Archive for July, 2017

Can fees at parks and on ferries in Maine be used to encourage cyclists and pedestrians?

Originally published as monthly Treading Lightly column in the Maine Sunday Telegram’s Source section.

Our family just went to Peaks Island for a friend’s wedding. We pedaled down to the Casco Bay Ferry terminal and locked our bikes, deciding not to pay the extra $6.50 per adult bike and $3.25 per child to bring them with us. It raised the perennial questions I have about whether fees encourage or discourage efficiencies in our transportation system – efficiencies that could reduce the need for more space for cars and more and wider roads.

The ferry offers a valuable public service and every pound we add to the boat affects its fuel economy, so it makes sense to charge something for people to bring their bikes. It’s the fee ratio that seems a little off. The charge for any non-commercial vehicle under 6,000 pounds traveling to Peaks Island varies by day of the week during the summer – so I’ll use the middle-of-the-fee-structure example: $54.95 (that’s after subtracting the driver’s passenger ticket cost).

Arriving on the island, I watched a Chevy Suburban roll toward the ferry dock. A Suburban weighs 5,896 pounds. If cars were charged by weight (they aren’t), the driver would have paid less than one cent per pound to bring it to Peaks. The $6.50 adult bike fee isn’t by weight either. But if it were, my 25-pound bike – a fairly standard weight – would have cost twenty-six cents per pound. (Note: any passenger can purchase discounted weekly or monthly bike fares – and with an annual pass, the bike rides for free.)

That’s weight – what about space? For those headed to Vinalhaven on the State Ferry Service, a critical and valued link to the island with our largest year-round population, it costs $16.50 extra to bring a bike. It costs $49.50 extra for a car. The bicycle is one-third the cost of the vehicle but weighs a tiny fraction of the car and takes up only 1/10th the space.

CarBikePort Rack - Photo Credit to Cyclehoop (2)

Photo credit: Cyclehoop

Another fee structure that doesn’t encourage alternative transportation is that of our beautiful state parks. Our family is hoping to visit Crescent Beach State Park in Cape Elizabeth soon. If we bike there, we’ll pay $12. If we drive there…we’ll pay $12.

Not everyone can get somewhere like Crescent Beach without a car, but shouldn’t we encourage those who can? And for those who need to drive, couldn’t we set our fees to inspire more of us to carpool? (The state tries to make it equitable by charging every Maine resident the same price. Also, an annual Maine State Parks vehicle pass allows all the occupants of up to a 17-passenger vehicle free day-use.)

Why should we care about this? In a word: parking. In another word: money. Where there are cars, there will be demand for parking. Since on average vehicles are in use only 5 percent of the time, according to three different analyses by transportation policy advisor Paul Barter they spend the rest of their lives parked. And parking costs money – big, big money.

It’s expensive to build a parking space – even in a dirt lot – and to maintain it. Think of excavation, fill, asphalt if it’s paved, sealing, and providing lighting and any curbing and sidewalks. But maintenance, really? Yes: grading for dirt lots, resurfacing every five to ten years for paving, snow removal and sanding, sweeping, landscaping, controlling access (e.g., entrance gates), fee collection, enforcement, insurance, etc.

There are roughly 735 parking spaces at Crescent Beach State Park. The average annual cost for a space in a paved suburban surface lot on “free” land, like that owned by the citizens of Maine at Crescent Beach, is $671. That price includes amortizing the construction cost over time ($326/year), plus annual maintenance ($345/year). This according to the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, an independent research organization based in British Columbia that is dedicated to practical solutions for transportation problems. That totals $493,185 per year.

The lot was built in the 1960s, so one can question whether the initial cost has been paid off. Also, Crescent Beach’s lot isn’t plowed during the winter, and I’m not sure how often they’re able to sweep and maintain the pavement under all that sand. So let’s say it only costs us a quarter as much? That’s still $123,296. Now think of all the other lots we build and maintain across Maine.

We could price differently. I called nearby states to see what they charge for someone who gets to one of their parks on foot or by bike. Mark Steffen, Press Secretary for the Massachusetts Department of Conservation & Recreation, seemed a little surprised by my question. “If someone accesses one of your parks as a pedestrian or bicyclist, they are charged a fee?” he asked. “That’s the not case here. We charge a day-use parking fee for vehicles. All our state parks are free for walkers or bicyclists to enter for the day.” I discovered a few more states doing the same, including Montana. Or we could be like Nevada and charge a nominal fee for walkers and bicyclists: $1.

Of course, you may ask whether price actually changes behavior. With parking, the answer is yes.

According to the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, Motorists tend to be particularly sensitive to parking price because it is such a direct charge. Compared with other out-of-pocket expenses, parking fees are found to have a greater effect on vehicle trips…For example, a $1 per trip parking charge is likely to cause the same reduction in vehicle travel as a fuel price increase averaging $1.50 to $2.00 per trip.”

None of our fees are easy to change, of course. In the case of Casco Bay Lines, “It can be done, it just requires a good bit of thoughtful public process,” General Manager Hank Berg explained in a recent call. “Then we still need to bring the results of that process to the Public Utilities Commission for vetting and permission to modify the fees.”

Here’s one timely opportunity for us to weigh in. Dwight Doughty, MaineDOT acting manager for the State Ferry Service, said in a telephone interview, “We are currently working with our Advisory Board to revamp rates for passengers, bikes, freight, etc.”

