Thursday, August 27, 2015

Comment on Champlain Parkway in the Vermont Digger Srory Today

Posted by Tony Redington

The Parkway design now set for construction actually features not a single inch of quality
 walkable/bikable or even high safety drivable roadway. Against the City’s walk bike council 
advisory developed over six months and delivered to Mayor Weinburger in December, not a 
single recommendation can be found in the design–no separate walkway and bicycle 
facilities to assure safety, and not a single roundabout to assure safety for each mode at 
busy intersections. And, the lack of connectivity from Pine St. to points south using a 
roundabout gets shelved. A “Happy Days” 1950s design prevails for the Parkway which 
guarantees decades of relative desolation and commercial blight for the South End. Most 
important will be the needless serious injuries and a fatal or two over the life of the project 
which quality design prevents. Clearly the design represents an indelible black mark for the 
VTrans leadership of Secretary Minter and Mayor Weinberger whose administrators 
continue to mislead the community about this wolf in sheep’s clothing. One merely lays the 
landmark 2.8 mile North Avenue Corridor plan adopted last October against the Parkway to 
see the obvious fatal flaws in the South End project.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

City Snookered by State Highway Agency?

Is the Vermont Agency of Transportation Snookering the City on the Champlain Parkway?

Any careful observer of the evolution of the Champlain Parkway since the last full public hearing in the fall of 2006 might guess the latest meager crumbs this year of public information indicates a complete abandonment by the State to any improvements at all along Pine Street and Lakeside Avenue—the project now may be just the “new” roadway from the base of Pine Street with intersections at Home and Flynn Avenues ending at new third signal intersection at Lakeside Avenue.

For nine years the public of Burlington mostly resemble an audience at a long play with the curtain never going up as a number of major changes develop on stage. As a practical matter for the $43 million project there remains no playbill, a simple public document describing what the Parkway is all about in the first place and noting the changes, if any, since 2006. Some involved in Act 250 say there will be a signal at Maple and Pine Streets but how would the public know if that is true?

Earlier this year a strange almost surreal exercise took place at the Burlington Walk Bike Council as attendees were asked to move lines around on Pine Street without being able to move the curblines as one would do if the Parkway project were a re-construction as described in early renderings. The current project in addition to new roadway includes the intersection Lakeside Avenue then existing street to Pine Street, then north on Pine Street to the Maple Street intersection where the Parkway project ends. At least that was the case in 2006. Now, apparently nothing really is involved on either Lakeside or Pine except for rearranging pavement markings.

Some would like for the Parkway project to respond in a meaningful way to further agreed upon aspects of the vision contained in the planBTV South End draft plan recently released. But a Parkway plan—certainly the resources are there—as recently intimated will do nothing of the sort.

Of course from what we know those interested in quality, high safety facilities for all who can walk, bike and travel by vehicle were left out of the 2006 design—yes, there is not an inch, not a penny of walkable or bikable along the route and not a single safe intersection for those traveling by car. Reduce delay for all? No. Energy efficient? No. Minimum pollutant and global warming emissions? No. Any roundabouts?  No.  Any cycle track (protected bike lanes)?  No.

So, the question remains shrouded in mystery behind the curtain out of sight of the public—what is the Champlain Parkway and why have nine years gone by without a plain and simple document that residents can ponder over and discuss? The latest on Pine and Lakeside appears to indicate the Vermont Agency of Transportation has abandoned any consideration of carrying through on investments to benefit the South End along Pine Street and Lakeside Avenue—how sad if true that 98% federal/State funding of those potential benefits have been lost somewhere in goings on behind the curtain. Looks like the City may be snookered by the Agency. Time to raise the curtain? 

Sunday, August 2, 2015

First Northeast Roundabout Becomes 20-something

The First Modern Roundabout East of Colorado and North of Maryland Reaches 20th Birthday This August: Keck Circle Montpelier, VT.

At eventide on August 16, 1995 just after application of the Spring and Main Streets modern roundabout's first course asphalt paving, two young bicyclists circled a time or two on the still hot circular travelway. A few minutes later after the paving equipment fully cleared, traffic barriers came down and the first modern roundabout in the northeast opened for four-wheeled vehicles too. So began the first hour of Keck Circle in Montpelier, Vermont's first roundabout--the first north of Maryland and east of Colorado, and 19th built in the U.S.

