Weigh in on Vermont's Transportation Agenda

I need STVT's help. I want to put together an agenda for next year’s Transportation Committee but frankly do not know what should be on it. Of course, we have ideas, but the kind of commitment that will be needed to put real change(s) over the finish line is sorely lacking in the Legislature including and perhaps especially, in the Climate Caucus. 

At our retreat on May 31 we had the usual good discussion. One of the topics was whether we should bring back the 55 mph speed limit on the Interstate. That comment was not made by me, although I thought it was a great, almost no-cost proposal with a multitude of benefits and no detriments. I suggested that we need to show that a rural state can have successful public transit. Many people agreed and no one disagreed (at least out loud). Someone else mentioned that we advocates need to stop flying around in airplanes. 

The Caucus broke into groups after lunch. I joined the transportation group (transportation had rated by far, the number one priority). Both the 55 mph speed limit and promoting Amtrak over air travel were rejected at the starting gate. The reactions included “We don't want to ask people to drive slower” and “We are too busy to take the train.” We did not get into local buses but I suppose we are too busy for them as well. It was very discouraging.

Not everyone thinks that something should be done about climate and I believe that those who do want to take action think that big bad energy corporations made some big mistakes years ago and that all we need to do is electrify our present fossil fuel driven systems. Maybe that is all we are going to be able to do, if that. But what a tragic squandering of what is actually a great opportunity.

Public transit, trains, walking and bicycling will never be as convenient as the private automobile. Indeed, one reason transit, in most non-urban areas, is slower than it needs to be is that routes are designed to imitate automobiles as much as possible. We are so imbedded in the car world that curb-to-curb service is assumed and expected. Buses pull in and out of shopping centers, medical/office parks and other destinations, which are all  located, oriented and designed solely for arrival and departure by car. Buses (as well as bicycles and pedestrians) are the round pegs that must fit into our square car world.

Electrification does not make our communities more livable. Fewer cars and trucks do. Safe, complete bicycle and walking infrastructure does. Electric transit, especially transit that runs on tracks, does. 

We need to develop an ambitious, serious agenda. Please contact me ( cmccormack@gmail.com ) with your ideas for how to  move from our mono-modal transportation world to one where the automobile is no longer primary, but secondary. We’re seeking broad but also specific ideas and projects that if successful, can become models.

Curt McCormack is Chair of the House Transportation Committee. In his long legislative career, representing the Old North End of Burlington currently and Rutland in the the 1980s and 90s, he served on many committees including Natural Resources, and Energy. He was the State Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator; Director of Advocacy at the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, Vermont Low Income Advocacy Council Advocate. Curt is a LEED certified environmental consultant and Master Electrician.