Thursday, June 30, 2016

Difficult Shelburne Street Roundabout Project Moves Along--2020 "Likely" Install Year

BURLINGTON, VT—June 30, 2016 The Vermont Agency of Transportation (AOT) project manager calls the Shelburne Street roundabout project the most difficult in his 17 year career because of the “spaghetti” of utilities underground.

Engineer Michael LaCroix, P.E. gave a “very likely“ roundabout installation for 2020 at the high accident list intersection where two pedestrian injuries were recorded during 2011-2014. when it rated within the 17 highest pedestrian crash locations in Burlington. LaCroix said he checked the crash performance of the three Route 15 Lamoille County roundabouts (Cambridge, Hyde Park, and Morrissville) and found a 50% reduction in crashes. He pointed out that because of the lower speeds at a roundabout that crashes which do occur are less severe on average than those at signs or signals. The project construction takes two years with the “hoped for” start in 2019 devoted to the utilities work and 2020 the actual construction of the roundabout.

About 20 residents and Department of Public Works (DPW) staff attend the June 29 meeting where LaCroix agreed to periodic updates at the request of City Councilor Karen Paul who explained that the project which goes back to 2008 has been very difficult to get information about since. In the most recent AOT report the intersection recorded 50 crashes over five years.

LaCroix said once the utilities plans are worked out with each utility expected over the next months the regular steps of acquisition of right-of-way occurs in 2017 and 2018 along with final design elements take place.  LaCroix stressed the project is a collaborative one with DPW where Laura Wheelock is project manager.  LaCroix's unit is doing the design work. He said the project is an “absolute” priority and continues as first or second among the dozen projects assigned to his unit.  LaCroix who meets with DPW every three months saw no reason that updates on project status can be done regularly. 

Travel time may be somewhat longer for those traveling St. Paul/Shelburne Streets but less for those entering from the other three streets, Locust, Ledge and South Willard.

About half the cost of the $2-$4 million project involves underground utilities work. Utilities include water, electric, at least two cable lines, and Vermont Gas—all with various connections and locations at the intersection involving five streets. Added to this work are what might be termed pockets to take storm water runoff and treat if before joining a pipe which directly enters Lake Champlain.

The 130 foot diameter roundabout will have on/off ramps for bicyclists on each approach/exit to shared space with pedestrians so a cyclist has the “choice” of taking the circular travel lane or switching to pedestrian mode to move through the crossings then ramping down onto to the street level again.

Tony Redington, a member of the Technical Committee on the Walk Bike Master Plan noted the two pedestrian crashes in four years at the intersection and compared that to one crash in 50 years recorded at five downtown Vermont roundabouts. “One would expect only about a pedestrian crash once a decade with a roundabout,” said Redington, also a roundabout expert and representative of Safe Streets Burlington. He asked everyone to be careful walking at a roundabout as with about 5,000 in place in the United States and Canada not a single pedestrian fatality has been recorded to date.

There are 12 public main streets and roads roundabouts in Vermont dating from the first in 1995 but none in Chittenden County.  The U.S. roundabout 2001 key safety study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found a decrease of about 90% in serious and fatal injury rates after conversion to roundabouts.  AARP advocates conversion of signals to roundabouts because of the higher rate of senior drivers fatalities at intersections compared to non-senior drivers. The average "busy" signalized intersection converted to a roundabout reduces pollutants, gasoline consumption and global warming gases generated at the intersection traffic by about 30%.  

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Response to Dan Jones on Revitalization of VT

Dan Jones in a think piece on Vermont in June 23 Vermont Digger talks about more housing and density among other elements in revitalizing Vermont "To revitalize Vermont: lsiten to the young people."

Here is my response posted today:

Some good ideas here, some incomplete. First, regardless of what we do the die is cast--the graying of Vermont is real and nothing can change the slow but steady decline (in many cases severe) of under 65 population.  This graying of Vermont (doubling our senior population share from 12% to 24% between 2010-2030, or over 90,000 more 65--and-over residents is being repeated to a lesser extent throughout the northeast and the nation). Second, while good transportation (rail, public transit, etc. and we have a long way to go to make it so) makes sense, the lack of walkable (first) and bikable (second) downtowns and village centers remains widespread--one good example of how the U.S. went from first worldwide in highway safety in 1990 to 19th today.  First and foremost we need safe intersections for all modes--roundabouts--and bikable lanes, i.e. sidepaths and cycle track.  (As an aside Montpelier and Manchester Center both well on their way to walkable downtowns and Montpelier with its east west Winooski Transportation Plath [lighted and plowed in winter] show the way on bikable--both have Main Street corridors partly or fully roundaboutzed, the absolute necessity for both walkable and bikable.)

A lot of baloney being circulated about both need for more housing and increased densities.  Thanks to the leadership of Mayor Miro Weinberger, Burlington--source of northwest and north central Vermont spike in rents since the mid-1990s (another story)--has over 1,400 units built or through key steps in development in last two years, enough to already double its vacancy rate to 3% and expected to grow, and its primary demand for housing--student population at UVM--now down over 700 from its peak of over 13,000 in 2010 and sure to continue declining as the statewide college age population 18-22 drops.  The State's official projection, a reduction of 22% during the current 2010-2030.

