Wednesday, June 30, 2010

VBTES Public Meeting

This evening there was a Public Meeting on the Virginia Beach Transit Extension Study (VBTES) at the Town Center Westin. It drew a pretty good crowd, relative to what such meetings normally draw.

Shortly after entering the room, Robert Dean was going on about how Will Sessoms had promised a light rail referendum during his Mayoral campaign. To point out the obvious, Dean wouldn't be grumbling about Sessoms if Wally Erb had any chance of turning in enough valid signatures tomorrow. (Have my beer ready, Chrissy!) About 10-12 members of the Virginia Beach Taxpayers Alliance (VBTA) were there.

Don't say I've never done anything for a VBTAer: I was explaining a few of the displays to VBTA Vice Chairman/Transportation Chairman Reid Greenmun. I'm a regular attendee of meetings of the TDCHR's Planning and New Starts Development Committee, so I'd already seen everything on the displays. I wanted to be sure Reid knew what he was looking at. (Reid being Reid, he'll probably still try to distort it.)

The meeting began with opening comments by City Councilman and TDCHR Commissioner John Uhrin. He was followed by two members of the consulting team.

There were displays for the public on grade-separated crossings, maintenance facility location, options east of Birdneck Road, transit technology, the alignment route, and how the alignment meshes with the City's Strategic Growth Areas (SGAs).

Since it's been such an issue, let me cover grade-separated crossings. Federal rules require that any crossings to be grade-separated pass two tests. The consulting team looked at 10, and 5 passed. The 5 roads that would be grade-separated are Witchduck Road, Independence Boulevard, Rosemont Road, Lynnhaven Parkway, and London Bridge Road. The 4 that failed are Newtown Road, South Plaza Trail, Lynnhaven Road, and Oceana Boulevard. The 10th is Constitution Drive. While Constitution didn't meet the criteria, it still may need to be bridged given it's proximity to Independence. That is, bringing it down to at-grade might require too steep a slope. (The Constitution tidbit is from New Starts, not this evening's meeting.)

Both WAVY and WVEC had camera crews there, so they may have video later.

July Service Changes Open Thread

Anonymous Coward wanted a discussion of the Route 36 evening service once the schedule went public. It and other new schedules are now on Hampton Roads Transit's (HRT) website.

In other local mass transit news:

1. Tonight is the public meeting at the Town Center Westin on the Virginia Beach Transit Extension Study (VBTES). It's from 6-8 P.M., with the Presentation at 6:15.

2. Tomorrow is the deadline for Wally Erb's VBTA front group to turn in their ballot petitions to the Voter Registrar to try to force a light rail referendum on the November ballot.

First, I've already promised another mass transit advocate that I'll rip them on this blog when the petition drive falls short. (That's why I put the Ben Jealous quote below the banner: a poke at the Flat Earthers will go on the banner.) Second, if anyone wants to join me, I plan to be at Knucklehead's Roadhouse early Friday evening to celebrate the defeat of the reactionary coup attempt.

Anyone want to start a pool on how many signatures they fall short?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Does Glenn Beck Have Any Shame?

Earlier this year, Glenn Beck launched an attack on 11 year old Malia Obama on his radio show. If attacking an 11 year old girl wasn't brazen enough, many saw racist overtones in Beck's portrayal of Malia in a radio skit.

Civil rights groups were hoping to rally at the Lincoln Memorial on August 28 to commemorate the anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famous "I Have A Dream" Speech. They can't because the site is already booked by (you guessed it) Glenn Beck.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

"Walked In Through The Out Door, Out Door"

One of the arguments that has come up during the fare review by Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) has been "Why not raise fares only to $1.75 rather than $2?" HRT could largely tread water for two years doing that, but would face the same wall in 2012. I say "largely" since two areas that would suffer at $1.75 are vehicle replacement and preventive maintenance. Late this past week, there was a glimpse at how serious both are getting.

On Thursday afternoon so many buses were at the Southside garage needing repair that MAX buses were being sent out for mainline service. I myself saw a MAX bus on Route 20 duty at the Cedar Grove Transfer Center; two Operators have since told me of others.

