the same questions were giving the same answers.

Therefore, you can't honestly call it a special interests plan.

2. Where were you last night? About a dozen and a half employees (City and consulting firms) were there to answer questions and take comments, but not that many residents came. No VBTAers that I recognized in any of the three meetings. (However, one man last Friday morning was leveling Messnerist-Greenmunist rhetoric at the mass transit portion.)

Since you didn't bother to show up, you now have no room to complain about the eventual Plan.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

RAC February 5, 2009

This afternoon Virginia Beach's Resort Advisory Committee (RAC) held it's February meeting. Things began with the introduction of two new Commissioners: Bryan Cuffee and Nancy Creech.

The Oceana tours conducted by Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) have been discontinued due to a change in Federal Transit Administration (FTA) regulations. However, a private operator has been found to operate them in 2009. In addition, the remaining Oceanfront trolleys will be repainted in a blue scheme similar to the hybrid buses. That way tourists will better know the vehicles serve the same purpose.

A lighting pilot project is underway at 24th Street in front of the old post office. A similar project will be initiated soon on the Boardwalk. The idea is to go to LED lights, which are both more energy-efficient and provide better light.

Staff has recommended that the entertainment contract be awarded to Integrated Management Group (IMG). It was IMG that hired Bobby Melatti after he was let go by his former employer, signaling their interest in the contract.

The City will soon issue a White Paper on the proposed convention center headquarters hotel.

Finally, the Green initiative in the Resort Area will have it's own RAC subcommittee, with the moniker to be chosen later.

(FYI, this is the 500th post on this blog.)

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Even Coyotes Ride Light Rail

We've heard the refrain repeated again and again by our Flat Earthers: if we build light rail in our region, no one will ride it. One of the best systems in the country is in Portland, OR, and there even coyotes take the train.

Coyotes? Yeah, this fella decided to take the train from the airport, like hundreds of other Portlanders daily. The story doesn't mention what kind of farecard he used.

Build it and they will come. Even the coyotes.

H/T to Michael Ragsdale of HR Transit Ideas.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Dome Site Wins Big

86% support redevelopment of the Dome site, 8% were opposed, and 4% "Not Now". Michael Jenkins is slated to have his plan for an entertainment facility ready for the City in March.

The new question, "Should Virginia Beach plan for a NBA-capable arena?" One is being talked about within the Pembroke Area Implementation Plan.

For those wondering about me asking two consecutive development questions, at the time I set up the Dome site poll, I was scheduled to go to Richmond on February 2. I thought the trip to the state capital would yield a question. Postponed until next Monday, I now ask a question out of last week's Charrette.

Regional Mass Transit Plan Public Meetings

With the long-awaited (okay, by me) regional mass transit plan slated to be rolled out this month, public meetings have been scheduled where citizens can hear a Presentation on the Plan, ask questions, and view exhibits.

The meetings will be on Tuesday, February 24, simultaneously at Hampton Roads Transit offices in Norfolk (1500 Monticello Avenue) and Hampton (3400 Victoria Boulevard). The meetings will run 4-7 P.M., with the Presentation at 4:30 and again at 6.

The study's website is at

Sunday, February 1, 2009

CACI Died...And No One Noticed

The Citizens Action Coalition (CACI) has finally bitten the dust. It had been on life support for a few years, and formally considered disbanding as early as August, 2007.

Speaking to a longtime CACI personality, I was told the group had "faded away" with the remaining money in the treasury dispersed to the Virginia Beach Taxpayers Alliance (VBTA) and the Pembroke Manor Civic League. The latter had hosted CACI meetings in it's clubhouse.