Tonight, the Virginia Beach City Council is expected to select the “Locally Preferred Alternative” (or LPA) for the Virginia Beach Transit Extension Study. The council is also slated to ratify next year’s city budget at tonight’s meeting, which currently includes $20 million dollars for the light rail extension plan.
So far, most of the council seems to be supportive of Mayor Will Sessoms’ proposed budget changes, which also includes a four percent increase for city workers and teachers. Transit advocates and supporters have been fighting hard to make sure that the council moves in a direction that will allow light rail to be extended into Virginia Beach. On the line right now is a state-proposed deal that would have them pay for roughly half the cost of extending The Tide, which currently terminates at the Virginia Beach/Norfolk city limits, to Town Center. The city would be responsible for taking up the remainder of the costs.
Many rail haters meanwhile have been chastising the council, claiming that the light rail extension is part of the reason for a planned tax hike that is to take effect in 2016 and that money can be better spent elsewhere. Many Tea Party activists and insiders have been clamoring that Bus Rapid Transit is a far cheaper and economical alternative to light rail, and that the council should either go that route, or not build anything at all.
Tonight’s meeting begins at 6PM at the Virginia Beach City Council Chambers, 2401 Courthouse Drive, Virginia Beach, Virginia, 23456.
Two years ago this month, I took a trip to Norfolk and Virginia Beach, VA to visit relatives and to embark on my first ride along a light rail line. In this Friday Rewind post, I will reflect back on my experience in Hampton Roads and how the area is pushing for more transportation choices,
In many respects, Norfolk, VA is very similar to Tampa, FL. Both have similarly structured bus systems that utilize Gillig transit buses, and both transit districts; HART and HRT, are facing the same budgetary issues when it comes to maintaining what they have, as well as trying to expand service wherever they can. Both cities have also had old style streetcar systems in the past, both of which were later dismantled. One key difference though, is that Hampton Roads does not have the type of street grid that Tampa Bay has. Most streets in Virginia Beach for instance, are spider web type, which means that roads either radiate around a central point or zig zag in multiple directions. This makes it much harder to run buses, especially routes with are crucial for employment centers. Another difference is that Norfolk has been able to build its starter light rail line, something that Tampa has been vying to do for many years, and may finally have a real chance of modernizing its heritage streetcar system in the coming years.
Now, let me take you through what I was able to experience while in Norfolk last April…
I first parked my car at the Ballentine/Broad Creek Park-and-Ride Lot, just next to the Ballentine/Broad Creek LRT Station. My original plan was to actually use the Military Hwy Park-and-Ride Lot, but I ended up wanting to go just a bit closer to the Norfolk State University Campus, where I could feel the historical charm of the entire city of Norfolk. These two Park-and-Ride lots are two of the four that Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) provides to its customers to allow them to use light rail to get to downtown, instead of hassling with city parking. The other two lots are located at Harbor Park (next to the Harbor Park Stadium) and the Newtown Rd terminus.
Once at the LRT station, I purchased a one-day GoPass that would allow me to ride the bus system and the LRT. I then snapped some photos of the surrounding area as I waited for the next train to arrive. The train shown in this photo arrived just as I walked up to the station. The next train arrived about 15 minutes later. Since this was a Saturday that I rode the train,the frequency of trains was at every 15 minutes.
Heading into downtown
Once onboard the train, I quickly took in the sights of the urban landscape and the sounds of the train rolling along, with automated announcements guiding customers to each station. I’ve noticed that the sound that the Siemens S70 LRV trains make as they pull in and out of each station is very similar to how the Alstom/Bombardier MF 2001 subway trains and Citadis LRV trains in Paris sound like as they arrive and depart. I also liked how sleek, clean, and modern the trains are, as I’ve always been fascinated with modern buses and trains. There are only a handful of light rail lines in the US that still use older, non-articulated types of LRV trains. One of those lines I’ve learned is located in Buffalo, NY. Actually, their system is an LRT/Pre-Metro line, which I’ll profile in a future post.
Once getting off the train, I quickly took in the sights and sounds of the heart of downtown Norfolk, specifically MacArthur Square. This wonderful urban space includes green space that surrounds the current LRT station. I understand that during the construction of the Tide LRT, a couple of buildings along Main St had to be demolished to make way for the stations and track. To the northeast of the MacArthur Square LRT station is the Douglas MacArthur Memorial statue and museum. The building that houses the museum was originally the Norfolk City Hall. The current city hall is located at a small complex of buildings near the Elizabeth River that are a part of Norfolk Civic Plaza. There is also an LRT stop at the Civic Plaza complex.
The MacArthur Center
To the north of the station is the MacArthur Center Mall, which I would say is a “watered down” version of Tampa’s International Plaza. The complex comprises of trendy stores like Abercrombie & Fitch, Forever 21, and H&M, as well as higher-end stores like Nordstrom. Despite the mall’s relatively small footprint, it’s still a great place to visit if you have some extra time to shop and drop. And why battle for a parking space, when you can easily take the train into downtown?