Going to work Saturday morning meant having to board a Gillig Phantom through the rear exit-only door. The front door had broken en route, forcing passengers through the rear. (Even for a HRT regular like me, I hadn't done that before and the maneuver was awkward.) Fortunately, a mechanic had been dispatched to Pembroke East to meet the bus there and repair the door.

Bus passengers face a simple choice: pay a $2 fare, or ride old buses with substandard maintenance.

Friday, June 25, 2010

TDCHR June 24, 2010

On Thursday afternoon, the Transportation District Commission of Hampton Roads (TDCHR), the governing board of Hampton Roads Transit (HRT), held it's June meeting.

Shortly after convening, the TDCHR went to closed session. That left the bulk of us out in the second floor hallway for about 30 minutes. Afterwards, we learned that it had been about the buyout of Michael Townes' retirement package, which was immediately approved.

With a large group there for the leadership election, the hallway was full. As a regular visitor to HRT Headquarters, I knew the most comfortable seat in the house was the small sofa at the top of the stairway. I got it, and was joined by a Staffer.

Speaking of the leadership election, Paul Riddick of Norfolk was elected Chairman and Pat Woodbury of Newport News Vice Chair. Jim Wood was the lone "No" vote. Riddick said "I just plan to follow the script that each Chairman has in the past", and that if the media raised technical or financial questions, he would refer them to HRT Staff.

Current Chairman Jim Wood gave departing remarks. Noteworthy, he stated that he was "extremely confident" that those who stole $80,000 plus would face justice. That's based on conversations he's had wth those involved in the investigation. Wood was given a standing ovation for his service.

An order was placed for ten additional buses from Gillig, one 29 foot hybrid and nine 35 foot diesel buses.

With one month remaining in FY 2010, HRT is $1.477 million under Budget.

The TDCHR passed a Resolution, based on a new state law, that will require new hires after July, 2010 to pay 5% of their Virginia Retirement System (VRS) contributions. With plenty of new hiring needed to staff Norfolk light rail, the fiscal impact is big.

It was reported out that the Paratransit Advisory Committee has taken a position opposing any Handi-Ride fare increases within the ongoing fare review.

Ridership in May was 3.83% over May, 2009. With one month left in FY 2010, ridership overall is up 2.85% for the year.

In other notes:

1. Both WAVY and WVEC covered the meeting and have video on their websites. (You can see me in the background on the WVEC video.)

2. Randy Wright stated that, given Norfolk City Council's procedure, it would probably be August before his replacement is chosen. Wright was given the other standing ovation of the day.

78% Get It

In our last poll, 78% think that Virginia Beach Taxpayers Alliance (VBTA) City Council candidates will win zero seats in November. 9% thought they'd break through and take a seat somewhere. 12% were drunk on Kool-Aid, deluding themselves into believing the VBTA can take two seats.

The new poll question: with Norfolk having conditionally been granted an UFL franchise this week, do you plan to go to games?

TPPC June 24, 2010

On Thursday morning the Transportation, Parking, and Pedestrian Committee (TPPC) of Virginia Beach's Resort Advisory Commission (RAC) met.

First, there was an update from Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) on VB Wave service. Ridership in May, 2010 was down slightly from May, 2009. A big concern is that some are mistaking the new bus lane signs on Atlantic Avenue for bus stops. The VB Wave logo was put on them to promote the service.

There are problems with lighting on the Norfolk Avenue bike path. With some lights out, users are concerned about safety. As an interim measure, the Virginia Beach Police Department (VBPD) is stepping up patrols in the area. Also, Landscape Services has been requested to trim the undergrowth in the area.

Possible changes of the markings on the bike path parallel to the Boardwalk were discussed. The catch is that not only is there no funding, but jurisdiction for such falls under the Department of Parks and Recreation. (Paging Cindy Curtis....) It is hoped to get the job done this coming off-season.

Finally, the TPPC plans to be briefed on Form-Based Zoning for the Resort Area at it's July 29 meeting.

Quite Insightful

There were two big votes at Tuesday night's meeting of the Virginia Beach City Council.

