Wednesday, August 29, 2012



With the truly overnight growth from 0 to 46 commuter buses radiating outward from Burlington, VT each workday the obvious question arises, why not adding commuter rail services to serve Vermont workers and employers?

It goes without saying commuter rail with self-propelled vehicles handle upwards of 150 passengers per trip, reduce the need for the current 46 buses daily (though some would continue and new short link shuttle services added). Unlike buses, commuter rail serves the tourist, contain space for many bicycles, and set a backbone for an eventual in-state intercity rail passenger network.

The real reason for no commuter rail services lies in the American tradition of subsidizing cars only and failing to recognize governmental responsibility for assuring a multi-modal transportation system characterized by safety, efficiency, and sustainability in all senses of that word.

A Redington Blog dated June 8, 2012 describes transportation in terms of a Vermont household, i.e., basic consumer expenditures. It is no surprise that of the 16% of household expenditures devoted to transportation practically all—about 95%--gets gobbled up by moving around by car. Since Vermont median household income closely parallels the national figure, the ballpark figure for total ground transportation spending by Vermont households roughly comes to $1.986.

The June Blog outlines the proportion of funding as follows:
How does this $1.986 billion for Vermont consumer transportation expenditure annually break down in terms of public transportation, the car and “other” (primarily air but also intercity bus and rail)? The online “Urban Transportation Fact Book 2004 gives an indication urban breakdown which reflects a public transportation dimension: 94% “user operated” (best known as a car), 1.44% “purchased local transit” and 4.56% “purchased intercity.”

The key number involves expenditure on cars, 94%, translates to $1.87 billion for Vermont households spending on car transport. Since this number comes from an urban-based analysis, it understates somewhat the both the proportion and amount of Vermont households expenditures on cars. Using some data and making some guesstimates, here are the other ground transportation household expenditures by Vermont households along with associated government support:
                                                                             Vermont Transportaton
                                                           Household Expenditure             State/Federal/Local
Automobile                                                $1,986.0 million                  Over $100 million
Public transportation (bus services)               $16.0 million                 $39 million
Amtrak                                                           $15.0 million                    $4 million
Greyhound/Vermont Transit/Megabus           $25.0 million                  Substantial

Future Commuter Rail                                     $2.4 million                  $2.4 million

Several commuter rail plans dating back to 1989 provide the planning for operations, costs, schedules, etc. The next steps involve establishing the necessary rail authority, development of a short term plan for the first corridor, acquisition of equipment, preparation of stations, and startup of service.

Few would suggest erasing all local bus services in Vermont. Few would suggest ending Amtrak rail service. And private intercity bus services depend on infrastructure—highways, bridges, capital maintenance, etc.--funded by about 40% from non-highway user revenue sources. Commuter rail can easily serve far more Vermonter trips than Amtrak, rival commercial inter-city bus service trips, and also serve tourists and the tourist industry. The public cost of support for commuter rail—capital and operating--will be far less than current State expenditures for public transportation and somewhat more than Amtrak. (Note Amtrak support involve pure State tax dollars.) Also important much of the cost of installing new commuter rail service can be obtained from current federal transportation funding and likely special federal transportation appropriations.

In conclusion, consideration of commuter rail no longer needs to be a “vision” but as a task to be completed with the next two or three years. 

Notes:  1.  Public transportation expenditures/support based on multiplying Chittenden County Transportation Authority (CCTA) FY 2012 budget numbers by a factor of 4.
2.  Commercial bus expenditures a guesstimate
3.  Amtrak based on recent data annual passengers, 140,000, a typical ticket roundtrip to NYC at $106, and FY 2012 $4.5 million budget for the State cost share.
4.  See June Blog for additional sources of data.
5.  Future Commuter rail based on 200 day operation with about 3,000 trips daily (1,500 roundtrip commuters) or about three times the current year numbers on CCTA Link services.  Revenue roundtrip used is $7, a dollar less than current Burlington/Montpelier Link fares.   

