Sunday, January 27, 2013



The dramatic proposed income tax increase to deal in a revolutionary way with highway, passenger rail, MBTA service along with needed education investments in Massachusetts presents an interesting approach to solving Vermont’s dual fiscal problem: chronic transportation funding deterioration nearing bankruptcy, and a General Fund unable to cope with mostly human resource demands and upcoming Obamacare.

Governor Deval Patrick included expansion of rail passenger service into the western Berkshires, cut the sales tax by a penny, and increased income taxes mostly on a progressive basis—and raises $1.9 billion for needed transportation and education investment.  Revolutionary in terms of ending the highway—and particularly public transit and rail passenger--funding tied to the gas tax and related highway revenue sources.  Still, he set regular raises for all gas, fees highway taxes also as part of his package.

How does this relate to Vermont?  First, the rule of 10—Vermont has a tenth of the Massachusetts population, so ten percent of the Patrick $1.9 billion amounts to $190 million in Vermont.  Cut that arbitrarily to $150 million annually for our lower incomes and you still obtain a substantial amount of funding to solve immediate budget issues in transportation, education and other human services (transportation becomes more of a human service in the process) while providing for several new initiatives held back during the 2008-2012 period of austerity.  Add the challenge in the coming year to meet the needs of Obamacare.

To give a sense of what $150 million means in Vermont budgeting just consider that the patch for transportation funding—it is a patch not a long term solution—costs $36.5 million, the Burlington Free Press reports.  Meanwhile other issues—bringing Amtrak Ethan Allen service north from Rutland to Burlington, considering new commuter rail and intercity rail passenger services, and ending the funding penalty to regional public transit agencies—face an endless period of delay and while demands of workers, tourists, businesses and local transportation not only are shortchanged but the Vermont economy as a whole suffers.  For example, it is estimated that regular commuter rail service between Burlington and Montpelier State House would cost less than $5 million year, including paying for capital costs, with 80% of the cost federal funds and less than a $1 million in State match required.  Very little in additional funding, probably about $2 million, extends the Ethan Allen to Burlington, and, finally, the establishment of a statewide rail passenger network could begin phase by phase.  

Consider for a moment that Census shows Vermont added over 7,000 jobs between 2000 and the 2006-2010 period—but the increase in those riding in a car to work grew by barely 100—the equivalent of 99% of all new workers for the period walked, bicycled, bused or worked at home!  New travelers by car to work the new 1%!  That statistic represents change one can truly believe in, and transportation services must be expanded, particularly intercity and commuter rai, to meet the changed ransportation demands of today. 

Hopefully the Legislature and Governor Shumlin and other policy leaders will consider what Gov. Deval Patrick pioneers and use his blueprint to advantage Vermont and its citizens. 

Friday, January 25, 2013





….of over a 1,100 new workers each year 2000-2008 in Vermont, about 10 or less than 1% chose to ride in a car to work and rest--over 1,000--chose the bicycle, walking, public transit, a mode like the taxi or ferry, public transit, or worked at home

Census data shows only part of the change in Vermont worker journey-to-work during the first decade of the century.  The very user-friendly data available online provides national, state, county and city/town tables from the Census of 2000 and from new tabulations which average the data for the 2006-2010 period.  By providing a 2006-2010 period of data, it is fair to estimate the growth represented is 2000 to 2008—this analysis will use 2000 to 2008 as the comparison of data.

While the employed Vermont grew by 9,100 for the period less than 100 growth occurred in workers riding in a car to work, a growth rate of 0.0%. Still for 2008, 271,563 or 84.5% of Vermont workers traveled in a car to work, about one percent less than the national average. 

Meanwhile though the numbers and percents may be small, all other modes to work grew not only in raw numbers, but also in the share of the commuting populations.   Bicycling shows the greatest growth, 2,260 to 3,014 commuters, a 133% increase and a commuter share growth from 0.3% to 0.6%, to just above the national level of 0.5% with cold weather Vermont competing against lots a far warmer states. 

The largest growth in commuting from home comes from walking, a growth of 2,223 to 19,778 and mode share of 6.2% more than double the U.S. 2.8% figure.
All told then, walking to work—often termed the “active modes”—increased their share from 5.9% to 6.8% of all commuters and increased its lead over the U.S. share of 3.3%. 

Public transit recorded the second largest percent gain—72% in riders—to bicycling’s number one, 133%.  Public transit in Vermont trails the U.S. figure of 4.9% of workers using this mode between home and work.  During the 2000-2008 Vermont narrowed this gap a little as the public transit mode increased from 1,825 to 3,140, up 72%, in actual commuters, and increasing its Vermont commuting share from 0.6% to 1.0%.  