First, a proposed parking swap with Bruce Thompson was authorized on a 6-5 vote. There were only two speakers in opposition: Virginia Beach Taxpayers Alliance (VBTA) Chairman John Moss and VBTA Vice Chairman Reid Greenmun.

Second, a ban of LED signs was approved on a 6-5 vote. Spearheading the ban were Virginia Beach's garden clubs.

That led one Councilman to quip afterwards, "The garden clubs have more clout than the VBTA."

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

USA Beats Algeria; Ghana Next

Today the USA defeated Algeria 1-0 on a goal by Landon Donovan in stoppage time. I embed the video below for those who haven't seen it.

Next up for the USA will be Ghana in the knockout round.

2nd HRT Bloggers Roundtable

Yesterday afternoon there was a 2nd Bloggers Roundtable with Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) President Phillip Shucet. Unfortunately, Vivian Paige and I were the only two bloggers who made it. Fortunately, Vivian taped it, which I embed below.

On Norfolk Being Granted An UFL Franchise

As most of you probably now know, on Monday the United Football League (UFL) conditionally granted Norfolk a franchise. They would begin play in 2011.

Okay, it's easy to dismiss it as "It's the UFL!" However, there are reasons to support the team that are not so obvious to some.

First, a successful UFL franchise here could get the attention of other pro sports leagues, including the NFL. The biggest reason the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars exist today was the USFL's Jacksonville Bulls. The Bulls would regularly sellout the Gator Bowl, and the NFL took notice.

More recent was the New Orleans Hornets spending a season in Oklahoma City in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Oklahoma City wasn't even on the NBA's radar screen, but the Okies offered the Hornets their arena rent free...and then sold out every home game. We now have the Oklahoma City Thunder.

As a native Marylander, I'm familiar with what owner Jim Speros did with the CFL's Baltimore Stallions. If he can do even better here....

Finally, I hope an agreement is reached so the new team plays at Norfolk State's Dick Price Stadium. First, it's by far the largest of the venues under consideration. Second, it's on Norfolk's light rail Starter Line, which would aid moving fans in and out of games. I went to a Spartans game a couple seasons ago, and the facility is certainly adequate.

Friday, June 18, 2010

ISOP 2010

There were two orientation meetings for the foreign students working in Virginia Beach this Summer. I attended the second of the two meetings this year by the International Student Outreach Program (ISOP), which was held yesterday afternoon at Virginia Beach Baptist. (The first was on the same afternoon as the May TDCHR meeting.)

It was an overflow crowd in the fellowship hall. The students were addressed by representatives from the Virginia Beach Police Department (VBPD), the Social Security Administration, Hampton Roads Transit (HRT), Virginia Beach Public Libraries, the banking industry, and Virginia Beach Baptist's free Internet cafe for the students. As one representative said afterwards, she was concerned they were being hit with information overload.

As Eastern Europe is integrated into the European Union, the student migration here moves further east. They come from Turkey, Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Ukraine. Our newest entrant is from the Far East: China. The intriguing thing is that the Chinese students speak excellent English, much better than those from the other countries. That has far-reaching implications. (see: Japan in the early 20th Century.)

A few other notes from my journey yesterday:

1. Stopping at Hardee's for lunch on the way there, a senior couple from North Carolina was visiting. He told me, "If I lived here, it would take me a week to get anywhere."

If a visitor can pick up on our transportation problems that quickly, just think how they look to companies looking to locate here.

2. After adjournment, I went upstairs to see what bus schedules the Internet cafe needed for the students. Most everything. (They stock HRT schedules for them.) Sure enough, when I got back downstairs the students had taken all the sodas.

Being resourceful, I remembered that the bags the students were being given had a bottle of spring water in them. I found a leftover bag and got the water.

3. I was disappointed to see back-to-back trolleys on Route 30 (Atlantic Avenue). We need hybrid acquisition to run faster.

4. I stopped at the Pembroke East Transfer Center coming home. I ended up playing HRT Customer Service agent, helping a few people get home.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

TPO June 16, 2010

Today the Transportation Planning Organization (TPO), Hampton Roads' Federally-mandated transportation planning board, met. A number of substantial things.

