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On Thursday, March 5th, staffs of the Danville and Lynchburg MPOs, transit agency directors, regional mobility managers, VDOT and Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) staffs, municipal staff, representatives of a local health collaborative, and staff of EPR planning consultants, took part in a technical assistance workshop facilitated by the FHWA which provided guidance for integrating emerging mobility with Transportation Demand Management (TDM).  What this basically means is incorporating existing and new forms of transportation such as public transit, ride sharing, walking, bike/scooter share, carpooling/vanpooling, etc., into the transportation system to form a more seamless, integrated system.

I learned about this opportunity while attending the Association for Commuter Transportation (ACT) International Conference in New York last summer.  What really piqued my interest was one of the panelists mentioning that this workshop would be particularly beneficial to a Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) planning to or in the process of updating its Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP).  Since the Danville MPO had recently begun the process of updating its LRTP and I learned later that the Lynchburg MPO was also engaged in the same process – with both organizations employing the same planning consultant in this effort – we thought this technical assistance would be a perfect opportunity for both of our regions.

Three mobility experts – Eva Hsu, of ICF Consultants, and Ralph Volpe and Kristina Heggedal with FHWA – hosted our half-day workshop, which ran from 10:30 a.m. until just after 2:30 p.m. at a conference room in the Danville Amtrak Station.  There, staff of both MPOs opened with presentations about activities taking place in our respective regions involving the facilitation of a variety of mobility options.

Next, presentations were given by FHWA and ICF staff which provided the technical assistance for integrating emerging mobility with TDM.  Two points that were stressed during the presentations included making efficient use of the existing transportation system; for example, how the individual components of the transportation system could be more effectively integrated to improve regional mobility.  The second major point was that many transportation providers tend to operate in silos – that is, they often function independently of one-another.  Therefore, regional coordination to reduce or eliminate duplication of efforts, as well as to collaborate on behalf of a more comprehensive, integrated transportation system, was suggested.

Another important step involved two breakout sessions during which each of the two regions brainstormed ways to integrate emerging mobility with TDM.  For the first session, the Danville Region explored the concept of merging transit and inter-city bus service with technology.  Specifically, the idea involved a theoretical individual living in South Boston using his or her smart phone as a one-stop-shop to travel to Washington, D.C.  In that scenario, such an app might recommend the user riding Danville Transit (following its expansion to Halifax and Pittsylvania counties) service to the Danville Spring Street transfer center, where a transfer could be made to the Virginia Breeze inter-city bus which would travel north on the US Route 29 corridor to Washington, D.C. (the Virginia Breeze plans to expand service to the West Piedmont Planning District later this year).  During the second breakout session, the subject shifted to bicycle and pedestrian access throughout the City of Danville, particularly with regard to connecting the Danville Riverwalk Trail to prominent destinations in the city such as shopping, schools, and other activity areas, as well as with transit stops.

The next step in this process will involve the Danville MPO working to create a Regional Concept of Emerging Mobility (RCEM), which will set the stage for a more integrated transportation system for our region.