Friday, May 24, 2013


Apparently lots of the greater Burlington region commuters take to the Link buses which for a typical commuter between Montpelier and Burlington can increase the household dollars available—after taxes—by upwards of $7,000 yearly.
With just a month to go in the operational year of the Link buses between Burlington and the outlying connections—Middlebury Milton, Montpelier and St. Albans—ridership sets a new record, about 200,000 for the year and a growth of over 11% after a 14% increase last year.  From another standpoint about 440 workers now make their way back and forth to work on one of the 50 Link buses.  At the current growth rate that number will increase to about 500 this time next year, a number approaching 2% of all workers who cross the Burlington border to their jobs each weekday.
Pretty good growth numbers considering little change in the employment numbers statewide, a decline in car travel 2010-2011, and a state population increase Census estimates at 11 persons a month since the 2010 official counts.
Some of the growth of the decade-old Link services operated mostly by the Chittenden County Transportation Authority (CCTA) occurred as the result of active programs to reduce solo driving, particularly by three of the largest employers in Burlington, the “troika” of Champlain College, Fletcher Allen Health Care (FAHC) and the University of Vermont  (UVM).  The “troika” works through their joint small entity, the Campus Area Transportation Management Association (CATMA) which undertakes a number of initiatives aimed at encouraging and rewarding their 10,000 employees and 16,000 students to switch from solo driving to car share, walking, bicycling and taking public transit.  Discount or free transit, for example, is offered students and workers by CATMA, including Link bus services.  And, the numbers taking Link and other transit services reflects the CATMA efforts to reduce solo driving which is called in transportation language the realm of “demand management.”  The goals of demand management may vary, but the central mission in demand management is to reduce the use of certain transportation facilities so as to avoid expensive capital expenditures to increase capacity—assuming increasing capacity is even possible in a given situation (consider the cost, for example, of widening Main Street in downtown Brattleboro or Bennington).
The future looks bright for “demand management” as increasingly young driving age population aged 15-30 no longer even have a driver license and efforts in the demand management remain in the early stages of development.  CATMA is beginning to work with the State’s largest public employer, IBM in Essex, for example.  Further, the largest State employer, the State of Vermont itself, until now stayed on the sidelines in providing support or alternatives to solo commuting.  But a sudden scarcity of parking in Montpelier caused by relocation of workers after loss of State facilities from the storm Irene in the fall of 2011 resulted just recently in starting demand management on the part of the State.  A few dollars a month cost to the State to convince an employee to drop solo commuting pales by comparison to the $600 for a ground level parking space per year and up to $30,000 to $40,000 per space capital cost in a parking garage. 
Meanwhile, CCTA this year added larger buses to handle the highest ridership Link between Burlington and Montpelier—also growing at the highest rate of 13% since last year.  Finally, the growth of Link services and demand management programs confirm the findings in a recent study touting the potential for commuter rail services along the corridors from Burlington to Middlebury, Montpelier and St. Albans. 

Thursday, May 23, 2013


The Boston Globe editorial dated May 22 calls for bicycle infrastructure in the words of the last paragraph:

"Cyclists are correct, though, that many accidents can be prevented with better infrastructure. The city should hasten efforts to build bicycle tracks [cycle track] that completely separate drivers and cyclists."

The editorial strangely does not address intersection safety where a fatality of a MIT scientist occurred Sunday.  Roundabouts in a Dutch study were found in general reduce cyclist injuries by more than half and a separate pathway around a roundabout (parallel or as part of the walker sidewalk and crossings) virtually eliminate bicycle injuries. Burlington area bicyclist fatalities included two, one each at a Burlington and Charlotte intersection.

Tbe Globe Editorial follows on the heels of a major bicycle safety report from the Office of the Mayor in response to a rising number of bicycle injuries and fatalities at the same time bicycle use and encouragement of its use--including the surprisingly shared bike program "Hubway" of the last few years.

The reprort can be accessed at this site:

Wednesday, May 15, 2013




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.



“All revenue…from registration fees, operators’ licenses, gasoline road tolls or any other special charges or taxes with respect to the operation of motor vehicles or the sale or consumption of motor vehicle fuels shall be appropriated and used exclusively for the construction, reconstruction and maintenance of public highways within this state…and no part of such revenues shall, by transfer of funds or otherwise, be diverted to any other purpose...
New Hampshire Constitution, Part Second—Form of Government Article 6-a    Adopted November 1938

The meager and often low quality United States public transportation systems clearly come to mind when traveling not just in modern European nations or Japan but also when finding outstanding services available in Southeast Asia nations ranging from Korea and Taiwan to Singapore. 