First, the TPO adopted it's FY 2011 Budget. It's not totally separated from the HRPDC Budget, but Staff promised two entirely separate budgets in FY 2012.

The astounding thing: departing Newport News Mayor Joe Frank wanted to reduce the public participation funds. That's right: the public participation funds. He compared the draft Budget to what northern Virginia is spending, and declared it too much. First, the amount is high in FY 2011 given that a couple large plans are in the pipes. Second, only a retiring politician would publicly suggest cutting the public participation funds.

The economic vitality scoring mechanism for transportation project prioritization was approved. The full prioritization tool will be sent to the TPO in July for approval.

Speaking of July, the same month will see the final consultant's report on High Speed Rail. Get this, Flat Earthers: it sees Step 3 (110 mph) and Step 4 (150 mph) as privately-operated, privately-built, unsubsidized, profitable services.

The TPO voted to send all 5 TIGER II grant applications from the region to Washington unprioritized. That was after a long debate which noted the region getting shutout in TIGER I. The state legislators present castigated the TPO for failure to prioritize.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Keep "Mount Trashmore"

91% of you want to keep the name "Mount Trashmore" on the park, with 9% wanting to change it.

The new poll: how many City Council seats will the VBTA win? There's Toni Hedrick's challenge of Jim Wood in Lynnhaven District. Everyone's favorite: the wingnuts running three candidates (Bill DeSteph, John Moss, and Wally Erb) for two seats in the At-Large field. Admit it: we love beating up on that bunch of racist kooks, so have fun with the poll.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

USA Ties England 1-1

On Saturday the USA tied England in their World Cup Opener 1-1.

The lone American goal was a fluke. I embed the video below in case you haven't seen it. English goalie Robert Green simply allows the ball to glance off him into the goal! If you catch ABC's footage of the game, over on the American bench they didn't even realize they had scored until they saw their players on the field celebrating.

On the one hand, we're lucky to get the one point with the tie. On the other hand, we could have won had a shot in the 63rd minute not gone off the post. Take the point, and being favored against Algeria and Slovenia, the USA has a good chance of advancing to the next round of the Finals.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Blackjack 2010

Yesterday I went to draft a list of questions for our 2010 candidates for the Virginia Beach City Council. I was shooting for 20, so I could do "Playing 20 Questions in 2010". My draft idea list went 30. I chopped 8, and then a 9th. Thus, 21 questions and the title.

Campaigns that wish to reply, the question list is below. You can cut and paste the question list, and e-mail your reply to (Yeah, I just set up that address.)

As for the questions themselves, I asked some on public participation in government, a couple services questions. Some on land planning, and tossed in a couple fun questions (the arena and nightclub district) to keep the list and Virginia Beach from being too boring. Here we go:

1. The Budget Task Force proposed an 1% local Sales Tax and 1% local Income Tax, to be coupled with a revenue-neutral cut in the Property Tax rate. Do you support the proposal, and why or why not?

2. What additional measures would you support to bring more residents to the Resort Area in-season and for them to feel more welcome there?

3. What measures do you advocate for bringing the City government closer to the residents?

4. So far, the density credits program for affordable housing in the Strategic Growth Areas (SGAs) has produced zero new units. What, if any, additional measures do you believe should be enacted to get the units built?

5. What do you believe is the state of race relations in Virginia Beach and what could be done to improve them?

6. Currently the Open Mic session at the end of City Council meetings is not televised. Should it be, and why or why not?

7. Virginia Beach Vision proposed a local Gas Tax for transportation. It was in the draft 2010 Community Legislative Package (CLP), only to be removed before passage. Should it go into the 2011 CLP, and why or why not?

8. 2011 will be a City Redistricting year. What, if any, changes to the City's electoral system would you advocate within that process?

9. Do you favor continuing to implement evening and Sunday bus service on Virginia Beach's outlying routes, and why or why not?

10. Do you support mandatory Inclusionary Zoning, and why or why not?

11. Should meetings of the Resort Advisory Commission (RAC) be cold taped for later broadcast on VBTV, as a means to educate the public on Resort policy, and why or why not?

