Sunday, February 26, 2012



University of Vermont economist Assistant Professor Arthur Woolf “How We're Doing” Burlington Free Press column last week discussed gasoline prices and statewide Vermont consumption features a graph showing gasoline sales down 2000 to 2010. A check with Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) series “Highway Statistics” shows Vermont 2000-2010 leading New England with an 8.0% drop in highway gasoline use.

Vermont joined Maine, -3.4%, and Rhode Island, -2.2%, while New England as a whole increased a fraction of a percent, 0.6%--and if you exclude the only outlier state, New Hampshire at plus 5.9%, then the other five states collectively dropped a fraction, -0.1%.

The 2000-2010 gas consumption plateau mirrors the sharp downtrend in Annual Vehicle Miles of Travel (AVMT) from a 38% growth in the 1980s to 3% 2000-2010 and an almost certain negative for this decade. These two trends—decreasing car travel and gasoline use now helped along with increases efficiency from national vehicle increases in miles-per-gallon standard--truly represents a major turning point for the six state area in efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to the overall U.S. goals of reaching 1990 levels. Lack of federal initiatives leave leadership to states and localities to undertake efforts. Burlington over a decade ago became one of the first U.S. cities to develop and formally adopt a climate change policy and lead its county (Chittenden) in cooperative and coordinated effort that includes specific initiatives, planning and monitoring.

Why is gasoline so important? First note the Vermont current and future estimates of car travel, gasoline consumption produced by the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VAOT) and contained in “Vermont Comprehensive Energy Plan 2011” (State Energy Plan) prepared by the Vermont Department of Public Service represent, to be charitable, a completely misreading of Vermont and New England trends—the VAOT transportation content indicates continued growth in car travel and gasoline consumption. Regardless of the errors contained in VAOT generated estimates in the State Energy Plan estimates, vehicle transportation in the State and in this region amount to roughly half of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). Second there remains no dispute that transportation moved up over the last decades in its percentage of states and region GHGs. Therefore, the decline in gasoline use combined with the almost certain decline in car travel constitutes a remarkable development.

Reduced driving reported by state and New England in this blog last week showed that for the first time—probably since the automobile came on the scene--a New England state, Rhode Island, Annual Vehicle Miles of Travel (AVMT) for a decade, 2000-2010, declined. The sharp downtrend in vehicle travel for New England—38% for the 1980s, 16% for the 1990s and 3% for 2000-2010—suggests a negative -2% to -7% for this decade.

The Vermont 6.4% AVMT growth reported by FHWA for 2000-2010 clearly represents a miscalculation if the generally solid data on gasoline use derived from tax monitoring, an 8% decline, is correctly reported in FHWA reports. (Vermont policy makers need to get a handle on accurate estimates of AVMT, AVMT trends and gasoline consumption trends to realistically analyze transportation trends and amounts of energy use and GHG emissions, and then fairly develop policies for all transportation modes and end users who generate GHGs in all sectors.)

Getting to 1990 GHG Emissions Levels

Can the 1990 gasoline usage levels in highway transportation be reached, and if so, how long might it take? The three New England states with reduced gasoline consumption shed some light on the potential for reaching 1990 consumption levels. Rhode Island leads the three states here needing only a 5.2% reduction in consumption from the 2010 level by 2020 to reach the 1990 consumption level—reasonable in view of the declines 2000-2010 of car travel, 0.9%, and gasolene consumption, 2.2%. It would take a decline in gasoline consumption of 13% for Vermont and 14% for Maine, respectively to reach 1990 consumption levels.

Of course there are many factors affecting gasoline consumption but many of them point in the right direction of potential reduction. Most important, the GHG reductions to 1990 levels in the area of transportation in New England now appear to be within the reach of state and local policy initiatives, particularly if even a modicum of support can be obtained from the federal government. Certain policies like “cap and trade” where those who reduce emissions can trade them with others needing emission allowances promise an economic advantage to New England states with “pollution allowances” to sell when GHG levels dip below the 1990 level target.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012



The Background

The $70 million Keene (NH) Bypass Expansion Bypass Project) project in the early 2000s sunk beneath public opposition stoked by a erroneous environmental study, the emergence of roundabout technology, and unsupportable inflated traffic projections. The scrapped project essentially switched to four roundabouts, the first in place in 2007--and with installation of the remaining three sure to accomplish a better, more efficient, environmentally beneficial final transportation result all the while saving about $55 million in scarce tax dollars for the State.

