BIA releases Strategic Economic Plan for NH

The Business and Industry Association of New Hampshire has released its Strategic Economic Plan for the state.

Included in the nine strategic goals is the following goal for infrastructure:

Safe, reliable multi-modal transportation; high bandwidth, high-speed communication; and improved water supply, waste water and storm water systems able to meet the needs of businesses and residents throughout New Hampshire.

We are glad to see that having options for getting around is seen as important to the future economic health of New Hampshire.  Unfortunately, none of the tactics listed in the full report include ways of increasing those options, even though we have seen a sharp drop in vehicle miles traveled since 2005:

while public transportation ridership increased by 34% from 1995 through 2012 (according to APTA), and bicycle commuting has increased by 61.6% since 2000 (from The League of American Bicyclists).

Let’s make sure we’re investing in infrastructure that will make New Hampshire attractive to tomorrow’s businesses and skilled workers.

Let’s move people, not just cars

Peterborough Town HouseToday we have a guest post by Matt Waitkins.  His post is about a particular street in a particular town, but the lessons apply wherever you live.

 

The Town of Peterborough has a tremendous opportunity when Union Street is reconstructed next year. The reconstruction will extend from the intersection of Main, Union, Elm and High streets, past Adams Playground, and into West Peterborough. Union Street is becoming increasingly popular with pedestrians and bicyclists, both the young and not so young. The playing fields and beautiful new pool at Adams Playground are in demand and the nearby elementary school is part of the fabric of the neighborhood.

Union Street is also increasingly popular with motorists. The speed limit is 25 miles per hour. Traffic data that was collected by the Southwest Region Planning Commission in June 2011 showed that nearly 3,000 vehicles used Union Street east of Adams Playground on an average weekday at that time. Of the eastbound vehicles, 82 percent travelled at least 30 miles per hour, which is 5 mph over the speed limit and 20 percent travelled at least 40 miles per hour, 15 mph over the speed limit. This is significant because statistics suggest that a pedestrian struck by a motor vehicle travelling 30 mph has a 20 percent chance of being fatally injured and a 70 percent chance of being fatally injured if the vehicle is travelling 40 mph.

It’s almost natural for one’s car to pick up speed on the long, straight, wide open segment of the street east of the playground. The problem is this significantly diminishes the quality of life for pedestrians, bicyclists and people who live there. Enforcement of the speed limit is only one part of the solution and the police do the best they can in that regard. The configuration of the road is another part of the solution.

I believe that we can accommodate the interests of all transportation stakeholders with a creative redesign and reconstruction of Union Street. There isn’t space here to suggest many details but we should take a “complete streets” approach that will ensure the entire street is planned, designed, constructed and maintained to provide safe access for all users. This approach will help downtown Peterborough thrive by improving street connectivity and allowing everyone, whether on foot, bike, wheelchair or in a motor vehicle, to access the focal points of our community.

Town officials have already shown the creativity and foresight to obtain a planning grant from the N.H. Department of Transportation Safe Routes to School program that will be used to develop a conceptual design for the Main, Union, Elm and High Street intersection. This confusing, unattractive sea of asphalt is the gateway to the playground, pool and West Peterborough and desperately needs to be improved, both functionally and aesthetically. The reconstruction of Union Street is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create a beautiful roadway that accommodates the whole menu of transportation options that are available to each of us. We need to think this through, be creative and come up with a great design, or we will have missed this opportunity. The goal of Peterborough’s transportation system should be to move people, not just motor vehicles.

Matt Waitkins has lived in Peterborough for many years and works as a transportation planner at a regional planning agency. He is also an alternate member of the Peterborough Zoning Board. 

Exploring the Upper Valley by bus

Not too long ago I took the second journey in the series I’m calling my Busman’s Holiday .   My husband and I drove up to Norwich, Vermont, to stay at the Norwich Inninn, which we had been wanting to do ever since we learned they brew their own ale. We had a lovely dinner in their dining room, then stayed overnight in a beautifully decorated and comfortable room.

brewery

The next morning, we spoiled ourselves with the stuffed French toast then walked (waddled?) next door to catch the Advance Transit bus to Hanover, New Hampshire.  While waiting for the next Brown Route bus, we chatted with Michael, a frequent Advance Transit rider who was bringing his bicycle along.  I asked him what he thought of the service, and he said it was “awesome . . . free, reliable . . . what more could you ask?” When the bus arrived, we hopped on and he popped his bike into the rack on the front of the bus.  It was just seconds before he was on the bus with us, the bike rack being so simple to use.

