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Transportation

VDOT preparing to use artificial intelligence to predict traffic

“We’re not just reacting to conditions, we’re actually using real time and historic data to predict future conditions and to prepare the network,” said VDOT Chief Deputy Commissioner Cathy McGhee at a meeting of the Commonwealth Transportation Board Tuesday.

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By Nathaniel Cline

State transportation officials are gearing up to use an artificial intelligence system that will monitor emerging conditions to predict the impacts of traffic disruptions in Northern Virginia and the Fredericksburg metropolitan area.

The rollout will mark the first time that artificial intelligence will be used to predict traffic disruptions in Virginia.

“If the system performs well, expansion to other parts of the state will be a distinct possibility,” wrote Marshall Herman, acting director of communications for VDOT, in an email.

The new AI support system is intended to improve the effectiveness of real-time integrated transportation information, an agency report states. Information is expected to be provided through digital message boards, 511 Virginia and third-party applications including Waze and Google Maps.

Officials hope the system will reduce congestion, improve safety, mobility and travel time and make travel times more reliable.

“We’re not just reacting to conditions, we’re actually using real time and historic data to predict future conditions and to prepare the network,” said VDOT Chief Deputy Commissioner Cathy McGhee at a meeting of the Commonwealth Transportation Board Tuesday.

The rollout is planned as part of a broader transportation monitoring program known as the Regional Multi-Modal Mobility Program, or RM3P, that started with a proposal from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority in 2018 and has since expanded from the region down the I-95 corridor to Fredericksburg.

Staff from the Virginia Department of Transportation said the next step is to award the contract to develop the artificial intelligence-based decision support system for a rollout in 2023 and full operation by 2026.

The tool is expected to support both agency operations and travelers.

It will first be deployed within a single subregion of Northern Virginia and later expand to cover the whole region and the Fredericksburg area.

“We really believe that that’s the only way to manage a network like we have for Northern Virginia and metropolitan Fredericksburg because it takes all of the [transportation] modes together to serve the demand in those regions,” McGhee said. “So we’re looking for that proactive, predictive capability that RM3P gives us.”

The evolution of RM3P

In 2018, the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority submitted an initial proposal to VDOT for funding the development of a region-wide transportation management system.

Since then, the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, VDOT and Northern Virginia Transportation Authority have all been involved in the development of the program that came to be known as RM3P, officials said.

VDOT is hoping to find ways to incentivize commuters and partners to use RM3P, which is focused on improving travel disruptions, making travel times more reliable, and supporting all transportation options for travelers.

McGhee said it’s unclear what the nature of the incentives will be, but the agency has been in discussions with stakeholders including major employers about instituting staggered work hours and releases that could help even out traffic loads and public transportation demand.

The contract for RM3P is also expected to be awarded in the coming months, McGhee said.

The deputy commissioner said staff have learned through the procurement process that there are private sector applications that have used elements of the artificial intelligence system idea, but she believes RM3P is the first program to bring it all together.

“I think we’re plowing new ground,” she said.

Traffic diversions

One of the Commonwealth Transportation Board’s concerns was that a new artificial intelligence system could detour travelers to secondary roads, ultimately leading to potentially worse conditions.

McGhee said VDOT is careful about detouring travelers and is in talks with third-party services about the potential for diverting traffic into sensitive areas and not recommending those routes.

“That’s a real concern for us because very often, particularly smaller companies don’t have GIS [geographic information systems] that are specific to heavy vehicles, and so they use Google or Waze and they often get routed inappropriately,” she said.

Secretary of Transportation W. Sheppard Miller III said that while VDOT is “sensitive” about the impact of diversions, “at the end of the day it’s a network.”

“The counties and the cities are part of that and we have to work together to make the best decisions for the traveling public and sometimes it’s not an easy choice,” he said.

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People

More comfortable, accessible GRTC bus stops coming, transit authority says

At least half of all GRTC bus stops in the City of Richmond, Chesterfield County, and Henrico County will soon have a more comfortable, accessible, and dignified place to wait for a ride.

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At least half of all GRTC bus stops in the City of Richmond, Chesterfield County, and Henrico County will soon have a more comfortable, accessible, and dignified place to wait for a ride.

Only five percent of GRTC’s 1,609 active local stops have a shelter, and 21 percent have seating. Less than half of those stops predate the Americans with Disabilities Act and are not compliant. And most stops lacking adequate infrastructure are in low-income areas throughout Central Virginia.

Under a plan approved by the transit system’s board of directors, GRTC will install 160 shelters and 225 benches over five years. Work is expected to begin in the summer of 2023. GRTC also will coordinate with jurisdictions to improve ADA compliance at stops to further the agency’s push to be more inclusive.

“This is one of several GRTC strategic initiatives planned that aim to address the various impediments to transit access and ultimately inequities,” said Director of Planning and Scheduling Sam Sink. “GRTC champions social and economic mobility by prioritizing connecting people to essential human services and needs. With proper operational and capital investment, transit is a factor that can improve overall quality of life.”

The Essential Transit Infrastructure (ETI) plan will cost between $11 million and $28.6 million, and be funded through a combination of local, state, and federal grants.

GRTC will use a scoring system that considers usage and equity to determine which stops qualify for improvements. Anyone may request a bench or shelter via email at [email protected], through the GRTC website, or by calling 804-358-4782.

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Downtown

GRTC awarded $11m for cleaner bus fleet, facility improvements

More environmentally friendly public transit is coming to the streets of Richmond thanks to an $11 million federal grant announced by U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine.

