Saturday, May 24, 2014

Time to Begin the Foundation of Commuter Rail between Montpelier and Burlington?

With the extension of Amtrak's Ethan Allen from Rutland to Burlington's Union Station in as little as two years, has the time arrived to plan and invest in the foundation for commuter rail service between Montpelier and Burlington?

Today in Montpelier the long-awaited Carr lot development as a transit center goes forward with provision to accommodate the needs of a substantial commuter and intercity rail passengers surely part of design considerations. 

While studies for commuter and intercity rail date from 1989, the decade-long Link commuter buses now numbering 18 each workday between Burlington and Montpelier give real life evidence for the estimated outbound 540 on/off rail riders each day at the new Transit Center---270 roundtrips just from Montpelier area commuters traveling each morning to one of the 11 destination stations along the route. The estimated Montpelier boardings of 270 for commuter rail compare to the135 boarding Links now from Montpelier to just Burlington each workday morning.  Even more passenger numbers come along when a natural extension of commuter rail to Berlin and Barre rail stations gets added to the mix.

The Ethan Allen extension to Burlington and completion of Montpelier Jct. to Essex Jct. to 80 mph speeds two years ago along with continuing Link growth the pressure for commuter and intercity services nears a tipping point.  Car travel in Vermont and nationally is down among all age groups, driver licensing proportions are down 10% in the under-30 crowd and Vermont and national public transit, bicycling and walking grow like topsy.  My presentation next month to the Canadian Transportation Research Forum of a small metro case study of Montpelier-Burlington commuter rail estimates on/off passenger concludes commuter rail service feasible today.  Total Montpelier-Burlington Link commuter bus workday trips recently reached the 450 trips (225 round trip commutes) with 135 commuting from Montpelier and 90 from Burlington and the Richmond Park-and-ride.
Estimates of total on/off passengers at Montpelier with commuters to Montpelier added amount to about 1,000 a day total.

For the Vermont worker commuting to the job, the benefit are huge--a household budget saving of over $7,000 after tax income shifting from solo driving to mass transit. Note the Burlngton-Montpelier Link commuter bus service started from scratch in 2003.  The employer saves too since the average surface parking space costs $600-$700 to own and maintain.  

Self-propelled two-car rail diesel units (DMU’s) can accommodate 150-175 passengers and lots of bicycles versus, three to four times the capacity of a bus and commuter rail travel times between Montpelier and Burlington are about the same—but the commuter buses serve three stations while commuter rail serves nine including seven town and city centers. Commuter rail provides direct service to IBM Technology Park.

The cost rest easy on the eyes—less than $1 million with federal support and half the cost—about $3.5 million a year for all capital and operating support--than the Governor’s initial budget of $7 million for the two Amtrak trains for the coming fiscal year. 

Commuter rail service can fit in with intercity and Amtrak services, provides almost 100 passenger miles a gallon of fuel, re-vitalizes the town and city centers, reduces car travel and urban congestion.  It is rail service for all reasons!

For Montpelier-Burlington service in addition to rail equipment and signal control, only three major capital investments are involved: upgrade of Montpelier-Montpelier Jct. and Burlington-Essex Jct. trackage plus rehabilitation of the historic Burlington rail tunnel.  Once Burlington-Montpelier service is in place then natural expansion includes commuter rail Burlington-Middlebury, Burlington-St. Albans and intercity services creating a network covering all of Vermont's urban communities. 

Time for the Montpelier Transit Center development and bring on Burlington-Montpelier commuter and intercity rail—it is back to the future today!

Friday, May 16, 2014



For the first time in a landmark document the Burlington Walk Bike Council in what I term the “Burlington Declaration” sets roundabouts and a cycle track network as part and parcel of a generating a safe walkable and bikable context for the City.  While no roundabouts or cycle track (protected/separated bike lanes) exist on a busy City thoroughfare today, these treatments remain indispensible to a safe walk/bike urban street network usable by all residents.  This Declaration, an “advisory” document, calls for a demonstration roundabout and demonstration cycle track (protected/separated bike lanes) in short order. 

Equally important, the Declaration calls for re-design of the $40 million Champlain Parkway because the current design lacks as the Declaration states “reasonable accommodations for bicycles and pedestrians” and calls for including roundabouts and separate protected bike treatments in a re-design.

