Friday, March 2, 2012

Vote for a Mayor Based on His/Her Transit Mode?

We live in a beautiful city on the edge of lovely Lake Champlain. Population hovers between 40-50,000, depending on whether college students are in residence or not. The downtown core is a dense mix of brick buildings surrounding a pedestrian mall, within walkable distance to the waterfront. The city itself is 10 miles north to south and barely a mile wide so all inhabitants are a friendly distance to public beaches. It's a good place to raise a family with excellent schools, vibrant arts scenes, and neighborhoods.

Despite all this "goodness" and the accolades Burlington's received in the last ten years, it's not without it's inherent problems. On Tuesday we vote on an unprecedented 11% school tax increase. Our city owned telecommunications system is in serious debt. City employees pensions are underfunded. High paying jobs are hard to come by. Taxes are soaring in this state due to low population versus the amount of roads that we must maintain. And I just read somewhere that Vermont is one of the top ten worst places to retire (no surprise, high cost of living). All this beauty eats into our wallets.

Next week we also vote for a new mayor. There are 3 capable candidates, all business people, who could set the city on a new track, so this election promises to be close. Local Motion (our pedestrian/bike advocacy group) sent out a questionnaire to the 3 contenders, focusing on transportation issues. Two are of immediate concern: restoration of the waterfront path rendered decrepit in sections from last year's high waters, and working on a cohesive plan for walkers and cyclists to make the streets safer for all (there's been a rash of pedestrian/bicycle accidents). One last inquiry which piqued my interest, "If elected, would you commute by foot, bike or bus?" Two candidates flat out replied they didn't currently but might try if elected, though their responses seemed halfhearted. The third said "yes" as he already used car share and walked most places.

Photo credit: Local Motion

So I wonder, how much credence should I personally give to the above results? I should be voting for who I believe could get the city back on fiscal stability—which might be all three candidates—but as a cyclist, and a mother of two boys who I'm teaching to not rely on the automobile, I'm also highly concerned with transportation. How much seniority would a mayor give to these concerns if they don't personally regard them as viable options?

I might be spoiled, having lived for a time in Portland, Oregon during Earl Blumenaur's reign as Commissioner of Public Works. He now is in the House of Representatives, cycling everywhere, his personal commitment to alternative transportation. Or, maybe I'm looking for a candidate reminiscent of Peter Clavelle whose 14 terms as Burlington's mayor ushered in the waterfront bike path and spiffed up Church Street's business scene. Peter was a cyclist and I would often wave to him; once I led he and his wife on a circuit around Montreal.

I'm still undecided as to who gets my mayoral vote. Have you ever wrestled with this feeling regarding transportation during an election?


  1. I certainly have wrestled... the thing is, I don't necessarily think that the politician who represents my personal interests in bike paths or infrastructure also represents the best interests of the wider populace... as much as I wish more people would use alternative transport, I'm not sure I would want my mayor to put paths ahead of other things more people would benefit from. Cycling is super important in my life, but I'm not sure my vote should be only about me, if you know what I mean.

  2. Interesting question, and one I have not wrestled with, though I always vote Green in the local elections. I do like the way your local bike group surveyed the candidates. I think that having a bike friendly mayor would be a major asset to any community as the greater use of bikes will enhance all aspects of a city's liveability, from those who drive to those who ride, to those who just reside. It is also an asset for the next generations who will inherit a better city and lifestyle.


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