Friday, July 19, 2013



May appear strange, but the Vermont‘s $653 million State transportation budget with more than half federally funded remains a day late and dollar short.

Adding a $1 tax on gasoline or a general fund equivalent raises enough money—about $200 million yearly--enabling commuter rail services along three corridors out of Burlington, an intercity “circle train”, a head start on roundabouts and cycle track needed to make downtowns and town centers truly walkable and bikable, and a major boost to the Town Highway grants helping to relieve the local property tax burden.  And the only practical choice, raising transportation taxes of this magnitude from the State general fund mostly though the income tax, also allows for some funding of additional needed social service programs.

A $1 gas tax would probably yield about $200 million, about the same relative amount as Gov. Deval Patrick in Massachusetts sought this year in new income taxes to fully fund needed transportation investments and operations for all modes plus some investment in education.  What does Gov. Patrick know and why did Virginia abolish the gas tax in favor of a broad base dedicated sales tax this February?  Simply both state’s governors recognized the transportation investments can no longer be tagged onto a declining mode, car travel, while the public demands more efficient and sustainable travel modes—public transit, walking and bicycling.  

While New England car travel grew by just 3% the entire decade 2000-2010, public transit, walking and bicycling in many urban area grew in double digits—Burlington’s public transportation authority grew 71% 2000-2010, bicycling to work doubled and travel to work by car dropped about 10%.   Vermont Census data revealed traveling to work by car flat lined from 2000-2010, the numbers walking, bicycling, taking the bus and working at home increased by 9,000.  Overall, the proportion of car travel to work declined about 3% for the period and the trend shows no signs of changing any time soon.

Why the sales and income tax and not gas taxes?  Massachusetts and Vermont both are raising gas taxes this year by modest amounts.  But about 30 states restrict car tax revenues to highways only.  This makes it very difficult for those states without such restrictions—like Vermont—from going out on their own with large gas tax increases as it would only create everyone to gas up at a lower cost in cross border areas.  Besides investments in rail, public transit, walking and bicycling benefits go across the entire population.

Vermont and the U.S. lag behind several Western European nations in many health and economic indices in great part because those nations levy $3-$4 taxes on a gallon of gasoline versus about five dimes federal and state levies combined in the U.S.  Those $3-$4 gas taxes enable major investments in a modern transportation system for all modes placing the U.S. decades behind in walking, bicycling, and rail modes.  And that differential increases today.   A viable economy—particularly the important Vermont tourism sector—depends on a full range of transportation modes for current and future viability and growth.  States cannot wait for a federal gas tax to become available for meeting transportation needs arising from a declining car culture.  Neither can Vermont--the State remains now a day late and a dollar short.  

Wednesday, July 17, 2013


 a touch of rail passenger services
1.   Burlington traffic decline started 25 years ago—8% to 28% declines on major routes into downtown area—North Avenue, Beltline, Pearl, Main, Shelburne and Pine.  The State projects that traffic decline continues.
2.   Burlington workers travel to work—a third on foot, transit, and bike—is a remarkable statistic, over three times the U.S. urban average of 10%.
3.   Those traveling to downtown and the waterfront will increasingly go by bus, passenger rail, bicycling and walking—it’s been the trend for decades now and will continue into the future.
4.   While walking and bicycling occurs in a “bike and walk friendly” City, the City is mostly neither walkable or bikable along busy streets with two notable exceptions, the Marketplace and Riverside Avenue.
5.   Only through major investments on busy streets of cycle track (protected bike lanes) and intersection roundabouts can a walkable bikable City become a reality.
6.   Bicycle and walker injuries and fatalities—car occupants too—continue on our streets with the costs of poor safety infrastructure outweighing by far the dwindling costs of congestion as car traffic declines.   The tragic deaths of Sam Lapointe on the crosswalk at the Colchester/Barrett intersection last year and employee Karen Borneman while driving through the St. Paul/Main Street intersection two years ago illustrate the need for safe street infrastructure investments.
7.   Most busy City intersections can be served by single lane roundabouts, cutting walker and car occupant serious injuries by about 90%.  First step, analyzing all busy intersections for roundabout conversion, then building five or so yearly, a figure based past Western European rates.
8.   All in Burlington who walk and all who bicycle--regardless of age and skill--deserve walkable and bikable infrastructure on major streets.
9.   Large increases in State funding from general funds must occur for the State’s cities and town walkable and bikable infrastructure as well as for needed rail passenger services (intercity and commuter).
10.        A truly walkable, bikable busy street features sidewalks and cycle track along its sections paired with roundabouts at key intersections.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013



An extensive discussion of designing roundabouts for bicycles recently included how to incorporate paths for bicyclists at intersections along with connections to likely cycle track—protected bicycle lanes—along street segments, a combination affording safe and comfortable transit for bicyclists of all ages and skills. 

