Saturday, January 6, 2018

Statement to Prince William Delegation to the Virginia General Assembly, January 6, 2018



I’m Allen Muchnick, a City of Manassas resident.  I’ve been a board member of the Virginia Bicycling Federation since 1994, and I helped found Active Prince William two years ago.  The following remarks are my own.

The Virginia Bicycling Federation seeks to improve justice for pedestrians and bicyclists injured by negligent motorists.   VBF supports legislation to reduce the current epidemic of distracted driving, to increase penalties for motorists who injure pedestrians or bicyclists, to require motorists to stop for pedestrians and bicyclists crossing roadways in marked crosswalks, and to advance Vision Zero.

VBF strongly opposes undermining the CTB’s Smart Scale project evaluation process--whereby transportation funds are awarded objectively by project merit, not political considerations—or to exclude pedestrian or bicycle projects or smaller projects from Smart Scale funding; specifically, HB 72, HB 103, and SB 207.  VBF also opposes HB 59, which would require VDOT to exclude or compromise needed pedestrian and bicycling improvements from highway construction projects, undermining existing Complete Street policies and practices.

Thank you for your time and attention.

Recommendations for Building the I-66 Trail in Prince William County, November 29, 2017




click map to enlarge

                                                                                                                                                                       November 29, 2017

Ms. Susan Shaw, P.E., Megaprojects Director
VDOT Northern Virginia District
4975 Alliance Drive
Fairfax VA 22030

Re: I-66 Trail in Prince William County

I’m writing, as a founding board member of Active Prince William, to comment on the proposed bicycle and pedestrian accommodations in the Transform I-66 Outside the Beltway project, including the provision of a continuous, high-quality shared-use path (aka the “I-66 Trail”) closely parallel to all widened portions of I-66 in Prince William County.  Active Prince William, a local grassroots organization, advocates for multimodal transportation alternatives to driving personal motor vehicles in the Prince William County area.

Active Prince William sincerely appreciates the efforts of the Transform 66 project team to develop a concept plan for a continuous shared-use path along I-66 outside the Beltway.  In Prince William County, most of this “I-66 Trail” will likely eventually be built—typically as part of other road expansion projects—as future sidepaths along nearby parallel roads, including Balls Ford Road, Groveton Road, Pageland Lane, US-29/Lee Highway, and Heathcote Boulevard.


I-66 Trail Crossing of Bull Run

Unfortunately, the proposed I-66 Trail concept plan has a very serious implementation gap in the vicinity of Bull Run.  Any effort to create this I-66 Trail connection across Bull Run in the future as a separate project is likely to be stymied and delayed for many years by a need to acquire the right-of-way for this trail segment from sensitive historic federal and/or regional parkland, to avoid or mitigate “adverse environmental impacts” to historic and natural resources, and to construct a separate bridge structure in the historic Bull Run floodplain.  Moreover, unlike the Transform 66 project, in which VDOT already owns all necessary right-of-way, the required environmental study would likely lack the powerful backing of the Federal Highway Administration.  Thus, if an I-66 Trail crossing of Bull Run is not incorporated as an integral component of the Transform 66 Outside the Beltway construction project, it seems likely that no I-66 Trail connection between Fairfax and Prince William Counties will be created for decades to come.

According to the engineering displays at VDOT’s November 13-16, 2017 Design Public Hearings, VDOT already owns adequate I-66 right-of-way in the vicinity of Bull Run and to the east at least as far as Cub Run and probably to Compton Road so that a shared-use path could be attached to at least one side, if not both sides, of I-66 in this area within VDOT’s existing right-of-way.  Since I-66 will continue to lack noise walls in this area, the excessive air and noise pollution associated with closely sandwiching the I-66 Trail between the I-66 travel lanes and a noise wall would not apply at this location.

On the west side of Bull Run, VDOT owns considerable right-of-way in the vicinity of the two I-66 rest areas to readily allow routing I-66 Trail segments on each side of I-66 to connect to the eastern ends of Vandor Lane (on the north side of I-66) and Balls Ford Road (on the south side of I-66).   The connection to Vandor Lane would provide vital non-motorized access from western Fairfax County to the Manassas Campus of Northern Virginia Community College (NVCC) and to other regional destinations near Sudley Rd on the north side of I-66.  Without any—much less adequate—bicycle and pedestrian accommodations to cross I-66 in the vicinity of Sudley Rd (Business Route 234), the NVCC campus and other nearby destinations will remain inaccessible except by motor vehicle and infrequent PRTC bus service.

RECOMMENDATIONS: 

1)  At a minimum, a shared-use path adjacent to I-66 should be constructed concurrently with--and as an integral design element of--the construction of the two new I-66 bridges over Bull Run, to provide I-66 Trail connections between each I-66 rest area and the reconstructed Bull Run Drive overpass of I-66. 

2)  This Transform 66 construction project should incorporate the construction of shared-use paths connecting the shared-use paths built on the new I-66 bridges over Bull Run, through the two I-66 rest areas, to Vandor Lane and to Balls Ford Road, on the north and south sides of I-66, respectively.