Finally, the Declaration points to the current North Avenue Corridor Study stating “our expectation that the final recommendations will include substantive improvements to accommodate bicycle and pedestrian concerns, such as protected bike lanes [cycle track] roundabouts...and other bike-ped improvements.”
               Tony Redington     Burlington, VT

                                THE DECLARATION

Burlington Walk-Bike Council
 Go For Gold Priorities

The Burlington Walk-Bike Council strongly believes that Burlington has great potential for increasing walking and biking both for transportation and recreation.  Our goal is to make Burlington a world-class walking and biking city.  Being certified as a Gold Bike-Friendly Community and as a Gold Walk-Friendly Community is one way to measure success towards the goal, although it is not itself the goal.  

The following document includes some of the Walk-Bike Council’s recommended priorities for increasing walking and biking in our community.  It includes a brief discussion of the key elements required for success and the overall goals, a prioritized list of major projects to achieve those goals, and a list of major projects that are already in progress.  The list of projects is divided into three categories - short-term engineering and infrastructure projects, medium-term engineering and infrastructure projects, and non-engineering projects - and Top Priorities are identified in each category.

Elements of Success
While it is important to identify particular projects and priorities, it is important also to identify the key elements essential to any effort to promote walking and biking, These are Safety, Accessibility, and Motivation.

The primary prerequisite for increasing walking and biking in the City of Burlington (or anywhere) is safety, both real and perceived.  While some people will bike in traffic and will brave even crowded roads, many more people are daunted by current road conditions in many places.  Some of the most important corridors and routes in Burlington do not feel safe to ride on for most people  Safety is also a major concern for people who would like to walk, especially when crossing traffic and especially for those whose mobility is limited.  Another aspect of safety for bikers is having a secure place to store their bikes and gear, protected from theft, vandalism, and weather.  

The primary route to improved safety for both walking and biking is through improvements to infrastructure, including sidewalks and crossings, protected bikeways, roundabouts, and secure bike parking.  In addition, enforcement and education can play a significant role in improving safety.

Another critical element of success for any effort to increase biking and walking is convenient access to biking and walking facilities and to desired destinations.  One of the draws for walking and biking, compared to driving (and public transit), is the ability to go straight where you want to go.  Having to go out of one’s way, in contrast, is a significant deterrent for many people.

Infrastructure improvements must therefore take this into account by ensuring that safe routes for walking and biking are placed where people want to go, and get people efficiently from place to place without significant detours.  This means ensuring that they are continuous (without gaps where bicycle or pedestrian facilities disappear or are reduced), and it may also include adding cut-throughs where travel is currently blocked.  Bicycle storage also needs to be prominently and centrally located.  Sidewalks and street crossings should be frequent, accessible to those with reduced mobility, and conveniently located, and pedestrians should be able to cross with a minimum of waiting time.  Finally, routes should be clearly marked both on the street and on readily accessible maps.

