Notre: State Energy Plan "draft" handles in its transportation section all text devoted to walk and bike modes and rail passenger/rail freight in less than five pages
Comments for the 2015 Vermont “Comprehensive Energy Plan”
Burlington, VT 05401
TonyRVT99@gmail.com TonyRVT.blogspot.com @TonyRVT08
July 23, 2015
Thank you for the opportunity to submit comments regarding the 2015 draft Vermont “Comprehensive Energy Plan” (CEP). The period starting about 1990 marks a continuing
rapid and escalating change in all aspects of transportation, land use and demographics both here in Vermont and the nation. The 2011 current CEP largely failed to capture this ongoing process of change across the spectrum, but generation of data, new services, new infrastructure choices, and collapse of car-oriented finance for transportation investment and maintenance make it paramount that the 2015 plan not only recognize the changes, but also anticipates and aggressively supports all the key positive aspects of this new transportation/land use world whether that be in the area of commuter rail, an immediate adding of Ambus service from St. Albans and Montreal to connect with our Amtrak services to New York City and beyond, fostering building of urban roundabouts and cycle track in order to introduce for the first time walkable/bikable streets in Vermont cities and town centers for the first time, moving “free parking” to paid parking over time for those commuting and using public space, changing our transportation finance to recognize non-car auto taxation now is the new normal, and carefully re-tuning highway cost allocation to reflect new realities thereby reducing the subsidy we all pay for heavy trucks on our highway where a large portion never even stop in Vermont.
With the greatest area of petroleum use in Vermont found in the transportation sector—about half of State consumption—arguably addressing this sector provides both the greatest challenge and greatest opportunity for moving towards a fully sustainable human settlement in this unique State.
The following addresses some of these issues following the content of the CEP Volumes 1 and 2.
- In the section outlining “strategies” and “measurable goals” for land use and transportation (Energy Plan, Volume 1 p. 15) actions include “tripling the number of spaces in the State park-and-ride program to 3,426 by 2030.”
This policy element is as effective as pouring water in a bottomless pail. Truly it is a measurable failure. The park-and-ride and ride program probably does little to encourage or even support auto-based rideshare, even if that were possible or desirable from benefit/cost standpoint. The decades long decline in rideshare likely continues, a trend since at least 1990 when 55,187 workers reported ridesharing to work, 24.9% of all commuters. All Census data since shows both a numerical and percentage decline to the ACS 2011 report of 31,421 ridesharing, down to 9.9%of all commuters. Since park-and-ride lots may well occupy prime land for high level value development, current lots should be reviewed for sale for that very purpose.
Providing convenient parking spaces—practically all surface parking—at key intersections of major arterials is both expensive and and the least valuable use of land. The Richmond park-and-ride lot expansion required by the success of commuter Link buses but not by rideshare demand, and the installation of a dangerous stoplight remains a certain source of a serious injury.
Solo journey-to-work grew until 2000 hitting 75% and since declined very slightly to a point between 74.0 and 75.0 percent in every ACS survey since. The slight decline remains very significant in view of the aforementioned decline in rideshare—this means the a shift of both rideshare and solo commutes both recently moved into negative territory. Because of the decline in rideshare, the total worker commute by car topped out at 87.1% in 2010 and since in three ACS samples has averaged 84.5. A one-percent shift is not insignificant since each percent point change represents a shift of about 32,000 Vermont workers. The current Burlngton Link commuter bus services began in 2003 serves about 500 daily commuters, and my recent study of commuter rail along three corridors out of Burlington estimates about 2,200 served while a lower number, perhaps 200 continue on reduced Link services. Overall, commuting by car declined since 2000 while walking, bicycle, work at home and public transit
increased at an average well into double digits.
The rapid change in demographics—such as, absolute population decline since 2010 in nine of Vermont's 14 counties and the doubling of the senior population to 24% total population between 2010 and 2030—require a full re-examination of not just how to improve “efficiency” of worker commuting but also how the entire population travels and how travel can be accommodated for all types of trips. Using the official Vermont population projections, we are experiencing an increase of about 4,500 new seniors each year and an reduction in under 65-aged population in excess of 2,000 a year. While the 4,500 “homegrown” senior population grew yearly or about 18,000 2010-2014, overall population in Vermont according to Census increased less than 1,000.
