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Feb
24

Smart Cities – Is The Future Near?

Ever wonder what the city of the future may look like?  Do you think it looks something like Los Angeles in the movie Blade Runner, with 10,000 foot buildings and cars and vehicles flying through the air?  Perhaps, but many urban planners and the Obama administration, have a more innovative view of what America’s urban landscapes may look like, and they have proposed investing millions of dollars in making this work – it is called the Smart shutterstock_85858207Cities Initiative.

In a September 2015 press release the Obama administration announced “a new ‘Smart Cities’ Initiative that will invest over $160 million in federal research and leverage more than 25 new technology collaborations to help local communities tackle key challenges such as reducing traffic congestion, fighting crime, fostering economic growth, managing the effects of a changing climate, and improving the delivery of city services.”

The heart of the initiative lies in the key strategies that the administration would like to focus on in the coming years.  These include:

Creating test beds for “Internet of Things” applications and developing new multi-sector collaborative models: Technological advancements and the diminishing cost of IT infrastructure have created the potential for an “Internet of Things,” a ubiquitous network of connected devices, smart sensors, and big data analytics. The United States has the opportunity to be a global leader in this field, and cities represent strong potential test beds for development and deployment of Internet of Things applications. Successfully deploying these and other new approaches often depend on new regional collaborations among a diverse array of public and private actors, including industry, academia, and various public entities.

Collaborating with the civic tech movement and forging intercity collaborations: There is a growing community of individuals, entrepreneurs, and nonprofits interested in harnessing IT to tackle local problems and work directly with city governments. These efforts can help cities leverage their data to develop new capabilities. Collaborations across communities are likewise indispensable for replicating what works in new places.

Leveraging existing Federal activity: From research on sensor networks and cybersecurity to investments in broadband infrastructure and intelligent transportation systems, the Federal government has an existing portfolio of activities that can provide a strong foundation for a Smart Cities effort.

Pursuing international collaboration: Fifty-four percent of the world’s population lives in urban areas. Continued population growth and urbanization will add 2.5 billion people to the world’s urban population by 2050. The associated climate and resource challenges demand innovative approaches. Products and services associated with this market present a significant export opportunity for the U.S., since almost 90 percent of this increase will occur in Africa and Asia.

Complementing this effort, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology is examining how a variety of technologies can enhance the future of cities and the quality of life for urban residents. The Networking and Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD) Program is also announcing the release of a new framework to help coordinate Federal agency investments and outside collaborations that will guide foundational research and accelerate the transition into scalable and replicable Smart City approaches.

While Ballston, Clarendon, Falls Church, Tysons, Reston and Dulles Corridor are not classified as a “city,” this corridor represents more office space and density than all but a handful of “cities” in the United States.  Should this corridor be eligible as a consolidated activity corridor for inclusion in these programs, or will this initiative simply focus on the historic “urban” areas?  Other “surburban” cities – most of which represent high technology corridors and bio-tech concentrations that would lend themselves to moving this initiative forward quickly – are probably asking similar questions.

@livemore is interested in your opinions on the Smart Cities initiative and how Northern Virginia may fit into the larger scheme of this program.  Contact us at: editor@livemore.us.

Feb
24

Leesburg’s 26th Annual Flower & Garden Festival, April 16th and 17th

Historic Leesburg will once again be in full bloom as lush landscapes and gorgeous gardens fill the streets. On April 16 and 17 over 120 vendors will be on display featuring landscape designs, gardening supplies, outdoor living items, plants, flowers, herbs and so much more! Stroll through the streets

Photo courtesy of the Leesburg Flower and GarndenFestival.

Photo courtesy of the Leesburg Flower and GarndenFestival.

and take in the sights and sounds of springtime. Whether it’s gathering ideas for your new outdoor patio, stocking up on gardening supplies, or searching for a perfect gift for the avid gardener in your life, this event will have something for everyone! The event runs from 10:00am – 6:00pm on Saturday and 10:00am- 5:00pm on Sunday.

Festival goers can take a break from exploring the treasures vendors have to offer by stepping inside the Beer and Wine Garden located on the Town Green. Here, they can relax and sample ice cold brews and wines from around Loudoun County and beyond.

 

The Flower and Garden Festival will also host two entertainment stages. The Main Stage, located on the Loudoun County Courthouse grounds, will feature acoustic performers all day on Saturday and Sunday. The music kicks off on Saturday with local favorite, Gary Smallwood. This is a great place to sit under a tree, take in the tunes, and savor a tasty treat from one of the many food vendors onsite.

The second stage is all about our younger festival attendees and is located in the Children’s Area. The Children’s Stage will feature interactive, live entertainment all day Saturday and Sunday afternoon. In addition to the entertainment, children can paint large wooden animal cut outs, create a garden marker, or participate in one of the other crafts available in this area.