Another barrier to more widespread walking and biking is the dominant car culture, in which people are accustomed to driving to get where they want to go.  To increase walking and biking it is thus important to motivate people to change their behavior through a variety of encouragement activities.  These may include special events and programs, Safe Routes to Schools or other promotional campaigns, incentives for commuters, discounts at local businesses, public art and design, historical markers, and many other ideas.
The overall goal for this effort is to make Burlington a truly walk-friendly and bike-friendly community and to increase the actual number of people walking and biking.  This means substantially improving conditions for walking and biking in the city.  Based on the primary elements of success (Safety, Accessibility, and Motivation), the required conditions for meeting this overall goal include the following:
  • A well-maintained continuous city-wide network of sidewalks and pedestrian paths, with frequent, safe, and convenient crossings.
  • A well-maintained continuous city-wide network of protected bike routes, particularly on major arteries and in the downtown area, with safe intersection design.
  • Abundant and accessible bike parking throughout the city, with an emphasis on secure and weather-protected bike parking facilities at major destinations.
  • Policies, education, and infrastructure that encourage safe driving behavior, including appropriate speeds and respect for pedestrians and bicyclists.
  • A variety of events, policies, and programs that encourage walking and biking.
Top Priorities
While Burlington has already made significant progress in achieving the goals identified above, there are still many gaps and needs for improvement to the existing conditions.  The Burlington Walk-Bike Council has therefore identified a number of Top Priority strategies, projects and actions for achieving the overall goal of a walk-friendly and bike-friendly community, divided into three categories by type and time-frame.  
Strategies for promoting walking and biking are often divided into 5 categories, known as the 5 E’s: Engineering & Infrastructure, Encouragement, Education, Enforcement, and Evaluation & Planning.  Because of the importance of Engineering & Infrastructure in meeting the goals of the Go For Gold project, we identified two separate lists of Top Priorities in that category, in both the short term (1-2 years) and medium term (3-5 years).  We have also identified our Top Priorities among the many other types of non-engineering projects, including Encouragement, Education, Enforcement, and Evaluation and Planning.
Improvements in Engineering and Infrastructure - short term (1-2 years)
  • Demonstration Projects: Perform at least one long-term demonstration project each of cycle track and roundabouts to show and test how they work, and to build support for their inclusion in more comprehensive upgrades.
  • Secure Bike Parking:
    • Install Secure, weather-protected Bicycle Parking (lockers) at the new Transit Center, at the Airport, and at other transit hubs, and
    • Modify zoning codes to require secure bike parking for residential and commercial developments.
  • Sidewalk Repair: Increase the sidewalk repair budget and capacity to erase the current backlog of sidewalks requiring repair
Improvements in Engineering and Infrastructure - medium term (3-5 years)
  • Attended Bike Parking: Establish an indoor, secure, Attended Bike Parking facility located close to Church St. and the transit station, with capacity for 150 bicycles, lockers, and shower.
  • Crosswalk Spacing: Create a standardized precedent for the maximum distance between two crosswalks. Add crosswalks as needed once the standard has been set, including bumpouts, RRFB flashing signs, or HAWK signs as appropriate.
  • Main St. Improvements: Complete Corridor Study for Main St., and follow up by making recommended improvements, incorporating ideas from Plan BTV, protected bike lanes, roundabouts, sidewalk upgrades, safe crossings, traffic calming, and other bike-ped improvements.
Improvements in non-Engineering Categories
(Education, Encouragement, Enforcement, and Evaluation and Planning)
  • DPW Bike-Ped Staffing: Increase staffing levels for Bicycle-Pedestrian Planning at the Burlington Department of Public Works to provide additional capacity for planning and management of improvements to infrastructure for bicycles and pedestrians
  • Bicycle-Pedestrian Plan: Develop a comprehensive Bicycle-Pedestrian Plan, either stand-alone or as a part of the overall city transportation plan
  • Transportation Demand Management (TDM): Encourage more employers to create walk/bike-to-work incentives if they do not have them already.
Priorities Already In Progress

The following high priority projects have been left off of the main BWBC Priority list because it is our understanding and expectation that these are already underway.  It is critical to ensure that all of these projects are completed as expected in order to meet our goals for improved walkability and bikability in Burlington.  

Bike/Ped Accommodations on the Champlain Parkway
The existing plans for the Champlain Parkway do not currently include reasonable accommodations for bicycles and pedestrians.  However, it is the BWBC’s understanding and expectation that the plans will be revised in short order to incorporate improvements for bicycles and pedestrians. Examples of key elements include roundabouts at some intersections, signalized crosswalks, and a separate bikeway end-to-end, either as sidepath and/or cycle track.  Updating the plans must take place immediately if the Champlain Parkway is moving forward.  If the Champlain Parkway is NOT built, then the city should establish a plan for making these bike-ped improvements on the Pine St. corridor.

Corridor Studies and Improvements
  • North Ave.: A Corridor Study for North Avenue is currently underway.  It is our expectation that the final recommendations will include substantive improvements to accommodate bicycle and pedestrian concerns, such as protected bike lanes, roundabouts, sidewalk upgrades, safe crossings, traffic calming, and other bike-ped improvements.   It is further our expectation that the Study will be followed up by implementation of these recommended improvements.
  • Colchester Ave.: It is our understanding that CCRPC has recently granted funding for implementation of the recommendations from the Colchester Ave. corridor study regarding the intersection of Colchester Ave., Riverside Dr., and Barrett St.
  • Winooski Ave.: It is our understanding that the City is initiating a Corridor Study for North and South Winooski Ave.  It is our expectation that the final recommendations will include substantive improvements to accommodate bicycle and pedestrian concerns, such as protected bike lanes, roundabouts, sidewalk upgrades, safe crossings, traffic calming, and other bike-ped improvements as appropriate.  It is further our expectation that the Study will be followed up by implementation of these recommended improvements.  The section of S. Winooski between Pearl St. and Main St. is especially critical to address.

Safe Routes to Schools Plans
  • North Ave.: It is our understanding that the City is currently working on implementing the improvements recommended in the 2008 Safe Routes to School plan on North Ave.
  • Champlain School: It is our understanding that the City is currently working on making improvements to street crossings on Locust St. and Birchcliff Parkway as recommended in Champlain School Safe Routes to School plan.

