Tuesday, October 29, 2013


     …..applying the Massachusetts general fund transport projects principle to Vermont
The Boston Globe reported the announcement last week by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick of likely first set of transportation investments since his Legislature the first yearly shift of $800 million from general fund revenue for transportation projects.
The $800 shift from general fund revenues to transportation--about half of what Gov. Deval Patrick sought from his Legislature--goes primarily to many years overdue replacement of the subway fleets on two Boston lines, statewide electric tolling and straightening a Turnpike section, and very possibly new commuter rail service to he “South Coast” with services to long economically depressed Cities of Fall River and New Bedford.  Final details of Gov. Patrick’s transportation project list will be released by Thanksgiving.  Gov. Patrick says funding emphasis will be placed on improved transportation outside of Greater Boston.
Massachusetts and Virginia this year were the first states to disconnect highway, gasoline, and car-related taxes from their past singular role in transportation finance at the state levels.   Translating $800 million a year to Vermont—with a tenth of the population of Massachusetts—leads an $80 million a year equivalent as a minimum starting point.  And, $80 million in Vermont in just two years would enable, for examples: (1) capital and some operating support for commuter rail from Burlington to Montpelier, Middlebury and St. Albans; (2) additional intercity rail service along a circular corridor from Burlington-White River Junction-Bellows Falls-Rutland-Burlington; and (3) a light rail service from the Burlington waterfront to Fletcher Allen Health Care and University of Vermont campus via the Church Street Marketplace.   As important, Vermont could begin the critically needed investments to make downtowns, urban neighborhoods and town centers walkable and bikable for the first time though investments in cycle track (protected bike lanes) and at key intersections pathed roundabouts designed to serve both the walking and bicycle modes. 
At some point, a major gasoline tax at the federal level—in dollars not the nickels and dimes of the past—must be imposed (phased in over several years) to provide the kind of resources to states enabling the U.S. to join the first tier of nations whose transportation systems which are defined by either high-speed rail networks and/or walkable and bikable urban areas.  (Most Western European nations qualify on both criteria.)  Consider the fact that nations like Taiwan, South Korea and China already nations boast a basic network of high-speed rail countrywide.  In the United States and Canada there is not a single walkable or bikable urban area—investing in infrastructure to achieve walkable and bikable urban nodes, corridors and areas poses the greatest urban transportation challenge today.   (A tip of the hat though to Canada where both Montreal and Toronto extensive underground areas and corridors remain the only ones in North America and two of the few of such extensive enclosed car-free environments worldwide.)

Thursday, October 24, 2013



While those favoring walking and bicycling daily add converts, the bulk of the population knows well the lack of walkable and bikable infrastructure still rules the real world of American urban and town center streets—truly incomplete streets.  For walkers this means endless waits at high-injury-rate signalized intersections and for bicyclists it means being relegated to the “sider” class. 

The “sider” bicyclist by necessity only travels by carefully negotiating trips along sidewalks, side streets and “backways.”  When you bicycle at my advanced age or very young, less skilled on two wheelers, or wish to avoid the risk of mixing on streets with at most unprotected bike lanes with hordes of traffic—you become a sider by default or just put the bicycle away.  We do not partake of bike parties, bike rides, and other group activities taking place and bikable busy streets--these remain to us the dream of the future.  We do not fool ourselves—American bike infrastructure development trails Amsterdam or Copenhagen by decades (well, yes, the Burlington Marketplace is the one walkable corridor in Burlington but no bikes allowed !).

Being a sider means the shortest distance between two points has nothing to do with the shortest distance between two points—one is more like a thief on foot taking every which way to avoid capture.  A sider can end up taking a dozen different streets and backways just to go a few blocks to a favorite coffee shop less than a mile away.  Even after a dozen trips or so you have to take a moment to recall the sider route which on paper looks like a treasure hunt through a maze.   

Thanks to churches, parks, and housing developments all kinds short cuts abound.  (And without the alleyway behind Macys from Cherry Street in Burlington connecting with a left, right left through the People’s Bank to Pine Street it would be impossible to move north to south in downtown for the Burlington bicycle sider.)

Now for a long time also was a salmon—biking the wrong way on a street with a one way bike lane the wrong way (yes, during light traffic times I will use a bike lane for a block or two).  But after hearing that this is really not safe (and experiencing wrong way bicyclists from the opposite, correct, direction, must agree) gave up salmoning on my bicycle for life, something far easier than quitting smoking.

