Charles Simpson on What "Everybody Knows" About the Champlain Parkway Letter
South End Resident Charles Simpson of May
13, 2019 Representatives of the Pine Street Coalition spoke out at the CCRPC Board of Directors meeting May 15
Champlain Parkway: To What End?
Dear Andy Montroll (Burlington
representative to Chittenden County Regional Planning Board [CRPC]);
Charlie Baker, CCRPC Executive Director; and Chapin Spencer,
Director, Burlington Public Works:
To put it in a nutshell,
the “purpose and need” justifying the construction of the
Champlain Parkway is defunct. And the parkway planned to accomplish
that “purpose and need” is obsolete. It’s “sell by” date is
decades old. Structures from a previous era--the 19th century
buildings that embellish our streetscapes--serve a purpose. They
remind us of our history in an aesthetically impressive way.
Utilitarian infrastructure planned in another era does not.
the more than 20 years I’ve lived in Burlington, I’ve continually
marveled at the C1 section of the Champlain Parkway [“Road to
Nowhere” between Pine St. and Home Ave.], a relic of past-planning
and past needs that social changes have obviated. The beltway concept
that girdled so many cities with obstructions that decimated
waterfront areas has been abandoned. Not just abandoned, but undone.
Witness the $22 billion Boston spent on removing and replacing the
elevated Southeast Expressway running through the heart of the city.
Witness New Orleans’ brush with death when planners sought to level
the French Quarter to make room for a beltway. Or Manhattan’s
hallucinatory quest to scour out Chinatown-Little Italy, SoHo and
Midtown to build elevated highways linking New Jersey with Long
Island. In every case, the tunnel vision of highway planners made the
same mistake: they reduced thriving communities to bits of expendable
geography separating one place from another.
that a new generation of highway planners here in Vermont has
inherited the same set of blinders, the same narrow focus on transit
rather than arrival, on locomotion rather than life-in-place.
the words of Lenard Cohen, “Everybody Knows” the Champlain
Parkway makes no sense. You know it, I’m sure. The public knows it.
But for the record, let us count the ways. 1) Less rather than more
traffic is what’s desired downtown, with private vehicles replaced
with right-sized electric buses and bikes to the extent possible. The
old suburb-to-center-city model of urban vitality is dead. 2) The
South End has emerged as the city’s center of technological
innovation, the arts, food entrepreneurship, and residence. It needs
full-spectrum travel corridors that separate bikes. pedestrians, and
cars on roadways and paths designed primarily for local use. The
Champlain Parkway design throws walkers and bikers together on the
same paths, puts bikers in the street in sections, and flouts the
very notion of “connectivity” central to our planning mantra by
severing the head off of Pine Street and separating it from So.
Burlington. 3) If the challenge of our age is anything, it is about
preservation of the environment. That means augmenting the drainage
corridor of Englesby Brook as a natural setting able to absorb
surface water rather than dump effluent into our lake. The CP
[Champlain Parkway] would burry it in 200 feet of culvert,
accelerating its flow, paving its banks. 4) The future accessibility
of our city lies in park-and-ride infrastructure. We already
recognize this with our van system to Hill institutions and private
businesses. Yet the CP would carve a 150 foot swath through our
enterprise zone without replacing parking there, waste up to 6 acres
of what would otherwise be job-creating space, all to move cars from
Home to Lakeside where it would then dump them as congestion in the
center of the Enterprise Zone. Congestion and inadequate concern for
safety, one might add due to a rigid fixation on signaled
intersections rather than roundabouts. And at a time when the City
has trouble maintaining the present street surfaces, it proposes to
build two parallel roads, Briggs and the CP 2, mere yards apart and
serving the same purpose.
Ah, proponents say, but this
is a $43 million dollar [now $47.1 million] stimulus to the city’s
construction industry, “free” federal money. Well, it’s not
free if we waste 6 acres of our valuable and limited manufacturing
area. It’s not free if the locality bares the cost of future
maintenance and the promised “post-construction modifications”
that the “limited access” design will require to be made. It’s
not free if it doesn’t meet current safety standards. “Everybody
knows” that Burlington shouldn’t be an adjunct to the
construction or real estate industries. Shouldn’t be, but too
often, is. Nor is our decision making a matter of febrile excitation,
the need to just get something, anything, done. Yet, as we see with
the downtown hole-in-the-mall, it often is.
listen to public voices such as those of the Pine Street Coalition
and reopen the planning for roads in the South End. The first step
would be to delay moving ahead with CP until you have a current
environmental impact statement. The second would be to open C1from
Home to I-189 to serve the industrial area via a roundabout at Pine.
Then rebuild Briggs to serve local needs. That’s it!