Duncan Campbell, a senior traffic engineer from New Zealand, summed up the roundabout design approach as follows:

“Designing to well accommodate cyclists at a roundabout you have to decide which skill level you are targeting and the busyness of the particular location. Certainly mum and dad with kiddies in behind might want an off-road path with safe road crossings (so are the[y]re going to be amenable mid-block connections for continuity I would ask? ) ; novice adults might want the same at busier or multi-lane locations; and experienced adult cyclists will likely (in my experience) prefer to stay on the road as it will usually be the quicker run - although a Dutch type arrangement where cyclists have priority on a peripheral path could be an exception to this.”

Many in the transportation field point to unprotected bike lanes.  While desirable,  unprotected lanes cannot provide service to all skills and ages—and in a nation like the U.S. with high rates of bicycle injury rates we hardly want to encourage the less skilled to be riding around town on plain lanes on busy streets.   And busy signalized intersections provide a mass of confusion and conflicts compared to a simple crossing, usually with a median, a roundabout with a path for cyclists enables.  A minimum a roundabout can enable a bicyclist to ramp on or off to a sidewalk and cross as a walker—far safer than a signalized movement or “taking the lane” of the roundabout. 

           A Yankee blindspot in street design in general and roundabouts in particular
Europeans addressed street design to respond to citizen complaints from growing car use.   This car growth occurred during a time when the majority (still mostly the case) of urban areas travel comprised walking, bicycling and transit.  Our North American streets, relatively, have “mums, dads with kiddies in behind” because the car (and highway design) simply pre-empted them.  Simply our "community development" since World War II spurred by homeownership subsidies (still there!) created vast areas of suburban and exurban unwalkable/unbikable/untransitable urban sprawl.   While European bicycling amounts to a double digit share of urban travel, in North America one percent is typical.  And European walking share exceeds the U.S. ten percent share.  Moreover, walking and bicycling injury rates per mile of travel are several times those of Germany and the Netherlands.
American planners and engineers--and citizen advisory panels--have limited experience or clear idea what a walkabe/bikable environment contains.  It is mostly nearly non-existent in North America.  This may explain why many tout bike lanes which are not family-friendly and just being nice to bicycles and pedestrians constitutes substantial progress when in fact those actions though praiseworthy do not address directly providing safe and comfortable infrastructure for either bicyclists or walkers.  Note overall roundabouts cut serious injuries and fatalities by about 90%.  To date with 3,000-4,000 roundabouts built since 1990, only one bicycle fatality and no walker fatality has yet be recorded in the U.S. and Canada.
The idea of pathing roundabouts for bicycles in combination with cycle track—the “dynamic duo”--represents a major breakthrough as they bring the interest of bicyclists and walkers together (yes, as a walker we really would like bicycles segregated from us!).   Additionally, the roundabout/track "combo" applies mainly to busy urban arterials and collectors where the primary transportation roadblocks for all modes exist (mostly for walkers and bicyclists) and where injury rates are high for all users.  Young professionals want out on car culture, choose downtown areas for walking, bicycling, and transit to work and play.  In fact already an unexpected 10% drop has occurred in driver licensing among the under 30 crows.  Workers increasingly veer away from car travel to work.  Therefore we must change focus to investing in safe infrastructure for walking and bicycling.  Lack of roundabouts and cycle track found in more advanced nation stands as a barrier frustrating an American and Canadian urban population seeking to travel on foot and by bicycle as well as using these two modes to access public transit.   We need to rapidly invest sizable sums in the “dynamic duo” to revitalize our downtowns and village centers—pathed roundabouts at the intersections and cycle track between.