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.

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