Monday, January 18, 2016

Champlain Parkway White Paper One: Evaluation


                      “Champlain Parkway: Get it Right the First Time”

                       Panel and Discussion Wednesday 

                       February 3, 6:30 p.m. at Arts Riot, 400 Pine St.

Champlain Parkway White Paper One: Evaluation

Let's shape it to become a street the public can love!

January 16, 2016

Our Parkway View—Do it right the first time by shaping a highest all-modes safety and quality transportation street to:
    1. Play a central part in achieving a livable South End community
    2. Remove trucks off residential streets
    3. Assure safety, especially for those who walk and bike, while reducing global warming gases and other pollutants, cutting gasoline use, and intersection delay.
    4. Ignite and sustain a vibrant South End industrial-commercial-arts economy

The current Parkway now promoted by the City, Vermont Agency of Transportation (VAOT) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) gets very little right. Most importantly the current Parkway completely fails the following critical tests. The City’s Parkway design results in a net drop in safety for each mode. Added to poor safety: the current Parkway design would increase global warming gases and other pollutants, waste gasoline, strangle economic vitality, cut off connectivity to key adjacent areas, and damage neighborhood livability. Therefore, Safe Streets Burlington (SSB) calls for stopping the project design followed by developing revisions centering on major upgrades to safety, reducing environment impacts, and increasing economic benefits.

Remember about 15 years ago the City itself fought against the route of Pine Street from the old Public Works facility to Main Street and lost out to FHWA and VAOT opposition. Since the last public hearing was held a decade ago 2006, a large portion of today's Burlington population never participated in formulating the current design.

Safe Streets Burlington (SSB) challenges the current Champlain Parkway's (Parkway) decades old purpose of speeding cars from I 189 to downtown. The current 2006 Parkway plan correctly moves trucks off residential streets, but new priorities of this decade demand safe streets and intersections for our families and visitors. These priorities include reducing gasoline use and all pollutants tied to climate change, and maintaining economic vitality and growth centering on the arts and business sectors. SSB condemns cutting off the connectivity of the South End to Queen City Park Road, Kmart Plaza and points beyond.

SSB calls for a Parkway to become a street the public can love, a street leading the parade to thriving, livable neighborhoods. Therefore SSB abandons the Parkway purpose of the past half century--moving cars at high speeds to downtown totally blind to what lies outside the curbs. A Parkway design with separate walk and bike facilities along with roundabout intersections cures most of the fundamental defects in the current design. This separation of walk and bike facilities along with safe intersections assures an immeasurable gain for the South End and the City. Progress in other Vermont towns on safe streets and our own North End corridor plan show the way. A project price tag of $43 million requires the City to “do it right the first time.”

Can safety be ignored with a massive 47% predicted growth in Lakeside Avenue traffic facing the Lakeside neighborhood just to get to Pine Street? Can the safety and needs of those on foot and bicycle be ignored in the face of a 39% increase of traffic along Pine Street above Lakeside Avenue through the heart of the commercial, retail, and arts section? The current design dismisses these questions. SSB calls for a Parkway revised using designs which actually improve safety for all modes along Pine Street and Lakeside Avenue.

City leaders apologize for obsolete project design for every mode, and promise later improvements to make up for admitted Parkway design defects. SSB says correct the project defects now, don't kick the can down the road! With $43 million to work with composed of 95% federal funds, a “fits and starts” Parkway approach simply makes no sense.

Burlington residents who comprise Safe Streets Burlington call for quality and safe transportation investing within our City. Like the late urbanologist Jane Jacobs, SSB places people and neighborhood livability first and catering to cars and trucks second. Both SSB and the City start from common values, but the current Parkway design does not meet today's safety and quality street features, namely, sidewalks throughout, separate safe bike pathways and vehicle travelways—all of which would be served at busy intersections by the unrivaled safety and service of the modern roundabout. By contrast all of these very features sparkle in the North Avenue 2.8 mile corridor plan embraced by the City in 2014. The North Avenue design features separate cycle track end-to-end and sidewalks end-to-end and at least three of seven signals converted to roundabouts. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) support conversions of signals to roundabouts for seniors safety. Three states including New York the transportation departments of two Canadian provinces follow an intersection policy of “roundabouts first.”

