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NOVA’s Tight Grip On Autos

A recent Washington Post/Schar poll has reconfirmed past survey results (the Census most recently) that suburban Washington still relies heavily on single occupant vehicle (SOV) use as the primary means of transportation.  While the numbers vary occasionally, SOV use in the suburbs has consistently been in the 80% range for decades.  This recent survey found similar results.

While these results don’t necessarily mean we are not making any inroads in decreasing our dependency on the automobile, the struggle is evident.  Changing work demographics, new mobility options, and the continued growth in our outer suburbs are proving hard trends to overcome.  The reduction in the federal workforce – a job base that has been historically located downtown and around transit – has led to lower transit usage and a dispersion of private sector job growth in the suburbs, which are typically less transit accessible.  The introduction of Uber/Lyft has shifted many non-SOV trips back to SOV trips. And the continued pursuit of cheap land in our outer suburbs to develop more housing continues the trend of suburban sprawl that is totally auto-dependent.

The good news is that walking ranked second, after car usage, as the most popular method of how residents “get around” the Washington, DC region.  Overall, 74% answered that they walked when asked “In the past 12 months, have you ____ to get from one place to another in the Washington area?”  In DC, 89% responded affirmatively to walking, with 71%, and 72% responding yes in the Maryland and Virginia suburbs, respectively.

It is no surprise that walking, biking, and scooter use are highest in our inner region as well.  As local planners continue to transform these landscapes into more pedestrian and bike friendly domains, we should see a continued rise in these modes of transportation.  The challenges lie in the outer suburbs (DATA’s service area, by the way), where bus and metro are limited, bike and pedestrian facilities are discontinuous, and most residents feel that the car is their only alternative for transport.  DATA is committed to continue to promote mobility options and to see that these communities become more transportation diversified.  The Silver Line is a start, but there is a long way to go to provide real options to the vast majority of our outer regions.


Autonomous Buses May Be Travelling Our Roads Soon

Hampton Roads Part of a National Pilot

The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) and Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) have joined a national consortium of transit agencies to explore whether autonomous buses can be deployed in select areas of the country, including Hampton Roads.

Autonomous buses are technologically advanced vehicles that can run with either a passive human attendant, or with a fully automated operating system. No full-sized autonomous buses are in use today but the technology that could allow them is developing quickly.

The Automated Bus Consortium (ABC) is being overseen by AECOM, one of the nation’s leading design and engineering firms. AECOM has obtained commitments from 12 agencies, including Hampton Roads Transit (HRT), to serve as the consortium’s founding members and to jointly make decisions.

This first-of-its-kind approach may accelerate the deployment of autonomous transit technologies by combining the purchasing power and collaborative decision-making of cooperating agencies.

“The future of transit is now,” said Jennifer Mitchell, Director of the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation. “We are thrilled to engage in this pilot program with our partners at HRT as we work together to achieve our future vision of safe, efficient, and reliable transit services for communities across
the Commonwealth”

To advance understanding and limitations of the technology, the effort will bring together agencies that operate in different climates and unique topographies, from the flat deserts of the American southwest to flood-prone Hampton Roads where congestion and crowded tunnels are common.

Part of the reason for the pilot program is to demonstrate that automated bus technology can navigate and operate reliably in these environments. The consortium will define the best pilot regions and routes, while developing operating plans and automated bus specifications. It also will investigate the regulatory changes necessary for deployment of these vehicles.

The consortium hopes eventually to procure jointly 75-100 automated, full-sized buses. It is not yet known how many would be deployed in Hampton Roads or if HRT would move forward into part the program that includes the purchase of vehicles.

Even if HRT qualifies for some buses, they would be in limited use. The vast majority of HRT’s bus fleet will remain operated by men and women behind the wheel for the foreseeable future.

“This is an exciting time for public transportation,” said William Harrell, President and CEO of HRT. “Leveraging emergent technologies in automation may lead to greater operating efficiency while also enhancing the customer experience. We also hope this will help us assess our training needs as the technology evolves.”

Autonomous transit vehicles are being used in limited circumstances and select locations, typically as smaller, shuttle type vehicles. The research will help HRT determine if the technology is right for the Hampton Roads before committing financial resources to purchase these buses.