Five minutes later we were let off in front of the Hanover Inn. From there we strolled around the Dartmouth campus, enjoying the warm summer day.

hanover inn

At about ten minutes to eleven we hopped the Green Route bus for an eleven o’clock appointment at Advance Transit headquarters in Wilder, Vermont.  There we met with Van Chesnut, Executive Director, who gave us a tour.  The modern AT facility is on its way to LEED Silver Certification with advanced features such as solar panels for electricity generation, a system for capturing rain and snow melt for washing buses, and the ability to turn used motor oil into heat.  The solar panels tie in to the electricity grid and excess power purchased by the utility generates $10,000 a year in revenue for Advance Transit.

hybrid busAdvance Transit has 31 vehicles in its fleet, including some hybrid buses on the Blue Route and Red Route.

bike rackWe also received a demonstration of the bike racks used on the buses because there’s one mounted on the ground in front of the facility that employees who bike to work can use.  The mechanism pivots to a horizontal position and the bike owner just pops the bicycle into the cradle, where it sits securely.

Downtown_Lebanon_5After lunch back in Hanover, we took a Blue Route bus to Lebanon and took a stroll around the town, enjoying the architecture and the beautiful green.  I hadn’t realized that the town hall is also the Lebanon Opera House.

DHMC

 

On our way there our bus traveled through the Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center.  This bus route is heavily used by employees and patients.

Since the bus is free, it’s quick for people to get on and off.  We saw a wide variety of people using the bus, including families, employees and college students. Mike, the bicycle and bus commuter we met in Norwich, told us it’s faster to take the bus between the med school at Dartmouth and the research facilities at the hospital campus because bus service is frequent and finding a parking spot takes a long time.  The college and the hospital both contribute substantially to the operating costs of the service.  Other major supporters include Mascoma Savings Bank and Hypertherm.

We found the buses clean and comfortable, and the drivers friendly.  It was fun exploring the area by bus.

Everyone we spoke with told us how vital the service is to the region.  The only complaint we heard is that there is no Saturday service.  Van Chesnut told us this is because there isn’t enough funding to expand the schedule.  If additional operating support could be found, AT would love to run on Saturdays.  As a response to community needs, AT started a new evening service along the corridor between Dartmouth College and Dartmouth Hitchcock in Lebanon, which started running Monday, September 16th.

Next trip:  to Boston via Boston Express.

Are we beginning a losing streak?

41Z1CNPWJRLIn a 2011 Harvard Business Review article, management guru Rosabeth Moss Kanter and author of Confidence: How Winning Streaks & Losing Streaks Begin & End, said

Why do too many so-called leaders think they can get by with assuming the status quo and doing the minimum, rather than striving for excellence even when they think they can get away without it? Putting off actions until disaster strikes makes it too late. This is how a losing streak begins in any system. A slow accretion of neglected repairs, postponed upgrades, or reductions in training and education weaken the organization, or nation until decline becomes inevitable. The opposite is also true. A gradual accumulation of innovations, however small, prepares any system to respond rapidly to crises or demands for change.

This is the situation with our transportation infrastructure.  Our roads and bridges are in a sorry state, and we’re falling behind economically as the trend toward innovation hubs and transit-oriented development makes New Hampshire a less attractive alternative for businesses and young professionals looking for a place to grow.  Do we have the political courage to do what it takes to become winners?

GACIT Hearings Through Oct. 21

Ten Year Plan Process

Ten Year Plan Process

Every two years the New Hampshire Department of Transportation updates the Ten Year Transportation Improvement Plan.  This year’s draft plan was posted today (pdf) along with the schedule (pdf) of public hearings to receive input on the priorities given to projects in the plan.  The hearings are hosted by the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Intermodal Transportation (GACIT), which is composed of the five Executive Councilors and the Commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Transportation.

More information on the process is contained in the NH DOT brochure on the topic located here.

If you are interested in having a transportation infrastructure that meets more of the needs of New Hampshire citizens and businesses, attend one of the 25 hearings taking place around the state between Monday, September 9th, and Monday, October 21st.  Your state representatives are likely to be there, and they would like to hear about your needs and priorities concerning transportation.

Those not able to attend the meetings can submit written testimony within 10 days of the completion of the Public Hearings, but no later than October 31, 2013. Written comments should be addressed to:

William E. Watson, P.E.
Bureau of Planning and Community Assistance
New Hampshire Department of Transportation
John O. Morton Building, 7 Hazen Drive
P.O. Box 483
Concord, NH 03302-0483

See the press release here.