That roundabout, Keck Circle, so named by City Council action commemorates citizen-activist and member of the Montpelier Roundabout Committee Andy Keck who died just weeks before the opening of his namesake roundabout, is located a block from grades 6-8 Main Street Middle School. Keck Circle traffic calms a block or two along each leg including the main crossing to the school, and has never been found to require crossing guard protection at school times. To all Montpelier school students today Keck Circle has been in place their entire lives. The roundabout defines one of the four corners of the simple rectangular Vermont Capital City downtown street grid composed of north-south Main and Elm Streets and east-west Spring and State Streets.

Controversial up to and in its early operation, a survey a year later found 85% acceptance and support. That survey was the first U.S. public opinion survey undertaken on a roundabout after construction. To date in almost 20 years of operation no serious injuries were recorded and in the first decade injuries were less than the decade previous. With about 3,000 roundabouts built as of the end of 2014 in the U.S. and Canada not a single walk mode fatality was recorded. (In Burlington, VT two walk mode fatalities occurred at the City's 75 traffic signals between 1998-2014 alone and a third at a signal adjacent to the City border in South Burlington.)

The single lane roundabout with a diameter which averages about 106 feet continues to serve about the same traffic approaching along its three legs,12,000 total vehicles entering it on an average day. About 42 tractor trailers a day travel through the roundabout as it is located on Route 12, and large tour buses are a frequent users during the fall foliage season. Designed by Michael J. Wallwork, Alternate Street Design, Orange Park, FL, Montpelier leaders at the time were Mayor Charles Karparis, City Manager Ryan Cotton and Department of Public Works Director Steven Gray. The Montpelier Roundabout Committee members included: Peter Meyer and Tony Redington (co-chairs), Keck, Gray, then Police Chief Douglas Hoyt, Donna Bate, Alan Lendway and then City Planner Joseph Zehnder. Keck Circle cost $162,000 and involved only City funds. From concept to ready-to-construct, it took two years, then one additional to complete accommodation within the City budget.

Since the opening of the roundabout the other three major intersections along Main Street received favorable preliminary feasibility studies for roundabout conversion—Main and State, Main and Barre (now in detailed study), and across the Winooski Bridge at the south terminus of Main Street at River Street/Northfield Street/Memorial Drive. Montpelier's second roundabout, a single lane roundabout at US 2/302, opened in 2009. Through 2014 there are now 14 modern roundabouts with downtown roundabouts in addition to Keck Circle in Waterbury, Manchester Center (3) and Middlebury. The three roundabouts in Manchester Center with the last two completed in 2013 constitute the first Vermont corridor of roundabouts and first walkable busy corridor in the State.

Wallwork, one of a handful of engineers who designed and promoted roundabouts from their inception in the U.S. in 1990 through today, wrote in 1992: “...I predict that engineers will increasingly realize that traffic signals are not the cure-all and, adopting a more international outlook, roundabouts will proliferate in this last major bastion of the traffic signal. Roundabouts will be used in residential streets to reduce speeds and accidents, and on arterial roads to reduce accidents and provide higher capacity. In all instances they will be more cost effective and aesthetic...” (“Roundabouts for the U.S.A.” 1992).

In the United States, once first in highway safety, fatality rates continue to slide below now a total of 18 nations with top nations (including the U.K., birthplace of the roundabout, in first place). Roundabouts cut incapacitating and fatal injuries about 90% for all modes. The U.S. fatality rate per mlle of travel now is twice that of nations at the top of the list. This means about 20,000 additional deaths each year here, as reported by Malcolm Gladwell in New Yorker Magazine, May 4. Most of the nations ahead of the U.S. heavily invested in roundabouts as well as in urban areas a full range of safe walk and bike infrastructure.

To see Keck Circle in action at school closing one can view this 5 minute-43 second video taken on the afternoon of November 1, 2013 by R.J. Lalumiere of Burlington during a field visit of North Avenue Corridor Plan Advisory Committee members.

Notes: 1. The public opinion survey report referenced, Montpelier's Modern Roundabout at Keck Circle Neighborhohod Opinion Survey: January 1997” can be viewed at:
2. The New Yorker article referred to: “The Engineer's Lament” by Malcolm Gladwell, May 4, 2015 New Yorker Magazine
3. The base reference for the “about 90%” reduction of “incapacitating and fatal injuries” obtained by installing roundabouts is: R. Retting, B. Persaud, P. Garder, D. Lord. (2001) Crash and injury reduction following installation of roundabouts in the United States” American Journal of Public Health
. This study because of sample size did not apply directly to either bicycle or walk mode rates, only “all modes rate.” Separate studies of single lane roundabouts do show reductions of serious and fatal injury rates of about 90% for walk mode and bike mode.