The City of Keene, the first urban location in the nation having evaluated by 2005 all its major core intersections for roundabout conversion, built its first at the entry to the regional hospital and the second, also in 2007, as the co-circular intersection on Main Street with daily entering traffic of 25,000 at the border of Keene State College and about five blocks from circular Central Square upper extremity of Main Street. Main Street for decades touted as the widest paved Main Street in the nation slowly transformed late in the last century and now street center parking, medians and traffic calming elements, and street beautification measures. The new roundabout enables traffic to circulate easily from north to south using the roundabout and Central Square to easily reverse direction.

The Bypass Project was essentially along the major east west NH 101, a route turning into NH 9 which ends about 20 miles beyond at the Vermont border. Ironically the first Vermont intersection on the highway, now VT 9, is the multi-lane Keene Turn Roundabout which opened in 1999 becoming the first northeastern interchange (VT 9/I 91/US 5). This Vermont roundabout, immediately popular with users, clearly played a key role in demonstrating the practicality of roundabouts along the Keene Bypass. (That roundabout handles over 900 tractor trailer trucks daily as regional wholesale grocery warehouses are located within a half mile of the I 91 interchange roundabout).

The Bypass Project Opposition

Notice needs to be given to the tremendous work, dedication and savvy of a grass roots opposition to the Bypass Project. A handful of individuals appeared at the prime public hearing by the NH Department of Transportation but soon a fledgling organization calling itself Concerned Cheshire Citizens (CCC) formed. Forums were held explaining the project and its impacts on many aspects, information on roundabouts quickly surfaced as an alternative, petitions were circulated—one petition late in the process was composed of over 180 downtown area business owners. A regular stream of letters included a series of hilarious comic strip submissions from a CCC member which made fun of either proponents or more often the statements of the NHDOT. The CCC brought two of the three major leaders of American roundabout development into the fray, Barry Crown of the UK who authored of one of two most popular roundabout software products in the U.S. and Scandinavian Leif Ourston who built the first modern roundabout in the U.S. in 1990 in Las Vegas. The third U.S. roundabout pioneer, Michael J. Wallwork of Jacksonville, whose background includes highway construction administration in Melbourne, not only gets credit for the first roundabout in the northeast (east of Las Vegas and north of Maryland), Keck Circle in Montpelier, VT but also did the preliminary feasibility study leading to the Keene Turn Roundabout and the first evaluations of several intersections in Keene itself before the Bypass Project controversy arose.

The CCC finally took an intransigent NHDOT to court through the New England environmental law advocacy organization, the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF). The bulldozers were literally ready to roll when the CCC won its case at a State Superior Court and by the time a later NH Supreme Court ruling the NHDOT was about ready to throw in the towel. Victory came to the CCC when the NHDOT held a public meeting in the City and asked the City what it wanted. The City pointed to the busiest intersection—Winchester Street NH 10/12/101—and the NHDOT hired the CCC consultant Barry Crown to do the design and the rest is now history. (Crown was also specifically chosen by the City to design the Main Street roundabout, a $4 million project funded entirely from local property taxes.)

The Traffic Numbers

The Bypass Project traffic projections occurred during what clearly was—and continues to be—a major shift in car travel growth in the U.S., but particularly dramatic in slow growing states and regions, such as New England, the northeast and the midwest. Vermont and New Hampshire transportation planners and officials already knew by the early 1990s that the burst of 1980s growth of 38% of annual vehicle miles of travel (AVMT) for the New England States would drop to about 20% and then even lower in the first decade of the 21st Century. Actual New England states average decade AVMT growth numbers were: 38% for the 1980s, 16% for the 1990s and 3% for 2000-2010. (It is fair to estimate an overall decline in AVMT for New England in this decade and note that Rhode Island numbers for 2000-2010 were -0.5%.)