12. Do you support phasing out the BPOL tax? If so, how would you do it?

13. The Pembroke Area Implementation Plan envisions an arena between I-264 and the Witchduck Road light rail station. Do you support it, and why or why not?

14. In the recent past, City Council has discussed a possible "defined nightclub district". Would you support incorporating such into one of the remaining SGA plans to be done, and why or why not?

15. Do you support billing insurance companies for ambulance service rendered, as our neighboring cities do, and why or why not?

16. Do you support building the proposed entertainment center at the Dome site, and why or why not?

17. What do you believe should be done to expand recreation opportunities for youth?

18. What measures do you believe should be enacted to facilitate the construction of additional low-income apartment complexes?

19. How would you better utilize VBTV to get information to the residents?

20. What, if anything, do you believe the City should do towards aiding the housing of the international students who come to work in Virginia Beach?

21. What is your opinion of government by referenda?

Plenty of meat there. Feel free to hit candidates at forums with the above, or variations of them.

Blog's New Look

Blogger offered some new design options, so I played around with them to try to give this blog a more readable look. Hope you like it.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Riddick Nominated For TDCHR Chairman

Today the Executive Committee of the Transportation District Commission of Hampton Roads (TDCHR) nominated Norfolk City Councilman Paul Riddick to serve as Chairman in FY 2011. WAVY-TV had a video report, which I'll embed below.

Where did you hear this story first? Try Paul Riddick To TDCHR Chairman?, May 4 on this blog. Avenging Archangel: bringing issues to you before most people even realize that they're issues.

For the transitphobes who will try to hide behind Riddick to attack any transit improvements, let me point out that the need for much better mass transit in Hampton Roads isn't predicated on which personality holds the TDCHR gavel.

The 2010 Dance Card Is In

The next 5 months will make for some fun blog fodder. 14 candidates have filed for the Virginia Beach City Council, and we have some interesting matchups.

Bayside District

Who is George Furman? I've never heard of him. Wouldn't know him if he walked up to me. However, he's now Louis Jones first challenger in a few election cycles. Having an one-on-one at least gives him a possible chance.

Beach District

John Uhrin is unopposed. You can spend plenty of time with your hotels, John.

Lynnhaven District

I was told a couple weeks ago that the VBTA was trying to get Bob Hedrick's widow into this race. It doesn't matter: Jim Wood will easily make roadkill of Toni Hedrick.

Princess Anne District

PA can produce some great matchups and this is no exception. Probably the most exciting contest this year will be Tanya Bullock's challenge of Barbara Henley. I'll admit it: I'm pulling for Tanya. After all, I was a two-time Jim Reeve voter.


I had planned to go down this candidate by candidate. However, the gang that can't shoot straight strikes again: Bill DeSteph, Wally Erb, and John Moss all filing At-Large?!? What the...?!? They want to hopelessly split the raging lunatic vote? I thought Moss couldn't run At-Large with DeSteph without diluting, but now Erb is also in the mix. Go figure.

I'll disclose here: I was Issues and Research person for Andrew Jackson in Kempsville District in 2008, and he's asked me to help him again. There's definitely one of my two votes.

Dave Redmond has been our Planning Commissioner here in Bayside District, and has been a Facebook Friend of mine. I've long looked at him as being Louis Jones' heir apparent in Bayside, but now he's running At-Large. I wish him well, even though we disagree sharply on a few issues.

I've never voted for Rita Sweet Bellitto in any of her three times on the ballot and don't plan to start now.

James Cabiness just moved here from Chesterfield County a couple years ago and his no solid base of his own. Little chance.

VBTA Eunuchs

With 2010 the last shot for the VBTA to make even a half-baked run for Council seats, you would have thought they'd play their cards much smarter. If they really wanted to go for it, they could have attacked aggressively.

First, Great Neck resident Bill DeSteph could have run for the Lynnhaven District seat instead of running At-Large again. That would have given him a good chance to posture for the things he claims to support.

Second, how did they miss the chance in Beach District? In TDCHR Commissioner and RAC Liaison John Uhrin, they had the opportunity to go front burner on light rail and Resort Area policy in the same race.