These factors of demographics and modal shift alone imply both relatively major land use and transportation considerations, the re-emergence with a vengeance of every mode other than carcentric forms, and providing proper incentives for re-vitalizing town center and city transportation systems with, for the first time, quality/safe walk/bike infrastructure allowing those two mode to take an equal place in the transportation marketplace, as well as intercity-commuter passenger rail and in more than one case light rail services.
- In the section outlining “strategies” and “measurable goals” for land use and transportation (Energy Plan, Volume 1 p. 15) actions include fostering more compact land uses though efforts at the State, regional, and local level.
This entire discussion misses the basic transportation equation—if you cannot improve, capacity and service to particular modes while retaining a modicum of safety, no changes occur in land use or travel modes other than those dictated primarily by household incomes and demographics. That is the nature of the transportation/land use equation. The reason for sprawl—other than huge public expenditures to foster it through car subsidies—remained in great part streets and intersections unable to handle vehicle traffic. This forced the well known devolution of alternative modes so dependent on high densities—walking, bicycling and transit—still dominating much of Vermont urban landscapes, particularly in Chittenden County. Two infrastructure inventions, the roundabout in 1966 and cycle track in the 1990s, increase intersection capacities by about half, reduce delay for all modes, and overall can reduce serious and fatal injuries for all modes up to 90%. Because of the safety gains these innovations provide thereby fostering alternative modes, and because the roundabout improves safety, service and capacity for ALL modes, densities can increase and growth of walking and bicycling in downtowns and village centers can now begin. To see these dynamics in reality one can visit any of the Vermont downtown examples, first and foremost the State's first roundabout corridor in Manchester Center and the downtown roundabouts in Middlebury, Montpelier and Waterbury.
For the first time, transportation designers and policy makers have a all-modes opportunity to make urban areas and town centers walkable and bikable—and yes drivable.
So, the primary State planning goal of compact urban and town centers separated by rural countryside can be in fact achieved, not the impossible dream really was when first entered into legislation more than a half century ago when the landscape remained under siege by seemingly limitless resources being plowed into car ownership and operation. That siege suddenly has lifted.
Note the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) calls for converting existing stoplights to roundabouts (and not to build new ones) as half of all senior driver deaths occur at signalized intersections compared to less than a quarter for those younger. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (2000) found U.S. roundabout cut serious and fatal injuries about 90%--from about 1990 the U.S. has dropped relatively like a stone compared to leading nations, from first to 19th in fatalities per mile of vehicle travel, twice the rate of the top nations including the U.K. at number one.
Sensible housing policy (placing housing near services with walkable/bikable/transit), provision of mixed use development, and slow weening of Vermonters off car and truck public subsidies (about 43% of all highway construction and maintenance comes from general not vehicle levies according to a just released study by USPIRG) promises both a major reduction of vehicle miles of travel and associated motor fuel consumption, but also major economic gains in incomes, health, and resources badly needed in human services areas by government.
- In the section outlining “strategies” and “measurable goals” for land use and transportation (Energy Plan, Volume 1 p. 15) rail passenger service gets an insignificant and total comment “...the State must continue to support...rail passenger initiatives that dovetail with northeast and Canadian rail initiatives (sic)”.
The 2011 plan process did not catch the rapid shift of commuters to and from Burlngton along “Link” corridors, now more than 50 buses daily between Burlington and Middlebury/Montpelier/Milton/Jefferfsonvile/St. Albans. With daily commuters approaching 600 and 330 commuters served between Burlington-Montpelier, the Link services represent the key mode change in Vermont commuting patterns. All modes other than car commuting are up and solo/rideshare car commuting trends downward. Note the huge benefit to the Burlington-Montpelier commuter who saves $8,000 in after tax income for taking the Link service over the solo commute by car.
