Saturday, December 7, 2013

Traveling by bus on Main Street

Wow, I stand corrected. A few years ago, due to construction projects in downtown Blacksburg, BT buses were often delayed, and some routes used detours, traveling along Alumni Mall Road, Stanger Street, and Prices Fork Road to get back to Main Street. To travel three miles via bus could take 30 to 50 minutes. I knew it had recently improved, and as Planner you'd think I know the details, but Operations handles the details of improving route efficiency and on-time performance. Plus, I'm an avid commuter-cyclist and rarely ride the bus myself! Now, according to Google Transit, one can make a 3.1 mile trip Monday morning from the bus stop at Main/Red Maple to the Blacksburg Square shopping center on South Main Street in 16-17 minutes! This is quite convenient, even for a "towney" who wants to take the bus during a busy time, assuming there is room on the bus (which can be a problem during busy times). Now traveling on the weekends (or during reduced/break service when the university is not in session) is more limited and takes more time: For example, bus services do not start until 9:45 am on Saturday, and would involve about a 1-mile walk to the nearest stop on Prices Fork Road near Progress Street for a 40-minute journey, including a transfer from the University City Blvd (UCB) bus to the Main Street South (MSS) bus. A fast walker could make this trip in 45-60 minutes, and a cyclist could do it in 15-20 minutes. Transit ain't perfect, but I think BT is still offering some great services.

16-17-minute bus trip View Larger Map

40-minute bus trip with 1 mile walk View Larger Map

Friday, December 6, 2013

Finding a Planning (or any) Job

I was recently emailed this question, "I read that you gave a presentation on job searching for young planners . . . we'd appreciate any guidance you could provide.  Do you have a paper, powerpoint, or some other presentation that I could pass around?"

Finding a job in any profession takes planning. Here is a summary of my response, including some quick advice, three videos, two slide shows, and two articles.

Quick advice for job searching and networking:
  1. Visit your career center and the website. This is a free resource to help with strategy, resumes, and even mock-interviews.
  2. Decide what job(s) you want, specifically, and write it down in one title and one sentence.
  3. Get your resume(s) polished.
  4. Reconnect or make new connections with recent graduates, professors, people you met at conferences.
  5. Work on a 30 second pitch, both verbally and in writing.
  6. Develop your "marketing materials" following a theme to "brand" yourself, including a decent photo.
  7. Marketing materials should include resume, social media profiles (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, blog, website, portfolio), and yes, an actual business card (available for free/cheap).
  8. Set a time goal, and then locate some volunteer or intern opportunities or create one!
  9. Go to a national profession conference and other local conferences and meetings (e.g., APA in April, APA-Virginia, GUAPA, UAPSA. A good investment - students can go free/cheap/as volunteers.
  10. Network, meet people, reach out, talk more, be nice. You never know who will lead you to what and who you might run into again.
Three video resources with tips on resumes, job search, networking, and conference:

Two PowerPoint files on conferences, pitches, & networking:


  1. Attending Conferences: Pitches & Networking (on slideshare)
  2. Networking: Before & After (on slideshare)
 Two Job-Finding articles:
  1. Writing a Resume That Works - on the APA site or as a PDF on Google Docs
  2. Networking for Job Opportunities - on the APA site or as a PDF on Google Docs
And join APA (or another appropriate professional society/group) and visit the Student Section - see the "Landing A Planning Job" section for more tips and resources!

Good luck!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

BT public transportation for employment in Christiansburg

Yesterday we provided an update to the Commonwealth of Virginia's DRPT about how JARC funding is impacting BT services. Here is the overview we submitted.

Ridership for BT’s JARC-funded routes in Christiansburg has remained relatively steady with over 31,000 passenger trips provided annually. BT is also working with stakeholders to improve regional connectivity. At least 57 percent of trips completed during FY13 were for employment or employment-related activities including education and training. Commuter trips have continued to increase in popularity with a 21 percent increase; an additional vehicle and route was added to provide this service to more residents. To support attaining ridership goals, BT also hired an intern funded by DRPT’s Intern Program in spring 2013. The Marketing Intern works with the BT Marketing department and has conducted customer surveys and information sessions to further market and to increase ridership for Christiansburg bus services supported by JARC funding.

Monday, October 21, 2013

How I got into Planning

It was in about November 2007 during my 4th year as a post doctoral fellow with the National Institutes of Health. My supervisor, Bruce Simons-Morton saw the writing on the wall of the upcoming financial recession and indicated he would not be able to offer me a 5th year, as we had originally anticipated, due to budget restraints. I am not sure, but I think hiring was frozen. I scrambled into action, and by January 2008 I had a part-time job started, and another in the works. I had some hopes of working full-time at VTTI, but that was not in the cards, probably due to the recession, and an earlier statement from the associate director that they were focusing on hiring people who had not been educated at Virginia Tech. I never knew for sure if this was a polite way to say "we're not interested in hiring you Erik" but I took it as a hint that the future possibilities at VTTI were not good. After ten years there as a grad student and as a post doc (I was able to retain my office there after I graduated during my post doc), I was gone. I left behind a legacy of the teen driver program, which I am convinced, to this day, would not have been established had I not sat in an arm chair during a January 2008 transportation conference, rested my brain, and then walked in and met my post-doc predecessor who was talking about teen driver research. A whole other story there, but after a brief discussion she called Bruce on the spot; I started at NIH April 12, 2004.

It was my wife who saw the transportation planner job posting. At first I was unsure if I was qualified. However, I quickly looked into it more and realized I had many relevant, transferable skills. I set up an information interview with Dan Brugh whom I had met a few times at the Smart Road, and whom worked closely with my adviser VTTI Director, Tom Dingus. Long-story short: when I walked into my interview, I already knew a bit about Blacksburg Transit, and on the committee was Debby Freed, whom I had worked with previously as a volunteer on a bicycle-pedestrian committee at Virginia Tech over a decade beforehand! After several months, and some negotiation of my starting salary, I started as Blacksburg Transit's Transportation Planner on June 26, 2008. The position involves working directly on BT projects and large portion of my efforts are regional in nature working with stakeholders within the New River Valley Metropolitan Planning Organization. Some of my proudest accomplishments have been the completion of the Town of Christiansburg Bus Survey, which resulted in several new bus services to provide service to more residents, the BT Transit Development Plan, the establishment of a public bus services in Warm Hearth Village, a retirement community, and the creation of an award-winning BT Transportation Planning Internship Program.