Busman’s Holiday

“Busman’s holiday” is an expression which refers to when people do the same thing on vacation that they do in their everyday lives, such as plumbers who visit the Museum of Sinks, or villains who disguise themselves even on their days off.

Lemony Snicket, The Penultimate Peril

My Version

I have begun my own version of a busman’s holiday, made up of a series of short excursions in which I sample as many ways of getting around as I can find in New Hampshire.  In doing this, I hope to be able to speak from experience about the different modes of transportation we currently have, and how they operate.

Taking the Train

On Saturday, July 13th, my husband and I caught the Amtrak Downeaster train to Boston from Exeter.  The station has a small parking lot, but as we arrived 30 minutes before departure, we had no trouble finding a spot.

Amtrak_downeaster_ocean_park_2005_cropped

The platform was clean and pleasant, and there was plenty of literature about the train and other things, including the bicycle rental service in Portland, Maine, called Zagster.

By the time the train arrived, on time at 9:00 a.m., there were 35 people waiting to board.

The On-board Experience

The journey was pleasant and quiet.  There’s an upholstered hush aboard the train that let’s you have a quiet conversation with your companion.  If you’d rather stare at a screen, there’s wi-fi available, and an outlet for charging devices.  I did use my smart phone a few times, and the signal was good.

I didn’t visit the café myself, but my husband said it was clean and pleasant, and the staff was friendly.  You can see the menu here.  I shared a ham sandwich with him and it was what you would expect from a snack bar.

We did have a delay getting to Boston, as they were working on the tracks in one section and had one of the two tracks closed, and we had to wait for a freight train to pass before proceeding.  I learned to build a bit more time into my schedule.

Walking in Boston

We were traveling to Boston, along with our two grown sons, to see the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at the Museum of Science.  Thanks to the new North Bank Pedestrian Bridge and the beautiful new North Point Park, it was an easy and pleasant walk from North Station to the museum.  There were plenty of others enjoying the park, walking dogs and playing catch.

North Bank Pedestrian Bridge

We saw lots of people riding Hubway bikes, as well as a rank of bikes to be rented just outside North Station.  I discovered that Hubway users logged one million trips between July 28, 2011 and July 13, 2013.

Hubway near North Station

After a day at the museum, I was pretty worn down from the crowds and the noise, but the walk back to North Station was invigorating, and the train ride back to Exeter was soothing and restful.  If we had taken the car, we would have gone from crowds and noise straight to driving through Boston traffic.  The train was a perfect way to recharge our batteries.

We decided to eat supper in Exeter.  I was able to look up restaurants and make a reservation right from the train.  We drove to The Tavern at River’s Edge, but looking back, it would have been an easy and pleasant walk.

Next adventure:  going to Boston from Manchester by bus!

Electric cars are no panacea

This article in IEEE Spectrum tries to expand the life cycle analysis of electric vehicles.  Here’s the money quote:

Screen Shot 2013-07-12 at 8.36.56 AMIf legislators truly wish to reduce fossil-fuel dependence, they could prioritize the transition to pedestrian- and bike-friendly neighborhoods. That won’t be easy everywhere—even less so where the focus is on electric cars. Studies from the National Academies point to better land-use planning to reduce suburban sprawl and, most important, fuel taxes to reduce petroleum dependence. Following that prescription would solve many problems that a proliferation of electric cars could not begin to address—including automotive injuries, deaths, and the frustrations of being stuck in traffic.

Do read the comment below the article by one of the authors whose study is referenced in the article.  He points us to his blog entry entitled What We Should Learn from a Lifecycle Assessment of EVs in the EU.  Here’s a graph from that entry:

figure1

Parking problems…for bicycles???

Screen Shot 2013-07-10 at 1.36.16 PM

In a recent Boston Globe article, the author relates a story of how bicycling is becoming so popular in Boston, people are actually having trouble finding a parking place for their bicycles.  That’s a delightful problem to have, because it’s so much easier and less expensive to solve than parking problems for cars.  And bicycle parking problems don’t come with companion problems such as congestion, poor air quality and storm water runoff issues from impermeable car parking lots.

Update on listening sessions

Just wanted to let you know that the final report from NH Listens on our transportation listening sessions went out to the participants on Monday, July 8th.  I’ll be posting it on this website soon, along with a preamble to explain why we commissioned these sessions and how we’re going to use the information from them to help our transportation system better serve everyone in New Hampshire.red bus