Thursday, July 29, 2010

TPPC July 29, 2010

The Transportation, Parking, and Pedestrian Committee (TPPC) of Virginia Beach's Resort Advisory Commission (RAC) met on Thursday morning. The meeting was quite short, lasting only about 35 minutes.

There was an update from Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) on VBWave operations. Looking at May figures, it was seen that full service began in 2009 on May 17 versus May 23 in 2010. If yiou redact the additional days, 2010 was only about 8% behind 2009. The great news: June was about 13% ahead of the previous year, with July ridership (so far) roughly on par with a year ago.

The safety issues on Norfolk Avenue are being tackled. Lights that were out have been fixed, with the City looking to install additional lights. Not only have incidents dropped, but arrests have been made.

There was a brief discussion of time share sales behavior, busking, and street preachers. A full discussion is scheduled for when the RAC next meets on August 5.

Dead Heat

No, I'm not talking about the recent weather, which has been enough to make you croak over. The poll on the contest for the Princess Anne District seat on the Virginia Beach City Council ended in a tie. That's further proof that, despite what the Beacon thinks, the contest between Tanya Bullock and Barbara Henley should be the most exciting this year.

Since you had fun with that, let's poll Lynnhaven District next. Toni Hedrick or Jim Wood? I love public executions.

Riding The 962 Into Suffolk

On Wednesday I made my fourth day trip to Suffolk to check out Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) service there. Two major changes had been scheduled with HRT's July 11 board change, though only one actually happened.

The first was the reconfiguration of Route 962, the weekday rush hour-only bus that is the only HRT service in and out of southern Suffolk. (Some wag would inevitably point out the through 47 serves northern Suffolk via Portsmouth and a corner of Chesapeake.) It's eastern terminus was moved from Cedar Grove in Norfolk to County & Court in Portsmouth; it's western terminus from the Magnolia Park and Ride to the Suffolk Bus Plaza. The consensus was that bringing the 962 all the way into the Suffolk Bus Plaza has been a huge boost, even though it's cut Route 73 ridership.

Yes, they're still at the Suffolk Bus Plaza. A new transfer center had been constructed at the new building that houses Suffolk's Social Services and Health departments, but the move there is mired in local politics. Let's hope the Suffolk City Council can put their egos in check and do the right thing, agreeing to move the transfer center.

Ridership appeared to be down from my previous visits, and I was given a couple theories. However, one of them simply doesn't wash.

I was happy to be able to bring people up to speed on the status of the bus shelter they want for the Farm Fresh on Route 71. I'd twice heard it discussed at TDCHR meetings.

A couple people wanted Saturday service, both on the mainline routes and the 962. However, the Suffolk City Council would need to fund it. The impetus is so those who work Monday - Friday could take the bus shopping on Saturday. Currently mainline service in Suffolk is only on weekdays and just until 6 P.M.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Speech Will Sessoms Should Have Given

This past Saturday morning, Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms was the speaker at the Republican Breakfast. I didn't make it. However, over on Virginia News Source, Ben Krause facetiously asked if one of three people was going to write Sessoms' speech - and I was one of the three.

No, Sessoms has never asked me to write a speech for him. However, it got me thinking: what if I had been asked to write it? What would I have the Mayor telling the breakfast crowd? He'd want to add more to it, but these are the basic comments:

Good morning, Republicans! It's a fine day in Virginia Beach, and we have even better days to come.

As a candidate to become your Mayor, I promised to place a heavy emphasis on jobs creation. Not just t-shirt vendors and convenience store clerks, but quality jobs with good benefits. While you never achieve everything you set out to right away, we have put in place measures to attract those kind of jobs. In addition, we will continually take further steps as fiscally prudent.

I wear my support for light rail on my sleeve. It is essential for transportation, jobs creation, and land redevelopment. The Study process continues as mandated by the Code of Virginia. Remember that the process is legally required despite the attempts of fringe elements to short-circuit it. We will obtain the facts, and then City Council will make a decision based on those facts.