On sidewalks I follow some simple rules.  First, travel no more than a few miles an hour as you never know what will suddenly appear from a driveway.  Second, one travels across crosswalks at about walking speed (four miles an hour) and with the same attention to traffic as one would on foot—and be prepared to dismount at any point.  Generally, I for one never pass a walker on the sidewalk- period!  When a walker is approaching towards me I dismount about 50 feet away and walk my bike until past the walker traffic.   A person walking has a right not to be bothered by bicyclist—nothing irritates a person walking more than bicyclists rushing past from behind or approaching in front regardless of the speed. 

Some day us siders will get the new protected bike lanes and roundabouts with paths which together promise to put our sider days into history—like life without safety belts.   Our major urban streets—like Amsterdam and Copenhagen—some day will become places for all to walk and bike in safety and comfort. 



A landmark study published in the July American Journal of Public Health finds the installation of cycle track—protected bike lanes—promises for town centers and urban areas infrastructure enabling all regardless of age, sex, or ability the opportunity to travel by bicycle in comfort and safety. 

A former Vermont walking and bicycling leader, Dr. Anne Lusk, now at the Harvard School of Public Health, was a lead researcher on the study team.  The study examines: (1) state and federal highway guidance for bicycling in regard to cycle track; (2) 19 U.S. cycle tracks (including one in South Burlington, VT) with determination their safety far surpasses on-street bicycling; and (3) European experience where a large proportion of the population--all ages, all skills and both male and female—ride bicycles regularly.  U.S. urban trips by bicycle are about one percent and walking six percent while Germany and the Netherlands average about 20 percent each—more than 40% of all urban trips there are on foot and bicycle in those two nations. The paper, “Bicycle guidelines and crash rates on cycle track in the United States,” can be found at:     

Dr. Lusk--named by President George H.W. Bush as his 119th Point of Light, a designation for notable volunteer community leaders in a variety of fields--left Vermont a few years ago as a true legend in the field of walking and bicycling.  Lusk almost single-handedly built the Stowe Bikepath, lead a volunteer group of State and private members to create, promote and develop walking and bicycling initiatives culminating in an $11 million State funded bikepath program even before federal program began, and facilitated the formation of the Vermont Bicycle and Pedestrian Coalition which now in its third decade continues fostering programs, policies and investments in what is now a burgeoning field of walking and bicycling growth in virtually every town in Vermont.  Vermont’s early leadership in roundabout development in the Northeast also resulted directly from the initiatives Lusk led.  Lusk also was involved in a study finding the safety superiority of cycle track in Montreal (built in 2007) over on-street cycling.

Cycle track is rapidly developing in the U.S--100 miles are under development in Chicago, announcement occurred this month that Boston will build 20 miles of cycle track by 2018, and cycle tracks plans and initiatives can be found bubbling up throughout the U.S. and Canada.   The study reports only 0.5% those aged 16 over population home-to-work trips by bike in the United States—and only 24% of those trips by women.  While male bicycle trips have increased recently, female bicycling has not changed and trips by children has decreased.

The study shows U.S. cycle track  experience far lower injury rates per mile of travel than on highways or streets with unprotected bike lanes or no lanes.  Cycle track in the United States totaled 40 miles at the time of the research while Dutch cycle track miles totaled 18,000 miles in a nation with the population about that of New England.  

There exists strong interest in safe routes to schools (until recently a federal program funded projects in this area) and European experience indicates that levels of walking and bicycling to school is closely associated with the presence of cycle track networks.   The study notes a survey of research indicating “cyclists are safer on roundabouts with cycle track.”

Finally, the study takes aim at U.S. bicycle guidance—particularly the American Association of Highway Officials (AASHTO) bicycle and highway guides from 1974 to 1999 prepared by committees dominated by males  (over 90 percent males for the two publications for which gender data could be found), publications which do not address in any way the value, benefits, etc. of cycle track—with much of the bicycle guidance given without foundation in research.

Thursday, October 10, 2013



An entertaining relationship movie (R rating) rattled along until six words of dialogue spoken by the character played by Julianne Moore struck almost like a lightning bolt as she spoke with sincerity and reflection, "the car is a terrible thing."

Brought up in New Hampshire where the Manchester Union Leader, the State's dominant statewide newspaper, for several years showing the latest gruesome fatal car crash scene emblazoned in large front page photos came to mind--and the still 30,000 plus Americans dying from car crashes each year (plus uncounted injuries as well as fatalities from road rage).   Gun deaths and car deaths now appear to be in a yearly contest from state to state as to which gets the lead.

But to hear "the car is a terrible thing" in a Hollywood production which also featured as a key element a lead actor who prided himself  in his Mustang SS and agressive driving including a scene of his own road rage breaking the window of the car whose owner yelled back at him--made this "terrible thing" all the more surprising.  The movie, Don Jon, does have Julianne Moore playing a character who near the end of the movie disloses the death of her son and husband 14-months prior as the result of that "terrible thing."