Because of the 130 or so commuters from Montpelier have one destination—Burlington--the Link service tells us that the Montpelier and four surrounding towns has about a quarter of its total workers traveling to Burlington taking the Link each workday. This “market” data using journey-to-work Census information constitutes the major yardstick for estimating commuter rail potential when reasonably applied to the three rail corridors potentially served out of Burlington. Compared to the three towns served by Link between Montpelier-Burlington, for example, commuter rail can serve seven plus Technology Park in Essex Jct. In the same travel time as the Burlington-Montpelier Link.
While Amtrak on/off passengers in 2014 totaled 106,000, commuter rail Burlington-Montpelier service estimate would be five times that number, 550,000 and with the additional two corridors, total annual on/off passengers 953,000. Overall over 2,000 Vermont journey-to-work trips would be represented with the three rail corridor commuter service, a number equivalent to about 5% of the total workers crossing the Burlington border to and from work each day, 1% of solo drivers statewide, 7% of rideshare statewide, and 80% of cyclists statewide.
An immediate increase in Amtrak passengers—about a 15% increase or 17,000—can occur by just contracting an Ambus to connect the Vermonter at St. Albans to Montreal. This service likely cuts the current State support for Amtrak from $8 million to $7 million overnight. This really constitutes a no-regrets action—if the bus fails to earn its keep, the service can be ended.
- The modern roundabout installed in 200 Vermont busy intersections promise about a 3% reduction in current levels of motor fuels use in the State: the reductions come in three parts: (1) direct motor fuel reductions short term (2) medium term reductions from from increased development densities and modal shifts altogether; and (3) long term reductions from the same combination of change, modal shift and higher density land development.The reductions in motor fuel consumption and associated emissions, about 30% compared to signals not only has been determined empirically and in models but is also calculated routinely in roundabout analysis in U.K. and Australian developed software which dominate U.S. traffic analysis.One Greek case study using an empirical “car following”method to determine annual fuel consumption and related emissions employed a before-and-after set of data on a signalized intersection converted to a roundabout. That study of an intersection with 23,500 vehicles a day entering compares reasonably with Vermont busy intersection conversions such as, Montpelier US 2/302 roundabout conversion with 21,000 vehicles per day and Brattleboro's Keene Turn Roundabout with 28,000 vehicles per day including an usually high 900 tractor trailers daily.The reduction in fuel totaled almost 19,000 gallons annualized. With about 400 signalized Vermont intersections it is fair to estimate about 200 busy intersections is a reasonable objective for roundabout conversion at least one criteria being impact on fuel consumption. Certainly about 90% of signalized intersections are roundabout-conversion feasible.
Conversion of 200 busy intersections to roundabouts with a resulting average 19,000 gallon annual reduction in fuel consumption represents a 1.2% decrease in the 2012 Vermont consumption of 307 million gallons of motor fuel. Another 1.2% in the medium term”, 10 years, can be estimated and a third 1.2% for the “long term”, 10-20 years, comprised of a combination of modal shifts to non-motor vehicle travel combined by the impacts of increased development densities. Overall, the 200 signal-to-roundabout conversions represent a 3.6% decline in motor fuel consumption. This does not address the ancillary benefits of hundreds of thousands of hours of reduced travel time for all modes, injuries and fatalities avoided, and improved scenic quality.
- The 2010 plan miscalculates both post-2000 Annual Vehicle Miles of Travel (AVMT) but also presents a slow growth AVMT scenario already proven not to be the case.
First, the 2000-2010 growth to 7 billion-plus AVMT clearly is in error. Vermont AVMT growth for the period likely was less than the 3.1% average growth rate for all New England AVMT for the period leaving Vermont AVMT below 7 billion AVMT as of 2010. The Vermont AVMT actually declined 1.8% 2010-2013, a figure which is reasonable when compared to other Ne England States (all but Massachusetts declined). The problem with Vermont 2000-2010 change of AMVT occurred in two changes in how the State calculated AVMT during the period—the lack of a consistent method skewed the 2000-2010 upward.
Second, as Vermont population growth slowed more than expected (dipping into negative territory in a recent year) and the 2014 Census data showing population decline in nine of fourteen counties clearly indicate a slow growth in AVMT regardless of other factors. But, the growth of the senior population factor—about a half percent of Vermont population each year or about 3,000, shifts into the senior age category while the under-65 population slowly declines. This trend reflected in the official State population estimates means—all other factors equal—a slow and steady decline in AVMT as that over-65 driver mile-per-year over the decades has remained 40% below the under-65 aged driver. So, Vermont absent any other factors can anticipate a flat to slow downtrend in AVMT at least through 2030 based on demographics alone.
