Stopping State Handouts for Sprawl

Jul 21, 2014 by  | Bio |  3 Comment »

Over the past year it has been troubling to see large new development projects planned for areas around Vermont’s highway interchanges. It was not that long ago that Vermont’s then Governor Howard Dean issued an executive order protecting our highway interchanges from sprawl development.

Our public dollars created the interstates and we have a responsibility – to our pocketbooks and to our environment – to take good care of them.

That responsibility includes avoiding traffic snarling commercial sprawl at our highway exits.

Highway sprawl is expensive. A look at the roadway improvements planned around Burlington, Vermont, including two multi-million dollar interchange re-builds, show that many of them are needed now because of the commercial sprawl that sprang up around these exits.  As federal transportation dollars dwindle, we can ill afford to promote sprawl near highway exits that is guaranteed to require new and expensive upgrades in the coming decades. As we drive more to reach commercial developments near highway exits we increase pollution and greenhouse gases as well.

Governor Dean’s executive order from 2001 recognized that development at interstate interchanges can mar not only the scenic character of the state, but also can impair natural and agricultural resources and harm tourism. It directed state agencies to foster conservation of land in and around the highway interchanges.

Moving away from Governor’s Dean’s vision, this past year developers proposed changing Vermont’s Act 250 land use law to make it easier to build on valuable farmland. A poster child for this was a massive new commercial project planned for the Randolph highway exit. The plan would pave nearly all the farmland at the highway exit and replace it with a large commercial development, a portion of which would serve as a state visitors’ center.

Instead of protecting land around the interstate, state agencies would be partners with this sprawl development.

The proposed Act 250 change that would have helped this project never passed the Vermont Legislature, and the project appears to be on hold.

Now there is a proposal for a new truck stop-like huge convenience store along with a “state sanctioned welcome center” on a farm field just twenty miles up the road at the Berlin exit in Vermont. Traveler services are needed, but they come at too high a price if they are married to massive sprawling commercial developments at our highway exits.

This past year the Vermont Legislature did amend Act 250 to provide stronger protections against strip development outside of town. If some of these projects at our highway interchanges move forward it will be a good test of this new protection.

In contrast to these highway developments, the Vermont Judiciary just announced that it will move the State’s Environmental Court to downtown Burlington. This is good news. The Environmental Court, which hears appeals of Act 250 and local land use decisions, will no longer be in a stand-alone office building on a farm field outside of town. Instead it will set a good example for developers by being better integrated with other courts and closer to services in a downtown location.

Our public dollars, natural resources and scenic beauty are too important to squander in exchange for some short-term savings that burden future generations with more pollution and higher costs. Like the Environmental Court, the public investments and development decisions we make today should stand as good examples for generations.

A version of this post first appeared in the Sunday July 19 edition of the Rutland Herald and Barre- Montpelier Times Argus.

Transportation Matters for Maine

Apr 3, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

downeaster

The Downeaster Boston–Portland service has exceeded its growth expectations every year.

Let’s face it, Maine is a big rural state (larger than the five remaining New England states taken together), where lowering greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles has been and will be a continuing challenge. CLF’s Maine office is actively engaged in three different projects with a wide range of partners who are determined to find practical solutions while improving the quality and sustainability of transportation services.

For more than two decades, as the Portland area has grown and expanded, there has been talk of creating a transit district in southern Maine that could improve and expand customer service across the diversity of travel modes, including fixed-route and on-demand bus services, ferries, and passenger rail. CLF has a seat on the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System transit committee, and Public Policy Advisor Malcolm Burson is playing a key role in facilitating conversations among public officials and transit operations managers.

In February, the first draft of a Transit Consolidation Feasibility Study was presented by outside consultants. A number of options are on the table, awaiting cost-benefit analysis, but it’s clear that a strong preference exists for a merger of three fixed-route providers. This would be the first step toward the eventual inclusion of other providers in a district that could serve approximately 40% of Maine’s population.

Senior Attorney Greg Cunningham, meanwhile, has led the effort to develop a pilot project designed to expand awareness and availability of electric vehicles (EVs), including their related charging infrastructure in Maine. CLF developed a straw proposal for a Greater Portland–based pilot that will provide grants for EVs and charging stations, look to create partnerships with businesses and municipalities to further EV technology use and awareness, and to collect data related to EV usage. The proposal was largely adopted by a working group comprised of EV advocates and representatives from Central Maine Power and was approved by the Public Utilities Commission. The pilot was initiated in March. “EVs have the potential to drastically reduce air pollution, including significant carbon emissions, from the transportation sector,” said Cunningham. “We hope that this pilot puts more EVs on the road and helps to demonstrate to Mainers just how convenient and cost effective this technology has become.”