Light rail will give us connectivity through the region once a network is built out. Virginia Beach is part of Hampton Roads; our city line is not an impermeable economic barrier. Whether it's our Oceanfront here at home, or the port as a region, we are blessed with natural assets that other areas would die for. Yes, they are assets despite the attempts by some extremists to demonize any and all public investment in them.

I have been working with my Mayor's Minority Roundtable to reach out to our minority communities. We are a stronger city for including all forward-looking people and groups in policy formulation. We face a potential flashpoint with next year's Redistricting process, but we must not allow it to become the farcical charade the 2001 process was. If we can build a coalition of mainstream Republicans, the business community, and the minority communities, that coalition would be a juggernaut pushing this city forward for years to come.

Council will soon be holding it's annual Retreat. There I hope to push forward new initiatives to further grow and prosper Virginia Beach. With the support of a majority on Council, which I certainly believe is there, we will push forward and achieve the promise that fringe radicals will tell you is both impossible and undesirable.

We have an election in November, with five contested Council seats. I certainly hope you join me in supporting candidates who would strive for progress in our city and region. We may not agree on all five races, especially in Princess Anne District. However, I hope everyone in this room can and will reject the quartet of candidates who believe Virginia Beach peaked a quarter century ago and is now in decline.

As Republicans, I certainly hope you can support our pro-business line. As The Party of Lincoln, I hope you will embrace my efforts to reach out to those who have been historically excluded. By all forward-thinking people and groups joining together, Virginia Beach's best days will be in those days still to come. I thank you for this opportunity to speak to you this morning, and now am happy to answer any questions.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

EHR People's Hearing On Transportation

On Thursday evening Empower Hampton Roads (EHR) held a "People's Hearing" on Transportation, largely focusing on mass transit. The event was part of a week-long grassroots training process, held at Hampton University (HU).


As anyone who has been to an EHR program knows, they roughly follow the template of a religious service. (Fitting in that EHR is church-based.) It had roughly two elements added.

First, testimonials from those who ride the bus were read. It was capped off by a woman from Tidewater Gardens in Norfolk giving her personal story.

Second, representatives from the TPO and HRT were asked to stand and commit to working with EHR. They agreed.


Simply making it into the meeting was an adventure. The e-mail I was sent had it in the "Hampton University Student Auditorium". (Know how many auditoriums are on the HU campus?) Finally, I flagged down a HU Police officer who knew where the meeting had been moved to and gave me directions. (Right, left, right, left, through the black-colored gate, then the 8 story building in front of you.)

While I was having trouble finding it, I called the EHR contact whose cell phone number was on the e-mail. She assumed I had driven to the mass transit meeting (brilliant!), and had drove in through the main gate on the west side of the campus. No, the bus stop serving HU is on the northern periphery of campus.


EHR is well-intentioned and energetic, but uneducated on mass transit issues. They can be a big boost if they get the facts and prioritize.

The e-mail for the meeting raises the issues of additional frequencies, more hours of service, more routes, and more shelters. At the same time, they attack Hampton Roads Transit's (HRT) already artificially low $1.50 fare as "cost prohibitive", and on Thursday evening cheered the decision to delay a fare increase. Someone please buy them a calculator!

Two things for EHR:

1. Prioritize what you want. To do everything on that list tomorrow would probably mean tripling HRT's Budget. With the $1.50 fare, you can't maintain existing service, yet alone the improvements you want.

2. You're barking up the wrong tree. HRT isn't the problem here. The issue is getting the 7 City Councils to fund additional service. Show up each Spring at the cities' budget hearings with that kind of energy and commitment and you'll make some headway.

Charles Whitehurst For Mayor Of Portsmouth

One of the four finalists for appointment to the vacant position of Mayor of Portsmouth is Vice Mayor Charles Whitehurst. I certainly hopes he receives the appointment. During the last two years (since his return to City Council), Whitehurst has served as one of Portsmouth's TDCHR Commissioners. Not only have I had the opportunity to observe him, but have spoken with him one-on-one prior to a few New Starts meetings.

First, he's a big picture visionary. When discussions get bogged down in details, he'll regularly push the focus back.

Second, he listens. With residents complaining about flooding problems, early this year he told me how he wanted to pull funds from partially-funded CIP projects to pay for solutions.