The consortium will also study the federal, state, and local regulatory framework to understand what changes are needed to allow autonomous vehicles to safely operate on the streets and highways. Currently, Virginia law does not allow fully autonomous vehicles to be operated without an attendant present.  To learn more, visit:


On The Road Again, Montezuma Castle and Tuzigoot National Monuments, Arizona

 Story and photo By Jim Schlett

Dulles Airport and Corridor has been growing at a rapid rate with the expansion of the Silver Line of the Metro Rail System.   With so many companies relocating and expanding into the area, the population is also surging.  With such a fast pace of life, everyone needs some time to escape via the gateway and numerous flight selections at Dulles Airport.   I have published several articles about the “refocusing” phase of my life and my journeys to various National Park sites as the Artist-In-Resident (AIR) at five locations since 2016.  In early 2019, I was fortunate to be notified that I was also selected as the AIR at Montezuma Castle, Montezuma Well and Tuzigoot National Monuments in Arizona just about 90 minutes north of Phoenix.  These locations are preserved and administered by the National Park Service.

From my previous trips to Arizona in spring to photograph the baseball spring training sites, I knew how photogenic the area could be in terms of the desert blooms, not to mention the amazing sunset skies.  My goal is to “capture the light” at our National Parks and I greatly favor the first and last hours of light each day.

The dates were for 2 weeks in April, just in time for the desert in bloom, which surprises most folks who have never experienced the desert in spring after substantial winter rains.  Montezuma Castle, in the Verde Valley, was established by President Theodore Roosevelt under the Antiquities Act of 1906.   This law gives the President of the United States the authority to, by presidential proclamation, create national monuments from federal lands to protect significant cultural, natural, or scientific features.   Like modern times, this allowed for numerous sites to be saved and preserved for future generations when things took too long for Congress to act upon.   The decision to save this site was due to the on-going removal of many Native American artifacts and damaging the ruins.  The Montezuma and Tuzigoot sites are considered to be one of the most important and valuable sites of Native Americans that were saved from additional looting.

Montezuma Castle actually consists of dwellings built into a sheer limestone cliff by the Sinagua people from many centuries ago.   The dwelling consist of approximately 20-45 rooms in a five story structure, connected through a series of interior ladders, built over the time span of 3 centuries, near the banks of the Beaver Creek.   The name of Montezuma is not really correct as it was named by the early European-American settlers under the mistaken belief that the site was connected to the Aztec emperor Montezuma.  Due to the amount of visitors and deterioration of the dwelling, in the early 1950s, the National Park Service decided it would no longer allow visitors to actually climb into the structure.   You can now walk to the site and look up into the structure, which some visitors say resembles an early version of a high-rise apartment complex—while talking with park rangers and volunteers about the lodging and the Sinagua people.   It is a spectacular site to look at.  To this day, no one has an absolute conclusion about why the Sinagua people abandoned the site.   

Part of the park, approximately 6 miles from the Castle is Montezuma Well is a collapsed sinkhole of limestone, where a spring emerges and warm water flows at a rate of about 1.5 million gallons a day.  When you first gaze out over the well from the top, you almost have the impression that you are looking at a crater created by a volcano.  At the top, it is almost 500 feet from side-to-side.   The water level is about 70 feet from the top with a maximum depth of 55 feet.  This enormous well contains several complex organisms found nowhere else on earth.  There are several Sinagua dwellings near the top of the cliff.  It is estimated that over 1,000 years ago, the Sinagua people diverted water from this well with a series of ditches and canals to irrigate and support their small gardens.  The canal is still in use today.  

The third section of the park, located approximately 25 miles from Montezuma Castle is Tuzigoot, centered on a pueblo on a hill and the surrounding area, containing over 100 rooms, which overlooks the Verde River.  This site came under the National Park Service in 1939 as a National Monument.  This site is also very close to Jerome, an old copper mining town that has been undergoing an artistic renaissance over the past 30 years.  The pueblo was built using local sandstone and limestone and consists of a cluster of many rooms in a 2-3 story structure. The equivalent of mortar was used to hold the structure together. Both Montezuma Castle and Tuzigoot have excellent Visitor Centers with a wealth of information about the sites and people who dwelled there.

In addition to these National Park sites, I had arrived several days early to explore other parts of northern Arizona.   There are so many great outdoor activities to see and experience within a few hours drive from Montezuma Castle.  Some of the places we spent time at included Jerome, the Copper Art Museum in Clarkdale, the Verde Canyon Railroad, the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff. We wandered around the amazing variety of red sandstone formations found in Sedona.  The red rocks of Sedona have such a “western” look, that the area has been used in over 60 Hollywood movies and attracts visitors from all over the world to feel the aura of the location and several unique vortexes.

As with all of these AIRs, the time passed so quickly and I am now in the midst of editing my photos for prints for future exhibitions.   I would strongly encourage you to make time to visit our National Parks.  I have also received notification that 2 more National Park locations have selected me as one of the AIRs in the second half of 2019.  What a great adventure this has been!

