2019-02-26 Transportation Safety Commission, audio recording and notes

Posted on February 27, 2019

I attended last night’s meeting of the Traffic Transportation Safety Commission (TSC).  You can find a (rather poor-quality) audio recording, and an Excel file that serves as an index to the recording, here on Google Drive. Basically, use the Excel spreadsheet to find the times for items you would care to listen to, then move to that spot in the recording to hear what was said.

I attended because TSC was considering an on-demand flashing sign at the crosswalk where Glen Avenue hits Courthouse Road.  The sign is called a rectangular rapid flashing beacon (RRFB).  It would allow pedestrians to stop traffic in order to get across Courthouse. We already have a few of these in Vienna.  Here’s a view of an RRFB pair on Beulah.

These can be hard-wired, but it’s often cheaper to install them as stand-alone solar-powered units.  A quick check via Google shows that the units themselves retail for $2K to $4K apiece.  The US Federal Highway Administration estimates an average total, final installed cost of between $10K and $15K for a pair of such beacons.  As with any solar stand-alone unit, there will be some future, modest battery replacement cost as well.

The Seventh-day Adventist church located at that intersection had organized the petition to have the RRFB installed.  I was in favor of this, so I attended to lend support if needed.

My support was not needed. Bottom line:  TSC OKs RRFB.  QED.

The meeting was interesting for a few other things that I learned.

Extortion, or “now I get why Virginia changed the law on proffers”.

Listen at 6:00 into the recording for the initial discussion, and then at 11:50 to hear Dwight Morgan (?) principal of the Adventist school, respond.

The Seventh-day Adventists want to add a high school to their 8-acre campus at Courthouse and Glen.  Because of that, they need the Town to approve the zoning change, or something.  And because of that, the Town has them by the ***** and is preparing to squeeze.

In this meeting, the representative from Department of Public Works (DPW)  just casually mentioned that they’re going to ask the Seventh-day Adventists to pay for the RRFB.  (I believe the euphemism was “work with”, but the intent was clear.)  This was interesting for several reasons.

One, I didn’t know that DPW had the power of taxation, which is what that amounts to.  Two, I didn’t know that we taxed church property here in Vienna.  And three, DPW was so casually sure of their position that they hadn’t even bothered to mention it to the Seventh-day Adventists.  Literally, this meeting, in public, was the first time the Seventh-day Adventists heard that they were supposed to pay for this.

To his credit, the principal of the Adventist school got up and said this was an improvement for the community, and he didn’t sign on to have his church fund it.   To their credit, TSC said that this would be the first time the Town had ever asked a private entity to pay for one of these.  DPWs response was, more-or-less, OK, you recommend the RRFB and let us worry about the funding.  (And TSC noted that the funding of this was not in their purview anyway.)

To be clear, we here in the community overwhelmingly approved of this.  I believe that more than 75% of the households affected by this signed a petition in favor.  The Seventh-day Adventists put in the legwork to get the petition circulated and signed.  And as their reward for that effort — they get stuck with the bill?

Beyond being a shockingly rude thing to do (like asking somebody out to dinner, then telling them they’re paying), this episode certainly puts the 2016 Virginia Proffer Reform Act in a new light for me.  Now I get it.  And I would bet a substantial sum that asking the church to pay for the RRFB, in the context of their proposed building plan, is flatly illegal under that revised law.

Why?  Unless this new construction directly causes some brand-new need, you can’t ask the developer (in this case, the church) to pay for it.  That’s the gist of the 2016 Virginia Proffer Reform Act.  So if this crosswalk merits an RRFB now — which it apparently does, because TSC voted in favor of it — pressuring the Seventh-day Adventists to pay for it in the course of building their high school, in any way, including “working with” them, is absolutely illegal under the 2016 Proffer Reform Act.

At least that’s how I read it.  The proposed addition to the Seventh-day Adventist school does not create the need for this RRFB.  Therefore Vienna must not twist their arm (or other body part) to extract payment for it.  So, bearing in mind that I’m not a lawyer, my advice to the Seventh-day Adventists is, check with your lawyer, and with the Town’s lawyer, before you agree to pay for anything.  You didn’t create this problem, your planned high school is not the reason we need an RRFB, and not only are you not obliged to pay for it, I believe the Town shouldn’t even be hinting that you should.

