SAFETY TAKES A BACK SEAT IN THE BURLINGTON WATERFRONT DOWNTOWN PLAN CHARRETTE
---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 http://www.burlingtonvt.gov/PZ/Comprehensive-Planning-Overview/
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.
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.
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.
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.