The largest growth in commuting behavior occurs in the work at home category which increased 3,774 to 6.7% of commuter share from 5.7%.  Finally, the “other” category which includes taxis, ferry and motorcycle commuting also increased significantly from 2,260 to 3,014, 33%, and commuter mode share increased from 0.7% to 0.9%.

                        Increase in Commuters by Mode Per Year 2000-2008

One way to describe the change occurring in modal choice by the commuter as “consumer” is to simply show the change in commuters per year per mode.  That breakdown from the above data follows for 2000-2008:

                        Change Per Year in Vermont Commuting by Mode 2000-2008

                                    Car                             10

                                    Public Transit           164

                                    Walking                     280

                                    Bicycling                    130

                                    Taxi, Ferry, etc.         94

                                    Work at home           472

                        Total increase in commuters each year 2000-2008    1,150

The next sections will consider Chittenden County commuter data, City of Burlington commuter data, and extrapolation of the 2000-2008 trend to 2010 and 2020.

Saturday, January 19, 2013



--a reality-based approach so car travel, public transportation by bus and rail, walking and bicycling become equal in the new world of transportation

In Part 1 of this blog, Gov. Deval Patrick’s finance and budget proposals outlined earlier this week actually dealt with traditional transportation funding sources in addition to the landmark income tax increase with a substantial amount of that increase ongoing for bridges, highways, rail passengers service and the MBTA.

The Globe on Friday reported the $1.9 billion increased taxes from an income tax increase and sales tax decrease would “stabilize” the MBTA, invest in education, and other areas of transportation as well as provide for “new and expanded” rail passenger services including areas in the state not now served, roads and bridges.

Then a series of changes in traditional transportation revenue sources were also addressed with the following increases: (1) indexing the 21 cent State gas tax to inflation which means for 2014 a 1 cent increase; (2)  MBTA/tunnel/bridge/turnpike fare increase automatically  5% every two years; and (3) registry fees increase automatically 10% every five years.

The Globe describes the overall initiative designed to “shore up and expand transportation systems and broad education program.”

The income tax side includes closing corporate tax reform by closing loopholes and increases the corporate tax rate.

To assure fairness to lower income groups who would be affected by regressive fare and registry increases, there is a doubling of the current $4,400 income exemption from the income tax to $8,800—this also benefits the incomes of the middle. 

With practically all states—Vermont include—and the federal government all struggling how to deal with a transportation system where all modes except the car mode recording regular increases with lots of double digit increase yearly while car travel declines in all age groups (particularly the under 30 crowd), Gov. Patrick becomes the first to recognize that this trend demands a news financing approach which draws heavily from general funds, not just solely motor vehicle-centered taxation which becomes a slowly declining resource for some time has been inadequate to serve legitimate public demands for infrastructure and operating support.

For Vermont, for example, there clearly exists a need to expand rail services, particularly commuter rail between Burlington and neighboring counties, and intercity rail, particularly to those areas without any service at all, Newport to White River Junction, Bennington to Rutland, Rutland to Burlington, and Bellows Falls to Rutland.

Finally, note the bulk of the household budget goes for housing, food, transportation and health care.  What the Gov. Patrick taxation measure recognizes for the first time is that—just as highway transportation has always been a public service to all—so too must be quality multi-modal public transportation services.  No longer can public transit be a niche in highway finance or a social benefit through a human agency program—public transportation becomes an equal, perhaps more than an equal, in providing support for the economy and life of a community by enabling workers to go form home to work, all citizens accessing the services and products they need in every day life, and undertaking recreation and leisure time activities.    

Friday, January 18, 2013




As Vermont transportation funding—even just matching a thin federal funding stream—reaches a crisis point the traditional approach of just increasing gas taxes, vehicle taxes and fees no longer addresses a changed marketplace. Governor Deval Patrick this week in a radical departure from the past points to a new path to fund highway, public transit and highway needs—he rejected a 19-cent gas tax increase and calls for transportation and other infrastructures needs funded by an income tax increase. 

Vermont faces two sharply divided trends--a slow but relentless decline in car travel and associated revenues and rapid increases in public transit and Amtrak growth plus demands for new Amtrak, commuter bus and commuter rail services.   Literally hundreds of Vermont workers abandon driving their cars each year for bus and other ways to get to work.  Now Link commuter buses started about a decade ago number 50 from Montpelier, St. Albans and Middlebury to Burlington carrying nearing 500 commuters each workday.