Third, he's not going to use the Mayor's Office as a springboard to higher office.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

TDCHR July 22, 2010

The Transportation District Commission of Hampton Roads (TDCHR), the governing body of Hampton Roads Transit (HRT), held it's July meeting this afternoon. It was Paul Riddick's first meeting at the gavel.

Tentatively HRT finished FY 2010 $772,348 under Budget. I say "tentatively" in that the figures are unaudited and there are still a couple invoices to be dealt with. The big cutter of the surplus: the buyout of Michael Townes retirement package, virtually all of which had to be counted in June.

In more good news, HRT has discovered and documented why the three rail crossings in Norfolk failed. They will seek "errors and omissions" from the liable parties.

A $342,900 voice recognition phone system was approved for HRT's Customer Service line. It will allow many telephone inquiries to be answered by an automated system.

The next TDCHR meeting will be August 26 in Hampton. In other notes:

1. To answer the $64,000 question, Randy Wright's replacement at the TDCHR is Barclay Winn.

2. HRT is available to give transit extension study presentations to civic groups in Virginia Beach. If your group is interested, contact HRT.

3. HRT has met with the Navy to seek answers to questions surrounding LRT in the periphery of Oceana.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

TPO July 21, 2010

It was a blockbuster meeting today for the Transportation Planning Organization (TPO).

First, the tool for prioritizing the region's transportation projects was approved. Staff anticipated having a fully prioritized list back to the TPO at it's January meeting. However, the TPO wants a list in September, even if that list needs to later be adjusted. The reason is to try to have something to go prior to the 2011 General Assembly session and the October meeting of the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB).

Second, the initial work of the consultant on High Speed Rail was received, with Staff authorized to reach agreement with him for another year's work. However, some from the state government expressed skepticism over assumptions in the initial work.

Third, Norfolk light rail was sent $10 million in the state share of stimulus funds to help Norfolk cover the last round of cost overruns.

Finally, the TPO deferred action on the state's transportation measures. The sticking point is a timeline in already-passed legislation that would require another act of the General Assembly to undo.

Monday, July 19, 2010

63% Support The 31st Street Parking Space Swap

63% of blog readers voted in support of the parking space swap at 31st Street with Bruce Thompson, with 36% opposed.

The new poll question is on the Princess Anne District contest for the Virginia Beach City Council: challenger Tanya Bullock or incumbent Barbara Henley?

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Is Tide Extension A Priority Or What?!?

One of the prerogatives of the Chairman of the Transportation District Commission of Hampton Roads (TDCHR) is the sole authority over the appointment of committee members, including Chairmen.

It's the Planning and New Starts Development Committee that oversees new transit system studies, most notably light rail. The committee is a merger of the former Planning and Development Committee and the New Starts Committee. The impossibly clunky name is to indicate that it exercises the functions of both. However, at Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) the committee is commonly referred to as "New Starts".

With Randy Wright the previous Chairman, Paul Riddick needed to appoint a new Chairman and Vice Chairman. The new Chairman is John Uhrin of Virginia Beach; the new Vice Chairman is Cliff Hayes of Chesapeake. Hey, Chairman Riddick isn't usually very subtle.

3rd Annual CCO Picnic In The Park

On Wednesday evening the Council of Civic Organizations (CCO), Virginia Beach's civic league federation, held it's 3rd annual Picnic In The Park at Mount Trashmore.

While it didn't appear as well-attended as in 2009, the barbecue and cookies were demolished. A new feature: vendors purchased space to sell their wares to the public.

Congressional candidates Scott Rigell and Kenny Golden were there. Representatives came from Glenn Nye's reelection campaign.

With it also being a City Council election year, a number of candidates were there: Andrew Jackson, Dave Redmond, Rita Sweet Bellitto, and Barbara Henley. In addition, Councilman Bob Dyer stopped by.

Note what's missing above: none of the VBTA candidates appeared. They can't bring themselves to admit that the VBTA has little support among an authentic grassroots group?

Delegate Chris Stolle also attended. However, Dr. Stolle was out quickly before I could ask him a medical question.