Walking through Norfolk
After visiting the mall, I decided to take a northwestward stroll through downtown and its flanking residential district to the west. The old charm of the multi-story apartment buildings really makes Norfolk a pretty neat place to live. There’s a good variety of parks, attractions, and museums to visit, as well as lots of shops and eateries to stop by at. The Virginia Beach Expressway provides quick access to the Virginia Beach Oceanfront, and there’s plenty of opportunities to spend time with nature, including the Norfolk Botanical Gardens.
Proceeding northwestward, I came across the the Fort Norfolk area, just bordering the historic Granby district to the north and downtown Norfolk to the east. This area encompasses many healthcare complexes, including the Sentara Norfolk General Hospital and the Eastern Virginia Medical Center (EVMC). This area also serves as the current western terminus for the Tide LRT. A little further west of this point is a ton of rail yards and industrial shipping docks.
I then proceeded northward towards the historic Granby district, where many centuries-old housing are located. A little further north of where I traveled is Old Dominion University, which is the second major college campus in the Norfolk area. I was really taken away by the unique charm of the older homes and beautiful landscaping. I even got to witness one of the area residents manicuring her wonderful bed of tulips, and these were pretty large tulips too! As I proceeded through the historic Granby district, I was taken even more into the historic charm that Norfolk has to offer, without all the nightclub hubub of Ybor City.
The Return Trip
Finishing up my wonderful walk through the Granby district, I stumbled upon the Cedar Grove Transfer Center, located along Princess Anne Rd and Salter St. On July 7, 2013, all transfer center operations moved to an interim terminal along Wood St, just steps away from the Norfolk Scope Arena. Cedar Grove reminds me a lot of the makeshift bus depot that HART once had at the former Tampa Bay Center Mall, because Cedar Grove is nothing more than a parking lot with a few bus shelters on one side. There were no restrooms or other facilities at the site either. Eventually, a new, modern bus terminal will be built in downtown Norfolk, equipped with restrooms.
It took me a while to locate a bus route that would get me back to the Tide LRT line, but I did manage to locate the shelter for Local Bus Route 44, which travels towards Fort Norfolk in the southbound direction. As I’ve mentioned in my previous post, HRT’s bus fleet primarily comprises of Gillig Low Floor buses. These buses have either a white or grey livery with waves at the bottom. The interiors are a lot like the 2001 series buses that both HART and PSTA have, but with primarily blue colors.
With the height of the afternoon coming to a close, I decided start heading back to Broad Creek so that I could meet up with my family for dinner. Upon arrival to the EVMC/Fort Norfolk LRT station, the train had already arrived and was awaiting departure. I rode the train all the way back to the Ballentine/Broad Creek LRT station and took a few more photos along the way.
What’s next for public transit in Hampton Roads
If you missed my last few posts on The Tide, then you’ve missed quite a bit. Right now, the fight is on to extend the light rail line into Virginia Beach, specifically Town Center or Rosemont. The ongoing transit extension study has taken many twists and turns throughout the past several months, and now it’s come down to the wire as Virginia Beach city leaders decide on the next stage of the study. Unfortunately, the rail haters have mobilized and are threatening to kill off the entire process by convincing the Virginia Beach City Council to go for the dreaded “No Build” option instead of selecting a Locally Preferred Alternative for the ongoing transit extension study. If this happens, Virginia Beach stands to be set back anywhere from 20 to 50 years when it comes to public transit and providing better transportation choices. Any such setback will also jeopardize the Naval Station Norfolk extension study, as well as other transit expansion efforts in the area.
I recently took a vacation that included a weekend trip to the Hampton Roads, Virginia area to do some sightseeing and visit family in the area. During my stay there, I was able to utilize the transit system in downtown Norfolk, including the city’s light rail line. I’m going to document my observations and experience in three separate posts. In this first installment, I will describe the transit system in Hampton Roads and how the system is similar, yet different from the transit system here in Tampa. Then, in my second installment, I’ll document my transit experience and what the Tampa area can grasp from my observations. Finally, in my third installment, I will point out various attractions and other points of interest that you can easily access via public transit.
Happy New Year everyone! With the start of 2013, I would like to let everyone know what I am working on for the month of January. Some of the posts that I am planning out include:
Ventra: An innovative common-use transit payment system that is being implemented this year throughout the Chicago transit system.
Paris Metro Line 12: From it’s beginnings as the Nord-Sud Line A, to its recent extension towards the northern Parisian suburb of Aubervillers, Line 12 is a vital north-south axis for the city’s growing subway system.
Part 3 of my fantasy subway system for Norfolk, VA: Where I focus on Line 3 of the fictional subway system, which connects the military hubs of Naval Station Norfolk and Naval Air Station Oceana near Virginia Beach. The fictional line also passes by Norfolk International Airport.
Part 1 of my fantasy rail system for Tampa Bay, FL: Since I’ve been talking quite a bit about my fantasy subway for Norfolk, I thought about reviving my fantasy rail system for Tampa. I originally sketched up a map of possible light rail and commuter rail lines prior to the defeat of the 2010 sales tax referendum.