Let’s separate the funding of highway and transit/Amtrak since each area—one in slow decline and the other growing like topsy—require different treatment.  Before raising more highway revenues the Legislature needs to find out who wears out the roads, who is responsible for costs—cars and various truck types.  Armed with that information, revenues can be increased or decreased fairly for all highway users.  How to downsize the highway system and its costs needs to be looked at—not just revenue increases.

Meanwhile, transit and rail passenger services really are regional and statewide services and deserve needed additional resources to accommodate the shift of “business” there from the car and highway set.  The Legislature needs to focus on the transportation “customer”, how to serve those customers needs (particularly those traveling to and from work).  And the Legislature needs to look at transportation as a “market” just highways with transit, bicycle, walker, and rail transportation afterthoughts.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013



The outline for a Burlington (VT) Light Rail Line, the "Gopher", stemmed from a suggestion that the 1.5 mile corridor from the bustling and planned major development up two levels to the Church Street Marketplace and then clearly the two largest institutions--University of Vermont (UVM) and Fletcher Allen Health Center (FAHC)--overlooking the City continue to be best served by a pedestrian bus service.  The suggestion asserted that a light rail line alternative, a Gopher if you will, just could not be done because of the expense.....

Is light rail too expensive from the Waterfront to UVM/FAHC?  Is the money available, can it be available?  Good questions.  Yes, buses can be electric—Toronto has some nice ones.  Still, a bus is a bus—inferior to the performance and attractiveness to the customer.

Let’s look further into the cost, availability of funds, etc.
Regarding population, I am not a believer in the “Population Growth Elf” or the “Traffic Growth Elf” for Burlington or the County for that matter—population growth will continue to be mostly oldsters and continued immigration, much of it from distant points--not even global warming likely changes this for some decades.

Vermonters always show a certain sense of what their State and communities need for now and the future.  For the now past auto age, Vermonters, perhaps seeing the car was not the inevitable future, rejected in a statewide vote the rooftop highway during the depression.  It represented one prescient choice—the Green Mountain Parkway, which really could have literally divided the State east and west along the Route 100 corridor, bit the dust. (One casualty of that project was its inclusion in the plan of an equestrian trail in the highway right of way.)  Obviously the rooftop highway was affordable since it was funded wholly with federal funds.  What a gift!  (We may say the same for certain sections of the interstate system in the not too distant future.)  The Green Mountain Parkway idea would generate gales of laughter today—as would recently the Circumferential Highway, the “Circ”, does some sixty years later (well laughter from Burlingtonians at least).

The Champlain Parkway project now shows the same shagginess as the Circ—the original now “Parkwayette” $37 million project construction now devolves down to about $25-$30 million with the City policy now to “finish” the unaddressed connection from Pine to Battery with some sensible and simple street segments.  Even the fate of the original downsized “Parkwayette” from the end of Pine to Lakeshore Drive remains murky—note the 29% decline in traffic on Pine Street since 1989 in the vicinity of the old Vermont Transit terminal (and still declining like practically all streets feeding the Burlington downtown from the outside, the Traffic Growth Elf not to be seen at work here)!

Given those numbers as a background, consider that each year Chittenden County gets a quarter of the new federal highway largess of over $200 million to fund various highway, walk and bike projects, and transit.  Amtrak right now is funded only with State dollars.  The Chittenden boodle is about $50 million new money each year—a third of those funds, say $15 million a year could be used for capital and operating funds for transit projects with up to 80% federal-20% state/local match.  We get $50 million a year, a half billion dollars a decade to dole out for various purposes in transportation.  The region even dumped about the equivalent of one year of apportionments into the ill-fated planning and design of the abandoned Circ.  Vermont Digger cites the figure of $40 million in planning funds devoted to that expired effort. 

In regard to a two-track roughly 1.5 light rail line from the waterfront/Union Station to UVM/FAHC via the Marketplace using a modern trolley car like those in Toronto or the San Francisco Muni line.  Assume operating every day about the same hours as bus routes with 10-minute peak hour headways (requires three trolley units and one spare).  The yearly operating costs likely equal or slightly below those buses.  Light rail cars clearly provide a larger, more comfortable, higher bike loading capacity than a bus.  So regarding cost, there are two key cost elements really, the initial capital cost of the line and the transit vehicles.  (Of course trolleys can operate in multiple units—some yet to be accomplished using buses.)  The transit vehicles have a lifespan of 30-40 years, really endless based on the demand on ancient trolleys operating on the Market Street line to Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco.  Let’s sort of admit these cost more than buses but because they draw more riders than buses, the cost per rider (support) evens out or even bends to the trolley side.

