The comments before City Council react to the lack of vision which recognizes the expanding role in urban America and Burlington of public transit (including light rail, commuter rail and Amtrak service) along with the necessary new walking and bicycling infrastructure--protected cycle lanes (cycle track) and roundabouts.
Simply, shoppers, visitors and local citizens going about their daily trips increasingly will travel in modes other than the car. Car trips already plateaued about 2000 in New England and already an increasing proportion of travel is non-car based. The comments below reflect this new reality and the need to revise transportation investments to meet this change, change fostered by a number of forces ranging from pressures on resource consumption, stagnant household incomes, economic competition, global warming and the like.
COMMENTS BEFORE THE BURLINGTON CITY COUNCIL JUNE 3, 2013
REGARDING BURLINGTON PlanBTV
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Final Draft of the PlanBTV aimed at guiding the development of the Burlington downtown and waterfront areas. This more than year-long process represents my first participation in policy development as a Burlington citizen.
The comments here relate primarily to the transportation sections of which contain serious shortcomings and some clearly misleading. Most important the transportation elements fail in the mission of any--providing a rational guide to the downtown and waterfront development. Most of my comments relate to the inadequate walking and bicycling content.
My suggestion is that instead of adopting the Plan BTV as is, that at least the Transportation section, particularly the walking and bicycling material, be re-worked with the cooperation and participation of the Burlington Walk Bike Council (BWBC). I am sure you would be surprised as councilors to learn that neither the Steering Committee nor the full BWBC meetings (two total monthly included a minute of discussion regarding the PlanBTV materials much less even receiving at any time the three or four pages of draft and then revised PlanBTV material on walking and bicycling. As a Steering Committee member, perhaps you can understand my submission of these comments following reviewing the draft document in the last few days.
Let me emphasize the fact of rapid change in the marketplace in all modal travel—bus, rail, auto, walking and bicycling. For example, already the statistic from a year ago of 62% of traveling to work by car in Burlington drops to 54% in the latest Census information—car travel to work surely will continue to move downward and drop below 50% in the near future. All major roadways accessing the downtown and Marketplace in Burlington show substantial and continuing decreases in numbers since peaking about 1990. Traffic numbers decline on major streets—Main, Pearl, the Northern Connector, Shelburne, Pine and Northern Avenue—range from 8 to 28 (Pine Street) percent over the past two decades.
As representatives a ward, one way to think of change is to consider home to work trips each year since 2000--about ten of your constituents switch from car travel to work to another mode every year—bus, walk, bicycle or work at home. In Vermont car travel to work dropped 3% in the last decade with an estimated 9,000 workers during the period choosing something other than car travel—and the number of car travelers at the end of the decade unchanged from 2000.
But the PlanBTV language concludes: “Shoppers and visitors coming to downtown from afar will likely continue to get here by car.” Basically we need to recognize that shoppers and visitors increasingly will come by modes other than the car. Extension of Amtrak service to Union Station is less than three years away, seasonally the Champlain Ferry brings thousands to the waterfront, and commuter rail and even light rail from the waterfront via the Marketplace to UVM and Fletcher Allen Health Care are very likely within a few years. Finally, PlanBTV cites “convenience” as key to choice of travel—I would suggest that those who quit their cars in droves for the CCTA Link service to Montpelier recognize the up to $7,000 annual after tax saving in their household budget—and that saving is after paying the daily $8 roundtrip daily fare. Simply, just about any ground mode of transportation is less costly than the private auto.
Note extensive comments I made orally and in written form earlier in this process were almost entirely excluded in any subsequent plan drafts.
Before specific objections
Here are some other specific comments:
1. In the section “crossing to the other side”: This section fails to mention the only proven method of moving walkers through intersections quickly, safely and comfortably—the modern roundabout. For some reason City and Regional planners totally fail to recognize the pre-eminence that the Federal Highway Administration places on the use of roundabouts for walker and all other modes safety—or the fact that three states and two Canadian provinces now make the roundabout the default choice for intersections. Note to date not a single walker fatal has occurred in almost 15,000 roundabout years in the U.S. and Canada.