Other Projects
  • Bike Path Repair: A central portion of the Waterfront Bike Path is currently funded for repair and upgrade, starting this fall.
  • Bike Lockers: It is our understanding that well marked and easily accessible bike storage lockers with electronic keys are currently planned for installation on Cherry St. near the parking garage for Burlington Town Center mall.
  • Wayfinding Plan: It is our understanding that the City is currently working on implementation of the existing Wayfinding plan for Burlington.
  • Open Streets: We have recently established a plan for an Open Streets event in September 2014 - an event at which a main street is closed to through traffic and only accessible to pedestrians or bikers.  It is our expectation and hope that the success of this event will lead to establishment of at least two annual Open Streets events.

Other Priorities

The Burlington Walk-Bike Council also identified a number of other projects that did not make it onto our Top Priority list.  While they are not as critical as the projects identified above, these are also important for increasing walking and biking in Burlington and should be pursued in parallel.  
Other short term priorities for improvements in Engineering and Infrastructure
  • Crosswalks: Improve visibility of crosswalks throughout the city, including
    • ensure that the paint remains visible throughout the year
    • add  bumpouts to slow traffic and reduce the crossing distance
    • add RRFB flashing lights at crosswalks on high volume and high speed streets throughout the city.
  • Crossing Signals: Change policy to:
    • have a leading phase on pedestrian crossing signals downtown
    • have automatic crossing instead of push button generated crossing light
  • Bike Racks: Ensure that there are accessible, convenient bike racks throughout the city, including at all public buildings and in all city parks, as well as major public destinations.
  • Traffic Calming: Add traffic calming and other features to key locations throughout city to encourage driving at or below speed limit
  • Waterfront Bike Path: Perform repair and upgrade for portions of waterfront bike path that are not currently budgeted/planned
  • Maintain Bikeways: Ensure that all on-street bike lanes and markings are maintained in a safe and visible condition:
    • ensure that the paint remains visible throughout the year
    • ensure that bike lanes, side paths, and sides of major roads without bike lanes, are maintained to ensure safe bicycle passage, including being free of debris, potholes, and sunken storm grates
Other medium term priorities for improvements in Engineering and Infrastructure
  • Rest of Bike Path: Evaluate and perform repairs and upgrades for the bike path in Ethan Allen Park, intervale, and other locations not covered by existing repair plan for waterfront
  • Roundabouts: Install roundabouts at key intersections throughout the city
  • Mall Pass-Through: Open up path through Mall from Cherry St. to Bank St. at Pine St. (or nearby) for pedestrians and bikes, as envisioned in Plan BTV
  • Shelburne St. and St. Paul St. Improvements: Complete Corridor Study for Shelburne St. and St. Paul St., and follow up by making recommended improvements, incorporating protected bike lanes, roundabouts, sidewalk upgrades, safe crossings, traffic calming, and other bike-ped improvements.
  • Willard and Union St. Improvements: Complete Corridor Studies for North and South Willard St., and North and South Union St., and follow up by making recommended improvements, incorporating protected bike lanes, roundabouts, sidewalk upgrades, safe crossings, traffic calming, and other bike-ped improvements.
  • Additional Improvements: Complete Corridor Studies for additional major corridors in the city, including North St., Manhattan Dr., Battery St., Prospect St., and Flynn  Ave. These studies should be followed up by making recommended improvements, incorporating protected bike lanes, roundabouts, sidewalk upgrades, safe crossings, traffic calming, and other bike-ped improvements.
  • Secure Bike Parking in Parks: Ensure that all major park facilities have secure bike parking that is accessible to the main activity of that park
  • Champlain School Safe Routes: Plan and implement additional recommendations from the Champlain School Safe Routes to School plan

Other high priorities in non-Engineering Categories
  • Driver education: Ensure that regular driver education classes incorporate pedestrian and bike safety issues, and provide targeted education to professional drivers (including truck drivers, city employees, bus drivers) on sharing the roads with bikers and pedestrian safety.
  • Car Traffic Enforcement: Improve enforcement of car traffic laws - focused on speed, giving room for bikes, yielding to pedestrians
  • Accident Reduction Plan: The city should develop and carry out a specific plan for reduction of pedestrian/car and bicycle/car accidents and fatalities, AKA Vision Zero
  • Expert Consultants: City departments (DPW, Parks, CEDO, Planning and Zoning) should establish a policy ensuring that all development and planning projects include expert biking and walking facility consultants, and in particular that roadway projects include consultants that are familiar with roundabouts.
  • Safe Routes To Schools: Ensure that all Burlington schools take part in Safe Routes To Schools programs and promote walking and biking to school, and ensure that  Safe Routes to Schools evaluations are undertaken for all schools
  • Walk the City: Develop a “Walk the City” map/brochure (like "Cycle the City”) with routes laid out for safe, reasonable walks downtown and elsewhere in the city, with places of interest highlighted.
  • Bike Repair Station: Establish more bike repair stations within the community like the one at Local Motion; Healthy living is willing to donate them, but the City must install them.
  • Evaluate Bikability and Walkability: Perform regular evaluations of walking and biking in the Greater Burlington area.  This would include surveys of the perceived safety and convenience of biking and walking in different areas, as well as assessments of walking and biking behavior.  This information can be used both to gauge success of efforts to increase walking and biking, as well as to target areas for improvement.
  • Bike Route Signage: Purchase and install bike route signs in remaining parts of the city
  • Mountain Biking Park: Create a sanctioned mountain biking park within Burlington
  • Formalize BWBC: Formalize the Burlington Walk-Bike Council as a part of city government, with review function similar to other advisory boards