Friday, August 24, 2012



In a letter dated August 22, 2012 to the Burlington (VT) Department of Public Works bringing to their attention a possible safety issue for bicyclists, also addressed is the Department's failure to address intersection safety. The only roundabout on the front burner was literally pressed on them by the Vermont Agency of Transportation—the City has none today. The letter reads in part:

Roundabouts—single laners and minis
Vermont, particularly the Burlington area, trails other progressive states, provinces and communities in adopting safe intersections, that is, mini- and regular single and two lane roundabouts. Unfortunately “complete streets” policy and law (and the research behind it) does not address safety at intersections in any way, and, in fact, adopting bike lanes without addressing intersection safety can reduce safety for all streets users.
Go back 15 years to 1997 when the Vermont Bicycle-Pedestrian Coalition adopted a policy supporting single lane roundabouts because they reduce walker injuries (and yes, car occupant injuries too) by about 90%. Mini-roundabouts installed in low-speed environments present a real solution to the four-way stop intersections which infect Burlington (they are against the law in the U.K.). Four-way stops on Maple, Pine and similar contexts create an opportunity for applying the low-cost mini- which even with lighted bollards at the walker crossings cost only a few thousand dollars.
Note that for New York State, Virginia and two western Canadian provinces their state/provinces transportation agency policies are “roundabouts only” (for Virginia Department of Transportation it is a “preference” for roundabouts). The facts of roundabouts generally are well known. As your Department knows, the Vermont Agency of Transportation refused to even consider a signal at the “rotary” and said it would fund a roundabout or nothing. Simply, the roundabout is a safety treatment and where a roundabout is feasible a signal is not a safe treatment.
Vermont's first mini- is now (finally!) being built in tandem with a one-laner at “malfunction” (soon to be “function”) junction in Manchester Center. Of course roundabouts also erase congestion, reduce pollutants and gasoline use at busy intersections by about 30%, enable denser land use, reduce delay for all users and beautify. But most important, they reduce serious and fatal injuries by about 90% (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study of U.S. roundabouts published in 2000). Roundabouts fit perfectly with the recent AAA findings that safety investments are far more important than dealing with congestion in metro areas, and that the President should hold a White House conference and adopt a “zero fatality rate” highway safety program.
Any town or region (especially Burlington and Chittenden County) need to review all their intersections for conversion to roundabouts—and the no regrets choice becomes the “low hanging” fruit, the list of prioritized intersections convertible to single lane and minis. A death and serious injury or two will continue each year at busy signalized intersections and four-way stops until conversion to roundabouts is completed. Yes, there is even a “safety bonus” to roundabout installations, the more you install the higher the level of safety on all roundabout—that is the experience of the French who lead the world at this time with 30,000 roundabouts.”

A copy of the letter was forwarded to the Burlington Walk Bike Council. Note that the Council name gets it right—it is “walk” not “pedestrian” and “bike” comes in its proper place as a second place transportation mode to the walking mode.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012



The lead Boston Globe editorial last Sunday touted Cambridge, MA instituting a new paradigm of pushing developers and existing businesses and institutions to reduce parking and incentivize non-driving behaviors—and the startling result that the community prospers, car traffic is down and all the benefits from reduced parking spaces needed, pollution reduction, etc. come along for the ride.

This Blog for  a few month pointed to the various program initiatives, studies and statistics—all leading to the same paradigm.  Behaviors and a long term factors create a growing latent citizen demand for transportation change from carcentricity. Yes, the success of roundabouts, demand for bicycle facilities, and community bike rental systems, and rapidly growing public transit usage--all reflect contain the kind of benefits which enables and spurs this new paradigm to thrive.

The letter sent on Monday, August 20 is as follows:

The University of Vermont, Champlain College and Fletcher Allen Health Care employ a third of Burlington's (VT) 30,000 workers.  This troika reduced solo driving by about 14 percent over the past decade, so you can change behaviors of folks anywhere with some simple incentives, new services and cooperative approaches ("More buildings,fewer cars help drive economic growth," Editorial Aug.19)--here in Vermont less cars, the same buildings!

A small office, Campus Area Transportation Management Association (CATMA), with a staff four serves the troika institutions.  Everything from regular drawings for merchant gift certificates for those walking and bicycling to work, discounted or free use of the transit system, and even private car share assistance for students to leave their cars at home rather than keeping them on campus--all contribute to the success in reducing solo driving and moving workers and students to alternatives to the solo drive.  Note New England states average car travel growth 2000-2010 hit an all time low of 3 percent with more states this decade likely to join Rhode Island which hit a negative number.  In Burlington during the last decade, low fare commuter buses began and now 46 buses daily ply three corridors into Burlington.  Lots of factors at play here, such as decades of stagnating wages, new transit services, and old time incentives.  The sanctity of solo driving really ended some time ago and the next step for Burlington clearly involves starting commuter rail services.  