While at the festival, visitors can vote for their favorite landscape display in the People’s Choice Landscape Competition. Ballots can be picked up at the entrance booths or at the Gazebo. Completed ballots should be placed in the birdhouse at the Gazebo by noon on Sunday so that the winner can be announced that afternoon.

The Flower and Garden Festival is Leesburg’s unofficial start to the spring season, so be sure to join your friends and neighbors for the award winning “Best Community Event”; it’s an annual event and a perennial experience!

There is a $3 suggested donation per person. Donations can be made at the festival entrance booths. To see photos from the festivities, check out the event Facebook page at www.facebook.com/flowerandgarden.  For more information about this event, call Ida Lee Park Recreation Center at 703-777-1368 or visit www.flowerandgarden.org. While at the festival, be sure to visit the historic shops and restaurants. A shop directory can be found at http://downtownleesburgva.com/.

Feb
24

Changing How Transportation Projects Are Prioritized in Virginia

By Andrew G. Beacher, P.E.

Have you ever wondered if there is a better, more transparent way to fund transportation projects in Virginia?  Your state representatives have, and, as a result, the Commonwealth has embarked on a groundbreaking new effort to change the way it allocates funding for transportation projects.  In 2014, Governor McAuliffe signed into law the legislation known as House Bill 2 (HB2) which creates a framework by which proposed transportation projects are rated according to their potential benefits.  This information can then be considered by the Commonwealth Trans-portation Board (CTB) in its selection of which projects to fund.

With the passing of this new legislation, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and the Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT), under the leadership of Virginia’s Office of the Secretary of Transportation, have worked to implement HB2, using the framework established under the new law to develop a process by which potential projects may be vetted and scored, and ultimately considered for funding.

Chart A

Chart A

The HB2 Process

Under HB2, Regional Entities (such as Metropolitan Planning Organizations), Localities (Counties, Cities and Towns), and Public Transit Agencies are eligible to submit candidate projects in accordance with certain criteria (outlined below).  It is noted that while the Metropolitan Planning Organization for Northern Virginia is the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board, which resides at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, for HB2 purposes, the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority has assumed this role. See Chart A.

All projects submitted must pass through an initial screening which is tied directly to the Commonwealth’s statewide long-range transportation plan, VTrans2040.  VTrans2040 examines Virginia’s transportation needs in four categories:

1) Corridors of Statewide Significance (CoSSs), which represent the interregional travel market (examples of CoSSs in Northern Virginia include Interstate 66, Route 29, Interstate 95, and the North-South Corridor in Loudoun and Prince William Counties);

2) Regional Networks, which represent the intraregional travel market (in Northern Virginia, the designated regional network includes all roads within the boundaries of the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, which includes Loudoun, Prince William, Fairfax and Arlington Counties, as well as the independent cities of Alexandria, Fairfax, Falls Church, Manassas and Manassas Park);

3) Urban Development Areas (UDAs), which represent local activity centers (such as Tysons Corner); and

4) Safety.

For HB2, each candidate project must meet a VTrans need in at least one of these categories in order to be scored.  If a project is screened out, it will not proceed to scoring, and therefore would not be eligible for HB2 funds.

Once a project has been screened in, it is scored across five factor areas: congestion mitigation, economic development, accessibility, safety and environmental quality, plus one additional factor area, the land use factor, for areas over 200,000 in population, such as Northern Virginia.  Within each factor area, there are anywhere from one to three measures that have been identified to calculate a project’s overall score.  These measures were chosen with the goal that they: 1) analyze what matters to people and have meaningful impact; 2) ensure fair and accurate benefit-cost analyses; 3) are both transparent and understandable; 4) work for both urban and rural areas; 5) work for all modes of transportation, and 6) minimize overlap between measures.

The measures for each of the factor areas are displayed in Chart B.

Chart B

Chart B

 

Upon calculation of the factor scores, one of four weighting frameworks is applied to the scores to reflect the different characteristics of the diverse regions of the Commonwealth.  In urban areas, such as Northern Virginia, congestion mitigation is weighted the highest, while in other portions of the Commonwealth, congestion is weighted lower, with other factors such as accessibility or safety receiving higher percentages.  The four weighting frameworks, as adopted by the Commonwealth Transportation Board, are illustrated in the following table, with Northern Virginia falling into Category A:  See Chart C.

Chart C

Chart C

 

Finally, the summation of the weighted factor scores for each of the factor areas is used to determine the overall project score, which is then compared to both the overall project cost, as well as the HB2 cost (in other words, the amount of funds being requested through HB2) to determine the project’s relative benefits versus costs.