 To see more of my photos of the National Parks, visit


NoVa Transit Ridership Up Slightly Over 2017

The April – June (4th quarter FY2018) transit ridership figures recently released by the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC) show that usage was slightly up in comparison to the same period in 2017.  According to NVTC, “Ridership of Metrorail, VRE, and DASH increased by four percent, one percent, and two percent, respectively, while other systems experienced ridership decreases.”

From April through June of FY2017, SafeTrack was underway. In response to planned service disruptions to Metrorail, local transit agencies offered additional services. These SafeTrack surges included Blue and Yellow Lines single tracking between Braddock Road and Huntington/Van Dorn Street (March 4th – April 12th) and an Orange Line segment shutdown between New Carrolton and Stadium-Armory (May 16th – June 15th). 

Silver Line ridership also continues to improve.  More than 2.4 million riders used the Silver Line in the 2018 4th quarter, an increase of 7.9% over 2017 figures.


Source: WMATA. Ridership is based on station entries and exits. 

Note: On a quarterly basis, NVTC reports year to date ridership. This information is provided to NVTC by the local and regional transit service provider. Data is not finalized until NVTC’s Annual Transit Performance Update.


2019 July 4th Fireworks & Events

Alexandria – Oronoco Bay Park, 100 Madison St., Alexandria, Virginia. Celebrate Alexandria’s Birthday & the USA’s on Saturday, July 13, 7-10 p.m. Enjoy a concert by the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra at 9 and fireworks at 9:30 p.m.

Fairfax – Fairfax City, Independence Day Parade through the downtown area beginning at 10 a.m. Musical entertainment begins at 6 p.m. at Fairfax High School with a spectacular fireworks display at dark.  Thursday, July 4 – rain date – July 5th. (703) 385-7858.

Fairfax – Lorton Workhouse Fireworks, Workhouse Arts Center, 9518 Workhouse Way, Lorton, Virginia.  5:00 p.m. – 10 p.m.  Saturday, June 29.  Admission to Workhouse Fireworks is free; parking is $25 per car in advance or $30 on site (cash only) and is available at the Workhouse campus (enter via eastbound Workhouse Road).  Food, beverages – including craft beers, will be available for purchase on site. NOTE: Guests are welcome to bring blankets and low-height lawn chairs. Please leave at home the following items, as they are prohibited at the event: coolers, outside food and beverages (except unopened – seal intact – bottles of water), umbrellas, tents, and pets. Service animals are always welcome. Also, please note that tailgating is prohibited in our parking lots both before and after the event. Service animals are always welcome.

Falls Church – George Mason High School, 7124 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, Virginia. Food trucks on site and live music will start at 7 p.m. followed by fireworks at 9:20 p.m.  Thursday, July 4.

Herndon – Bready Park, Herndon Community Center, 814 Ferndale Ave., Herndon, Virginia. (703) 787-7300. Face painting, balloon sculpturing, bingo and crafts begin at 6:30 p.m.  Music at 7 p.m. Fireworks at 9:30 p.m.  Thursday, July 4.

Leesburg – Ida Lee Park, Rt. 15 (King Street) and Ida Lee Drive, Leesburg, Virginia. (703) 777-1368. Parade on King Street at 10 a.m.  Gates open at 6 p.m.  Music starts at 6:30 p.m.  Fireworks around 9:30 p.m.  Thursday, July 4.

Mt. Vernon – 3200 Mount Vernon Memorial Highway, Mount Vernon, Virginia. Mansion tour and fireworks $36 for adults; $26 for youth. No Mansion Tour: $30 for adults; $20 for youth. June 28 and 29, 6:45 – 9 p.m.

Manassas – 9431 West Street, Manassas, Virginia. (703) 361-6599. Enjoy live music, children’s activities, food and fireworks. Entertainment begins at 3 p.m. Fireworks at 9:15 p.m.  Thursday, July 4 – Rain Date – July 5th.

Reston – Lake Fairfax Park, 1400 Lake Fairfax Dr., Reston, Virginia. (703) 471-5415. Fireworks begin around 9:15 p.m. Saturday June 29 – Rain Date – June 30. $10 parking fee.

Vienna – Vienna Community Center, 120 Cherry Street Southeast, Vienna, Virginia. Arts and crafts, food, live music, vendors, and games. Celebrations start at 10 a.m – 2 p.m. Fireworks at 9:15 p.m. at Yeonas Park at 1319 Ross Dr. Thursday, July 4.