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Virginia DOT (VDOT) is beginning to consider thinking about urbanism as an asset, and not a hazard.  VDOT held a conference  Wednesday, April 2, on the campus of John Tyler Community college in Chester, VA on the relationship between transportation and land use.  Much of the meeting was focused on the ramifications of “Appendix B” of the 2005 Roadway Design Manual, a multimodal consideration still concerned with the right of way, VDOT’s jurisdiction.  Perfectly reasonable, but also woefully straitjacketed during a conference on land use and transportation.  The meeting started out with a provocative, but unanswered question : “what’s the difference between transportation and mobility?”.  

Standout presentations included

  • Transportation Efficient Land Use and Design, recapping New Urbanist and Traditional Neighborhood Development’s virtues as they relate to transportation performance.   
  • Scenario Planning in the George Washington Region, where one of the obstacles to good planning was community reluctance to provide land use input for a CommunityViz model of land use as it relates to transportation needs.  The territory and divide between land use and transportation is enforced from both sides, alas.  
  • Multimodal System Design Guidelines detailed the formalized acceptance, plan review and approval of modes like walking , biking and transit in to the right of way, including a place for these modes in the right of way, shifting with roadway use and scale.  
  • Urban Street Standards for Mixed-Use Centers in Fairfax County.  Though focused on Tyson’s Corner, this effort applied to 30 commercial centers the county is converting from parking and traffic hubs to walkable centers.

The audience had a couple of provocative questions and points.  

VDOT, in an effort to save on maintenance, historically prohibits things like stormwater management and street trees form the immediate vicinity of its roadways.  Stormwater retention, infiltration or management has generally been the business of parcels well away form the road.  Trees, and their roots, are a danger to the uniform drainable surface of the trafficway.  This results in a sterile environment and ruined waterways near every road built in the last 80 years.  

Later in the day, the speaker on Tyson’s Corner answered this question.  VDOT is beginning to allow private maintenance of street trees, brick pavements, and street trees within the right of way so long as a third party contracts to maintain these facilities in coordination with VDOT.  The good repair of these facilities would be enforced by a performance bond, payable by the contractor if maintenance lapses.  Ideally, these contractors would be local governments, business improvement districts, or adjacent property owners.

Another point raised about the way VDOT doles out money for road maintenance based on Average Annual Daily Traffic (AADT), reamins unanswered. A well designed road diet, complete street or cycle-track is designed to reduce the need for traffic lanes, traffic, volume and congestion.  VDOT will withhold funds from communities implementing successful bike advocacy , design and constriction campaigns, based on this rule.  It is a question worth answering.

The final speech was the most encouraging, by Nick Donohue, the Deputy Secretary of Transportation.   He finally answered the beginning question by presenting examples from around the country of the benefits of mobility versus proximity.  Build more things closer to each other, enabling more jobs, housing, shopping and play within walking and  biking distance of each other can offer as many benefits as an extensive and expensive network for mobility’s sake.  

Transportation is getting where we need on time, even its a couple of blocks away on foot.  Mobility is moving as far as possible, especially if what we need is miles away and can’t be found closer.  VDOT’s outlook on this is finally getting there.

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Look at all that open space

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