 

Inaugural Round and Next Steps

Earlier this year,  after soliciting feedback from around the state, the Commonwealth rolled out the HB2 implementation process to jurisdictions, regional entities and transit agencies, and established a timeline for application submissions.  The inaugural application period closed on September 30, 2015, with over 300 applications received (46 in Northern Virginia alone).  Initial screening, validation and scoring have since been completed, and results were presented to the CTB at their January, 2016 workshop.  Projects will be considered by the CTB over the next several months, and ultimately, their selections for funding will be incorporated into the Commonwealth’s Six-Year Improvement Plan (SYIP), scheduled to be finalized in June, 2016.

For more information on House Bill 2, including scoring results, please visit the official website at: www.virginiahb2.org.  Andrew Beacher is Assistant Transportation Planning Director for VDOT – Northern Virginia District.

Feb
24

Celebrate Historic Garden Week!

By Karen Cauthen Ellsworth

VB5_HGW16web

Magnolia, photo courtesy of the Garden Club of Virginia.

From its inception nearly a century ago, the Garden Club of Virginia has highlighted policy issues directed at the environment and sustainability.  Its 47 member clubs are comprised of more than 3,300 volunteers.  They have long advocated to conserve natural resources, plant trees and promote environmentally sustainable gardening.  The Garden Club of Virginia encourages the use of native plants.  Gardeners everywhere know that setting plants in the proper location reduces maintenance and watering requirements, and eliminates or reduces the need for and use of commercial pesticides and fertilizers.

A native landscape does not need to be mowed like a conventional lawn, reducing the demand for non-renewable resources and improving water and air quality. Landscaping with wildflowers and grasses improves the ecosystem. Birds, butterflies, bees and other plants are attracted to these plants, enhancing biodiversity. “One has only to drive by a Kudzu infested roadside to understand how invasive plants rob native plants of their natural habitat,” notes Tuckie Westfall, Conservation Chairman of this statewide organization.

Renowned for its popular Historic Garden Week, the nation’s only statewide house and garden tour, the Garden Club of Virginia celebrates the beauty of the land, conserves the gifts of nature and challenges future generations to build on this heritage. This fundraiser began when a flower show organized by Garden Club of Virginia volunteers raised funds to save trees planted by Thomas Jefferson at Monticello. More than 80 years later, proceeds from local Historic Garden Week tours continue to fund the restoration and preservation of nearly 40 of the Commonwealth’s significant historic public gardens, two annual research fellowships, as well as a new initiative with Virginia’s state parks.

This spring, there are four tours involving seven clubs in the Northern Virginia area alone.

Old Town Alexandria – Saturday, April 23

Overlooking the Potomac River and within view of our Nation’s Capital, Old Town was only the third city in the country to create a historic district to preserve its downtown.  Today, it has 4,000 buildings with this designation. The leisurely walking tour includes five homes with small, urban gardens and admission to several nearby historic sites including the Carlyle House Historic Park. When British merchant John Carlyle completed his riverfront house in 1753, this was the grandest mansion in the new town of Alexandria. The Garden Club of Virginia restored the front landscape to the mid-18th-century period using proceeds from past Historic Garden Week tours. “On the day of the tour, visitors can purchase herbs, native plants and crafts on the grounds of this landmark property,” says Catherine Thompson, one of the Chairmen for the Old Town Alexandria tour. “Mount Vernon brings plants from the estate gardens to sell and many of those are native Virginia species.” George Washington’s estate is also a restoration project of the Garden Club of Virginia.

Winchester – Saturday, April 23 and Sunday, April 24

Going out of town, this rural tour showcases four estates dating from 1782 to 1993. “Visitors might not realize that their ticket purchase helps to preserve and restore historic gardens in the immediate area. Take a side trip to the State Arboretum of Virginia and experience one of the nearby gardens that Historic Garden Week has helped to sustain and grow,” explains Anne Buettner, one of the Tour Chairmen for the Winchester-Clarke County tour. The 175-acre Historic Blandy Experimental Farm at the State Arboretum is in nearby Boyce.  It contains over 5,000 woody trees and shrubs from around the world. A property of the University of Virginia since 1926, it is currently operated under its department of Environmental Services. Stone walls along Dogwood Lane that once led to the manor house of the original farm were rebuilt in 2004 by the Garden Club of Virginia using proceeds from past tours. Walking trails wind through the property, including the Native Plant Trail where visitors will see early blooming spring ephemeral wildflowers like bloodroot, bluebells and trillium. These harbingers of spring are followed by violet, wild geranium, wild blue phlox and mayapple.

Middleburg – Sunday, April 24 and Monday, April 25

Nestled against the backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains, this tour features four estates all located within the 18,000-acre Crooked Run Rural Historic District just to the west of Middleburg. “Thanks to the stewardship of local land owners, thousands of acres are protected by privately held conservation easements providing for lasting enjoyment of our architecture and rural beauty,” notes June Hambrick, President of the Leesburg Garden Club and Tour Chairman for the Middleburg tour. “Visitors and residents alike rejoice at the sight of stone walls, grazing horses and cows, century old oaks, rock roads and homes of our Founders here, all within 50 minutes of the Capital beltway,” she points out. GCV members are very active in community-based environmental groups working with the citizens to conserve land, protect air and water quality and restore wildlife natural habitat. “These efforts are crucial to maintaining a cherished way of life in this part of Virginia,” notes Sally Fletcher, Historic Garden Week District Chairman in Northern Virginia.

