Thursday, May 31, 2012


Vermont transportation investments need to put first things first. The “biggest transportation spending plan in State history” touted by Governor Peter Shumlin yesterday does not contain the elements needed for a re-direction of Vermont transportation in an age when more Vermonters daily reject the 100% auto centric life. The following comment online today responded to the Burlington Free Press report and points to the two principal gaps in our transportation investments:

Vermont transportation projects continue down a dead end street, failing to address two key, long-neglected priorities—(1) establishing commuter rail, a start towards an in-State rail passenger network which recognizes rail the emerging backbone of Vermont transportation as more Vermonters every day join in reducing or abandoning altogether an unsustainable car lifestyle and (2) improving urban areas and town center walking and car circulation through a dozen or so new roundabouts annually—like the two under construction in Manchester Center. AAA calls for a “zero fatality” rate on our streets and anything but a roundabout on average increases serious injury and fatality rates about 900% per the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety decade old study. Car travel in Vermont declines now while public transit, bicycling, and Amtrak grow at single to double digit rates. Time for a change in transportation, our lives depend on it.

Other important elements in the changing transportation market include: (1) the need for businesses and government agencies to enable and support employees use of their own dollars to take advantage of the incentives in the federal tax code allowing tax free commuter benefits for those who commute by transit, bicycle, or carpool--sorry walkers, you get left out in the cold on this one; (2) supportive bus networks which work in harmony with rail passenger services and extend or take the place of rail where it is uneconomic or where the rails do not go; and (3) re-examining the entire highway network to see where in a changed environment federal and state highway networks can be downsized to conform to the reduced demands for highways as car travel declines.

Monday, May 28, 2012


Letter today to Assistant Director Aaron Frank of the Chittenden County Transportation 
Authority (CCTA):

Thank you for taking the time to talk with me at the Cherry Street terminal on the “information day” regarding the excellent new Transit Center design proposal. I plan to attend the public hearing this week and speak in favor.

One of my concerns is whether the concept anticipates a doubling or tripling of Transit Center use as all data shows a growth spurt for transit continuing as public habits change toward less use, licensing, and need for the motor vehicle. The rapid growth of the Link service shows the tip of the iceburg of change in Vermont and U.S. transportation away from the car to other modes and public transportation. European modal shares provide a sense of where the U.S. urban modal shares will move towards, potential shares also applicable to Burlington.

Roundabouts and public transit...

Upon further reflection on your comments regarding use of “pre-emption” for transit bus accessing Pearl Street, it became clear that one really needs to look at the “customer”--in this case the walker or the driver primarily—when considering intersection improvements. I have suggested, for example, in past PlanBTV comments:
  1. remove the signal at Church/Pearl and install a median refuge which also diverts traffic slightly to constrain speed, thereby leaving it for walkers and vehicles to work out in a “yield to walker” context rather than using a very often ignored signal (including walkers who decline to actuate the signal so as not to delay vehicles)--this new betterment would also facilitate the highest level of accessibility if the PlanBTV concept of expanding the Marketplace with development along with periphery of the Unitarian Church lands moves forward (“shared space” would be the ideal), and
  2. install single lane roundabouts along Battery beginning with Pearl and Main intersections which present the least constraints—ultimately leading to a series of roundabouts along all the intersections from Main to to the north end of Battery Park (also adding a narrow median and cycle tracking to what becomes essentially, “Battery Parkway”.

Key Question: How does CCTA benefit from roundabouts?

As I pointed out, installing a mini roundabout at St. Paul/Pearl would enable ease of entry an exit of all vehicle on St. Paul—and a similar treatment on Cherry/St. Paul also makes sense. In both cases experience predicts increased walker safety and reduced delay for all users—and a large portion of those walkers are your customers. Customers safety and their reduced delay need to be CCTA's two major concerns. Minis have the greatest level of safety for walkers and car occupants—about a 90% reduction in serious injuries, and single laners reach about the same level of safety. (Note that with about 12,000 “roundabout years” recorded in North America since the first roundabout in 1990, not a single fatality has been recorded—the first one is, unfortunately, expected in a year or so.)