School Board candidate (and previous CCO President) Sam Reid was going on about fundraising, yard signs, etc. We had to repeatedly remind Sam that he's running unopposed.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Night Action On The 36 (And Other Board Change Notes)

The official board change at Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) was on July 11, but most of the heavily impacted routes didn't have Sunday service. Therefore, July 12 was the day for things to happen.

Here in Virginia Beach Route 36 became the first mainline route off of Virginia Beach Boulevard in our City to have evening scheduled service since 2001. Given the historic nature of the occasion, I rode that first 36 to TCC and back. While the loads were down from what you would see during the day, I was pleased to see people in the corridor already changing their daily schedule, knowing they now had evening bus service.

The Operator drove my home Route 20 in 2004, when I first started riding regularly again. He later drove Route 23, which I ride second most-often. Therefore, he, others, and I had some good conversation. The subject list is long and intriguing: the Arabs' enslavement of Africans, documents of the Founding Fathers, conservative talk radio, slavery in America, Abraham Lincoln, Lindsay Lohan (twice), the 2nd Congressional District race, the Emancipation Proclamation, LeBron James, and others. You get the drift: we were having an enjoyable evening.

The only real issue we had was upon arrival at the Pembroke East Transfer Center. The Outbound 20 (which another passenger needed) pulled out while we were making the loop around Corporation Drive. My Inbound 20 was running late, so I made my transfer.

I went to TCC - Virginia Beach on Monday morning to observe what was happening with the reconfiguration of Routes 26 & 29. I was there for three lineups (8:45 - 10:45 A.M.), noting:

1. The big event was on my 36 getting there. It was the Operator's first morning driving the 36, and she got lost on the approach to TCC. We regulars had to guide her into the lineup.

2. I saw 1-2 people each lineup still looking for the 29 at TCC. However, a problem that small is manageable.

3. Riding the new loop Route 26, I saw that the 26 enters Lynnhaven Mall twice: once on it's way to the Oceana West Industrial Park, then again as it leaves. With a time point layover off of International Parkway, there's enough time that someone could run quickly into the Mall for something on the first pass, and still catch the same bus on the second pass.

That's what I saw on July 12. Anyone notice anything off on Monday?

George Steinbrenner Passes Away

New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner has died of a heart attack. Love him or hate him, you couldn't ignore him.

I was no Steinbrenner fan, but was saddened by his passing. Over the past 35 years, no Major League Baseball owner has had a greater impact on the sport, bar none. His fingerprints are all over what baseball is today, for better or for worse. Watching a Yankees game on television wasn't complete without seeing the shots of Steinbrenner in his box.

This afternoon, a customer came into where I work wearing a Yankees hat. When I broke the news to him, he was in disbelief.

Rest In Peace, George.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Remedial Math Needed

On Wednesday the Executive Committee of the Transportation District Commission of Hampton Roads (TDCHR) voted to postpone the fare increase process at Hampton Roads Transit (HRT). While this probably kills a fare increase in 2010, the decision still needs to be ratified by the full Commission at it's July 22 meeting. The rationale given for the decision was that HRT wanted to explore making greater efficiencies first.

The fundamental problem is that the decision assumes enough can be found in efficiencies to meet both current budgetary needs and more Operator compensation in a new contract with the union. Staff has already documented HRT's structural financial problems, and it appeared the Commission was leaning towards raising fares to $2.

The issue I haven't heard addressed in the context of the fare review is the Operators' union contract, which expired July 1. Last time it went to arbitration, and the Operators were awarded a 3% raise each year for three years.

Does anyone seriously believe enough in efficiencies can be found to cover both the structural budgetary problems and larger Operator compensation? If not, why does the fare increase process keep getting pushed back? First the increase was to be on July 1, then November 1. The Executive Committee action would push any increase into 2011. This thing is running later than the Route 15 at rush hour!

Theoretically, the Commission could reject the Executive Committee recommendation and proceed with the fare increase process on schedule. However, in all the TDCHR meetings I've been to, I've never seen a committee request voted down. (Occasionally amended or sent back to committee.)