Falls Church – Arlington – Tuesday, April 26

Back inside the Beltway, Falls Church is a small city, two miles square.  Full of history and charming urban gardens, Arlington borders Falls Church on the east. Featured gardens on this Historic Garden Week tour include four 100-year-old holly trees, mature boxwoods delineating garden rooms, an herb garden and a garden of Victorian era plants. Landscaping choices have meaningful effects on local populations of birds and the insects. Situated in a 38-acre wooded stream valley, Gulf Branch Natural Area in Arlington preserves and protects wildlife habitat.  This suburban park is a sanctuary for a surprising number of plant and animal species and is a nearby attraction for gardening enthusiasts. On tour day, a naturalist will be available to talk with visitors about bees, one of our local pollinators, and they can experience the observation beehive. Without native plants our native bees could not survive. Many people don’t realize that honey bees are not native to America; they came with the European colonists and then quickly spread over the continent.

“The best way to protect our bee population is to educate people, which is what we are doing by promoting the Gulf Branch Nature Center,” explains Tricia Goins, Tour Chairman for the Arlington/Falls Church tour.  “We want to encourage people to plant native plants to help our population of bees.  The Gulf Branch Nature Center provides a beautiful, natural, green space – a place where our neighbors can learn how to create one in their own gardens.”

In his book Garden Tourism, Richard W. Benfield notes, “More people travel to gardens in America than visit Disneyland and Disneyworld combined.” Approximately 30,000 people will visit sites across Virginia over eight consecutive days this April. Clearly, gardens are important and provide a unique educational opportunity for organizations like the Garden Club of Virginia to educate the public on the value of native plants and beneficial horticulture. While the primary motivation for attending Historic Garden Week is typically to enjoy the spectacular private homes and gardens that are open exclusively in support of its mission, there are additional benefits.  “We estimate that over 2,000 flower arrangements will be created to decorate homes featured on Historic Garden Week this spring.  Using native and seasonal flowers is a point of pride for our club members since most of the plant materials come directly from their personal gardens,” explains Meg Clement, this year’s State Chairman.  “Our arrangers also participate in flower shows around the state so they bring a lot of experience and knowledge to the process.”

Visit www.vagardenweek.org for a complete tour schedule, to purchase tickets and for details regarding itineraries and Garden Club of Virginia current restoration sites.  Karen Cauthen Ellsworth is the Director of Historic Garden Week.

Feb
24

An Innovative Approach to Learning How to Use Transit in Fairfax

What many may assume is the smallest hurdle that a resident or commuter must jump to use mass transit is often the most intimidating reason why people don’t use the region’s bus and METROrail systems. That hurdle is the sometimes daunting factor of how to physically use the payment systems, understand the schedules, and navigate between the systems.   This intimidating factor is so great, that some residents/commuters don’t even try transit.

Unfortunately, for our growing elderly populations and some underserved residents, the choice not to use transit is very isolating because they have no other transportation options.

The Fairfax County Department of Trans-portation, in conjunction with the Fairfax Department of Neighborhood and Community Services, has developed an orientation program that uses a technologically innovative Connector bus to provide hands-on experience and information on how to use the region’s mass transit system.  The bus, called MATT (Mobile Accessible Travel Training), has been renovated and designed for training senior citizens to travel safely and independently on regional transit systems.

According to the Fairfax County website, “County staff will coordinate ‘travel training’ trips in which seniors will travel by bus and rail transit to and from a destination of their choice. The travelers-in-training will identify a bus stop near their residence, learn to read bus schedules and route maps, learn how to pay the fare and how to signal the driver to stop, as well as other bus travel skills. The bus will deliver seniors to a Metrorail station where they will learn how to determine the fare and purchase Metrorail fare cards, load SmarTrip cards, read the system map, and board the trains to travel by rail.”

The MATT bus is a traveling classroom that is handicap and hearing impaired accessible and features “a special area in the rear for classroom-like instruction. The classroom area includes audio and video components that can play VCR tapes, DVDs and computer-driven programs that will be shown on three LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) television screens, two of which are mounted on the ceiling of the bus.”

Through the efforts of Supervisor Hudgins and the Fairfax County Department of Transportation, the bus was put into service in 2004.  In the future, DATA intends to more closely coordinate some of its outreach activities with the MATT bus and the Department of Neighborhood and Community Services.  Stay tuned for more information on these endeavors.