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More environmentally friendly public transit is coming to the streets of Richmond thanks to an $11 million federal grant announced by U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine.

GRTC will receive more than $10 million to replace 19 of its aging diesel buses with Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) buses, which release fewer harmful emissions, help improve air quality, and combat climate change. It also was awarded over $952,000 to demolish an existing building on its property and use it as a surface parking lot to store vehicles for existing and expanded transit service.

The funding was awarded through the Department of Transportation’s Fiscal Year 2022 Low or No Emission Vehicle Program which helps state and local governments purchase or lease zero-emission and low-emission transit buses as well as acquire and construct support facilities. It was made possible by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act negotiated by Sen. Warner and supported by Sen. Kaine.

At the August 16, 2022, GRTC Board of Directors Meeting, CEO Julie Timm expressed appreciation for the foresight of current GRTC Board Member Eldridge F. Coles for his initiative to start the conversion of the GRTC fleet from diesel to CNG fuel during his tenure as CEO with the support of the City of Richmond over 10 years ago. “With this award,” stated Timm, “GRTC will be nearing completion of the conversion to a greener, cleaner fleet. However, even as this transition is nearing completion, GRTC is preparing to study newer and cleaner technologies for the bus fleet and bus facilities of 2050.”

Demolishing and remediating the aging building will both clean up the site and provide GRTC with land needed to manage its fleet expansion and growing ridership.

“GRTC’s maintenance facility and yard are at their capacity to hold our existing fleet and nearing capacity to meet the fleet’s CNG fueling needs,” Director of Planning & Scheduling Sam Sink said. “However, based on our significant post-COVID ridership recovery, we can already predict the need for increased service coverage and frequencies on our local bus routes and on the Pulse BRT line – which means we will soon need more buses of all sizes.”

GRTC was one of two Virginia transit agencies to receive federal funding under the announcement. Suffolk Transit was awarded $565,000.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration awarded a total of $1.66 billion in grants to transit agencies, territories, and states across the country to invest in 150 clean bus fleets and facilities.

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Transportation

Local leaders adopt BikePedRVA 2045 plan, calling for additional 770 miles of bike and pedestrian infrastructure

A recently approved plan is calling for an additional 770 miles of bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure to promote safety, accessibility, and equity across the region.

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A recently approved plan is calling for an additional 770 miles of bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure to promote safety, accessibility, and equity across the region.

On May 5th, the Policy Board for the Richmond Regional Transportation Planning Organization (RRTPO) adopted BikePedRVA 2045, a visionary framework tied to immediate recommendations for activating bicycling and pedestrian transportation throughout the region.

Since the last iteration of the bike and pedestrian plan in 2004, the popularity and necessity of active transportation – a term used to describe travel by human energy, such as walking, bicycling, or by a mobile assist device – has greatly increased, and new micro-mobility options allow for longer trips using e-bikes, e-scooters, and other technology.

The adopted plan emphasizes mobility for people of all ages and abilities through a continuous and recognizable pedestrian and bicycle network across Charles City, Chesterfield, Goochland, Hanover, Henrico, New Kent, and Powhatan counties, the town of Ashland, and the city of Richmond.

BikePedRVA 2045 focuses on building a cross-regional transportation network of shared-use paths, interconnected and supported by local-level projects for bike lanes, sidewalks, neighborhood connectors, bikeable streets, and complete streets elements that together will create more accessible systems for people walking, rolling, scooting, cycling or taking transit.

The greater Richmond region currently has an estimated 136 miles dedicated to safer cycling infrastructure, such as shared-use paths, cycle tracks, and bike lanes. Projects identified in BikePedRVA 2045 like the creation of the Fall Line Trail and the extension of the Virginia Capital Trail set a target for another 121 miles of shared used paths and over 650 miles of bicycle and pedestrian routes in the region over the next twenty years.

Improving public safety for individuals walking and biking is a central call to action for the regional plan. According to Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) data, cyclist and pedestrian fatalities have increased by nearly 45 percent from 2015 to 2020. The plan’s authors point to how historically disinvested communities are the most vulnerable to pedestrian injury and fatalities connected to vehicular crashes.

“The BikePedRVA plan is a significant step forward for the region,” said PlanRVA Director of Transportation Chet Parsons. “We know that physical activity is one of the most important things you can do for your health and quality of life. When we create more equitable opportunities for walking and biking infrastructure, it’s an important investment in public health. I know this work will positively impact future generations.”

A steering committee of the region’s localities, transportation agencies, and advocates began meeting to guide the plan in 2019. Organizers fielded virtual surveys and met with a wide cross-section of community members throughout the final review period for public input in building a working website of resources to implement BikePedRVA 2045.

BikePedRVA 2045 serves as a companion plan to ConnectRVA 2045, a long-range transportation plan that guides the region’s transportation investments for all modes of travel including transit, highways, bicycles, and pedestrians. The active transportation best practices in the BikePedRVA 2045 framework will help guide bike and pedestrian infrastructure priorities in the overall ConnectRVA 2045 plan.

Created in 1974, the RRTPO helps facilitate collaboration and cooperation among residents and stakeholders related to funding and planning the future of the region’s transportation network. PlanRVA – a regional organization focused on community development, emergency management, the environment, and transportation – provides staffing to assist the RRTPO in its administration, project evaluation, prioritization, and other identified needs.

To access the plan and implementation resources, visit http://BikePedRVA.org.

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