- Associated Press - Friday, June 26, 2015

BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) - Despite rush-hour traffic around Burlington, Vermont commuters don’t have much to complain about. And helping them along to relieve congestion are initiatives to promote carpooling, walking, biking and public transportation in Vermont’s largest city.

An Associated Press analysis of U.S. Census data found the work commute in the Burlington-South Burlington area averaged 21 minutes in 2013, compared to the national average of 25 minutes. The area’s commute time was about average for similarly sized metropolitan areas, the data showed. Of the 114,366 commuters in the area, 74 percent drove to work alone; 8 percent carpooled; and 1 percent took buses.

The analysis of Vermont traffic was part of a series of stories by the AP that looked at infrastructure, gridlock and population growth in cities around the country.

In Vermont, the membership-based Chittenden Area Transportation Management Association offers workers discounted or free fares to those who use public transit and gift cards to those who bike to work regularly. It provides free emergency taxi rides home eight times a year for commuters who bike, walk or carpool to work and have an emergency, like a sick child.

Students and hospital employees can get offsite parking with shuttle service through the nonprofit, and a car share program is available for students and some member employees to reserve a car for a weekend trip or run an errand.

The now-named University of Vermont Medical Center, Burlington’s largest employer, joined UVM and Champlain College in 1992 to form the nonprofit to help address traffic congestion and parking issues.

The programs are funded by the employers and their efforts are paying off. The percentage of employees who drove to work alone fell from 73 percent in 2000 to 53 percent in 2014 while other modes of transportation - walking, biking, carpooling or taking a bus - went up, according to an association survey.

In the past year, the city of Burlington, Seventh Generation and other employers have joined the association.

Still localized congestion persists in and out of the city and could presumably worsen with a projected 3 percent population increase in the Burlington-South Burlington area by 2020.

“I think there is concern about the increasing congestion and then looking at ways we can partner, you know public-private business partnerships in promoting … sustainable transportation,” said Sandy Thibault, executive director of CATMA.

Building more lanes is expensive and in some cases difficult because of environmental or historic impacts, said Eleni Churchill, transportation program coordinator for the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission.

“So what we’re doing is we’re trying to be kind of like strategic in how we improve the traffic flow,” she said.

The commission is working with the two cities to evaluate the effectiveness of smart signals that have sensors and change colors based on traffic volume. The group hopes to complete the study in the fall. Burlington also is working on a comprehensive bike plan for the city.

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