The Bypass Project consultanttraffic projections were derived primarily from growth in retail space in the County and that growth translated into household growth, then car travel, etc. Whatever the validity of that approach, it did not take into account factors which, apparently, became far more important—changing demographics, leveling off of female workforce participation rates, the role of increased gasoline costs, and household sizes no longer declining significantly.

Redington testimony

In the Superior Court case, I submitted expert testimony in regard to roundabout feasibility as an alternative to the massive Bypass Project and unjustifiable inflation of the traffic growth numbers by the project consultants. As a Vermont transportation planner (and Keene native) who worked in policy and planning for thr NHDOT and Vermont Agency of Transportation for two decades, my estimate for Cheshire County traffic growth for the 1990-2015 period was basically 7% a decade (0.7% per year) using the factors of population growth/projection from the NH Office of State Planning (6% per decade for the period) and adding 1% per decade for the increase of driver age population with a driver license. Still, this was an estimate based experience with various factors at play, not the product of a sophisticated model used to

derive the consultant projections. Just using the known 1990-2010 known New England average growth of 10% per decade—and assuming nil growth for 2010-2015—the 7% per decade estimate appears to be right on target, certainly far closer to the “real” growth than the consultant projections which were much of the underpinning for the Bypass Project. In truth, my projection really was an educated guess taking into account demographic and a now two decades old work with various monthly and annual actual traffic figures (mostly in Vermont) along with a variety of other factors affecting vehicle travel as well as research material in the field. My “educated guess” for Vermont for 2000-2010 was single digits of about the same as for the Keene area, 7%, but my personal oft expressed “target range” expectation was -5% to +5%. While Vermont came in at 6.4% 2000-2010 (all sources of actual states growth are taken directly from the Federal Highway Administration [FHWA] “Highway Statistics” series) the Vermont numbers remain suspect for 2010 versus 2000 as two changes in methods in calculating AVMT occurred during the period. Further, the Vermont growth for 2000-2010 coming in substantially higher than the other slow growth states—Maine, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island—adds to the likelihood of a methodology affecting the 2000-2010 comparisons. Keene, incidentally, and Cheshire County population growth and characteristics are very similar in pattern to Vermont and that pattern varies substantially from the statewide New Hampshire trends dominated by the populous and fast growth southeastern and south central areas.

Note my “educated guess” for New England for 2010-2020 is -5% with a personal target range of -7% to -12%. Working off a questionable Vermont base number of 2010—and assuming no methodological changes—Vermont will likely enter similar negative territory both for the “educated guess” of -5% and “personal target range” of -7 to -12%. In other words Vermont AVMT change this decade will also mirror the average of other New England States.
In a period of rapid demographic, fuel price and economic change, the calculation of statewide and regional AVMT change may be said to be far more an art than a science.

Just one example can explain why the factor demographics alone weigh heavily on AVMT growth. U.S. Census projections for Vermont show an absolute zero increase in under 65 population during the period 2000-2030 while the aged 65-and-over increases about two and a half times. Compared to the prime driving age population, 25-55, the 65-and-over driver covers 40% less miles per year. This factor alone significantly reduces the upside for AVMT growth potential, assuming other factors remain unchanged.

The Bypass Project Projections—the “reality” versus “projection” numbers so far

Here are the four key segments of the Bypass Project, actual 1990 vehicles per day, most recent traffic counts—all from 2008-2010--from the NHDOT extrapolated to 2015, and the Bypass Project “2015 Build Volume” along with its percentage differential to the estimate using the most recent data:

Road Segment Average Annual Daily Traffic % Project Estimate
1990 2015 Recent Project over "Recent" projection
Projected Estimate
(% increase)

NH 101 Optical 10,100 11,300 (2008) 31,750 181%
Ave. to Main St. (11.9%)

NH 12/101 between
Main and Winchester
Streets over the
Ashuelot River 19,390 22,650 (2009) 39,700 75%

NH 101/10/12 west
of Winchester St. to
north segment to
West Street 22,100 27,950 (2010) 32,950 18%

NH 9/10/12 north of
NH 101 to West St.
interchange 20,120 23,900 (2009) 38,300 60%

Note “recent” traffic counts used were directly from NHDOT reports online. Finally, extrapolation from the 2008-2010 period to 2015 would be expected to overstate somewhat the 1990-2015 growth since clearly growth rates overall slowed considerably over the period.

