Friends Mourn Tony Redington, Burlington's Most Outspoken Transportation Advocate | News | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Friends Mourn Tony Redington, Burlington's Most Outspoken Transportation Advocate


Published August 25, 2022 at 8:45 p.m.
Updated September 27, 2022 at 6:22 p.m.

Tony Redington at U.S. District Court in Burlington - FILE: PINE STREET COALITION
  • File: Pine Street Coalition
  • Tony Redington at U.S. District Court in Burlington
Every time state Rep. Curt McCormack (D-Burlington) left a meeting with Tony Redington, he found himself humming  the Beatles’ song “Penny Lane.”

The 1967 hit, an ode to the people and places along a Liverpudlian street, contains a line about roundabouts. Redington loved roundabouts, perhaps more than anyone else in Vermont. He’s credited with developing New England’s first roundabout, in Montpelier in 1995.

“Penny Lane” has been on McCormack's mind since last week, when Redington died following a yearlong cancer fight. He was 83.

A fierce activist, Redington fought for safer transportation in Burlington. He was a force behind grassroots efforts to oppose both the CityPlace Burlington project and the Champlain Parkway — stances that pitted him against city officials time and again but earned him respect.

Redington’s death has prompted an outpouring of tributes that add to his legacy as a tireless advocate who led from behind and disarmed his detractors with a smile.

“If something needed to be done, chances are someone would point over to Tony, and Tony would do it,” said Steve Goodkind, a former Burlington public works director, fellow activist and friend of Redington's. “He kept pushing. He kept relentlessly going forward.”
Tony Redington, seated, with the Coalition for a Livable City - FILE: MATTHEW THORSEN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File: Matthew Thorsen ©️ Seven Days
  • Tony Redington, seated, with the Coalition for a Livable City
Redington started his transportation career in his home state of New Hampshire. He moved to Vermont in the 1990s for a job with the Vermont Agency of Transportation and settled in Montpelier with his three sons, JJ, Nick and Ben. He coached their Little League teams and brought them to countless sporting events — the New England Patriots in Foxboro, the Expos in Montréal and the Raptors in Toronto. They took public transportation everywhere they went.

JJ, the eldest of the Redington crew, remembered when the roundabout opened on Main Street in Montpelier, just around the corner from their home. One morning, JJ’s teacher complained that she’d popped her tire while navigating his father’s prized roundabout.

“I was like, ‘Thanks, Dad. I’m getting grief from my teachers,’” JJ said, recalling his father’s rebuttal: “He’s like, ‘Oh, they obviously were driving too fast.’”

Redington, who didn’t own a car, moved to Burlington a decade ago and brought his passion for planning with him. He joined the Coalition for a Livable City, a citizen group that fought a proposed zoning change that would allow developers to turn the former Burlington Town Center mall into 14-story buildings. The coalition didn’t block the zoning change, but the project — now known as CityPlace Burlington — was scaled down to a more palatable 10 stories. It still hasn’t been built.

Nor has the Champlain Parkway, a 2.8-mile roadway planned to connect Interstate 189 in the city’s South End with downtown. Envisioned decades ago as a four-lane highway, the parkway is now proposed as a two-lane road with a shared bike and pedestrian path.

Redington thought the project could be better, and in 2019, he sued the city as a member of the Pine Street Coalition, a group of 150 activists who argued that the plans were outdated. A photo of Redington holding the coalition’s legal filing outside the courthouse, a wide smile on his face, shows the advocate in his element.

The lawsuit was effective. Federal highway officials agreed to investigate whether the parkway would create excess traffic in the King/Maple neighborhood, the most racially diverse on the project route. In January, the feds concluded that more cars would end up in the area, but that new traffic lights would help.
The coalition, however, is pushing an alternate project design that would route cars away from the King/Maple area altogether. Called the Champlain RIGHTWay, the road would have separate bike and pedestrian paths, and traffic lights would be replaced with — you guessed it — roundabouts. The lawsuit is pending, though some work on the parkway has begun.

Goodkind, a fellow coalition member, said the work will be harder without Redington at the helm. As the group’s spokesperson, Redington would send out regular email blasts to coalition members, the press and elected officials. Each one ended with a link to a petition called “Stop the Champlain Parkway Project.”

“He was not one little piece of [the campaign]. He did a lot,” Goodkind said of Redington. “He was relentless in gathering and disseminating information.”
Charlie Giannoni, who served with Redington on the Wards 2 and 3 Neighborhood Planning Assembly steering committee for 10 years, will also remember his colleague as a wealth of knowledge. He recalled Redington addressing the crowd at NPA meetings, rattling off statistics about motor vehicle crashes and dangerous intersections.

“A lot of people would get impatient, but he was always advocating for something,” Giannoni said. “He never advocated for anything for himself.”

In the days following Redington’s August 18 death, members of the NPA committee suggested that a new roundabout on Shelburne Street be dedicated to him. When complete, the project will create a single-lane roundabout with safe crossings for pedestrians and cyclists. VTrans estimates the design will cut vehicle crashes by nearly 75 percent — a statistic that would no doubt thrill Redington. Giannoni said naming the junction after the activist is a no-brainer.

“He was more active in advocating for transportation issues in Burlington than any other human being, and that includes the directors of public works,” Giannoni said.

Redington persisted even after learning more than a year ago that he had pancreatic cancer. He went through three rounds of chemotherapy, then surgery, only for doctors to find cancer in his liver. He had complications from his latest chemo treatment and died at the University of Vermont Medical Center, surrounded by his family.
Redington’s sons announced his passing on Twitter and watched in awe as condolences poured in from city councilors, political organizers, a news reporter and even the person who delivered his groceries every week.

“He was who he was, and people knew him,” his son Nick said. “He made a lasting impression, for sure.”

McCormack, the state rep, agrees. He met Redington in 1990, when he was representing Rutland in the legislature. Not wanting to commute every day, McCormack rented a room at the Redingtons’ Montpelier home during the session. The two became fast friends and collaborated on various transportation projects, including early efforts to revive passenger train service to Burlington — a goal that was realized just weeks before Redington died.

Redington's death, meanwhile, helped McCormack finally achieve one of his own goals. This week, after many failed attempts, the state rep picked up his guitar and played the chords to “Penny Lane.” He ran through it twice, belting out the lyrics.

“I learned the song for Tony,” McCormack said, lamenting that he never got to sing it for his friend.

“He will be really, really greatly missed,” he said. “I don't really know anyone else like him.”