Plus: Updates on HART MetroRapid, and MLK Holiday transit services.
In the next couple of days, I hope to have a poll question posted as well. This question will be in regards to the medians of Interstate 275 in Tampa. I won’t go too in depth, as to not spoil the surprise. However, some of you may have an idea of what I’ll be asking.
In the meantime, I invite you to check out Zac Ziegler’s latest post on Tampa’s light rail ambitions. This post comes not very long after a recent poll showed that many Tampanians now support a sales tax increase that would help fund light rail…something that seemed unclear just two years ago. If you haven’t read up on his other post regarding the 1% sales tax for transit, which he describes what could have happened if the 2010 sales tax referendum in Hillsborough County had passed, then I invite you to read that post as well, as I found it to be a very good read.
I know that I’ve been lagging behind on posting as of late. I’ve been trying to get into a regular schedule, but November and December have been much busier than I thought. Holiday event planning is definitely no easy task, and I’ve been having to help my family out with several different events that took place during the past couple months. Add to that; my computer problems during August and September, and my hiatus from earlier in the year. I know that in the end, I probably let down some of my viewers, and I sincerely apologize for that. I hope that with the new year, I can finally devote some time to make some major updates.
For those of you who celebrate Christmas, I would like to wish you, and your family a very Merry Christmas! I certainly hope that you are able to enjoy this wonderful day, no matter where you are located!
With all this said, I would like to take some time to reflect back on some of the major transit-related developments that occurred in 2012. I have grouped everything by month, and color coded each event as they pertain to the particular focus region that I cover in my blog.
BLUE: Tampa Bay (HART, PSTA, MCAT, SCAT, PCPT, Hernando THEbus, Citrus County Transportation)
I have two small updates for my fantasy subway project that I’m doing on Google Maps that revolves around the Hampton Roads, VA area. The first update consists of the addition of five tramway (light rail) lines throughout Norfolk, Virginia Beach, and Portsmouth. I will briefly go through where each of the lines travel to. You can view the map here.
Tramway 1 (T1) travels from Naval Station Norfolk, through downtown Norfolk, and towards Virginia Beach. A portion of this line comprises of the existing Tide Light Rail line.
Tramway 2 (T2) travels from downtown Norfolk towards Suffolk via Chesapeake.
Tramway 3 (T3) is a semi-loop line that travels from Portsmouth through the Norfolk Naval Shipyard, Oakleaf Forest, Fairmont Park, and into Naval Station Norfolk from the east.
Tramway 4 (T4) runs from Portsmouth into Suffolk. An extension is planned to go into downtown Norfolk, but it has been a challenge. ~ In reality, it would be a challenge connecting Portsmouth to Norfolk via LRT due to the Elizabeth River being quite large. I have to ask myself if a new tunnel would have to be built.
Tramway 5 (T5) connects the Lynhaven Bay area to downtown Norfolk via the airport.
I will likely make more changes to the LRT lines later. I now realize that T5 could really be a part of T3, but I’m not sure whether to merge the lines. And you may notice how I number each of the LRT lines. The naming/numbering convention used is similar to how the LRT lines are numbered in Paris, France.
My second update is a stand-alone map of the Line 7A subway. Since it is the smallest subway line, I thought I would make an individual line map of Line 7A first. Line 7A basically runs along the beltway that partially surrounds Suffolk. Originally, it was part of Line 7 when it terminated at Holland Rd. However, when Line 7 was extended towards the outer fringe town of Courtland, a bypass tunnel was built along Holland Rd to facilitate quicker service into Norfolk. Thus, the original beltway line was made independent. You can view a map of Line 7A here.
I want to stress that these are just fantasy systems, just like the Mushroom Kingdom transit system. There are actual efforts to try and extend the existing LRT line in Norfolk towards Naval Station Norfolk, as well as Virginia Beach and Portsmouth. However, I am not sure if the proposed extensions will ever make it out of the planning books. It sure would be nice to have a neat network of light rail lines, as well as BRT lines throughout Hampton Roads.
If you want to share any comments, or have questions, feel free to drop me a line via the Contact page.
This will be the first in a series of blog posts revolving around my fictional transit systems. I was originally going to begin with my Mushroom Kingdom fantasy transit system, but I still have to make a few changes to the map before I can upload it.
Instead, I will be focusing this post on a completed fantasy subway system map for the Hampton Roads, VA area. As I mentioned in many areas of my blog, as well as through my various Facebook posts, Norfolk, VA already has a light rail line (which by the way turned one year old this past September). However, I started to think to myself “what if they had an extensive subway system?” So I began to create a fantasy subway system map on Google Maps that would serve all of the major areas in around Norfolk and Virginia Beach. The composition of the system is somewhat based off the Paris Metro in Paris, France. I even chose the color of each subway line to match the colors from the Paris subway (Line 1 on both systems is represented with a sunshine yellow/orange color for instance).
You can view my Google map by selecting the link below.