The conclusions one can draw from this “reality” update are several. First, whatever the factors were utilized by the NHDOT consultants to project traffic increase, those factors were far less accurate than using statewide known traffic trends available to planning staffs at the transportation agencies at both states, trends which I utilized in my analysis having experience with data trends of both states. Second, the NHDOT was insensitive to the major change in traffic growth patterns which while perhaps relatively unimportant in fast growing areas of the state were extremely important in analysis of traffic growth in slow growth areas which predominate the rest of New England including southwestern New Hampshire. Finally the “slowdown” of traffic growth accelerated during the 2000-2010 period. With trend expected to continue even slowing of the decline leads to a lower AVMT than the -2% to -7% suggested above.

Tony Redington
Burlington, VT

February 22, 2012


(Note the 16-page Redington testimony submitted in the Merrimack Superior Court case is dated April 8, 2000.)

Sunday, February 12, 2012



No more tables showing car travel growth among New England states as Rhode Island notched a 0.9% decline 2000-2010 breaking a century old trend. And the other five New England states declining growth may join Rhode Island in negative territory this decade. Average overall growth for New England hit a puny 3.4% continuing a rapid descent towards below zero--38% growth in the 1980s and 16% in the 1990s. The car travel trend now in slow population growth areas like the northeast and midwest now points continuously down.

Car travel numbers hit another decades first for New England as 3.4% car travel growth trailed population increase for the six states for the decade, 3.7%. The leader of the sixpack of states, as almost always, New Hampshire, could only muster a car travel growth of 8.7% along with its leading 6.5% 2000-2010 population increase. The three largest population New England states recorded next lowest car growth numbers, Massachusetts 3.0%, Connecticut 1.7%, and Maine 2.5%. Data on 2010 became available from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) within the past month.

One asks why do car travel growth around the 0% mark make a difference? First note that while car travel plateaus and declines, numbers for public transit, Amtrak and walking and bicycling increase mostly in high single to low double digits. Second, those who dabble in programs and policies to contain car travel growth through incentives and alternative services routinely point that this approach—called demand management—can make about a 10% cut in car travel being addressed. Well, in New England, welcome to the age of demand management!

One example of demand management is the Chittenden County Transit Authority “link” service between Burlington and Montpelier (VT), distance of about 40 miles which takes about an hour by interstate. Demand for this service begun about 2000 has been so successful in drawing commuters there are eight trips a day in each direction including a noontime trip. Standing room only became a problem almost from the start of the service an still occurs from time to time. And, to assure one gets to bring a bike on the two-bike rack on each bus one must make sure to pick up the trip at the first stop. The Montpelier-Burlington service has easily drawn over 10% of city-to-city commuters who otherwise would face solo driving or carpooling. Next? Perhaps light density commuter rail between the two cities with some of the States' largest employer, a possibility outlined in three different studies of the potential dating from as early as 1989.

Estimating car travel growth (the technical description “annual vehicle miles of travel,” AVMT for short) is both a science and an art. A science since any vehicle travel in a state must be tied to fairly well known gasoline and diesel sales which because of state taxation are carefully collected and monitored by the taxation people. The mix of vehicles also rests on the solid base of vehicle registration data. The art comes in the estimation of cross state border travel—which in the case of Vermont has been estimated as high as 35% and obviously involves travel not wholly connected to instate gasoline sale, ditto for long distant truck haulers.

For Vermont—as well as the other three smaller states New Hampshire, Maine and Rhode Island—change of car travel inherently includes some error, the smaller the car travel the higher the possibility of a larger variation. Still, aggregating numbers at the New England level erases the bulk of any estimation error—and going from 38% in the 1980s to 3% this past decade areawide presents an irrefutable trend.