While Wednesday's vote may have been politically expedient, it makes little fiscal sense. The more prudent course would be to continue the fare increase process on schedule while pursuing greater efficiencies on a parallel track.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Future Shock

This morning I attended the meeting of the TPO's Transportation Technical Advisory Committee (TTAC). TTAC is so absurdly dry that I don't blog on the meetings as such. (Ever listen to two hours plus of a roomful of engineers talking about transportation projects?) However, this morning there was a Presentation on the TPO's ongoing Congestion Management Process (CMP) that was a cold bucket of water in the face. A couple things from it that should sound alarm bells:

1. By 2030 virtually all of Hampton Roads' interstate network will be Severely Congested, at Grades E or F. The kicker: even that forecast is based on all of the road projects in the current 2030 Plan being completed by then. (Uh...I don't think so.)

For those who think no one will ride light rail, they will within a generation. We need to have the trunk lines of a regional light rail system on the ground by then.

2. For all of the talk about the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel (HRBT), better pay more attention to the Monitor-Merrimac Bridge-Tunnel (MMBT). The MMBT's rush hour volumes are within 10%-12% of the HRBT, as it simply manages it better given that there are fewer ramps near the facility. Also, MMBT traffic overall is growing 4%-5% annually.

You can no longer speak of The Third Crossing as a "want". It's definitely a need. Expanding the HRBT alone would face having it constrained by the same interchanges that give it more problems than the MMBT today.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Ballot Petition Fiasco Aftermath

Events continue to unfold in the aftermath of the failed attempt to petition a light rail referendum question onto the November ballot.

"We obviously didn't get our message out. Virginia Beach can and should continue to live by 1950s transportation and land planning models forever and ever," said Robert Dean, Maximum Leader of the Virginia Beach Taxpayers Alliance (VBTA). "Now if you'll excuse me, I have some shopping to do. It's going to take plenty of Kool-Aid to keep the sycophants in line after this debacle."

Wally Erb was asked about the impact on his City Council candidacy. He stated, "It's not like any fewer people are going to vote for me than already were."

"We've spent so much time telling the taxpayers to say 'No' to everything that they even said 'No' to our petition drive," claimed VBTA Chairman John Moss. When questioned about whether the nutcases who comprise the bulk of the VBTA membership were a liability for his City Council campaign, Moss stated, "They may be kooks, but I need the title of VBTA Chairman to feel important."

Reid Greenmun went into hiding at an Ocean View cracktel, registering under the name "I.M. Barbaramessner". A prostitute who works the area was asked about him and replied, "Not only is he impotent, but all he does is keep blathering on about how his friend Harvey couldn't possible have been wrong about light rail."

In order to try to create a diversion from the massive embarrassment, Dean ordered hatchet sycophant Beth Allen to write a report "proving" that sunlight is a net fiscal drain on Virginia Beach taxpayers. When it was pointed out that 24 hours of darkness each day would be catastrophic to our Tourism and Agriculture industries, Beth stated, "The VBTA is on record wanting to devastate every local industry. Besides, everyone knows the VBTA prefers to stay in the dark."

Kerry Dougherty pledged to continue to push for a light rail referendum in both her columns and on her blog. She said, "I can write anything as ridiculous as I want, as no one at the newspaper has enough common sense to fire me."

Virginia Beach's Comprehensive Mental Health Services (CMHS) began preparing for defections of disillusioned VBTAers by setting up a temporary deprogramming center. Victims will be identifiable by the Kool-Aid stains plus being in a state of shock.

You're Ready For Some Football

57% said they'd buy Norfolk UFL single game tickets. In the previous poll, 8% said they'd buy season tickets, with 35% not attending at all.

The new question: do you approve of the 31st Street parking space swap?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The VBTA Is Clinically Dead

I didn't think I'd be writing those words until after the November election. However, the colossal scale of their failure in trying to petition light rail onto the November ballot nearly defies description. They needed the valid signatures of 25,227 Virginia Beach voters. They received the signatures of only 1,083 of our 282,307 registered voters. That's only .38% signing their ballot petitions.

Even as outspoken critic of the VBTA as I am, I figured they could collect into the 6k-8k signature range. I feel like a German senior officer at the Battle of Tannenberg, stunned with a victory the size of which could never have been imagined.