But our talk leads to the larger question as roundabouts become the rule—like they are across the pond: how do roundabouts benefit CCTA and public transit in general? Generally, at busy intersections all roundabouts reduce delay for all users—and reducing delay at a number of intersections may be able to reduce transit route times. Not much of an issue here. Further, by reducing delay for walkers, the distance a walker can normally negotiate increases—planners sometimes calculate such distances from various key locations in an urban center through “reach” diagrams. Simply for public transit, improved “reach” for walkers equates to increased numbers of walkers who can access a given bus stop. Not much of an issue here. For drivers the reduced conflicts and movement of walker crossings about two car lengths from the circular travelway also reduces bus/walker conflicts.

We know that in France where there are hundreds of roundabouts associated with intersections which also provide passage to light rail—many splitting the center of the roundabout central islands—showing roundabout and transit vehicle compatibility.
Here in the U.S. a reasonably small city with a large number of roundabouts is Carmel, IN. The mayor there, James Brainard, in a recent Economist issue suggests his 70,000 population city is about two thirds the way with about 60 roundabouts to converting all but one signal to a roundabout—Carmel then becomes a one traffic signal city with one hundred roundabouts. Among Carmel intersections are those serving about a half dozen freeway interchanges.

My suggestion is that CCTA contact its public transportation equivalent in Carmel to identify the benefits—and hopefully no drawbacks—to the spread of roundabouts on their operations, schedules, driver comfort with roundabouts versus signalized intersections, etc. Then CCTA can take that knowledge—along with any other gained from Carmel's public transportation agency's suggested further contacts—and apply it to Burlington's situation and the immediate case of the Transit Center accesses to nearby streets.

Finally, CCTA and its sibling, GMTA in Montpelier, already deal with a few roundabouts on their existing route structures: (1) the two Montpelier roundabouts; (2) the what I term a “hybrid”, the Winooski City Center; and (3) the roundabout at the termination on the Middelbury Link service in Middlebury. Note the first official Vermont “mini” roundabout is now in construction in Manchester Center along with a second at the once termed “malfunction junction” (will Essex Five Corners, another single lane roundabout candidate become Vermont newly annointed “malfunction junction”?).

Again, thank you for taking the time to listen to your customers and please consider this message as input and comment on the new proposed Transit Center.


Tony Redington

20 North Winooski Avenue Apt. 2

Sunday, May 20, 2012


Feel “transportation discrimination”? Well be a commuter in or out of Burlington, VT exercising “commuter choice” by abandoning the car and what do you get?--second-class transportation in the form of a stuffy, jammed and sometimes standing room only bus (and room for only two bicycles). Welcome to the transportation quality of service typically found in less developed nations!

The first paragraph clearly paints a totally unfair picture of the Chittenden County Transportation's (CCTA) spectacularly successful commuter buses, the “Link” services introduced in the last few years--east to Montpelier, north to St. Albans and south to Middlebury. CCTA ranks as one of the best is not the best public transportation services in the nation in a small Metro. But the first paragraph description also indisputably tells us that the regional commuter routes by bus only, the Link services shouldered by CCTA, primarily reflect a State responsibility, a failed responsibility to date marked by clear lack of foresight and policy direction. The commuter environment shows, again, the citizens and their demand for modern transportation finds public leadership either asleep or scrambling to catch up (or both!). As the saying goes, the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VAOT), the Legislative Transportation Committees and northwest Vermont regional planning agencies “just don't get it.”

Every month Burlington bound and Burlington outbound commuter numbers increase with 310 commuters regularly served by Link buses, roughly 20% of the potential commuter market. The three older Link services growth since last July average 26%, not including a fourth Link service between Burlington and Milton begun within the past year.

Regional planners and the VAOT focus goes to all kinds of new “park and ride” investments while ignoring in the first place of providing a quality set of services built around self-propelled, high passenger capacity, rail-diesel passenger equipment. Moreover current Link services leave the State's largest private employer, IBM with its unique railside access, unserved and a skeletal service to downtown Waterbury (from Burlington only) with its major State complex.

Note that free commuter park-and-ride lots and employee parking continue a major subsidy to workers, a subsidy generally discontinued in mature public transportation services, including commuter rail. In the meantime all one needs to know about federal priorities comes from the fact that every type of commuting to work qualifies the commuter for one individual income tax credit or benefit of another except one—walking.

