Public Involvement in Transportation Planning

Monday, October 25th, 2010

williams_1010132Steve Williams was appointed executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission and the Charlottesville-Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) in Charlottesville in May 2009. Under his leadership the Charlottesville-Albemarle MPO has been focusing on planning based on performance measurement, land use-transportation coordination, expansion of the region’s transit systems and bike and pedestrian transportation.

Prior to his move to Charlottesville, Steve was the executive director of the Nashua Regional Planning Commission and MPO between January 2004 and May 2009. During his time at NRPC he focused his attention on issues related to regional infrastructure, transportation systems, and coordination of land use and transportation. Prior to coming to NRPC he spent 10 years at the Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments, the MPO for the three county Monterey/Salinas/Santa Cruz, California metro area in Monterey, California. He also spent seven years at the East Central Intergovernmental Association, the MPO for the three state MPO in Dubuque, Iowa. Steve received a Master of City and Regional Planning in 1985 from California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo and a Bachelor of Science from Montana State University in 1983.

Steve has been married to his wife Jennifer for 26 years and has two teenage children, Joel and Rachael. In his spare time Mr. Williams enjoys recreational biking, Civil War history and reading.

Mr. Williams spoke at the October 13, 2010 meeting of the Senior Statesmen of Virginia. The meeting was held at The Charlottesville Senior Center. Following the presentation, questions were taken from the audience. The program was moderated by SSV board member Tom Boyd.

Program Summary

At the October 13 SSV meeting, Steve Williams, executive director of both the Charlottesville-Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) and the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission, addressed the topic of “Public Involvement in Transportation Planning.” SSV member Mac Laferty, vice chair of MPO’s Charlottesville-Albemarle Regional Transportation Committee (CHART), introduced the program and noted that CHART decided a year ago that transportation issues are so complex that they would put together a presentation and bring it to the public and get feedback. They want people to understand the process and length of time it gets from an idea to when you can actually travel on a road or bike path. SSV member Jerry Deily, a former CHART member, was also present at the program.

The MPO is the federally mandated planning organization for transportation planning in urban areas that are over 50,000 and will use federal funds for transportation improvements. It is a federal requirement to implement the “3-C” process for transportation planning—“continuing, comprehensive, cooperative”—involve all the stakeholders including the local governments, transportation agencies and the general public. The MPO coordinates transportation agencies and develops short and long range plans.

A new public participation initiative involves going out to the public and seeking input and comment before beginning to draft the plan. The process is intended to gather proactive rather than reactive or confrontational input. Transportation planning involves continually monitoring the transportation system performance and condition and how it is meeting our needs.

Traditional transportation planning going back to the time of WWII reflects a cyclical pattern: land use change increases traffic generation leading to increased traffic conflict, then roadway improvements (which for a short period of time decreases congestion), but this leads to increased land values, then increased development which comes full circle to the beginning of cycle with land use change. The end result of this cycle is that you can never build enough transportation capacity to meet the needs of society, but rather the result is, in effect, to increase the demand. So what the planning is trying to do in the Charlottesville area is to find a way to balance the supply of transportation and the demand.

The cycle will continue to lend the same results until sustainable land use policy is developed so that transportation needs can be met without generating more cars on the road. This can be accomplished by encouraging compact development and increased use of alternative modes. Then when land values increase, it won’t be necessary to build more transportation facilities in the future.

A little know fact is that 28 % of automobile trips made in this country are one mile or less, and 40 % are two miles or less. If we had better pedestrian and bike facilities, then those short trips could be taken off the road and let the roads be used for longer trips.