So, it all comes down to the capital costs and how to finance them.  The two studies in the 1990s looked at longer routes, to Winooski, South Burlington and the airport.   The “Trunk” section in the 1999 was the segment from the waterfront to UVM/FAHC via the Marketplace (College or Main were the options). If one takes the “Trunk” cost from the 1999 study, the capital cost for the track, catenary, etc. amounts to—and the figure seems scary--$60 million with adjustment for inflation.  These estimates need to be revisited but so would the route of light rail in view of the new plan being developed for the waterfront.  But spread over 25 years (like bonding for an new highway or passenger rail project) amounts to about $3 million a year.  The cost for two Amtrak trains this year $4.5 state dollars serving less than 100,000 passengers, far fewer than the current College Street shuttle operating 200 days a year and far below a 365 day light rail service.

Not all is lost here, one can apply for a separate capital grant and operating funds with an 80 federal-20 state split of the capital cost (say $3 million annually) and the operating cost of about $1.5 million—the shuttle would be free as it is now.  That funding would not come from the annual Chittenden County apportionments of federal funds.  Second, you could use some of that apportionment to Chittenden to fund either capital and/or operating costs.  Finally—and this is important—what do you think will happened to property values along the waterfront and Lake Street with a full time light rail service available making it a ten minute ride to the Marketplace, Library, Roxy, City Market—and five minutes further to UVM, the Health Center, and FAHC?  And what will be the reasonable amount of tax revenues from the presence of this light rail service—certainly a portion of the “trolley tax yield” fairly goes to the operation and capital accounts of light rail.  Can a bus do that?

Consider the other benefits of light rail.  For the driver-operators, the task is far easier—no steering wheel, rapid acceleration and stopping compared to vehicles with rubber tires—overall far less stress and strain.  For riders no more listening to the noise of engines straining up the grades.  And all those bicycles we can entrain!   If you want to experience some waste of light rail investment in terms of passenger usage, take a ride on some of the lines in Sacramento or San Jose—the Burlington Gopher will surely outshine them just about anytime.

Let’s get a light rail “re-plan” going and apply for the funds, get support from the Metro towns, etc.  Seems cheap to me….

Wednesday, January 9, 2013



With Burlington area employers led by the “troika”, University of Vermont, Fletcher Allen Health Care and Champlain College--now encourage employees to abandon solo driving and, preferably, take the bus, walk, rideshare, and bicycle to work perhaps the cost of a parking space comes into play.

Solo drive commuting still ranges 80-90 percent in much of urban Vermont which means for each solo driver there must be a place to park at the workplace.  A surface parking place may cost as little as $3 a day while a parking garage space at $30,000-$40,000 to build each nudge into double digit dollars territory per workday,  and underground parking costs really are out of sight.   About a quarter million of the 340,000 Vermont workforce still solo drive to work.  The Burlington troika through incentives including reduced or no-cost bus support have cut solo driving down to about half their workforce and used incentives to reduce students bringing cars to campus or using them very much when they do.

The daily cost of $3—including maintenance, taxes, construction and debt service—still amounts to 10 cents a mile employer support in the form of a “free” surface parking space for the average Vermont commuter’s one way commute of 15 miles.  For the 40 mile one-way commute, the surface space translates to 3.8 cents a mile. 

From the cost of driving standpoint, taking public transportation rather than a car amounts to even far larger numbers.  The yardstick for operating a car is the yearly federal reimbursement rate for personal use of a car—for 2013 it is 55.5 cents a mile.  So, a commute in Vermont—15 miles one way—costs $16.65 a day or $3,330 a year for the typical 200 workdays which take into consideration leave time, vacation, etc.  By providing encouragement a worker to get to work other than solo driving helps that worker save up to $3,330 a year.  The 40 mile one way commute cost?  $44.40 a day, $8,880 yearly.  The cost of the 40 mile Montpelier-Burlington Link commuter bus service per day?  $8.00.  Per year? $1,600.  Or to put it another way, a Montpelier-Burlington commuter can reduce commuting costs by over $7,000 a year through riding the Link commuter bus.  And, the worker’s employer saves another $600 through avoiding the cost of a dedicated surface parking space for that employee 

It is clear why employers and employees share a common interest in getting to work by finding a way to work other than solo driving, once the accepted norm in the now all but forgotten “Chevrolet age.”

NOTE:  This analysis does not even address the resource savings (energy, land, etc.) , increased safety as public transit is safer than driving, reduction in congestion costs, etc--all with substantial gains with solo commute abandonment.

