Category Archives: Transportation

PARKING PANIC!!! And the Reactionary Nature of Local TV News

Local TV news does more than its share of ridiculous things, but this one from WPTZ really got my goat. It’s about the modest changes to North Winooski Avenue approved by Burlington City Council Monday night. And it’s called…

Businesses in Burlington’s Old North End unsure of their future as North Winooski Parking Plan is set to happen

AAAAUUGGGHHH Parking Panic!!!!!!!!

The story, such as it was, quoted two — count ’em, two — Old North End business owners worried about the plan’s reduction of 40 parking spaces along the corridor.

This sort of thing is the red meat of local TV news: Raising fears about the unknown.

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Can We Get Some Transportation Imagination Up In Here?

This, friends and neighbors, is a typical streetscape in Amsterdam. Note the balanced, complete integration of auto, pedestrian, bicycle and public transit.

Meanwhile, here in America, the best we can do is staple bikeways and walkways onto existing streets and roads in ways that put non-motorists in danger and force our buses to fight their way through traffic. And I fear that our coming investments in infrastructure and greenhouse gas reduction will do little to change this dysfunctional reality.

Funny thing. The Netherlands is a far better place to drive than any American city. In fact, it’s been rated the best country in the world to drive in. It’s faster for motorists in spite of the relatively narrow roadways, and it’s a damn sight safer.

And before you can say “Oh, well, the Dutch have always been weird,” their towns and cities used to be car-centric until fairly recently. And they were loud and crowded and difficult to get around in, just like their American counterparts. But the Dutch made a concerted effort to define “transportation” as it should be defined: “getting the most people from one place to another as quickly as possible.” And that doesn’t mean more and wider roads, because more and wider roads actually slow things down.

Vermont’s Climate Action Plan includes a lot of pretty noises about equity, creativity, and alternative modes of transportation. Sounds nice, but Gov. Phil Scott’s plan focuses almost entirely on electric vehicle subsidies and infrastructure. That would mitigate our climate footprint, but it would do nothing to make our transportation system better, safer or more equitable. Right now we have a flood of federal Covid cash to invest; if we adopt Scott’s plan, we will squander this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

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Being a Senator: A Lesson in Two Parts

2021 is a singularly difficult year to be a first-term lawmaker. You can’t get a feel of the place. You can’t have the casual conversations that make life easier. You can’t grab a colleague for a brief word of explanation about something that’s hard to understand.

That said, I have to note a couple of troubling passages in the maiden voyage of Sen. Thomas Chittenden, D-Chittenden. On two separate occasions last month, he acted less like a senator than like a state representative from a specific community. In hearings on Burlington-area transportation improvements and school funding, he spoke entirely on behalf of his hometown, South Burlington.

On February 19, the Senate Transportation Committee held a hearing (video available here) on potential improvements to I-89 in the Burlington area. Nothing’s happening imminently; the committee and VTrans are looking a few decades into the future, assessing options for handling traffic flows that will almost certainly increase from the already heavy volumes of today.

The committee and a VTrans official discussed options for making the Burlington area interchanges work better. One of the options is a new exit on I-89 at US-116/Hinesburg Road. This hypothetical Exit 12-B would provide a direct pipeline into South Burlington.

Well, Chittenden gave a strong (and rather parochial) endorsement to the 12-B idea.

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Dick-Swinging at the DMV

, From left: Officers Buddy, Bubba and Junior

Does anyone else see a problem with this photo?

The DMV chose this image of burly officers with pimped-out pickups to represent its own police department, whose tasks are mainly bureaucratic in nature. It’s a picture of testosterone run amuck, straight out of a Boss Hogg wet dream.

It’s a small thing, but it illustrates a toxic cop culture. It’s the old-fashioned image of policing — a matter of billy clubs and guns and beefy officers enforcing the peace. It’s a man’s, man’s, man’s world, no place for nuance or sensitivity. That shit’ll get you killed, bud.

Could the DMV have possibly hustled up a picture including at least one female officer? Or a person of color? Or someone who doesn’t look like a former football player?

And those trucks. Good grief. Overcompensating much?

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Did Phil Scott break the law this morning, or just bend it?

The official Phil Scott Twitter account sent this out today.

That’s some dedication there, being out on a chilly October morning, waving the signs just a few feet away from interstate freeway traffic…

… hm.

In many places, it’s illegal for candidates to stand that close to the freeway. Looks like Phil’s most enthusiastic companion is only a few feet from the right of way, and the candidate himself is about ten feet off the pavement.

But is it illegal for Team Scott to be standing in that particular location? Unclear.

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No, it’s really not “your town”

The good people of Shelburne are in a tizzy because their blessed gemeinschaft might be tainted by the slightest hint of industrialization. The Burlington Free Press, which pays no mind to antiwar protests but is always anxious to report the plight of affluent subscribers:

Protesters against a project that would place a salt transfer and storage facility near the LaPlatte River in Shelburne donned rain gear and gathered at the Shelburne Community School on Sunday afternoon to make their voices heard.

Horrors!

You know, I have a lot of trouble ginning up outrage on behalf of comfortable, affluent white folks, which is basically the population of Shelburne. (Lookin’ at you, Bruce Lisman!) Especially when I read the overwrought rhetoric of Selectboard chair Gary von Stange:

“This is our town,” von Stange said. “This is our state. These are our lives and our children. This is our community. Champlain is our lake. The LaPlatte is our river. We not only have the right, we have the obligation to fight for our children and our children’s children. There is no compromising when it comes to safety.”