Maine has been a great success story for the expansion of passenger rail in northern New England. The Downeaster Boston–Portland service has exceeded its growth expectations every year and recently expanded service to now serve Freeport (think L.L. Bean) and Brunswick, home of Bowdoin College. Once again, ridership exceeded projections from the first day of service, with greater numbers of passengers who were clearly using this as a commuter option. Now, the Maine Department of Transportation has convened a Passenger Rail Advisory Council to look at the opportunities and challenges for expanding passenger rail service in Maine. Executive Vice President and CLF Maine Director Sean Mahoney has been asked to serve on the Council as the representative from the public-interest sector. According to Sean, “the opportunity to increase transportation alternatives for Mainers and decrease dependence on cars has significant upside for Maine’s economy and environment, and I look forward to working with other members of the Council to capitalize on that opportunity.”

Massachusetts Leading the Way on Electric Vehicle Transit

Dec 12, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

WRTA

One of the six WRTA buses that comprise the largest fleet of EV buses in the Northeast.
Photo credit: CMRPC

The Worcester Regional Transit Authority (WRTA) is about to make Massachusetts a national leader in electric vehicle, or “EV”, transit. The WRTA has just purchased three additional electric buses, which will join the existing bus fleet of 46. This includes ten hybrid buses (diesel-electric) as well as three existing electric buses. With a grand total of 6 EV buses, the WRTA will operate the largest electric bus fleet in the Northeast.

According to Stephen O’Neil, Administrator at the WRTA, the motivation to implement an electric fleet of public transit buses began with the practical consideration of rising fuel costs. The promise of cost-effective electric technology and a desire to be less dependent on fossil-fuels inspired the WRTA to apply for a Federal Transit Authority Clean Fuels grant. With a grant of $4.5 million awarded in 2012, the WRTA purchased three electric buses and fast-charging equipment. The grant was the second largest awarded in 2012 for electric vehicles and equipment.

Electric vehicles are known for being quiet, clean, and efficient alternatives to traditional internal-combustion vehicles fueled by diesel or gasoline. Here are some anticipated benefits of EV technology:

  • EV buses emit 280,200 pounds less CO2 each year than a bus operating on diesel, and 316,000 pounds less CO2 each year than a bus operating on compressed natural gas (CNG).
  • EV buses are ultra-quiet at 60 decibels – about half the level of noise produced by a typical bus.
  • An EV battery will only need to be replaced every 7–8 years.
  • EV buses rely on fewer parts and equipment than what is needed to maintain diesel-powered motors; one vehicle is expected to save about $135,000 in maintenance costs alone over the lifetime of each bus.

The new EV buses are expected to save on the cost of diesel fuel without disruption to the transit schedule. A standard 18-ton EV bus will charge completely in ten minutes. Only five to six minutes are necessary to get the battery to a “sweet-spot” (between 20–80% of full charge). This level of charge is adequate for EV buses to run about 22–30 miles and still adhere to their schedule. Aside from some initial charging hiccups associated with bus alignment at charging stations, the electric fleet is ready for service.

The WRTA strategically selected optimal EV routes after a comprehensive analysis of local topography. In keeping with certain considerations, such as the lack of charging stations farther out in the suburbs, as well as the fact that travel on an incline uses up more battery, the EV fleet will operate on a relatively flat route within an hour of a charging station at all times.

Additionally, the WRTA is working to anticipate and prepare for any concerns related to the oncoming cold weather. The WRTA anticipates having accumulated enough data by spring to determine whether the EV fleet indeed will stand up against Massachusetts winter storms and temperatures as expected. Once the WRTA supplies the figures to underscore a truly efficient, cost-effective EV fleet, other state and regional transit authorities will hopefully hop aboard the EV bandwagon. Until then, the WRTA and Massachusetts zoom ahead of the pack as the Northeast’s EV-transit front-runner.

Learn more about CLF’s work to create healthy communities across New England.

Getting Around — WITHOUT the Circ Highway

Nov 22, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

After decades of fighting the Circ Highway – an outdated massive highway ring-road once planned around Burlington Vermont – CLF is now part of the unanimous support for the final round of projects that will replace the Circ.

The very good news is that the 34 projects being advanced will improve existing roadways and intersections, significantly advance bicycle, pedestrian and transit, protect floodways and go a very long way toward better matching transportation in the areas outside of Burlington with the long-term community needs.  Supporting growth centers instead of sprawl and making sure EVERY project includes facilities for bicycles and pedestrians will help more people get around.