2. In the section “1. Bikeways”: This section claims, falsely: “Recent studies have shown the dedicated bike lane can reduce injury for bikers by 90%. “ I must say that this can only be described as untrue based on research and even advisories of the organization sponsored by U.S. DOT note this, Bicyclinginfo.org (http://www.bicyclinginfo.org/faqs/answer.cfm?id=971 )
Key here is that a bicycle lane and a protected bicycle lane or cycle track are two totally different treatments—lanes are not particularly safe and cannot be used by all ages or those of all skill levels. Cycle tracks when connected to proper intersection treatments provide both mobility and safety for all bicyclists. (my blog posting over the weekend center on this very subject ( see TonyRVT.blospot.com )
Basic bike lanes do not necessarily result in increased safety and certainly do not serve all users (I avoid them except during low traffic periods). Protected bike lanes, also called cycle track—which I endorse—still have yet to be completely accepted by all elements of the bicycle community. My blog addresses this overall issue and how truly “complete streets” means cycle track along segments and roundabouts with bicycle pathing at intersections presents the best infrastructure affording mobility and safety for users of all ages and skills.
3. In the section “ 2 Intersection treatments”: This section does not mention roundabouts and the importance of separate bicycle pathways at a roundabout or other types of bicycling treatment where separate bicycle and walker pathways cannot be provided. With the new Shelburne Street roundabout coming on line in a year or so, this is not an academic concern. (Note with a few exceptions most of Burlington arterial streets can be served by single lane roundabouts which do [see Netherlands 1994 research by Schoon and van Minnen] reduce walker injuries by about 90% and bicycle injuries by 60% or more).
4. In section “Bike Culture”: A general comment here. Bicycling and walking in the United States experience crash rates are several times higher than in the Netherlands and Germany per mile of travel (John Pucher and Lewis Dijkstra). We need in Burlington substantial—tens of millions—in investments in walking and bicycling infrastructure (mostly cycle track/separate bicycle pathways and roundabouts) as a pre-condition to encouraging and achieveving high levels of walking and, particularly, bicycling. We need to be careful not to put the cart before the horse.
5. In the section “Cycle track”: Again, the claim cycle track reduces bicycle injuries “90%” does not find confirmation in research. Indicator research—cycle track versus riding on normal roadway—done in Montreal found significant decrease in injuries but statistically complete research remains to be done. I strongly support cycle track as the basic infrastructure to provide a safe level for bicycling for all users—but am not ready to quantify in the absence of data the reduction attained over lanes/no lanes. My current position is that only protected bicycle lanes, cycle track, need be installed and where possible matched with roundabout treatments at intersections.
6. In the section “Transit ties it altogether”: This section needs to be totally redone since, as a practical matter, car traffic entering declines—and this includes vacation and visitor travel. Transit includes the Amtrak service set for 2017. Transit includes high capacity commuter rail service which can literally deliver thousands of visitors and hour to the waterfront. Transit includes high capacity light rail which along with commuter rail was studied extensively in Burlington in the 1990s—those plans need to be re-examined and referenced in PlanBTV. The transit section (including Champlain Ferry as an integral part) really keys the future success of both the waterfront and the Marketplace. Transit and the promise it provides for low cost access carrying visitors in large numbers needs to key the entire aspect of bringing folks to and from the future development of the waterfront
One last comment. PlanBTV fails to acknowledge the Marketplace “plaza” as one of three in the nation and its intersections a rare U.S. example of “shared space” where modes mix at the highest level of safety at the Cherry, Bank and College intersections—shared space which needs to be expanded outward where helpful to retail businesses and replicated in other spots in the community—and probably at spots within the waterfront development.
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on PlanBTV.