3)  Since the Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan, Countywide Trails Plan element, has called for a major regional shared-use path along I-66 for nearly two decades, VDOT should integrate the construction of this long-planned shared-use path, within VDOT right-of-way, adjacent to at least one side of the rebuilt and widened I-66 in Fairfax County, between Bull Run Drive and Compton Road.


Non-Motorized Access Across I-66 at Sudley Road and Elsewhere

The Sudley Road (Business Route 234) underpass of I-66 has lacked much-needed pedestrian or bicycling accommodations to cross I-66 for decades, and the failure to specify and provide any improvements for crossing pedestrians and bicyclists at this location is a serious deficiency of this project.  

RECOMMENDATIONS:

1)  In the short-term, as part of the current project, build continuous sidewalks along both sides of Sudley Rd and through the underpass of I-66, between Balls Ford Rd and Battleview Parkway, with marked crosswalks and “Yield to Pedestrians” signs installed at all roadway crossings.

2)  A separate project to construct a relatively direct, grade-separated crossing of I-66 for pedestrians and bicyclists in the vicinity of Sudley Rd, to connect Balls Ford Rd and Battleview Parkway, should be developed in the near future.  Such a project should be eligible for funding from part of the future I-66 toll revenue.

3)  As western Prince William County continues to develop, suitable pedestrian and bicycle facilities should be added at other I-66 road crossings, including Groveton Rd, Catharpin Rd, and Jefferson Street/Old Carolina Road.  Such accommodations could be incorporated into concurrent road widening projects or funded as separate, standalone projects, potentially with future I-66 toll revenue.


Future Improvements to the I-66 Trail in Prince William County

Most of the proposed I-66 Trail in Prince William County does not yet exist and will not be built or funded as part of the Transform 66 project or as part of the proposed upcoming widening of some Balls Ford Road segments.

As proposed, the I-66 Trail in Prince William County would have unpleasant, hazardous, and delaying signalized at-grade crossings of several major arterial roads, including Sudley Rd (Bus 234), Groveton Rd, and Rte 29, as well as at-grade crossings of several local roads.  With future development along this route, additional and wider at-grade road crossings seem likely. 

The future I-66 Trail extension segment--along Heathcote Blvd between Gainesville and Haymarket—would also have similar at-grade crossings of both arterial roads (Heritage Hunt Dr, Catharpin Rd, Old Carolina Rd, and Rte 15/James Madison Hwy) and local streets and driveways. 

Similarly, the short I-66 Trail segments that Express Mobility Partners will build along University Blvd and Rte 29, as part of the massive new Gainesville park & ride lot, will have at least three at-grade crossings of busy roads (Rte 29 at University Blvd and the express-lane entrance and exit ramps at University Blvd). 

RECOMMENDATIONS:

1)   Use future I-66 toll revenue or other funding sources to design and construct all missing I-66 Trail segments, even in the absence of concurrent road widening.   A short-term priority is to retrofit the I-66 Trail along the segment of Balls Ford Road east of Sudley Road.

2)  Use future I-66 toll revenue or other funding sources to design and construct grade-separated I-66 Trail crossings of busy, high-speed roadways, such as to cross Sudley Road at Balls Ford Road.


Thank you for considering our comments as you finalize the design of the Transform 66 Outside the Beltway project.

Sincerely,

Allen Muchnick, founding board member
Active Prince William

allenmuchnick@yahoo.com
703-997-6667 land
703-625-2453 mobile

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Action Alert: Support Pro-Bike Bills in the Virginia House of Delegates



Update: On February 15, the Criminal Laws Subcommittee of the House Court of Justice Committee tabled (killed) SB 1339 on an unrecorded party line vote, while on February 13 Subcommittee #1 of the House Transportation Committee killed SB 1338 on a 3-4 vote.  Thus, both bills are now dead for 2017.  Delegate Rich Anderson (R, HD-51) helped kill SB 1338, while the three Republicans listed below (Delegates Dave Albo, Todd Gilbert, and Jackson Miller) helped kill SB 1339.  Ask these legislators to support future legislation to better protect pedestrians and bicyclists from irresponsible motorists. 

***
Two bicycling-friendly bills, filed for the 2017 Virginia General Assembly by Senator Scott Surovell of Northern Virginia (D, Senate District 36), were passed by the Virginia Senate and are now before the Virginia House of Delegates.  

SB 1338 would establish a traffic infraction when a motorist drives in a bicycle lane to pass or attempt to pass another vehicle.  (This bill also generally prohibits motor-vehicle and moped travel in a bicycle lane for the first time).   The Virginia Senate passed SB 1338 on a 23-17 vote, with only four Republicans voting in favor.

SB 1339 would establish a traffic infraction when a careless or distracted motorist is the proximate cause of serious physical injury to a pedestrian, bicyclist, or other “vulnerable road user”, as defined in this bill.   The Virginia Senate passed SB 1339 on a 21-19 vote, with only two Republicans voting in favor.