When it comes to moving away from cars, we are long past the hope and hip deep in the change.”

Friday, August 17, 2012



Current TV ads promoting the State of New York cite the State being historically first in lots of areas—including the first lengthy transportation canal—and asserts the State still a leader in industry and commerce today. Early last century New York led the nation in developing rules of the road, the beginnings of highway design and safety, and traffic management--largely through the efforts of William Phelps Eno who born in a wealthy family actually never got a driver license.

Eno also gets credit for taking a traffic concept from a French town planner and installed the first traffic circle in New York City in 1905, Columbus Circle. This precursor of the modern roundabout was followed shortly thereafter in 1907 by Paris' Place Charles DeGaulle (then Place l'Etoile), and a circle in the first “garden city”, new town Letchworth, UK in 1909. It is fitting then that New York became the home of the first “roundabouts only” policy begun in 2005. New roundabouts can now be found throughout the State in spite of recent funding constraints for highway investment. For example, the Town of Malta, a suburb of Albany, already has twelve roundabouts with two more in development. New roundabouts can also be found in the downtowns and town centers, for examples, Glens Falls, Hamburg, Plattsburgh, Voorheesville, and Albany itself.

The “roundabouts only” policy of the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) was joined by the Virginia department (a “preference” for roundabouts) and two Canadian provincial departments, British Columbia (first) and Alberta. The Canadian rules call for roundabouts use whenever “more than two-way stop control” is required to control traffic. Once in place “roundabouts only” policies lead to most new installations being roundabouts and conversions of most, if not all, signalized intersections to roundabouts.

The “roundabouts only” policy located in the NYSDOT “Highway Design Manual” is as follows:

    1. Intersection at Grade
        5.9.1...when a project includes reconstructing or constructing new intersections, a roundabout alternative is to be analyzed to determine if it is a feasible solution based on site constraints, including ROW, environmental factors, and other design constraints.

...When the analysis shows that a roundabout is a feasible alternative, it should be considered the Department’s preferred alternative due to the proven substantial safety benefits and other operational benefits.

And California? Well behind the curve in adopting roundabout technology, the State transportation agency, Caltrans, seven years after New York moves towards a pro-roundabout approach as that agency ponders a policy which “requires consideration of a roundabout” when any investment takes place at an intersection. Within the past few years—really every year--California experienced high profile T-bone crashes at intersections, including the death of famed author David Halberstam and a horrific crash killing Anaheim Angels rookie pitcher Nick Adenhart (who had just pitched an excellent game) and two friends when the car Adenhart was driving got T-boned by a by a car running a red light.

The emerging Caltrans policy helps propel other states and localities to moved towards “roundabouts only” policies for no other reason than safety, the primary reason behind pro-roundabout policies to date. (Of course at busy intersections roundabouts cut delay for all users, reduce pollutant emissions and gas use by about 30%, cost less to maintain, and enhance scenic quality.) On average, anything but a roundabout generates serious and fatal injuries at a 900% greater rate. For walkers, a single lane roundabout reduces fatalities by about 90% and at two lane roundabouts also reduce walker injury crashes significantly.
With proper designs, roundabouts overall provide a safety benefit to bicyclists.

Welcome to the roundabout age California!

Monday, August 13, 2012



The following message appeared on August 10 on the national “roundabout listserv” hosted by Kansas State University:

I've been working on North Carolina's inventory, and we are now at 165 roundabouts across the state, including 17 under construction, and 99 on the State highway system, but not including about 45 programmed and funded for future construction.  Still waiting on updates from some larger municipalities before I'll be ready to send out our updated list.  One municipality told me they have 15 roundabouts that weren't on my list, but I haven't been able to confirm design/operations (in other words, if they're roundabouts rather than traffic calming circles or the like.)”
James H. Dunlop, P.E.
Congestion Management Engineer
Transportation Mobility and Safety Division
North Carolina Department of Transportation

The North Carolina data did not happen in isolation as New York, Washington, Kansas, Virginia and Wisconsin—among other states—feature roundabout “blooms”.

