Share the road: Vt. plan backs bicycle, pedestrian access

A draft policy published by the state envisions a more bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly Vermont.

•••

Published December 27, 2006 by the Rutland Herald
By Gordon Dritschilo

VT — A draft policy published by the state envisions a more bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly Vermont.

The Vermont Agency of Transportation will begin routinely incorporating bicycle and pedestrian access into projects, and will use regional planning commissions to encourage local governments to do the same, if it approves the Vermont Pedestrian and Bicycle Policy Plan.

Scott Bascom, planning coordinator for AOT's Policy and Planning Division, said the improvements range from making sure new crosswalks comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act to routinely making bike paths a part of road improvements.

"When we do paving jobs, sometimes they'll try to make the shoulder as wide as possible, maybe take the edge line and bring it in a foot so it's an 11-foot traveled lane instead of 12 feet, and there's more of a shoulder for cyclists," Bascom said.

Another change would incorporate bicycle racks into downtown streetscapes.

The draft was released this month. The agency has scheduled three meetings for public comment on the plan before taking final action.

"I think it's a step in the right direction," said Jim Tasse, a "bicycle advocate" who consulted for the study and is executive director of the Rutland Area Physical Activity Coalition.

Tasse said one of the largest barriers to increased bicycle and pedestrian activity — for which he touted a variety of health, environmental, economic and social benefits — is the lack of infrastructure to support it.

"What I hear again and again is it's scary to ride a bike in Rutland," Tasse said. "It's scary to be a pedestrian, too. A lot of the sidewalks are in disrepair. I think if you build it they will come, and study after study proves it."

As an example, Tasse pointed to the development of Stapleton Airport in Colorado, which was converted to a residential neighborhood after it was supplanted by Denver International Airport in 1995. He said the development was purposefully built to be bicycle-friendly.

"People are flocking to this development because it has a hometown feeling," he said. "It's good socially because it gets people out, meeting face-to-face rather than through the windshield of a car."

Tasse also said the improvements to Shelburne Road in South Burlington showed how practical bicycle-friendly changes can be.

"Even in an area that was very built up, they were successful in accommodating bicycles," he said. "The ideal situation is the notion of routine accommodation built into planning."

With less than 20 percent of Vermont's roads under AOT jurisdiction, the agency's rule extends only so far. Large portions of the draft policy are devoted to reaching out to other agencies and organizations that can influence local planning.

"The first place most towns go to for planning advice is their regional planning commission," Bascom said. "The RPC would be able to help them, give them knowledge."

Bascom said the regional planning commissions play a large role in increasing awareness of good design and planning.

"We're encouraging all the regional planning commissions to have one person identified as the bicycle contact, one person who is the clearinghouse for all these sorts of issues," he said. "Right now it's often shared between three or four people and you sometimes lose focus that way."

An eye toward accommodating pedestrians and cyclists also would be included in the state's design manuals.

"A lot of it is making sure that all our designers understand what type of design should be used to accommodate bicyclists," Bascom said. "One of the questions they should be asking the town is, are there a lot of pedestrians or bicyclists through here. If the answer is yes, they should be making these sort of accommodations."

At the same time, the state is looking to gather information on cyclists and pedestrians in Vermont. The draft includes criteria for measuring the number of people walking and biking on state roads as well as the effects of that activity.

The report has a few of these numbers — fewer than 6 percent of Vermonters walk or bike to work, the average Vermonter walks or bikes 62 minutes a day, and 63 schools participate in pedestrian or bicycle safety programs — and the plan would track changes from year to year and set goals.

Other numbers, such as the distribution of cyclists and pedestrians around the state, the rate of bicycle and pedestrian crashes, the miles of sidewalks and shared-use paths on state-owned roads and the number of state-funded accessibility projects are unknown.

"One of the biggest problems with any bicycle-pedestrian planning is a lack of base data," Bascom said. "The traditional counting AOT does for vehicles, those rubber tubes across the road, those don't work well for bicycling and walking."

Bascom said this lack of data is a problem nationwide.

"We had panel of experts, five people from around the country, look at our performance measures," he said. "At the end of that conversation, one of them said, 'If you do this, you'll be right in the lead of any state in this country.' We're kind of on the cutting edge."

The meetings for public comment, which begin at 6:30 p.m., are Jan. 9 at Chittenden County Metropolitan Planning Organization in South Burlington, Jan. 11 at Bridgewater Village Elementary School and Jan. 18 at Brattleboro Savings and Loan.

A copy of the draft can be found online at www.aot.state.vt.us/planning/PBPP.htm. A map of completed and proposed bicycle and pedestrian projects can be found on page 54.

Contact Gordon Dritschilo at gordon.dritschilo@rutlandherald.com.