Note that a review of the three Burlington corridors—east, north and south—market potential for commuter rail amounts to about 5,000. Certainly an initial potential use of commuter rail based on Link performance might well reach 30% or 1,500 commuters. The Link services as well as shuttle connections from rail stations would continue as a supplement and feeder for what really becomes an overall integrated rail/bus system. Bicycle and walking modes facilities supporting the integrated network must be a given.

Then there is the larger question of inter-city services enabled by current Link type services today, for examples, connecting Burlington to St. Johnsbury via Montpelier and Burlingon to Rutland via Middelbury. While inter-city and commuter rail services get separate treatments in terms of federal funding, in a small state like Vermont they naturally overlap. The recent Vermont intercity routes built off commuter Link and Link-type services (plus Amtrak) perfectly illustrate how both services connect an re-enforce each other. Extensions of commuter rail to eventually provide intercity links to every major community along with services designed to strengthen the tourist industry also naturally grow out of upgrading tracks and building of commuter rail services. The choices for rail clearly find expression in three major studies dating from 1989—the only thing remaining comes in dusting off the studies and build off the pioneering commuter services CCTA and other public transit agencies have built which show a new reality as more and more Vermonters want out of the unsustainable and uneconomic auto-centric lifestyle.

Time now to catch the growing wave of commuters wanting a quality alternative to car commuting which awaits Legislative, regions, and VAOT leadership. All aboard!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


Upon further reflection, the startling growth in numbers of Vermont commuters already using various commuter oriented bus services throughout Vermont reflects a “state of transportation emergency” curable only by undertaking an immediate installation of commuter rail services to handle demand for commuting without a car.

The surging growth of commuters shifting to bus services to get back and forth to work constitutes the proverbial canary in the coal mine signaling needed action now as the automobile as a mechanism of travel no longer serves as the satisfactory core transportation mode in a post-auto age for Vermont. Consider that a commuter rail service starting from the State House complex in Montpelier would include within about an hour stops at Middlesex, downtown Waterbury, Bolton, the center of Richmond, the IBM parking lot, Essex Jct., Winooski and Burlington Union Station. All these stops in a total trip time about the same as the Montpelier Link bus which can only service the outskirts of Richmond along with central Burlington and Montpelier. Overall commuters potentially served by a commuter rail total about 5,000 on the Burlington-Montpelier corridor—another total of 5,000 potential exists for the two other lines ending in Burlington from St. Albans and Middlebury.

Lots of planning and transportation money now goes to investing in park-and-ride lots which would be much better diverted to starting up the long term future of Vermont transportation—a network of commuter and intercity rail services connecting all the State's urban areas and many of its tourist destinations. These services would utilize mostly self-propelled single and two car sets with seating capacities of 80-150. The same equipment was proposed as a cost-saving demonstration in place of Amtrak services from St. Albans to New Haven, CN.

Yes the auto industry will fight the return of the rail car based service just as it funded the demise of urban rail a century ago, but continuing to fund and subsidize an auto mode no longer sustainable as the core network of transportation no longer remains economic (if it ever was) and can no longer be afforded.

Meanwhile, New England car travel numbers now trend negative, Vermont population under-65 population growth level flat lines for the foreseeable future, and three decades of stagnant wages with no end in sight—all contribute to the high growth of bus and Amtrak numbers which yearly hit new highs. And those same factors provide the underpinning for a shift of the Vermont transportation core network from one centered on cars to one centered on sustainable rail passenger and freight services.

Let's recognize that the bus trip represents a lower tier level of comfort and ease for commuters and travelers in general versus commuter rail. People only put up with buses if rail is unavailable. Besides, practical commuter bus capacities are about 30-50 while a two-car self-propelled rail car set capacity easily amounts to 150, expandable to several hundred by just adding more passenger cars.

For years many argued that we will not abandon our cars for a bus—but more and more Vermonters are abandon the solo car or carpooling for the bus every month—the three commuter “Link” bus services out of Burlington have increased about 20% each year for the past for two years.

The three musty Vermont commuter rail studies already provide the basic blueprints—the only elements missing now are leadership from Governor Shumlin, at least one member of the Vermont Congressional delegation, and the municipal leaders of affected communities—to the north along the line to St. Albans, to the east Montpelier and Barre, and to the south Vergennes and Middlebury. Add two other initial potential lines: (1) a Connecticut River Valley line connecting White River Jct., Windsor, Bellows Falls and Brattleboro; and (2) West Route—Bennington, Manchester, Rutland and Middlebury.

