Sunday, November 25, 2012


 My interest in public transport goes back some time, probably inspired like many by Jane Jacobs in "Life and Death of Great American Cities" as part of a master's program slanted to the degree possible toward urban policy, housing, transportation and planning.  For about a decade or so, carried around an economic study by a Bowdoin economist William Shipman who I respected which laid public transport in the foreign land of "public subsidy", that is,  something not worthy of serious consideration because it could ever stand on its own two feet economically.   Only after getting involved in State transportation policy in the 1980s did the epiphany occur that the biggest "subsidy", that foreign idea, was actually going to the family car and the solo driver.  

One example, FHWA's Highway Statistics series published each year shows an astounding amount of capital investment in highways each year--about 40% and growing--comes from non-highway user revenues, mostly in the form of local property taxes and general funds (particularly tax exempt bonding which carries a stiff tax expenditure price).

Remember, starting with the Reagan Administration, no highway bill proposing tax increases in the gas tax passes the Congress without the support of those who support public transportation, and in spite of decades of effort by one party to abolish Amtrak it just finished its 42nd year with two consecutive years of record setting passenger numbers.   While the walker/bicycle interests spearhead the conversion of urban streets to users other than solely for the automobile, and local transit agencies in Vermont through perseverance and careful exploration of new areas (like the Link commuter buses into Burlington), two major laggards remain, mostly because of the contortions of both states and Congressional constraints: intercity and commuter rail, and urban light rail. 

For Vermont this means moving quickly to install commuter rail services along three corridors into Burlington which can now be justified from a number of viewpoints, and reviving the carefully planned light rail service from the Burlington waterfront and Union Station to the Church Street Marketplace and then onto UVM and Fletcher Allen Health Care.

Have always viewed public transport is a form of social justice, but as important it can now be viewed as a necessary cement to the economic viability of urban areas and absolutely essential force for a sustainable society.  This view coincides with our current view of walking and bicycling in urban America as also symbolizing these same values related to a viable economy and a sustainable society.

Consider that with a limited "subsidy" Link commuter buses to Burlington provide a dependable service for about 10 cents a mile versus 51 cents a mile (federal reimbursement rate for a government worker using a personal car) for a solo driver.  So a Montpelier commute each day, 80 miles round trip costs $8 a day by Link and $40 by solo drive.  Anyone who does a monthly household budget can quickly calculate what this does to the monthly and annual family budget.  And employers are quickly picking up on how important shifting employees from expensive solo commuting to public transport means a more stable workforce, a happier more efficient workforce, all of which contributes in a measurable way the bottom line.  

So, suddenly public transport now appears to be gaining a new connotation--transportation for the middle class!


Wednesday, November 21, 2012


A new study on walkers and bicyclists at roundabouts by the Minnesota Department of Transportation received some attention this week on the roundabout listserv hosted by Kansas State University.

(The study summary and access address to the study itself can be found at:

One of the most interesting aspects of the study was the walker delay.  A comparable traffic signal delay to the two roundabouts the authors stated would be 30 seconds while at the two lane roundabout the delay was 9 seconds and at the single lane roundabout 2 seconds.  The one lane roundabout was described as being in a "residential" area with 83 percent of drivers yielding to walkers.  The two-lane roundabout was described as being in a "suburban" area and 45 percent of drivers yielded to walkers.

My comment on the listserv to the study sent today was:

Not sure there are surprises here. What we know about walker--and bicyclist safety for that matter with no walkers and one bicyclist  fatality at a partially roundaboutized Los Altimatos Circle--is that the US/Canada roundies with all their early variations from current practice appear to be hitting the mark set by France with a walker fatality every 15,000 or so roundabout years.

This record so far surpasses signed/traffic signal performance that little regard (Lost Altimatos, again, a good example) can be given to safety at most existing roundabouts, rather it is more important to get more on the ground and access the 30% or so extra reduction in walker crash rates which come in all roundabouts once a certain (unknown) density of roundies occurs.  Of course, again, no one in the world has taken the effort to identify the crash reduction by mode out at incremental distances to a quarter mile from the center of roundabouts, i.e., the point where the traffic calming effect ends. 

The basic rules of roundabout design continue to apply for walkers and bicyclists--the smaller the roundabout the lower the speeds, the safer for non-motorized users. Wallwork ramps at entry/exits [for bicyclists to exit/enter rather than continuing through on the circular roadway.]x
Regarding yielding rates which clearly make little difference in  roundabout safety--roundabouts are by definition safe for walkers and bicyclists versus alternatives--regardless of yielding rates, just look at the overall safety record. 

My view on those persons with severe visual handicap continues that current street designs for them except in two cases remain unsafe at any speed--roundabouts or no but certainly for signs and signals.  (Remember US fatality rates for walkers and bicyclists are a few hundred percent higher than in urban Germany and the Netherlands--see Jean Pucher study on this).  Those with severe visual handicap can only be provided access in two cases:  (1) shared space and (2) use of a combination of traffic calming techniques (usually with roundabouts) reducing vehicle speeds to about 10 mph and below.  Incidentally, James Kunstler pointed to only three street malls in the U.S.--Burlington, VT Church Street Marketplace (where I am right now), Pearl Street Mall in Boulder and Santa Monica.  One of the first, Sparks Street in Ottawa still struggles, in my view because the lack of sufficient nearby parking and residential housing.

Thursday, November 8, 2012


A Seven Days article regarding the desire of merchants adjacent to the Church Street Marketplace evoked my letter below referencing my long held belief that converting adjacent space along cross streets outward from the edge of the Marketplace a great deal of sense--"shared space" with a mix of vehicles and walkers can easily be installed with benefits for all.   The Marketplace businesses themselves are understandably cool to this idea because the side street merchants are not included in the special tax district which funds various activities on the Marketplace.  My suggestion is to seek a middle ground on the issue and move forward with "shared space" where appropriate.  This letter was not published by Seven Days:

Agree with side street merchants push for an enhanced connection from the Marketplace onto College, Bank and Cherry Streets as a natural step economically beneficial to all. This "pushout" approach particularly makes sense on Cherry where constant bus runs flows end with the new transit center. I made a strong comment on the PlanBTV that the “shared space” where vehicles and walkers mix comfortably at Marketplace street crossings can be carefully expanded east and west with similar paving and side area treatments. (Check out “shared space” through a google.) This works for traffic and enhances the fronting businesses. Yes, this will increase economic vitality of side areas but the presence of slow though yielding vehicle traffic means less realistically per square foot sales potential than similar stores on the Marketplace proper. The Marketplace needs to recognize side street businesses cannot be expected to pay the same rate of support they are required to do. A compromise figure can certainly be found. This becomes win-win as the Marketplace overall becomes more attractive to shoppers with enhanced side areas leading into the original--still remarkable after all these years--Marketplace areas.