And perhaps best of all, the entire suite of alternatives comes in at HALF THE COST of the full Circ highway.

More details on the performance metrics are here.

The final projects make great strides and include many alternatives CLF and others advanced nearly a decade ago, as well as many projects that have been priorities for towns near Burlington.

The unanimous support for a broad suite of projects bodes well. The Governor of Vermont attended the final meeting of the “Circ Alternatives Task Force” – a big group of state and town officials, environmental & business advocates and others that spent the past 30 months developing these recommendations, which were put forward in three phases. Governor Shumlin praised the group’s hard work and commented that our efforts exceeded his expectations when he announced in 2011 that the Circ Highway would not be built as planned and established the Task Force to come up with alternate solutions. Unlike the Circ, these projects are all do-able and many are already underway.

By the numbers this is what the projects look like:

  • Roadway miles enhanced and shared shoulders created          7.5
  • Number of intersections improved                                          26
  • Interstate Interchanges upgraded                                            2
  • Park & Ride spaces created                                                  ~120
  • New Transit Services created                                                   4
  • Miles of shared Use Paths and sidewalks created                        8
  • Flood Hazard Mitigation Projects                                               1

More work remains, but it is terrific that some much needed and more environmentally friendly projects will move forward.

Driving Climate Change

Nov 20, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

climate-change-in-vermont

photo courtesy of Paul Krueger@flickr.com

A version of this article appeared in the November 17, 2013 edition  of the Sunday Rutland Herald / Times Argus.

The biggest contribution to climate change in Vermont comes from how we get ourselves around. As a rural state we rely on cars — and they burn a lot of gasoline, producing significant greenhouse gas emissions. To responsibly address climate change, we must take a hard look at our cars and our tailpipes and take a big bite out of our gasoline use.

Fortunately electric vehicle use is on the rise. According to Drive Electric Vermont, the number of electric vehicles on the road in Vermont quadrupled in the last year.  Currently more than 400 electric vehicles are registered across the state. In the last three months alone, Vermont saw a 50 percent increase in electric vehicles.

Vermonters are rapidly embracing this cleaner choice, and new initiatives will make it easier and less costly for more people to “drive electric.”

Vermont is one of eight states — four in New England and California, New York, Maryland and Oregon — that recently announced efforts to collectively put 3.3 million electric vehicles on the road by 2025 and develop the fueling infrastructure to support them. 

Electric vehicles can be either all electric or can be plug-in hybrids that rely on gasoline engines and can also plug into a socket for power. For most commutes, all-electric vehicles provide ample range between charges — about 80 miles — and can be plugged into an outlet either at home or work. Plug-in hybrids have the same travel range as gasoline-powered cars.

The cost of electric vehicles dropped over the past two years. Leasing an all-electric car costs about $200 per month and is quite comparable to the cost of many other car leases. The big savings is in pollution and fuel costs.

All-electric cars have one quarter the fuel cost of gasoline-powered cars. They run on the equivalent of about $1 per gallon gasoline.

Including all the costs over the lifetime of the car, electric vehicles cost less than a gasoline-powered car. Many makes and models of electric vehicles are currently available, including cars from Ford, Chevrolet, Toyota, Nissan, Mitsubishi and Tesla.

Operating electric cars reduces soot and greenhouse gases and gets us closer to meeting our climate goals and using our power sources more efficiently. Electric cars are more efficient than gasoline cars: They use more of the power available and produce less wasted heat.

In terms of greenhouse gases, one all-electric vehicle produces less than one-third of the emissions of a Subaru Outback. And riding a bicycle or walking near an electric car is like a breath of fresh air, since they don’t leave you breathing smoke and fumes.

To run clean electric cars, we must consider the source of electricity used to power them — and keep that electricity supply clean and renewable. Looking into the future,  all-electric cars will be useful in better managing our electric power grid as we work to achieve Vermont’s goal of 90 percent renewable energy use.

To encourage use of electric vehicles, Vermont already has low interest loans for public charging stations. And with its partner states Vermont will be developing additional incentives: improved building codes that will make it easier to construct new car charging stations, additional electric vehicles in public car fleets, financial incentives to promote cleaner cars, and lower electricity rates for electric vehicle  charging systems.

Vermont needs electric cars for many important reasons — to meet our climate goals, reduce air pollution, break our addiction to oil and save families money. Electric vehicles provide a piece of the transformation that is urgently needed to move away from fossil fuels and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The recent devastation in the Philippines is another critical wakeup call that reminds us all why we need measures like these.

The efforts of Vermont and other states, represent an important piece of the transformation required to head us toward cleaner and lower-cost ways to get around.