Oh, for God’s sake. Our lives? Our children? Our lake? Our river? All under threat because of a facility that will be invisible and almost inaudible? When its operator promises to abide by strict environmental standards?

This is the kind of apocalyptic verbiage that gives environmentalism a bad name. Do we really have to fight every development as if it will somehow transform Vermont into a Mad Max hellscape?

But that’s not the real problem here. The real problem is that railways enjoy the most all-encompassing, ironclad property rights of just about any entity you can think of.

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With friends like these

With apologies to Mr. Harwood.

Early front-runner for Sound Bite of the Campaign Season is former Governor Jim Douglas. He had given a hearty endorsement speech at Phil Scott’s campaign launch; afterward, VTDigger’s Mark Johnson asked him what issue Scott is identified with.

Douglas’ short answer: “Uh, you’ve stumped me.”

That’s bad. The actual audio is worse. You can hear it at VTDigger, but here’s a transcript:

Johnson: So what’s the issue you identify him with?

Douglas: The issue I identif — ? Dunno if there’s a specific issue, um, we talked about some today, but uh [pause] uh, you stumped me. Again.

[facepalm]

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Minter’s pickle

Had a chat with Transportation Secretary Sue Minter about the discrimination lawsuit filed last week by three former VTrans workers. It creates a real dilemma for her; as head of the agency, she’s constrained from addressing the facts of the case. But as a potential gubernatorial candidate, she can’t be seen as anything less than fully supportive of LGBT employment rights, and she certainly can’t even be suspected of tolerating a culture of, ahem, intolerance.

I understand her situation, but that doesn’t make it any less pressing. It’s the fundamental problem with being an administration official while also exploring a candidacy: your first responsibility is to your employer. I imagine that’s why Deb Markowitz decided she had to choose one or the other.

“Obviously, I cannot comment on the specifics of the case,” she said, and added: “Any allegation of discrimination or harassment is very disturbing, and we take it seriously.” She then pivoted to the steps she’s taken to ensure a welcoming workplace.

“When I came into this job, I learned of some very well-known cases that had gone to the Human Rights Commission. I became very concerned. I’ve visited garages, driven snowplows, washed bridges, I’ve been a flagger. I’ve observed so many things, most of them positive, but I know that in any large organization, not everyone is on the same page.

… “We’ve worked hard to build a culture of diversity and tolerance. There is a very clear zero-tolerance policy. We reinforce that through trainings, and make sure everyone understands that the agency should be free of harassment and discrimination. …We’ve made it clear to managers and supervisors that they should respect all complaints. … About one year ago, we updated the Equal Employment Opportunity policy to include gender identity and transgender status as protected classes.”

Which is all very well, but I have a hard time believing the three plaintiffs fabricated their complaints. There’s no real upside to filing a baseless lawsuit or to allowing yourself to be publicly identified as a complainer.

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This could take a little air out of the Sue Minter balloon

Of all the state’s cabinet positions, the Agency of Transportation is one of the friendlier posts for an ambitious politico. Everybody’s in favor of roads and highways, including conservative Republicans. A lot of your funding comes from the feds. You make friends with the generous donors in the construction business. You get to do a whole lot of high-profile announcements and ribbon-cuttings. You get to look strong and purposeful in times of trouble.

It’s unlikely that, say, Human Services would be a stepping stone to higher office. (Just ask Doug “Sacrificial Lamb” Racine.) But Transportation Secretary Sue Minter? She’s got high hopes for the governorship, or so it is said.

Which is not to say that trouble can’t erupt, seemingly out of nowhere. Dan D’Ambrosio of the Burlington Free Press:

Three former employees of the Vermont Agency of Transportation say they were verbally abused — and in one case physically abused — and passed over for promotions and pay raises because they are gay and lesbian.

Oopsie. The three, who all quit to get away from the abuse, have filed a discrimination lawsuit. The details are not pretty.

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What’s your favorite boondoggle?

Hey look, the state’s talking about boosting passenger trains! Cue the Republican Outrage Machine.

The [Vermont] Agency of Transportation has issued its first statewide rail plan in nearly a decade. The proposal envisions new passenger routes to Burlington, Montreal, Manchester and Bennington…

… The combined price tag for the 20-year plan totals $665 million, well more than the $380 million in state and federal funding anticipated over the same time frame.

I can hear it now: a waste of taxpayer dollars! Unconscionable subsidies for a bygone system! Passenger rail serves only a small affluent clientele of train buffs!

Republicans, after all, have been trying to kill Amtrak for years because they believe passenger rail should pay its own way.

Which sounds nice in theory, makes a good sound bite. Problem is, there isn’t a transportation system of any kind that can stand on its own two feet. They all require massive subsidization.

Roads and highways, well, that’s easy. Construction and upkeep is entirely a taxpayer-funded enterprise, with the very occasional exception of toll roads. If we actually apportioned the costs on the basis of usership, the cost of long-distance trucking would go through the roof. Cargo trains would suddenly seem like a bargain by comparison. And if inter-city commutes reflected their true costs, well, let’s just say CCTA would have to greatly expand its LINK service.

But air travel is the big enchilada. An airport manager once told me, “Airports inherently lose money.” The infrastructure and security costs are borne by taxpayers, most of whom rarely or never use the facilities. (Talk about taking from the poor and giving to the rich.)

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