Lower priorities in non-Engineering Categories
  • Bike Maintenance Day: Establish an annual Bike Maintenance Day event , with equipment, classes on bike maintenance, assistance with making sure a bike is in safe operating condition, etc.. This could be a stand-alone event or partner with existing event, in conjunction with bike parking. Single event or on-going (like the farmer's market)
  • Improve Streetscape: Add public art, landscaping, and other amenities throughout the city to improve the pedestrian and cyclist experience, encourage walking, and engage people in their environment
  • Parcourse: Add one or more parcourses (fitness trails) in city parks
  • Bikes Cross With Pedestrians: Change city ordinances to allow bicycles to cross with pedestrian signals
  • Bike-Sharing Program: Develop a public bike-sharing program similar to those in Montreal, Boston, and New York City, or (more size-appropriate) Aspen, CO, and Spartanburg, SC.
  • Bicycle Friendly Businesses: Promote and assist businesses in applying for and achieving Bicycle Friendly Business status
  • Bike Traffic Enforcement: Improve enforcement of bike traffic safety laws, focused on stopping at intersections
  • Walking Event: Create an annual event with a walking focus, perhaps similar to the “Winooski on Foot” event.
  • Safety Education Campaign: Create a broad-based safety education campaign aimed at, to encourage safe road behavior by both drivers and bikers, and to promote mutual respect and understanding

Friday, May 2, 2014

Does Burlington, VT reflect a joint tipping point for roundabouts and cycle track?

Does Burlington, VT reflect a joint tipping point for roundabouts and cycle track?

Two public meetings in Burlington, VT within the last two weeks give strong evidence both modern roundabouts and cycle track (protected bike lanes) may  have reached a tipping point and now comprise major elements in making urban streets both truly walkable and bikable for all users with the highest level of safety and comfort.
Both roundabouts and cycle track possess a European heritage—the modern roundabout born in England in 1966 and cycle track a staple in urban bicycling “infra” for decades now.  Applying the Netherlands 18,000 miles of cycle track to the United States equates to about 1,100 miles of cycle track per million U.S. population--45 miles in Burlington with its population of 42,000.
The Burlington meetings were the advisory Burlington Walk Bike Council project prioritization for the upcoming year and the North Avenue Corridor Study Advisory Committee completing its set of options for the last public involvement session schedule later in the month.   Each meeting forwarded roundabouts and cycle track for consideration—the Walk Bike Council as priorities for the upcoming year and the Advisory Committee as options for consideration of the neighborhood meeting prior to completing the recommendations and plan in June for the three mile corridor.  Both actions represent unprecedented public involvement outcomes in the City in terms of size and scope.
Roundabouts and cycle track play a pivotal role in creating safe, walkable, bikable streets.  And, the roundabout also increases traffic capacity as well for cars in addition to car occupant safety and reduced fuel use as well as associated pollutants.
The basic North Avenue plan options include cycle track along the entire three-mile corridor with roundabouts at key intersections.  While bicycle travel is mostly restricted to young adult males now, cycle track—as pointed out in the Illinois State Bike Transportation Plan released in April—creates a safe and comfortable environment for users of all ages and skills.  Roundabouts not only provide for the highest level of safety for all—including for those who walk and bicycle—the roundabout also traffic calms with reduced speeds central to accident and injury reduction, particularly for those who walk and bike.  The Dutch lead in bicycle facility design and cycle track along street segments and “pathed” roundabouts at busy intersections is the accepted treatment for corridor accommodation of the bike mode.  
Burlington certainly is not alone in the change taking place, but the sudden embracing of transportation policy groups of both roundabouts and cycle track does symbolize their use has reached a tipping point.  And this tipping point represents a pre-condition to the shift of transportation resources to walk and bike “infra.”