WEIGH IN

ARE THE CHARGES for bicyclists riding on Maine ferries equitable? Do the fees encourage Mainers and visitors to consider alternatives to cars? Weigh-in on the State Ferry fee structure now, while an advisory board is examining the fees. Email your input to rick.dubois@maine.gov by the end of August to have it included in the initial round of feedback.

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July 31, 2017 at 10:01 am Leave a comment

Wheels in mind of new transportation columnist go ’round and ’round – usually sustainably

Originally published as monthly Treading Lightly column in the Maine Sunday Telegram’s Source section.

Denver’s 16th Street transit and pedestrian mall

“Mom, stop taking pictures of that crosswalk!” my 10-year-old daughter begs me as we ride the bus to the library. My phone overflows with photos of streets, sidewalks, trails, road signage, bus shelters and the people who use them. These shots may be embarrassing for my daughter, but they are helpful for my work as a transportation consultant to improve the quality of life for commuters and the livability of communities.

My photo archive is also confirmation of my certified Transportation Geek status – and it can drive my family a little crazy. There was the time my daughter and I visited my sisters in Colorado. When we returned to Maine, my husband asked to see photos. Oops. Instead of family pictures, or maybe mountain scenery, I had endless shots of Denver’s light rail and the city’s pedestrian mall. “Really, that was important to document!” I said in my own defense. “Can you say ‘transportation fetish?’ ” my husband retorted.

A transportation nerd conversation runs constantly in my head. For instance: I’m working on a pilot project with the Maine Department of Transportation to deliver walk safety presentations and high-visibility gear in Bangor and Brewer to especially vulnerable folks, such as seniors and people with disabilities. I am writing this from the Bangor Motel 6, in town to work on the project, and I just sprinted on foot across three lanes of busy U.S. Route 2 to the Shell station to pick up some toiletries.

Want to know what I was thinking about? “Wow, that Park & Ride lot over there is full. How great is all that carpooling! But check out this traffic. This road seems to be designed to encourage speed. Can vehicles even see me? No sidewalk and only a minimal shoulder, so I better walk facing the oncoming cars (it’s the law and statistically is the safest way to go). And could I even walk here this winter if there were snowbanks?”

More true confessions: I’m the kind of person who gets a thrill out of putting my bike on the Concord Coach bus, loaded with oversized exhibit materials, like I did last month to get from Portland to the Bangor Senior Expo. That was a treat, to catch up on email, nap and finish prepping a document while someone else drove. Then I could scoot around Bangor by bike, coming to know the city a little better by experiencing it at a slower speed – I loved the Webster Avenue walk and bike tunnel under Interstate-395!

My transportation heart and consulting work come from a melding of jobs and interests over the past 25 years. In high school, I signed up for the automotive program at the Bath Regional Vocational Center. The instructors were excellent and encouraging and, through our work on cars, physics came alive for me for the first time. My interest in people led me on to college and a degree in political science. Afterward, I spent five years as a community organizer in Maryland – amazing and intense work with groups and public planning and advocacy efforts.

When burnout hit, I pivoted to recuperate, working as an auto mechanic at a nearby garage in the heart of Baltimore. Over the next five years, as I fixed cars in Maryland and then back home in Maine, I slowly grew tired of how unprepared/unable many people are to spend the necessary money to maintain and fix vehicles and how many dirty cars I had to put back on the street – leaking fluids or exhaust or with check engine lights still on with an emissions failure. I started teaching fiscally and environmentally responsible car ownership through Portland Adult Education and encouraged my students and customers to consider how many vehicles they really needed. I asked them to explore other ways of getting around. My consulting work grew from there.

Let’s be clear, I’m no purist. My family has a car – it’s outside in the Motel 6 parking lot right now. And to be frank, if a second vehicle were available in our driveway, I’d be the first one to use it. I’m glad to be nudged – forced, really – to travel by bus, on foot, by bike, and sharing rides. Of course, we know these ways of moving around are good for us. They save us money, they’re better for the planet, they’re healthier for our overweight American bodies.

However, the things that motivate my work most are less tangible and somehow more powerful. They are the bits of Yankee ingenuity and magic involved when we walk, bike, take the bus and carpool. The world is simply more real – warts and beauty – all of it. For instance:

  • With some quick planning, you share a ride with friends to an event – catching up or maybe laughing so hard at some point that your face hurts.
  • I walk down the street headed to get groceries and smell the salty tang of fog. I smell the sewage treatment plant. I notice the first day lilies appearing in a neighbor’s yard.
  • After working inside all day, you stand at the bus stop and feel the late afternoon sun on your face for the first time. So good, that moment!
  • I jump on my bike on a cold, rainy day, moaning about how much it stinks that my husband has the car and I have to get to a meeting. And then within five minutes – I swear – I’m warmed up and grinning into the spray for the sheer joy of being outside and using my body and embracing the elements.

We are awake when these things happen. We connect – with people around us; with the tiny, unique details of the places in our community; and with the natural world that sustains our daily lives. We renew ourselves in these moments and at the same time knit our communities tighter together. That feeds me the most.

I look forward to learning and sharing more about the myriad ways we all get around. In the meantime, if you find yourself in desperate of need a photo of a Portland crosswalk, or Bangor’s bike/pedestrian tunnel, or Chicago’s bike share, you know where to find me.

July 3, 2017 at 7:14 am Leave a comment


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