The Vermont number for the last decade also involves two substantial changes in estimating methodology and therefore remains somewhat suspect for the 2000-2010 comparison. As one whose experience with trends of car travel dating from working with data and evaluation in the NH Department of Transportation in the 1980s and the Vermont Agency of Transportation during the 1990s the sharp and historic decline vehicle travel was recognized from almost the beginning and an ongoing discussion topic with attention to carefully evaluating and monitoring the trend. The Vermont Department of Public Service early this decade estimation of car travel increase for 2010 was estimated about 8% in internal economic analysis.

My own prediction for the early 2000s car travel for a slow-growth New Hampshire County, Cheshire, whose population and growth more closely mirrored Vermont, a prediction contained in expert court testimony amounted to 6.9% per decade, an estimate which utilized population growth and a slight increase in driving age licensing percentage (1% per decade). My best guess for Vermont was 0% change 2000-2010 plus or minus 5%. At the time the 16% New England growth number was available in view of a Vermont study projecting 20% for the 90s (versus 17% actual) and a number in New Hampshire that Department was estimating in the same ballpark (22% actual for the 90s).

All the statewide data here comes from the FHWA “Highway Statistics” series which is easily accessed on line along with the states populations from the U.S. Census.

Thursday, February 9, 2012


---no roundabouts, bike (cycle) track (a positive) and no car constraints (termed transportation “balance”)

At the windup meeting of the Burlngton (VT) PlanBTV charrette last week the most spontaneous, enthusiastic applause over the two hour session arose when the project manager Brian Wright stating future transportation options said the words “commuter rail.”

The PlanBTV, major initiative in the overall of the City master plan process focuses on “a new land use and development master plan currently under development for Burlington's Downtown and Waterfront”( see

The charrette process, a week long exercise with lots of public interaction involves work tasks and reports (to be delivered) by an ensemble team of urban planners brought in from various places led by Town Planning +Urban Design Collaborative with Wright the onsite manager. The transportation sub-meeting attended by about two dozen participants with a majority from various departments and transport organizations ranging from the transit authority to the University of Vermont transportation programs and parking administration. The citizen minority, mostly oldsters, centered on a broad range of issues ranging from corralling the car-centric view, increased bicycle and walker infrastructure and yours truly as a self-confessed roundabout advocate.

Transportation Trends

Several trends in transportation arose in the transportation session: a collapse of car travel in Vermont to single digits in the last decade and possible decline in this decade, a sharp drop in Burlington area solo driving commuters, a current downtown surplus of parking even in the absence of a formal parking broker system to maximize efficiency, and a 70% increase in the last decade in bus riders. The background Planning Department studies suggesting a one percent increase for the foreseeable future as well as high levels of population growth appear completely out of line with recent historical trends and U.S. Census projections—they need to be revisited, refined, and then reported.

Suggestions for “commuter choice” program expansion, cycle track (also called bike track is grade separated street adjacent bike lanes, for example, Blvd. De Maisonneuve in Montreal) with first efforts a connection of the Church Street Marketplace and the Waterfront, sufficient parking supply to meet the needs of retail and other downtown development, and the all-roundabouts approach of Carmel, IN where the Mayor in that 79,000 population City is two thirds of the way toward his studied view of the city becoming a one traffic signal town with one hundred roundabouts. Suggestions connecting the waterfront to the Marketplace or beyond to the University included a gondola system, light rail (“trolley”), a funicular as has been suggested in the past, and a walker/bike “people mover” type sysem.

The Backdrop

During the week the charrette took place during legal proceedings against the driver who allegedly hit broadside another vehicle and killing the solo occupant, Karen Bourneman, in a typical T-bone crash in December 2010 at the Main and St. Paul Street only about 200 feet from the charrette windup session at City Hall. It was in November 2011 that the American Automobile Association (AAA) called for a White House Summit to adopt a “zero fatality rate” policy for U.S. highways, a policy found in their authoritative study which concluded that the costs of metropolitan deaths and injuries dwarfed the costs of highway congestion. Street safety design needs to provide the kind of treatments that make the high speed right angle crash, the type that took the life of Ms. Bourneman on streets with a 25 mph speed limit. Street design needs to be considered with a zero traffic fatality rate high on the list of considerations.