Vermont, once a leader in roundabouts, provides a yardstick for the North Carolina figures. Vermont roundabouts number 10 (eight built, two under construction) or 1.6 per 100,000 population. North Carolina roundabout per 100,000 population: 1.7.
California generally receives credit for being a true laggard in adopting roundabouts. A recent count on their state transportation agency, Caltrans, roundabouts on the state highway system of 20 compares to 99 on the North Carolina system and 9 for Vermont. On a roundabouts per hundred thousand population: Vermont 1.5, North Carolina 1.2, California 0.05. Yes, California deserves "laggard"  status.

Sunday, August 5, 2012



Part 2: CATMA uses a range of program elements including cooperative arrangements to nudge—with astonishing success—more of its target population of 16,000 students and 10,000 employees away from solo commuting and towards walking, bicycling, transit, and car share

CATMA, the Campus Area Transportation Management Association, works an entire range of program elements from incentives for students to use the private Car Share Vermont services for not bringing a car to keep at campus to monthly drawings of gift certificates for Marketplace businesses from a basket of those who use non-solo driving to work.

Along with a universal free access to the Burlington's transit system (Chittenden County Transportation Authority [CCTA]) for University of Vermont (UVM) employees and students, program elements dropped solo driving to work by 14%, decreased cars student cars taking up valuable parking space at campus lots, and overall contributed to all the good things of decreased solo driving—reduced pollution, better health, a more efficient community, less traffic congestion, and lower infrastructure costs. Slightly more than half of troika employees solo drive to the workplace.

With solo driving to work stuck at about 75% for decades statewide (another roughly 12% carpool), shifting about one in seven solo drivers to alternates deserves attention for an accomplishment bordering on the miraculous. Of course, a couple of developments, particularly the emergence of dozens of buses serving three commuting corridors out of Burlington, contributed substantially to CATMA success, but CATMA brokering a number of programs and services deserves the overall credit for the performance to the benefit of its troika sponsors, their employees and students. The shift away from solo driving among CATMA member employees found in surveys dating from 2000 also finds confirmation in Census journey to work data from the 2000 Census to the recent 2006-2009 numbers for Burlington resident commuting trends.

The troika who formed non-profit CATMA--Champlain College (CC),Fletcher Allen Health Care (FAHC) and UVM—choose which program elements to participate in and to what degree. All three, for example, provide through CATMA a guaranteed ride home in case of a personal emergency at no cost to the employee. UVM employees and students receive full access to CCTA buses (including Link services) while FAHC provides CCTA passes at 50% discount and Link tickets at 25% discount. The “bike/walk” program rewards any participant with a $15 reward for at least 3 days per week walking and/or biking to work for a full 8 week period—the reward can be used downtown Church Street Marketplace merchants—currently the Roxy movie theater, the Ski Rack and City Market. This program operating since 2000 has awarded $20,000 so far and has 120 regular participants. For those who go to work other than by solo driving, in a second reward approach, three names are drawn monthly for a gift certificate.

CATMA runs a traditional ride-match program, and in cases where matches cannot be found the search expands to include downtown State of Vermont employees. Private downtown employers also participate in the guaranteed ride home service including the Chittenden Bank and City of Burlington downtown district employees. Services to State downtown employees began about 2005. The downtown State employees also participate in the bike/walk program and receive carpool materials. The State provides vans plus financial support for employees who form a vanpool through a program operated through a private company. The Vermont Agency of Transportation operates this “Go Vermont” vanpool program.

Note that federal tax policy allows any employer to provide incentives to carshare, bike and use public transit, incentives similar to a health savings account. However, use of these tax incentives while common in large metropolitan areas remain a rarity in Vermont. The one group still discriminated against in these federal tax incentives? Any one who walks to work, the most healthful and least polluting form of commuting.

CATMA, the “biggest little agency in the Vermont transportation”, continues to improve and expand its services with efforts beginning shortly to work with more private and public employers to institute one or more elements of programming generally described as “commuter share”, the field of aiding employers and employees to reduce expensive and inefficient home to work trips, particularly the solo driving type.