When is the kickoff meeting for the vaunted Vienna traffic study?

Elsewhere, the Town government has described this proposed study of Maple Avenue traffic as well under way, and so on.  In this meeting, by contrast, I believe I heard mention of a May 1 “kickoff” joint meeting between TSC and the Town Council regarding this study.  May 1 kickoff?  When this study is supposedly “crucial” to have before voting for changes in MAC.  When that vote has to occur no later than June?

I thought the kickoff occurred at the start of the game.  So, between the information from the most recent Town Council meeting, and now this meeting, sure sounds like somebody is confused about the dates and level of progress on that study.

You can hear the “kickoff” discussion around 2:50 into the recording.

Capital Bikeshare.

The discussion of Capital Bikeshare occurred around 45:30 into the recording.  Capital Bikeshare is a short-term bike rental system where you can swipe your credit card and rent a bike for a short period of time.

I found it interesting for many reasons.

First, unlike Town Council or Planning Commission, from what I heard, there are some genuinely bike-savvy people on the TSC.  And there was a lot of … skepticism, I guess … about how well the Capital Bikeshare model would work out here in the spread-out suburbs.  Pretty much the same things I have written about a while back.

Second, they mentioned that they were struggling to identify the right sites for potential locations for Bikeshare racks.  This is a tough problem because Capital Bikeshare is set up for short (half-hour-or-less) point-to-point (from one of their bike racks to another of their bike racks) trips. You can’t just rent a bike and (e.g.) keep it for a few hours, somewhere, without incurring substantial charges.

The sites they are considering include at least:  Town green, Navy Federal Credit, the Vienna Community Center, Vienna Metro, Vienna Shopping Center.  (That last one is ambiguous to me as at least two properties in Vienna go by that name — the Giant Food shopping center, and the shopping center formerly known as Magruder’s.)

That seems like a very mainstream, family-oriented set of locations.  So, FWIW, I think they need to recruit some hipsters to give them advice on this.  My impression is, the Capital Bikeshare market is really completely separate from the family-oriented bicycling market.

For one thing, Capital Bikeshare does not provide a helmet, and by law, kids have to wear helmets when they bike.  That virtually rules out any family-oriented use.  (And, for me, rules out use by any sane person because bicycling around Vienna helmet-less is not smart.)

For another, if you use this to (e.g.) get home from Metro, the bike rack has to be walking distance of your home.   You have to park the bike in a rack or incur substantial additional charges.   But that use makes little sense for commuters, because if you were of a mind to bike to and from Metro regularly, chances are, you’d ride your own bike.  So it’s not clear that that market would be.

In a dense urban area, Bikeshare allows people to make short point-to-point trips, e.g., from the office to a local restaurant after work.

Here, in Vienna, you’d have to guess who a) would not be using their own bike, b) is OK biking without a helmet, c) has the occasional need for a bike to get to and from a small set of defined locations around Vienna, d) with a trip of a half-hour or less.

I guess you’d have to fill in the blank, as in “I know a lot of young, fit people who take the Metro to Vienna just to go to ________”.   Or, “There are a lot of people who normally walk from _____ to ______ in Vienna, but would take a rental bike if they had the chance to.”  Because this is point-to-point, rack-to-rack, you need some pair or collection of points (rack locations) for which one of those sentences makes sense.

I wish them luck, but I’m just not seeing a way to fill in those blanks.  I think rack placement is a tough call in this case.  And I’ve already said that there is likely to be little demand for Capital Bikeshare here, particularly given the sparse use around other Metro stations further up the Orange Line.  E.g., East Falls Church has one rack with 12 slots.

Finally, the discussion ended with talk of electric scooters, motorized skateboards, and other even-more-esoteric devices.  Electric bikes, mopeds, and the W&OD.  And — somebody spotted  Lime scooter in Vienna recently.  So we are not yet plagued by rental electric scooters.  But they are clearly lurking in the vicinity.