Apparent Transportation Elements : (1) Included and (2) Apparently Left Out

A final report containing recommendations for the long term (a century, Wright explained) will be submitted and later public processes will take place as part of the overall City plan update.
While the decades old Church Street Marketplace cannot be overpraised and the waterfront development continues but remains far from complete, the transportation oriented options seemed to be left out in the final charrette presentation.

(1) Included

Wright called the recommendations “balance” and elements apparently include: (1) bike (cycle) track on Main Street to the waterfront from the downtown and Marketplace; (2) an underground and above ground parking garage as development occurs on the waterfront to substitute space now used for parking thereby enabling development; (3) acceptance of a transportation “balance” with no car significant constraints while future eventualities include commuter and intercity rail from the waterfront station, and an enhanced University of Vermont to waterfront transit provision via the Marketplace.

(2) Apparently Left Out

The following elements which came at either the the transportation meeting or final presentation apparently will not be included in the PlanBTV report:
(1) Concerns over access to and from the interstate from congestion on outer Main Street and extension in So. Burlington to I 89 were not addressed. The long expanse of pavement from East Avenue/Swift Street, perhaps Vermont's fattest highway section needs a diet and using roundabouts can easily be cut down to four lanes with a median. Roundabouts would erase much of the delay at the converted traffic light intersections thereby reducing times for traffic to access the downtown area. This results in more efficient transit times also. Note each signalized intersection with heavy traffic represents literally a cesspool of unnecessary pollution and gas consumption. Roundabout reduce fuel consumption and pollution (including greenhouse gases) by about 30 (the more the traffic the larger the reductiions).
(2) Use of roundabouts on outer Main leads to the possibility of assuring traffic calming treatments and roundabouts through the University of Vermont section of Main Street with both south corners of the green good roundabout candidates.
(3) To prevent the T-bone and many other injury crashes, roundabout treatments can be considered for an intersection or two to the east of the Marketplace and at least two intersetions to the west—Pine Street and Battery Street intersections appear most feasible.
(4) Battery Street intersections, particularly at Maple and all intersections north of College—Cherry, Pearl, and Cumberland--all present easy opportunities for roundabout conversions. Roundabouts along Battery also enable addition of a median making, for example, the College Street intersection, far easier walkers and bicyclists crossings.
(5) As I stated at the closing presentation, right now nothing stops a vehicle going 100 miles an hour down Main Street from College to the waterfront. A few roundabouts as outlined in (3) and (4) calms traffic, reduces delays, and for car occupants and walkers provides the roughly 90% reduction in serious injuries and fatalities found in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study of intersections converted to roudabouts in the U.S
(6) It would be easy and desirable to expand the "shared space" Church Street Marketplace crossings at Bank, Cherry, and College Streets further out east and west for at least half a block—this would be a natural extension of space already rife with mixed modes and increase the access of shoppers to adjacent businesses. Those business then become almost as valuable and economically successful as those on Church Street itself. One check U-tube “shared space” videos, particularly Drachten, GR and Bern, SW to get a feel for “share space” or just meader the intersections of the Marketplace. With a new transit center for the Downtown bus transit any conflicts on Cherry to “shared space” expansion would be erased.
(7) One exciting and needed extension of Church Street Marketplace in the charrette recommendations will be buildings on the Church site either side of Unitarian-Universalist Church. Careful delineation of possible uses in coordination with the Church will assist in making the Marketplace expand slightly with benefits for the vitality of the entire Marketplace, particularly the upper block. Even now one can easily improve the walker crossing of Pearl Street by installing a “median diverter,” essentially about a 15-foot median which forces traffic on Pearl to deviate from a straight path so as to act as a traffic calming/reduced speed treatment. This allows removal of the traffic light and through the installation of the median where the walker only has to cross one lane at a time along with reduced speeds, walker safety can be expected to be improved.