Saturday, January 5, 2013



            No roundabouts--no safe urban walking 

After observing early planning for “improvements” to intersections on South Burlington’s Shelburne Road and Burlington’s Colchester Ave./Prospect St./Pearl St. one gets a clear view that walkers receive no safety boost and walker fatalities and serious injuries will continue unabated.

The intersections studied in a preliminary fashion over the past few months appear headed for new traffic signals which tend to orchestrate injuries and fatalities, not mostly end them.  Modern roundabouts, that new technology employing stone-age materials, cuts all fatalities and serious injuries by about 90% with single lane roundabout on average cut walker injuries by about 90%.  From another standpoint, any intersection but a roundabout or strong traffic calming generates serious injuries and fatalities overall by an average of 900%.

In regard to Shelburne Road, a Price Chopper employee on her way home died in a walker crash at the Burlington signal intersection with Home Avenue adjacent to the South Burlington border.  The long term plan calls would require two lane roundabouts which the South Burlington consultant rejected as they would require expensive right of way—and the consultant asserted he was not sure about two lane roundabouts and walker safety.  No walker has yet died in the U.S. and Canada after about 12,000 to 14,000 “roundabout years”, duplicating the experience in France with their over 30,000 roundabouts where about one walker fatality is recorded per 15,000 roundabouts each—about a quarter of U.S. and French roundabouts are multi-lane.

The numbers at Colchester Ave./Pearl St./Prospect St.(north and south) include in a five year period two walker crashes and three bicycle crashes.   The intersection boasts one of the highest crash rates in the State.   Without any serious consideration, it appears a roundabout will not even get analyzed for placement at this intersection even though a serious injury was recorded last year at Union St. and Pearl St. and Sam Lapointe received fatal injuries at Colchester Avenue and Barrett Streets. 

A recent AAA study proved highway injuries and fatalities a higher cost to metro areas than congestion and in the case of large metros the differential is more than two to one.  AAA suggests a White House conference on safety and adoption there of a “zero fatality rate” goal for the nation.   For walkers—and they must get prime consideration in any urban area in terms of service and safety—the sidewalk network provides a high level of safety along street segments but only a roundabout or strong traffic calming (like the Church Street Marketplace intersections, for example) provides safety and comfort for crossings. 

Even the Vermont Strategic Highway Safety Plan contains only one infrastructure investment among seven safety initiatives to improve safety: roundabouts at intersections. 

Then what to do in the case of Shelburne Road and the Burlington Road intersections?  The first requirement in both cases must be evaluation of feasible roundabout designs as part of any scoping study.  Since a fatality cost gets a Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) social cost value of $6.1 million (1999 dollars), right of way and related costs may well come in quite high—but so does the cost of a life (FHWA uses a figure of $126,000 for an injury).  So far, no recognized roundabout design firms or designer has been involved in either of the cities studies even though most of the handful of pioneering roundabout practitioners since the era began in North America in 1991 have undertaken one or more tasks in Vermont, such as workshops and training, feasibility studies, and actual design or design assistance one or more  of the nine roundabouts now in place here. 

Note that with two states and two Canadian province transportation departments (including New York) adopted the roundabout the standard intersection treatment, and Vermont’s first in the nation requires that roundabouts be considered at dangerous intersections.  Governor Peter Shumlin in 2002 entered the historic first language in the transportation bill.  The recognition of roundabouts value over signals has been affirmed by adopted laws, policies, and practice not just through research.

In the case of the intersection at the corner of the UVM green, a roundabout which promises to reduce walker injury substantially (as well as car occupants) and afford a modest increase in bicyclist safety may not provide all desirable left hand movements offered by a signal—something that can only be determined by scoping.  A mini roundabout can also be considered.  But, if our first concern is safety at intersections a honest analysis by a competent roundabout design team needs to take place at the scoping level.  Then—and only then—can any citizen process, armed with the complete information, make a truly informed decision on what path to proceed to improve the safety and service at the Colchester Ave./Pearl St./Prospect St. intersection.  Ditto for Shelburne Road and other intersections to be evaluated in the future.

Consultants rejected a roundabout from further consideration at the Burlington intersection because of an “unacceptable footprint.”   Interestingly, there exists plenty of right-of-way at the two intersections along Colchester Avenue, Fletcher Allen Health Care entrance and then East Avenue.  A final aside, while a list of Vermont roundabouts I have maintained has included the traffic circle in Winooski, I am now delisting it.  Normal practice calls for a two lane roundabout to be no more than 180 feet in it largest diameter versus the roughly 500 feet, top to bottom, of Winooski “circle.”  Again, the Winooski design never received analysis and scoping involving a competent, experienced roundabout designer.