Focusing on the ‘Last Mile’

Focusing on the ‘Last Mile’

Transit study presented in Herndon.

David Bolen of Academy commuter bus services, John Hoops of Annandale, and Stuart Whitaker of listen to Mike Harris explain details of the DRPT study.

David Bolen of Academy commuter bus services, John Hoops of Annandale, and Stuart Whitaker of listen to Mike Harris explain details of the DRPT study. Photo by Andrea Worker

The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) hosted its final public meeting to present an overview of their Super NoVa Region Transit and Transportation Demand Management (TDM) study at Herndon Middle School on the evening of Sept. 27. The meeting was the tenth outreach event by the department, seeking to explain their mission and the study’s methodology, and to solicit input from the public before presenting their findings and recommendations to Virginia Secretary of State, Sean Connaughton, who had tasked the DPRT with the project.

“Visioning Mobility Beyond Boundaries” is the official Mission of the plan, which aims to use its collected data to predict transit needs and assist in the development of solutions through 2040.

The study team, headed by DRPT Manager of Transit Planning Amy Inman, expanded the study’s scope beyond the immediate Northern Virginia region to include Caroline County on the south, Culpeper County on the west, and Frederick County to the northwest. “We are also working with transportation agencies in West Virginia, Maryland and the District,” said Inman to the gathering. “In order to really address these issues, we have to look at the flow of movement to and from all these places. The flow of commuters into Northern Virginia that we experience on the weekdays turns into a similar flow out towards West Virginia, or to Maryland on the weekends. These areas experience a reverse commute that needs to equally considered.”

THE STUDY required the collection and processing of enormous amounts of information across multiple jurisdictional lines. “It’s the first time the commonwealth has looked at this issue in such depth, and with such an expanded geographic scope,” said team member Mike Harris. Inman and Harris delivered the presentation to a gathering that included Mark Duceman, the Transportation Program manager for the Town of Herndon, Christopher Falkenhagen, the public affairs specialist from AAA Mid-Atlantic region, Jeffrey Parnes, the Sully District Transportation Advisory Commissioner, Randall White, Jr., the Countywide transit ervices coordinator for Fairfax County, persons involved in private transportation businesses, and members of the public.

Predicting a population growth of the Super NoVa region from 6 million to more than 8 million within the next 30 years, the study seeks to determine how to effectively move all those people. Simply building more roads won’t be the answer, especially in places where current land use would prohibit road expansion or creation. The DRPT plan calls for a creative mix of light and heavy rail, rapid buses, commuter rail and commuter buses linked by the creation of regional transit hubs. The hubs would be actual locations where various transit types would converge to most efficiently get the traveler from Point A to Point B. Both Inman and Harris noted, however, that the definition of these future hubs would be more than physical. They would include information centers where travelers could get real-time information to better plan their daily trips and where transit options to complete the commute would be available. “We need to focus more on that ‘last mile,’” said Inman. “One of the reasons why more people don’t use public transportation are the problems often associated with getting to a transit site, how difficult any transfers might be, and how to get to where you really want to go once you have arrived at a hub, what we call ‘the last mile,’” she said.

In his remarks, Harris made clear that the plan was ultimately a “vision plan rather than a programming plan.” Timetables and funding were not addressed. When questions from the audience were raised as to how the plan would ultimately be implemented, Inman responded, “Our work will result in vital information and in recommendations, not mandates to the effected jurisdictions.” Other questions elicited a similar response. John Hoops from Annandale often rides his bicycle to work in the Herndon area. He questioned whether the study would include recommending the development of more bike paths by utilizing land adjacent to current railroad tracks. “That land belongs to the Norfolk and Southern, or CSX rail folks. That is not something the state can do,” said Inman, recommending that Hoops contact the railway owners directly. “If the state has no say, I don’t know what I can do by myself,” Hoops commented after the meeting.

THE FINDINGS and draft recommendations are due to be presented to Secretary Connaughton in mid-October. The recommendations will be available to the public online via the DPRT’s website shortly thereafter. Additional meetings will be held with stakeholders, and Inman encouraged the audience to continue to stay informed and make their opinions known through the website or by contacting DPRT staff.