Of course other factors are not equal—the under 30 age group driver license proportions have dropped, employers and public policy pushes for reduced solo driving, and there are clear indications of decreased public financed of motor vehicle use.
One of the major areas for action is abandoning “free” parking for solo driving Vermont workers who burden the public and private sector with $120 million year parking costs.
- Transportation finance must move away from vehicle taxes to support needed non-vehicle services.
USPIRG in a report this year found 42% of the investment and maintenance of highways came from non-user funding. The federal government ended motor vehicle taxes to support the so-called Highway Trust Fund about three years ago and currently is considering a number of non-motor vehicle taxes of about $8 billion to keep federal transportation programs continuing for a short time. At the state level Virginia abolished the gas tax last year and funds all highways through an across the board dedicated sales tax. Nothing complicated here—car travel decline combined with rapid growth of all other modes (walk, bike, rail, bus, etc.) means other sources must be tapped. Vermont must address these new reality—commuter rail, for example, might be funded by a northwest/central Vermont dedicated sales tax. And, subsidies of high-petroleum use/polluting heavy trucks by everyone else needs to
Most important our urban areas and town centers needs a $100-$200 million immediate investment in modern, quality, safe walk and bike infrastructure to respond to making a reality safe, multi-modal transportation increasingly found in our town and regional plans.
- Annual Vehicle Miles of Travel (AVMT) Exhibit 9-7 appears seriously flawed; Exhibit 9-8 similarly historically misleading.
The picture presented of Vermont change in Exhibit 9-7 appears seriously in error, representing a false trend line. The growth 1980-1990 appears about 25% versus actual growth of 57%. From 1990 to 2000 growth collapsed to 16%, then about 3% (using New England average) 2000—2010, turning negative about 2008 and never reaching that number since. The sharply reduced growth in AVMT was known to the VAOT in a study and an analysis in the 1989-1991 period when a 20% growth (overstated by about 20% as it turned out) was projected 1990-2000. This graph needs to be revised to reflect the real trends it fails to reflect.
Exhibit 9-8, of course, must be replaced by now historic data showing a downtrend/flatlining in AVMT from 2008 forward (note earlier comments that the Vermont peak never hit 7 billion AVMT because of changes in Vermont calculations of AVMT made a one time unjustifiable increase in the figure subsequently used as a base for annual calculations thereafter). As AVMT represents a key metric, Vermont's numbers for the 2000 forward need to be revised to better reflect actual levels. Because HPMS and motor fuels—along with comparisons with other New England States—serve as a guide, such a revision in numbers for 2000 and after do not pose a major obstacle.
Without accurate trends and inventory, policy discussions and setting objectives become exceedingly difficult and lead to a mis-allocation of scarce resources.
- Public transportation, walking and bicycling—the three rabbits along with one horse, the car, in the transportation horse and rabbit stewWhile Vermont households spend about $2 billion in their household budget for car-based transportation, they spend perhaps $10 million for public transit including Amtrak, walking and bicycling. Now it is well understood that a network of intercity and commuter rail as well as modern high quality and safe walk/bike infrastructure is not only possible but a market driven demand, sizable investments are needed outside of highway taxation stream to fund these burgeoning transportation modes while decreasing subsidies to all forms of motor vehicle transport except the public transport vehicles.It is noteworthy that less than five pages is devoted to walk, bike and rail passenger modes even though these three can represent more than half the urban trips in some urban planning. In Copenhagen, bike trips topping half of all urban trips in about two years has been a goal since 2000. Commuter, intercity and light rail along with walk/bike modes shares of 20% or more represent the very minimum that CEP needs to recommend along with estimates of modal shifts from vehicle miles, car registrations, etc. (Note that in a recent month there was a 1,000 vehicle decline in registered cars and light trucks in Vermont.)
Thank for the opportunity to submit these comments.