An initial service, say either of the three Burlington routes (IBM expressed a preference for a St. Albans/IBM/Burlington service) might take two years at most. Note while the entire core Montreal Metro system construction took about a year, Vermont rail lines for service are in place, the St. Albans-Brattleboro line with a 60 mph service level now serves Amtrak daily, and the desired rail equipment already operates on two commuter lines, one in Portland, OR.

Cost? Well federal law requires Chittenden County and the Governor directly command $50 million annually in capital and public transportation investments which involve federal funding. A first commuter rail service line could easily be handled with about $5-$6 million for the first year or two, affordable with current funding streams. The rail equipment and costs for service were thoroughly examined in 2008-2009 when the Amtrak demonstration of the same equipment to reduce Vermont subsidies (still a good idea!!).

The tide in transportation began to turn about two decades ago away from an auto-based dominance and now that same tide can be seen clearly—it is time now to respond to the “state of transportation emergency” and begin the welcome task of establishing a core of commuter and intercity rail passengers in Vermont as part of a workable, sustainable, and economy supporting backbone for the transportation system.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012



Three studies of Vermont commuter rail services dating from 1989 continue gathering dust while the recent raging success of commuter bus services radiating from Burlington demonstrates installing in-state inter-city and commuter rail passenger services continues long overdue. In-state rail passenger operations enable citizens and visitors alike an alternative to cars bringing needed support to Vermont city and town centers, the tourist industry as well as to workers and major employers like IBM, State complexes, Fletcher Allen Hospital and several colleges.

Vermonters for decades supported and continue to voice support for a post-auto transportation system built around Amtrak and other rail passenger services, a network of urban and rural public transit services, and bicycle and walking facilities.

For the better part of a decade the Chittenden County Transportation Authority (CCTA) Burlington-Montpelier commuter “Link” services between Burlington and Montpelier surged. Expanded peak commuter runs and a mid-day run serve both cities. Today Montpelier Link totals sixteen buses each workday carrying about 200 commuters between the two cities with over 20 passengers per bus. Based on Census data the Montpelier Link handles about a third of all commuter trips between Montpelier and Burlington. These Burlington-Montpelier commuters equal about 3.1 million vehicle miles of solo driving off the highways. The overall Link services which include Burlington to St. Albans, Middlebury, and Milton plus Montpelier easily represent a shift of over 1% of annual vehicle miles in Vermont from cars to buses, even taking into consideration that without the Links considerable car pooling would be the alternative for many of these commuters.

Providing year-round rail passenger service can be accomplished by utilizing available single or double unit self-propelled rail-diesel cars which obtain about five miles per gallon. With new train control technology which utilizes radio and satellite connections desired service frequency can be attained. Consider the prime Montpelier-Burlington route, for example. The New England Central rail line from the Massachusetts border to St. Albans via Brattleboro, Bellows Falls, White River Jct., Randolph, Northfield, Montpelier Jct., and Essex Jct. supports the 60 mph rail speeds for current Amtrak services. The Montpelier-Burlington run which would probably start from Barre also enables a stop at the parking lot of the State's largest private employer, IBM, just before Essex Jct. Upgrade of the five mile line from Essex Jct. to Burlington's Union Station is a must. At some future point even a spur connection to Burlngton International Airport becomes possible.

All three rail studies employ self-propelled rail vehicles for basic services. One study almost mirrors the radiating Link services out of Burlington. A second study focuses on a rectangular intercity service—Rutland-Bellows Falls-White River Jct.-Montpelier-Burlington-Rutland—all of this rail in place is either owned by the State or New England Central Railroad. This study emphasizes services to the tourist industry and inter-city trains as well as commuters. Any in-State rail services can also spur additional use of the Amtrak interstate trains from New York and southern New England which continue to experience yearly passenger numbers growth to new records, often at a double digit pace.

It is time for “Vermont trains” to start. Over time rail passenger and commuter services can extend connections to all major towns and cities re-establishing a network which becomes a safe, sustainable, backbone transportation network for the State.