On Monday, both SB 1338 and SB 1339 were heard by the seven-member Subcommittee #1 of the House Transportation Committee.   As recorded here, Subcommittee #1 failed to report SB 1338 to the full House Transportation Committee on a 3-4 vote.  Thus, unless someone (such as Del. Anderson) who voted against reporting SB 1338 changes his mind and asks that SB 1338 be reconsidered in the full Transportation Committee, SB 1338 is now dead.  If SB 1338 is miraculously resurrected I will update this post.

Subcommittee #1 recommended that SB 1339 be referred to the House Courts of Justice Committee, so SB 1339 is still alive.  The Courts of Justice Committee meets on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoons, so SB 1339 may go before that committee in a few days.

The House Courts of Justice Committee members from Northern Virginia are listed below.  Please call or email one or more of these delegates as soon as possible to ask them to support SB 1339.

Del. Dave Albo (Chair), R, HD-42 (Springfield), 804-698-1042, DelDAlbo@house.virginia.gov
Del. Jackson Miller, R, HD-50 (Manassas), 804-698-1050, DelJMiller@house.virginia.gov
Del. Vivian Watts, D, HD-39 (Annandale), 804-698-1039, DelVWatts@house.virginia.gov
Del. Charniele Herring, D, HD-46 (Alexandria), 804-698-1046, DelCHerring@house.virginia.gov
Del. Patrick Hope, D, HD-47 (Arlington), 804-698-1047, DelPHope@house.virginia.gov
Del. Paul Krizek, D, HD-44 (Mount Vernon), 804-698-1044, DelPKrizek@house.virginia.gov
Del. Todd Gilbert, R, HD-15 (Woodstock), 804-698-1015, DelTGilbert@house.virginia.gov


A short and simple request to support SB 1339 should suffice.  Please include your home address and contact information, so they know you are a constituent or live near their district.  Here’s a sample message:

====

Subject: Support SB 1339

Dear Delegate xxxxxxxxx,

Please vote for SB 1339, which was just referred to the House Courts of Justice Committee.   SB 1339 would hold a careless or distracted motorist accountable when his or her negligence causes serious injury to a pedestrian, bicyclist, or other “vulnerable road user”.

As a [name of county] resident, I would greatly appreciate your support for this simple and straightforward traffic-law improvement, to help make me and my family safer when we travel by foot or bicycle.  Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Your Name
Your Street Address
Your City, VA Zipcode


Sunday, January 8, 2017

Statement to Prince William County Delegation to the Virginia General Assembly, January 7, 2017







Photo courtesy of Mike Beaty
 Prince William County Delegation,
 to the Virginia General Assembly
Public Hearing for the 2017 Legislative Session, 
January 7, 2017
Statement by Allen Muchnick, 
Virginia Bicycling Federation board member


Good afternoon.  I’m Allen Muchnick, a board member of both the Virginia Bicycling Federation and Active Prince William.  Active Prince William was founded one year ago to advance bicycling, walking, and public transportation in Prince William County and greater Manassas.

For the past eight years, the Virginia Bicycling Federation has sought to improve justice for bicyclists injured by negligent motorists.  As a result, the General Assembly has modified Virginia’s traffic laws to finally prohibit motorists from following or passing a bicyclist too closely and from carelessly opening the driver’s door of a parked vehicle into the path of approaching traffic. While we appreciate these long-needed changes, more must be done to hold careless and distracted motorists accountable for their negligence.

Last year, Senator Surovell and Delegate Sullivan each introduced bills to charge a careless or distracted motorist with a Class 1 misdemeanor and to suspend their driver’s license for one to three years if their negligence is “the proximate cause of serious physical injury to a vulnerable road user.” Although both bills died in committee last year, we are pleased that both legislators will file similar bills this year.  Delegate Sullivan’s new bill is HB 1633.  We ask the entire Prince William County delegation to endorse both bills as co-patrons.

Distracted driving due to handheld electronic devices has been a growing cause of traffic crashes, injuries, and deaths for well over a decade.  We strongly support Senator Surovell’s SB 860, which would generally prohibit the manual operation of a handheld personal communications device while driving a motor vehicle and would establish a reckless driving charge if a violation of this new prohibition is concurrent with an additional traffic offense or if the violation results in a crash.  We ask the Prince William County delegation to strongly support this bill as well.

Senator Surovell has also prefiled a bill to establish a reckless driving charge for motorists who pass, or attempt to pass, another vehicle by driving in a bicycle lane.  We fully support that bill and would also support a reckless driving charge when a motorist passes another same-direction-motorist who is stopped at a marked crosswalk for pedestrian or bicycle traffic.

In 2015 and 2016, bills were filed to not reduce highway maintenance payments to municipalities that have implemented road diets, whereby the space occupied by one or more conventional travel lanes is reallocated to create one or more bike lanes.  Road diets are widely used, including in Northern Virginia, to effectively retrofit bike lanes while simultaneously improving a road’s capacity and safety for motorists; they should not be discouraged with counterproductive disincentives.  We expect Delegate Villanueva to carry the road diet bill this year, and we ask you to endorse it as co-patrons.  Cities, including Manassas and Manassas Park, would benefit significantly from this legislation.

Thank you for considering my requests, and best wishes for a productive legislative session.