I told you so. To complete such a herculean task as collecting 25,227 valid voter signatures, you need an army of volunteers. You have to have people at every public event that registered voters will show up at. When I rarely saw anyone collecting signatures, I knew the effort was doomed.

Most of all, it speaks volumes that they couldn't take advantage of the events at Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) this past Winter. They should have been able to go out and get signatures for the asking. That they failed to do so stands as proof positive that they have zero credibility.

What the "leadership" of the Virginia Beach Taxpayers Alliance (VBTA) doesn't get is that Virginia Beach in 2010 is a starkly different place than the Virginia Beach of 1992, when John Moss and Robert Dean last won City Council seats. One of the most fundamental laws of nature is "Adapt or die". The VBTA arrogantly believed that the voters needed to adapt to them, and now they're going to politically die.

The VBTA is clinically dead. Wally Erb notes volunteers couldn't be mustered for the effort. Now what rational human being would write a check for them or their City Council candidates? I can hear it now, "I'm suppose to stroke a you can get your 1,083 votes?!?" The VBTA may continue to linger on like CACI, which existed long after it was off everyone's radar screens and with most people thinking it had already folded. However, the VBTA is now a non-factor.

Hopefully, this now means that punting light rail to referendum is killed. Candidates might want to pander with populist rhetoric, but why promise a light rail referendum when 99.62% of voters have rejected one? Should the Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS) come back with the Virginia Beach extension being viable, the fundamental problem with putting it to referendum is that such a campaign would put conspiracy theories and prejudices ("No") on equal footing with real facts and actual needs ("Yes"). That's no way to write public policy!

Last Winter on Wally Erb's blog, I challenged light rail opponents to come up with a constructive and realistic plan to tackle the issues that light rail is designed to. The silence is deafening. Until there is such, light rail clearly falls under Margaret Thatcher's TINA (There Is No Alternative) Axiom.

Also, Wally Erb should withdraw from the Virginia Beach City Council At-Large race. After this debacle, he'd be a laughingstock on the campaign trail.

Opponents have accused supporters of trying to impose light rail on the residents of Virginia Beach. We now know the truth: it's the fringe right that wants to impose a light rail referendum on Virginia Beach voters whether they want it or not - and 99.62% of them don't.

RAC July 1, 2010

This afternoon Virginia Beach's Resort Advisory Commission (RAC) held it's July meeting.

The first topic was the the Lighthouse Center, the services center for the homeless. The City is looking to build a new, larger building for it in the Resort Area. The current structure was designed for the single homeless, while over 40% of our current homeless population is families with children. The new building would be more than triple the size of the current facility and would seek to be an one-stop service center for the homeless, with different government agency representatives under the same roof.

Tailing off of that, the Oceanfront Enhancement Committee (OEC) is looking to see if labor services can work through the new facility to help the homeless get work. The pilot program of parking meters to collect money for homeless services is tentatively looking at putting meters in the periphery of the Boardwalk, starting at 16th Street and moving northward.

The Plan/Design Review Committee (PDRC) is looking at the issue of advertising on the canopies of sidewalk cafes. Some businesses in the Resort Area appear to have advertising that is in violation of sign ordinances.

During July and August we're going to be auditing garbage collected on the beach. Yes, auditing garbage. The idea is to find out how much of our trash is recyclable. Recycling is not only more environmentally-friendly, but cheaper than sending it to a landfill.

Representatives from the adjacent neighborhood and the Virginia Beach Police Department (VBPD) were present to discuss safety on the Norfolk Avenue bike path. The good news is that the incidents appear to be largely isolated to a single location (in the periphery of the Atlantis Apartments) and a particular time of day (between 10 P.M. and Midnight). The even better news is that, since the culprits seemingly are using brush on City property (i.e. the former Norfolk Southern Right-Of-Way) to ambush people, the City can legally clear cut the brush. There will be an attempt to organize a follow-up meeting among stakeholders.

Finally, residents wishing to go to the Resort Area for Fourth of July fireworks may park in the convention center parking lots for free. However, there will be no shuttle, so you will need to walk up 19th Street.