Why safety first? When the Parkway project began in 1965 the U.S. ranked first in highway safety and then sunk to 19th in the world. With a fatality rate twice that of leading nations, attaining the lowest rates translates to saving 13,000 U.S. lives a year. Both walk and bike fatalities remain a pressing concern as we encourage more people to undertake these healthy modes of travel. Burlington recorded five fatalities since 1998—two pedestrians, one bicyclist, and two drivers—all of which occurred at signalized intersections. Consider that there has not been one single fatality to date at any of the 4,000 roundabouts in the U.S. built since 1990. Compare the roundabout record against two Burlington pedestrian fatalities occurring since 1998 at its 75 traffic signals.

Now for the first time we have Vermont downtown roundabout data covering over 50 years with only one recorded pedestrian injury at the five busy downtown roundabouts in Montpelier, Middlebury and Manchester Center! Compare one pedestrian over a half century to five injuries (one critical) at two Parkway intersections in just four years (Pine at Locust and Lakeside)! Compare the Vermont downtown roundabouts to Burlington's overall “dirty 17” intersections (13 signalized) recording an average of one pedestrian injury yearly (one fatal) 2011-2014! SSB insists that the City must not make $43 million in street investments and fail to complete any modern safe facilities for those who walk, bike and travel by car! The Parkway design must turn to safety first!

The current Parkway design pales in comparison to the 2.8 mile North Avenue “model of excellence” plan adopted by the City Council in October 2014. In spite of massive expected traffic growth up to 47%, the Parkway design lacks North Avenue's basic features: end-to-end cycle track, end-to-end sidewalks, conversion of injury generating signals to roundabouts. Instead, the Parkway actually adds five new injury generating signalized intersections! Even the “new” Home Ave. to Lakeside Ave. section lacks either sidewalks or cycle track. Even FHWA, while opposing Parkway roundabouts, boasts of their benefits: “Compared to other types of intersections...Roundabouts improve safety: more than 90% reduction in fatalities, 76% reduction in injuries, 35% reduction in all crashes, slower speeds are generally safer for pedestrians.” Compared to the single lane roundabout the typical traffic signal doubles vehicle crashes, increases pollutants by about 30%, and raises rates of serious and fatal injury rates by upwards of nine times (900%). Roundabouts uniquely also lower vehicle speeds outwards one to two blocks.

SSB disagrees with the City and VAOT. The City says that VAOT blocks further safety and service changes to the Parkway. The City says in effect that the South End must accept unsafe streets and transportation infrastructure because these are forced on the City by VAOT and the Montpelier FHWA office. SSB rejects a situation wherein the City is forced to spend $43 million in transportation infrastructure, to accept the crashes and injuries (and, yes, perhaps a fatality or two over the 20 year lifetime of a transportation investment) or is faced with losing $40 million federal dollars. SSB points to the last significant busy street investment—the opening of the Church Street Marketplace 35 years ago—when SSB insists we can no longer ignore decades of no meaningful change for safety on Burlington busy streets!

Last but not least the Parkway clearly impacts surface and stormwater runoff increasingly of concern and directly affects the Barge Canal superfund site. This site continues being active today and an ongoing threat to Lake Champlain, the source of our City water supply and centerpiece of the of our waterfront tourist economy. Contaminated and toxic soils throughout the Parkway route and westward through the enterprise zone remain a continuing challenge. Re-Imagining includes adopting recent innovative practices and treatments to improve runoff performance, reducing pressure on the Barge Canal superfund site, and addressing in a straight forward fashion contaminated soils.

SSB calls for an immediate stop to project design. SSB calls for starting a discussion of new designs centering on safety and environmental and economically beneficial upgrades--upgrades without unreasonable associated costs, time delay, and permitting. The residents of the City and the South End, the City, the State and FHWA officials certainly share our SSB values—relocating truck traffic outside of neighborhoods, attaining true safety for all users, pursuing sustained economic vitality, acting on climate change by reducing pollutants and gasoline use, and achieving livable neighborhoods. Now the sole task remains of applying our common concerns to a project which is so critical to our South End neighborhoods and the City.

To join SSB and help to bring a world class street to the South End, a street our residents can love, please visit our website or email

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