Since Vermont escaped the last century--as did a handful of states including Maine--the extreme ravages of both population growth and sprawl (thanks in great part to political leadership symbolized by Act 250), to use the claim of a density issue in Vermont downtowns and village centers borders on oxymoron when our statewide population grown a robust 300 residents since 2010 and no significant population growth (other than the senior demographic) is expected in the future.  So in the face of little or even negative population growth we can easily accommodate additional housing in large amounts in our existing built up areas with three-to-four story structures, new or rehabilitated.  Barre Street in Montpelier and Old North End in Burlington provide examples of both private and non-profit additions of major housing upgrades and added units easily maintaining both existing and needed increased densities. With a strong non-profit housing community housing affordability needs to be seriously addressed in terms of incomes policy and housing subsidies at both the state and federal levels.  

Remember not only the young need to be accommodated in downtowns and village centers with quality and safe walking cycling facilities, but so do seniors who also seek to access grocery stores, coffee shops, churches and community meetings and events--and the seniors are truly a growth opportunity for Vermont with most bringing with them practically guaranteed retirement incomes!

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Pine Street Coaltion Redesign Cuts Parkway Cost $11.6 million--NEW REDESIGN MAP!!

Coalition Re-design Cuts Parkway Construction Costs $11.6 million--NEW REDESIGN MAP!!

A preliminary estimate of construction cost savings from the Pine Street Coalition (PSC) Re-design Guidelines stands at $11.6 million.  The $11.6 million reduction is a third of the current construction cost estimate by Vermont of $33 million and a quarter of the total project cost estimates of $44.3 million.

And please find the excellent new map so you can see for yourself the new redesign guidelines in place:

The cost savings do not include substantially increasing service to all modes, reductions in maintenance expenses, decreased pollution and storm water runoff, providing a separate walk and bike facility from Parkway/Pine Street to Curis Lumber, and signficantly reduced costs from avoided crashes and serious injuries.
The largest cost saving, not building Parkway from from Flynn Avenue to Lakeside Avenue, amounts to $13.0 million savings.   Mini-roundabouts at $50,000 each replace $500,000 traffic signals at Pine/Maple and Pine/King intersections.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Burlington Town Center Development: Cannibal Towers?

Sinex's “Cannibal Towers”

The New York owner of Burlington Town Center Donald Sinex forces the City to change its zoning for height so he can almost triple the floors without public benefit from about six floors to fourteen, from a 65 feet limit to 160 feet. The project featuring two fourteen-story towers might better be called “Cannibal Towers.” The project doubles the Mall retail space, adds 374 units of housing, and floors of office space. But much of Cannibal Towers success depends on the demise of similar existing development and population shift from other parts of the Chittenden County. In a word there is no rationale or market demand for a project the size Mr. Sinex pursues. Besides his development can be mostly accommodated without resort to changing our zoning, as he pointed out in an early interview.  Of course no one really knows what Mr. Sinex is up to as no marketing study for the retail/office space/housing has been done by a responsible public agency. 

Look at the current retail environment and population trends here. First retail, parricularly big box and malls nationally and in this area downsize faster than the number of land line phones.  Sears nears bankruptcy and movement from stores to e-commerce has just begun. The University Mall is under water financially and we can expect even Williston big-box retail to begin to wilt. Therefore, no need to double the space of a now half empty Town Center mall! Simply, Mr. Sinex can only fill his mall by forcing other area retailers holding “going out of business” sales. Mr. Sinex proposes a “vulture mall.”

The housing and commercial space cannibal aspect gets a little more complicated. But it comes down to the numbers of area residents in a fast changing demographic picture. Overall, the population under 65 age is shrinking. During the 2010-2030 period our County non-senior population declines by 5% (double digits in Vermont overall). College age population in Vermont drops 22% or down 8,000 which means lower and lower student numbers at UVM and other area colleges and training schools. At the same time our County and statewide seniors growth doubles—over 90,000 seniors added, more than double Burlington's population!   During the 2010-2030 period our statewide population growth overall is likely 3-4% (from 2010 to 2015 Census estimates the State grew by a miniscule 300 or so residents).

So Mr. Sinex for both office space and for housing must look to draw from mostly other area towns' office space and housing there being no significant “growth” market here in the County, demographically speaking. For Mr. Sinex, the real opportunity may be just to build and then run away—cannibalizing is not an appetizing approach to “development”!

Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Senioring of Vermont 2010-2030

The Senioring of Vermont 2010-2030

The two decade official average projection of Vermont population by age from the 2010 Census to 2030 shows a decline in under 65 age residents and a 97% increase or 89,452 additional residents in the seniors 65 age and older group. This growth amounts to an increase in senior population in excess of Census total population of the Town of Stowe, 4,324 each and every year for the 20-year projection 2010-2030 period.

The proportion of Vermont seniors of the total population doubles from 12% in 2010 to 24% in 2030. Still, looked at from another perspective the added senior population growth of 89,452 between 2010 and 2030 seems even more startling. Consider this growth slightly exceeds the total combined population of the following Vermont “B” communities: Burlington (State's largest city), Barre, Barton, Bellows Falls, Bennington, Brandon and Brattleboro,

The nearly doubling of Vermont's senior population from 91,078 in 2010 to 180,537 in 2030 amounts to a growth a slightly more than the total 2010 population of Stowe, 4,314 each year.
Meanwhile the drop in the youngest population to age 0-18 drops 18% and college/working age aged 19-84 down 11%. The trends are the same even for relatively growing (but growth slowing) Chittenden County for the 2010-2030 period--down 11% 0-19 age and down 5% 20-64 age. In Chittenden County the age 65 and over senior population growth of 111% exceeds the average projection of 97%.

In most counties the decline in under 65 is even more dramatic than the Chittenden County numbers. For example, Addison County 2010-2030 projection show a decline in 0-19 population of 36% and 20-64 of 21%.