Somebody is confused about the Town’s traffic study, 3-4-2019

Posted on March 4, 2019

Maybe I’m confused.  Maybe Town Council is confused.  Either way, one of us has to be wrong about this.

The Vienna Town Council has made much out of a “traffic study” that Town staff commissioned.  But it sure sounds to me as if none of them has actually read the scope of work for the study they voted to fund. (here, as a .pdf.)

I wrote a page almost two months ago, where I analyzed the description of the proposed traffic study.  (Read it, in blue, halfway down this page.) My opinion then was that it would be useless from the standpoint of assessing the long-run impact of MAC on traffic.  Instead, the point of the study appeared to be to speed up development by helping the Town to develop a standard transportation “proffer” that it would expect all MAC developers to pay.

That seemed to be confirmed when the Director of Planning and Zoning stated that this study would not be used to change MAC zoning.  This was in the February 11 2019 Town Council work session.  You can find the lengthier discussion here on YouTube.

But now, the lessons of the 2/11/2018 Town Council work session seem to have been forgotten.  In the most recent Town Council meeting, everybody seemed to assume that this study would somehow measure the capacity of Maple Avenue to absorb more traffic, and would estimate the long-run traffic impact of MAC zoning.  Time and time again, Council Members reiterated that this traffic study is key for revising MAC.

So everyone assumed that this study would provide the “capacity” information that Town Council appears to say that it needs.  Everyone, that is, except for the Director of Planning and Zoning, who gave this lengthy non-answer when directly asked whether the study would assess Maple Avenue capacity.  When a simple yes or no would do.  This is from the 2/25/2019 Town Council meeting.

I’m just here to say, as plainly as I can, Planning and Zoning appears to have it right, and Town Council members have it wrong.  At least based on the scope of work as-published by the Town. The contractors were not asked to measure any long-run impacts, and there is nothing in the published scope of work about assessing the capacity of Maple avenue to absorb more traffic.

You can download the Scope of Work for the project, as it was in the 1/7/2019 Town Council meeting where this study was funded.  This what the Town Council agreed to fund.   You can find the link to that on this page.

First, the contractor will look, at most, 10 years down the road.  And they are only going to make one such projection. From the Scope of Work:

Development of future development-related trips: The number of vehicle trips associated with a single future land use development scenario will be estimated. The scenario is expected to represent the likely combination of properties redeveloping, either by-right or under MAC within a defined time period (assumes a 10-year analysis horizon).

With that time horizon, it’s anybody’s guess as to how much MAC development they will model.  Actually, as I read that, it’s Planning and Zoning’s guess.  Planning and Zoning will literally tell Kimley Horn how much development it will model.

Once the future land use scenario has been developed, vetted, and approved in coordination with Town staff, Kimley-Horn will develop vehicular and person trip generation based on the agreed upon future land use scenario.

The rest of the document talks about getting community input, and assessing the multi-modal (i.e., cars, bikes, pedestrians, and mass transit) transportation system, and so on and so on.  Not a peep about measuring the capacity of Maple to absorb more traffic.

So, at it stands, the study will look at projected traffic at most 10 years into the future.  And Planning and Zoning has full control over how much development gets worked into that analysis.

There is an option for the Town to buy additional work, but as I understand government contracting, I think the Town Council has to approve that.  (I’m not sure if that has to be in public, but I would hope so.)

It’s possible that the Town has simply convinced the contractor to accept a modified scope of work, after having signed the contract.  And then has not published that modified scope of work.  That certainly happened to me a few times, when I was working as a consultant.

But in terms of what is available to the public, as of right now, this “Maple Avenue Corridor Multimodal Transportation and Land Use Study” has more-or-less nothing to do with the “capacity analysis” that Town Council has repeatedly said that it needs.

So I’m just putting a marker down here.  As of 2/11, this study was not going to address the capacity of Maple to handle traffic, and the Director of Planning and Zoning said outright that the study would have no influence on changing MAC zoning.  But then, as of 2/25, somehow … everybody on Town Council was discussing that traffic study as if it were going to provide absolutely vital and key information about the capacity of Maple to handle additional traffic.

So, what gives?  I can only guess.  Maybe something really changed about that study?  Two months ago, I gave an accurate description of it, and said it would not answer the key questions that needed to be asked.  Almost one month ago, the Director of Planning and Zoning accurately said that this study was not relevant to making changes in MAC zoning.  But now, as of 2/25/2019, it’s somehow key?

I don’t get it.  Somebody is confused about something.  They are treating this as if it provides vital information key for reforming MAC zoning.  But in terms of what the scope of work says, and what the Director of Planning and Zoning has said — that’s just wrong.  If that scope does not change, this study will not provide the information that Town Council is assuming it will.