While some cite the United States love of the car--and clearly that accounts for part of the scanty Amtrak network and less than two dozen commuter rail systems nationwide--the fact of 30 state constitutions and other law prohibitions on the use of gasoline and car taxation for anything but highway purposes stands alone as the leading cause.  Most highway oriented segregation of taxation occurred during the 1930s when states got into the highway building business as a means of improving their economies and when few states had sizeable tax sources so familiar today, for examples, general income and sales taxes.  Further, the federal highway programs and policies begun with the Federal Highway Act of 1914 and its successors required states possess administrative capacity to carry out federal highway initiatives and receive federal funding.

Now, however, the landscape in transportation moves through a period of historic change including the first substantial plateau in car travel with several states to record declines this decade, the first occurrence ever.  Meanwhile unprecedented growth in all other mode—walking and bicycling, bus, and rail passenger--experience growth levels not seen since the car came into use a century ago. At the same time efforts to address climate change, achieve economic competitiveness, address health, and conserve petroleum resources all combine to reverse decades of urban sprawl, create increased use of all modes except the auto mode as well as an obvious need to address substantial expenditures for modern infrastructure for he suddenly burgeoning transportation modes.   Meanwhile Americans learn, often for the first time, the value of public transportation and the varying quality of those services.

While the federal sharing of gas taxes to transit and all other modes began in 1982
New Hampshire reflects all the negative elements of the constitutional restriction of use of highway oriented fees and taxes.  The State now enjoys two passenger rail trains with stations in the State receiving tens of millions of dollars of support from federal and neighboring states funds--but no support from New Hampshire coffers.  The economic revival of former manufacturing community, Dover, is credited in great part to the now ten ear old successful Downeaster train service paid for mostly by Maine.  When a route-long celebration occurred with the extension of the Boston to Portland Downeaster to Brunswick all three New Hampshire stops (Dover, Durham and Exeter) hosted festive events at the celebratory trains made its progress stop after stop towards the new Maine stations at Freeport and Brunswick. 

When it comes to bus service the two top ridership systems in a state with three major metro areas are the low population Lebanon-Hanover service, second, and the highest ridership bus service, the UNH Durham campus.  The total Lebanon-Hanover service is dwarfed by commuter bus “Link” services to four locations outside Burlington, VT or even one free shuttle operated in Burlington linking the waterfront to its Church Street Marketplace, University of Vermont and Fletcher Allen Health Care.

A look at public transit, walking and bicycling journey-to-work shows New Hampshire trailing the most rural state, Vermont, and U.S. averages by a wide margin except for walking to work where New Hampshire trails Vermont but leads the U.S. average:

 Journey to Work Modal Share           New Hampshire   US        Vermont

Motor vehicle                                                            89.5                   86.1             84.5

Public transit                                                            0.3                     5.0              1.1

Walk                                                               3.1                     2.8              6.0

Bicycle                                                           0.3                     0.6              0.7    

       Source:  American Community Survey        

We also know the transportation consumer has radically changed.  Younger driving populations licensing is ten percent below the figure of the mid-1990s.  Employers who must spend a minimum of about $600 a year to provide an employee parking space now increasingly participate in incentive programs for workers to quit solo driving—and workers are responding in sizeable numbers.   During the 2000-2010 commuter buses and employer programs factored into about 900 Vermont workers a year choosing not to ride in a car to work.  During that period while total Vermonter with jobs increased 9,000 no increase in car travel to work occurred. 

Finally, the car has enjoyed tremendous private and public subsidy—for example, about 40% of all highway infrastructure  comes from non-user sources, primarily in the form of property taxes which support local street networks.  Air pollution costs, employer parking and retail parking support represent other major subsidies to the car. 

New Hampshire faces difficult funding choices for a transportation system moving quickly from car travel to other modes—and fairness alone requires public support of the more sustainable forms of travel, read just about any mode but the car and air travel. 
Waiting for constitutional change in New Hampshire may take some time as two-thirds approval is required and pro-motor vehicle interests remain substantial.

New Hampshire can look to the first two states to recognize the changed demands for state transportation finance—Virginia and Massachusetts.  Virginia abolished the gas tax in February and now funds all transportation from an across –the-board dedicated sales tax of 0.8 percent.  Massachusetts stretched traditional car oriented taxes and now is on the cusp of using income taxes to support operation and expansion needs of all transportation modes.  New Hampshire, long a no-broad base tax haven, must seek innovative ways to support non-car modes.  One avenue might be to shift all municipal road program expenses to motor vehicles through vehicle sales taxes, increased gas taxes and increased sales taxes on car accessories.  This “car property tax shift” would allow imposition of a statewide property tax which would then be available for other modal support, particularly public transit, that is, regional bus and rail networks and intercity rail, like the Downeaster.  This is just one example of tax innovation—the point remains that finding a tax source does not prevent addressing the need for the State to quickly address a long festering and deepening need to provide support for non-car transportation modes. 

In a general sense, any state with restrictions on use of car-oriented revenues—and three of five states do—must address how to fairly fund other modes with rail and bicycle/walking infrastructure and all public transit requiring a proportional support endemic in the car mode.