New England States Charge Ahead on Electric Vehicles with New Memorandum of Understanding

Oct 24, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

zero-emission-vehicles
Today eight states, including four in New England, announced a landmark initiative to collectively put 3.3 million electric vehicles on the road by 2025 and develop fueling infrastructure to support them.  The governors of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Connecticut joined California, New York, Maryland, and Oregon in signing a Memorandum of Understanding to ensure successful implementation of their states’ Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) programs. State ZEV programs accelerate the number of low and zero emission vehicles on the road, thus reducing total emissions from mobile sources, which are responsible for the greatest portion of greenhouse gas emissions of any sector in New England.  The ZEV rules, which originate in California, have been adopted in five New England States: Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, Connecticut, and Maine.

The MOU announced today commits the eight states signing on to do the following:

  • Collectively put 3.3 million electric vehicles on the road by 2025 and develop fueling infrastructure to support the cars
  • Harmonize building codes to make it easier to construct new electric car charging stations
  • Set purchase targets for ZEVs in their public fleets
  • Create financial and other incentives to promote ZEVs
  • Promote lower electricity rates for home charging systems
  • Develop common standards for roadway signs and charging networks
  • Study hydrogen fueling infrastructure to support the commercialization of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles

New England needs zero emission vehicles — they will help reduce air pollution, break our addiction to oil, and save families money — and New Englanders want the same opportunities to drive zero emission vehicles on their home turf as Californians currently enjoy.  The actions promised in today’s MOU will help bring ZEVs to the region by ensuring that New England states have the market and infrastructure to support the acceleration of low and zero emissions vehicles on the road required by the ZEV program.  CLF congratulates the eight states participating in this MOU for taking the lead on this important initiative.

Getting Around in a Cleaner World

Oct 15, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

vermont-transportation-board

photo courtesy of afagen@flickr.com

Windmills and solar panels are helping us move toward cleaner electricity. But what about transportation?

In Vermont, transportation accounts for the lion’s share of our greenhouse gas emissions. We are a rural state, sure, but that doesn’t mean we get to drive around and pollute more than our neighbors in other states.

Beginning this week the Vermont Transportation Board will hold six public hearings at different locations around Vermont to gather comments on transportation issues.

The six identified topics include:

  • Transportation Revenues and Energy
  • Bike & Pedestrian Issues
  • The Future of Both Freight and Passenger Rail Services
  • Park & Ride Expansion
  • Roadway Safety
  • Public Transit – Intercity Service and Service for the Elderly

The meetings are at 6pm. Dates, locations are listed here.

Written comments can be submitted by visiting the Board’s website at http://tboard.vermont.gov/

A key focus of each topic is how do we scrub our transportation system, so it helps us pollute less. VTrans and the Regional Planning Commissions are moving forward with many projects. A number in Chittenden County alone are expanding roadways. Quite helpfully, most projects include improvements for pedestrians, bicycles and transit, but those facilities continue to be an afterthought, add-on or enhancement to a road project.

Tell the transportation board we need more key improvements that will reduce pollution, save money, enhance safety, and expand mobility for all people and including:

Let your voice be heard. With these improvements Vermont can lead the way in showing how people in a rural state can get around without causing more pollution.

 

 

New CLF Ventures Study to Reward Drivers for Driving Less

Sep 18, 2013 by  | Bio |  2 Comment »

“Pick a Day, Commute Another Way.” That’s the theme of this week’s Massachusetts Car-Free Week, when the state joins over 1,000 cities in 40 countries around the world to encourage motorists to leave their cars at home and try bicycling, walking, public transit, carpooling, or vanpooling to work. With transportation as the state’s largest and fastest growing sector with respect to climate-altering greenhouse gas emissions, it’s imperative that we reduce the number of vehicles on the road.

Here at CLF, in addition to our extensive policy work to improve transportation choices in both urban and rural communities across New England, we’ve long advocated for market-based approaches to encourage people to drive less as a means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, and traffic congestion. That’s why, in conjunction with Massachusetts Car-Free Week, we’re proud to announce a new pilot study that our non-profit affiliate, CLF Ventures, will be conducting in 2014.

Funded by a $2.1 million Federal Highway Administration Value Pricing Program grant administered by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, and with an in-kind contribution from Plymouth Rock Assurance, the three-year study will explore how rewarding people for driving less affects their driving behavior.

Specifically, CLF Ventures will examine how the size and timing of cash rewards, and how those rewards are communicated, can motivate people to adjust how much, when, and where they drive. The study will help us understand the economic and environmental implications of these behavioral changes, and will provide, for the first time, publicly available data about these behavioral impacts so that states, insurers, and motorists can learn more about the effectiveness of various incentives for reducing driving. Using in-vehicle telematics devices, the study will collect data on miles traveled and when a driver enters different geographic zones, such as Metro Boston or Metro North, but it will not track specific locations.

