Sunday, August 25, 2013


Sent a letter to the Keene Sentinel regarding a recent visit and the status of transportation there--the City successfully fought the NH Department of Transportation $60 million bypass project with four roundabouts (one built) instead plus cutting away some of the seas of asphalt--the City has four roundabouts in place including one on Main Street and one in front of the regional medical center, one more in the planning stage and a sixth just two miles south of town on NH 12 in Swanzey.

Dear Keene Sentinel Editor:
A hometown trip last week for a school class get together, a Jon Daniels event and viewing the newest roundabout also led to the discovery--no rental bicycles available in the Elm City.  This unfortunate development came while finding the new excellent bicycle route and trail map for the City.

Roundabouts aiding safety and traffic service may well be the glue enabling bikable as well as walkable downtowns and village centers. A look at the “widest paved Main Street in the world” does appear to have a good potential for the newest downtown trend—protected bicycle lanes termed “cycle track.”  Chicago moves forward on their first 100 miles of cycle track forged by Mayor Rahm Emmanuel and Seattle just completed a lengthy Linden Avenue two-way cycle-track facility on Linden Avenue (take a ride through a UTube video).  With perhaps minimal adjustment a basic six-foot cycle track may fit along each side of Main Street from Central Square to Main Street Roundabout. 

Cycle track—another European import like the roundabout—gives everyone from eight to eighty of all skills the freedom to bicycle in a safe and comfortable way, particularly if key intersections feature a roundabout armed with shared or separate bikepaths so the bicyclists cross on the crosswalks thereby avoiding being forced to join the more dangerous traffic in the vehicle travelway.  Cycle track may well be the street design equivalent of the Ipad and Iphone when it comes to popularity and speed of adoption.   

It is good news that the dangerous Base Hill Road intersection gets a roundabout treatment in the near future and, hopefully, the rest of the bypass gets “roundaboutized” in the near future.  As you know Keene is one of only a few cities of its size in the nation without a rail line—the rights-of-way to connect to Fitchburg and Bellows Falls remain ready for reactivation to enable once again passenger and freight rail service destined for Boston, New York, Montreal and parts beyond.  And the City seemed to anticipate the return of rail passenger service as much of the old rail station area remains mostly open ready for its return. 

Roundabouts, cycle track and rail passenger service restoration—sounds like the transportation action agenda for an all-American city!  

Friday, August 16, 2013


$39 million Champlain Parkway[ette]—A Poor Quality Walking and Biking Design

Tom Peters, the popular management writer stresses in a best seller “Thriving on Chaos” the premium leading managers and companies place on quality in their products and services, certainly a hallmark of the Steve Jobs approach for everything he did. 

With the Champlain Parkway in Burlington, VT still mired in legal procedures, a look at the current plans for the new 0.7 mile “parkwayette” with four major intersections—Pine Street, Home Avenue, Flynn Avenue and Lakeside Avenue—reveals poor quality walking and bicycling design.  Not very impressive with a $39 million projected cost in federal funds with $10 million already expended in various planning and design tasks in a project dating back about a half century.

To give a sense of what $39 million represents, it is about half the $83 million estimate for Fletcher Allen Health Care (FAHC) re-vamping practically all of the inpatient rooms into a new single occupancy building.  A complete light rail facility from the waterfront through the Marketplace, FAHC, UVM, then under Main Street to the south and the edge of Champlain College—including the light rail equipment—also costs about $80 million.  Cost of commuter rail self-propelled passenger equipment, stations and capital upgrades from Burlington via IBM Technology Park to the State House (about ten stations): $59 million.  

The Parkwayette does featrure a shared path on the west side accommodating both walkers and bicyclists—but the City’s decision some years ago declining recommended single lane roundabouts (as a cost saving measure) creates a far higher delay and expected injuy rates for walkers, bicyclists—and yes, cars occupants also.  The Parkwayette needs to slow 55 mph traffic down to 30 mph, something very difficult with signalized intersections but easy using the traffic calming roundabouts.  Literally the Parkwayette becomes obsolete the moment—if that ever comes---of the completion using current design.

