COMMUNITY TRANSPORTATION AGE ARRIVAL…
TIME HAS COME FOR BIG INFRASTRUCTURE UPGRADE SPENDING ON TOWN AND URBAN CENTERS FOR WALKING AND BICYCLING—THE CHANGES WE HAVE BEEN WAITING FOR
It happened in Germany and the Netherlands near the end of the last century, and now it is time for Vermont to launch a major town and urban center infrastructure program with initial investments at the rate of $10-$20 million mostly from federal transportation funds, entirely allocated to the walking and bicycling modes.
A good start for walking and bicycling infrastructure spending would be an immediate infusion of $5 million this year with an invitation for submissions of proposals by towns and cities with basic cycle-track (a la Montreal), roundabouts, and other easily designed and built walking and bicycle facilities serving local residents along major streets and thoroughfares.
When starting their infrastructure programs Germany and the Netherlands already boasted the typical European modal share of bicycling and walking in the range of 25-35%, but still both invested heavily on big improved facilities for walking and bicycle travel. Meanwhile U.S. and Canadian modal share remain stuck to on average about 1% for bicycling and 10% for walking.
Two key factors demand the investment $10 million or so each year right now. Consider a typical highway expansion or bypass which today costs $15-$30 million. Several of these high expenditure highway projects are now in the State five-year construction program. So, a $10 million-a-year expenditure for walking and bicycling infrastructure program over and above the current bikepath program continues very affordable. The first factor favoring a new direction involves the very success of the bikepath program itself--the cycle of building bikepaths and basic sidewalks in most of Vermont’s downtowns and village centers has run it course since the landmark program began 1990-1991.
Second, more importantly, car travel plateaued and will likely decline this decade in much if not all of the state. Part of this phenomenon gets reflected in car travel growth sliding to a crawl 2000-2010. Remarkably in the workforce no increase occurred in car travel to work during this same period while a flood of over 9,000 workers, over two percent of the workforce, suddenly walked, biked, took public transit or worked at home. The end of car travel growth and workers abandoning the car as a way to work means the need suddenly exists to make downtowns and town centers quality place—and safe places--to walk and bicycle as is the case in our urban small town counterparts in Europe. Burlington’s Church Street Marketplace arose in great part as an inspiration from a similar effort in Copenhagen. Now, Vermont town and urban centers, again, need to replicate the infrastructure changes which sustained and expanded walking and bicycling in continental western Europe over the recent decades.
Regional planning agencies and key state agencies need to develop on a coordinated basis detailed plans for town and urban center cycle track and roundabout (and traffic calming elements also) which assure markedly improved and safer walkability and bikability for all ages. These planning efforts build on already existing basic walking and bicycling plans mostly done in the 1990s. Planning this time around not only looks at basic cycle tracks and roundabouts, but also the informal built up area “back” ways and creation of connections closed off in the past but with camera monitoring equipment can now be safely made available for walking and bicycling connections to and between the street and sidewalk networks. These investments surely will spur increases in walking and bicycling and insure either stable or declining car travel and congestion in all built up areas of the State.
Finally as Vermont surely will follow other states moving to broad base taxes and away from constantly declining revenues associated with car travel, a new stream of resources can fund walking, bicycle, passenger rail and public transit.
Now the modern age of community transportation begins: (1) first commuter and intercity rail passenger services along with local bus and other public transit; and (2) provision in our town centers and urban areas basic safe walking and bicycle infrastructure along streets and backways which enables a renaissance of walking and bicycling mode.