As CLF President John Kassel states:

“CLF strongly believes in market-based approaches to addressing environmental problems. For more than 15 years, we’ve championed innovative methods to reduce driving as a way to achieve real environmental benefits. This study is an important next step in providing the data policymakers and insurance companies need to design effective voluntary programs that encourage reductions in driving on a large scale. We need to pursue every option available to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to meet Massachusetts’s – and the region’s – climate goals.”

Financial incentives to drive less can provide a win all-around for Massachusetts consumers, residents, insurers, policymakers, and the environment:

  • Consumers can earn rewards for driving less.
  • All Massachusetts residents will benefit from improved road safety and reduced traffic congestion that result when people drive less.
  • Insurers can provide an incentive to policyholders that reduces driving, thereby reducing the number and cost of auto accident claims.
  • Policymakers will benefit by having real data that reflects how consumers change their driving behavior when incentivized to do so.
  • The environment will benefit from the reduction in vehicle miles – less driving means reduced fuel usage, better air quality, and lower climate-altering greenhouse gas emissions.

Groups of randomly selected, current Plymouth Rock policyholders will be invited to participate in the pilot study, which will begin in 2014. Potential participants can accept or decline the invitation to participate; they cannot “volunteer” to join the study. The study will enroll approximately 3,000 Plymouth Rock policyholders in Massachusetts from a representative mix of vehicle classes, geographic territories, and coverage characteristics. Participants will pay their normal insurance premiums, regardless of how many miles they drive, and can earn per-mile cash rewards for reducing the miles they drive.

Considerable data security measures will be in place to protect the privacy and confidentiality of the voluntary study participants and protect their personal information. Participants will be told what data will be used and how, and must provide their consent. Data released to the public will be scrubbed of personal/identifying information and only made available in aggregate form.

We know that reducing miles driven can decrease emissions of climate-altering greenhouse gases and health-damaging air pollutants, ease traffic congestion, and improve road safety. What we don’t know is to what extent driver behavior can be influenced through financial rewards and incentives. This pilot study is a great way to find out.

Join us at the Boston Mayoral Candidate Forum on Transportation and Livable Communities

Sep 6, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

boston-forum-on-transportation-and-livable-communities

Mayor Menino at the 2nd year launch of Hubway. Photo Credit: City of Boston.

In a major city like Boston, the mayor plays a pivotal role in advancing transportation innovation and improvements. After all, few things show off a city better (or worse) than its transportation systems. To help the public understand where Boston’s mayoral candidates stand on this key campaign issue, CLF is co-sponsoring a free forum on Transportation and Livable Communities on Tuesday, September 17, 2013 from 6pm to 8pm at the Boston Public Library.

During Mayor Thomas Menino’s twenty years in office, the City of Boston has advanced many transportation projects, including the modernization of the Blue Line, the rehabilitation of old and opening of new stations on the Fairmount Line, the launch of the Hubway bike share system, and the completion of the Big Dig. Around the country, Antonio Villaraigosa in Los Angeles, Rahm Emanuel in Chicago, and Michael Bloomberg in New York all have successfully put new transportation ideas, policies and investments at the center of their administrations.

For CLF and everyone who lives and/or works in Boston, it matters that the next mayor of Boston, whoever it is, understands the importance of its transportation systems to the city: the ability to walk and bike safely and easily, the need to assure that public transit is affordable and accessible to all, and the foresight to consider how good transportation planning can help the city reduce greenhouse gas emissions and manage through the challenges presented by a changing climate. With the right mayor, Boston can and will continue to lead in this area.

Four Corners/Geneva Avenue Station on Fairmount Line. Photo Credit: Patrick D. Rosso

Four Corners/Geneva Avenue Station on Fairmount Line. Photo Credit: Patrick D. Rosso, pdrosso @ flickr

The forum on Transportation and Livable Communities will give each of the candidates an opportunity to address the vital transportation issues impacting Boston’s communities. CLF is co-sponsoring the event with a group of non-profit organizations, planners, and advocates who have been working to make Boston, and other Massachusetts communities, more livable.  As a group, we have provided all of the candidates with extensive information on policies related to transportation and livable communities. Now, on Tuesday, September 17, 2013 from 6pm to 8pm,  you can learn how more about how each candidate will improve Boston’s streets and public transportation. The event is free and  open to the public and the media. Register here to get your free ticket. We hope to see you there.

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