Finally, Bayside resident John Moss stays home and challenges Louis Jones.

We knew the VBTA had no brains. Now we know the VBTA has no cojones.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Newport News Will Be Okay

55% think Newport News will be better off with McKinley Price as Mayor, 44% think things will stay the same. No one thinks things will be worse. However, the low response rate suggests I shouldn't ask another Newport News question for awhile.

Personally, I think some of Price's ideas have quite a common touch to them. However, Price will have nowhere near the clout at the regional level that outgoing Mayor Joe Frank has accumulated.

The new question was inspired by this morning's newspaper: should Mount Trashmore be renamed? It comes up periodically....

Saturday, June 5, 2010

DeSteph and The NYC Mosque

You've probably heard by now how Councilman Bill DeSteph sent a letter to the Mayor of New York City opposing a mosque and community center adjacent to Ground Zero, claiming to speak for the City of Virginia Beach and the Commonwealth of Virginia. I have a few thoughts to chip in I haven't heard elsewhere yet.

First, if DeSteph wants to become Zoning Administrator of NYC, let him. We can even throw in a training course by Karen Lasley if it will get that embarrassment out of town.

Second, he attacks the Imam for espousing sharia. Would Bill expect a Catholic to repudiate canon law? It's essentially the same thing, Bill.

Third, if DeSteph thinks New York City affairs should be decided in Virginia Beach, why not the other way around? Bill and his VBTA comrades in arms have been clamoring for a light rail referendum. Fine, we'll let New York City vote on our system. ("You mean you don't have a train in Virginia?!?")

Fourth, DeSteph and his friends can get high and holy about property rights. In this case, the Muslims already own the building. The hypocrisy is thick!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

RAC June 3, 2010

Virginia Beach's Resort Advisory Commission (RAC) met on Thursday afternoon for about 50 minutes.

Under the Plan/Design Review Committee (PDRC) report, PDRC Chairman Billy Almond covered a couple matters of importance. First, the genesis of what's become the Laskin Road Gateway actually dates to 1997. Design professionals then held a full day meeting in the office of then-RAC Chairman Tim Barrow to sketch out ideas for the corridor. Second, Almond floated the idea of the RAC taking a position on LED signs, with the Virginia Beach City Council expected to take action in July.

Oceanfront Enhancement Committee (OEC) Chairman Jim Davis made a presentation on using old parking meters to collect money to aid the homeless. It's based on a program in Denver. The RAC endorsed a pilot program of 6 meters in the Resort Area.

The Resort Investment Committee reviewed the Tourism Growth Investment Fund (TGIF). With some revenues down in the recession, possible cuts in some programs were considered.

The location chosen for restrooms for JT's Grommet Island Park is the southwest corner of the intersection of 2nd Street and the Boardwalk. That's the northeast corner of the parking lot there.

Speaking of the Park, it's getting national recognition. First, two national magazines for the physically handicapped are doing stories on it. Second, at least three cities (two in California plus Ocean City, MD) are using it as a case study for building similar parks.

In other news, The Hippo (the giant water slide on the beach) opened on Sunday. Also, the annual sand soccer tournament will be the second weekend in June.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

VBTES Public Meeting

There will be a public meeting on the Virginia Beach Transit Extension Study (VBTES). It will be Wednesday evening, June 30, from 6-8 P.M. at the Town Center Westin.

On the one hand, there has been a recognized need to have regular meetings to keep the public involved. On the other hand, there has been little new to show the public. However, it's now starting to hit all at once, with a potential "information overload".

Sounds like fun for us policy junkies.

Talking Past Each Other

At this morning's meeting of the TPO's Transportation Technical Advisory Committee (TTAC), a City of Norfolk Staffer mentioned that they already had their first charette on the Harbor Park multimodal facility. I was elated. In Virginia Beach, a "charette" is a public meeting where residents can chime in on land planning issues.

After adjournment I went over to speak to him. It turns out that it had simply been Staff doing some initial conceptualizing.

One of the reasons we can't communicate as a region: we can't even use the word "charette" to mean the same thing.