Times certainly have changed since the 1950s and actually the change process accelerated in just the past year or so as cycle track (protected bike lanes) are being adopted rapidly as the basic way to make roadways accommodate bicyclists of all skills and ages.  The roundabout certainly has been a consideration since the first in the northeast was built in 1995 in Montpelier and the first busy street Burlington roundie at the Shelburne Street “rotary” design will be both single lane and provide a shared path for use by bicyclists and walkers, a path connecting to all the shared crosswalks.  Both bikable and walkable, the Shelburne Street roundabout can easily connect when cycle track along the north south corridors gets installed in the future.  

But it is the combination of cycle track and the roundabout at key intersections which reaches the quality status of the roadway being truly both walkable and bikable.  Anything other than a single lane roundabout--essentially stop control and traffic signals--generates a 500% greater rate of walker injuries and upwards of 300% greater rate of bicyclist injuries.  The Dutch and Swedish studies reporting this data remain very relevant because a cross section of the populations of those two nations of all ages and skills walk and bike versus, for example, bicycling busy streets in the U.S. mostly comprises young adult males. The one authoritative U.S. study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in 2001 found non-roundabout intersections overall about an 800% greater rate of serious injuries and fatalities.

Burlington does feature a fully walkable four-block Church Street Marketplace and a nearly walkable/bikable north side of Riverside Avenue where the shared use pathway street lacks possible roundabouts on either end and difficult cross-street accesses.

Any highway project can be revised—sometimes even after construction begins—to remedy issues.  It is not too late to re-design the Parkwayette intersections to include single lane roundabouts the shared pathway crossings, a design similar to that of the Plattsburgh, NY (NY 9) roundabout and walking/bicycle joint pathways which cross on the east leg of the intersection.  Not only would the re-design save scarce transportation dollars but serve all users better and even save some injuries too—if it ever does get the go-ahead in its current form.  So much for quality street designs which attain a high walkable/bikable standard.

Thursday, August 1, 2013


This blog includes July 30, 2013 comment material on a Vermont Digger column on reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Vermont.
Over half Vermont petroleum use occurs in transportation when motor fuel consumption peaked around the millennium at over 350 million gallons.  Motor fuel use has been on the decline since–now about 11% lower at 312 million gallons (as of the end of 2011).   It very likely goes below the 1990 number of 279 million gallons before the end of this decade.  Decline car travel, driver choosing a family car with higher efficiency, and federal fuel efficiency standards already in place suggest the below 1990 gasoline use level by decade end.  We can be assured of being at the “end of the beginning” of reducing petroleum dependence and looking at 25% or more reductions of the 1990 motor fuel consumption levels in transportation.
Transportation remains the greatest opportunity to reduce consumption. In-state rail passenger services and commuter rail can help and only needs political support for the $60 million initial capital and $7 million additional annual operating funds to start (Amtrak support for two trains daily alone now costs $7 million a year). The bigger problem lies in lack of walkable and bikeable streets in our downtown and village center areas–this means literally the need to invest upwards of a billion dollars over the next decade in cycle track (protected bike lanes) and roundabouts both for safety and service.  As important, walkable and bikable streets key maximum accessibility to all transit types, and roundabouts reduce gasoline use at busy intersections by up to 20,000 or more gallons yearly.  And roundabouts on average at busy intersections reduce waits by about ten seconds for all users versus a traffic signal.
These changes require an immediate, significant increase in broad base taxes to deal with needed highway and rail/walk/bike infrastructure–otherwise moving below the 1990 levels of transportation use of petroleum becomes increasingly problematic.  Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick proposed a broad base tax, the income tax, for transportation of $1.9 billion to address highway and public transport needs, plus increases in traditional car related levies.  Proportionally for Vermont this equates to $100-150 million for transportation needs for all modes from broad base taxes while continuing to increase motor vehicle related taxation as in past practice.
Actually $150 million equals the amount Vermont employers expend for the 280,000 parking spaces employees currently use every workday.  This is based on a $600 a year cost of a surface parking space—capital cost, maintenance, amortization of initial cost, and property tax.   When you consider the 280,000 vehicles used daily by commuters must  also be parked at night at workers’ residences and far greater number provided “free” by merchants and institutions you very quickly get to a half billion a year subsidy of car parking at a minimum.  Shifting $150 million to various forms of non-car transportation which enables “harvesting” parking spaces for more valuable uses makes a $150 million more for transportation look like the same type of investment represented by the fluorescent bulb payback in energy conservation, insulating buildings, etc.