Bikers to City: Make Streets Safer | Off Message

Bikers to City: Make Streets Safer


James Stoops - MOLLY WALSH
  • Molly Walsh
  • James Stoops
 James Stoops examined a big map of Burlington and stuck red dots where he thinks the city could improve safety for cyclists.

The Winooski resident is hardcore: He commutes year-round on a bike to his job at CarShare Vermont in Burlington. He was one of about 40 people who attended a public workshop Thursday night to brainstorm about ways to expand bike and pedestrian access.

The recent fatalities of three cyclists outside the city and a serious accident that injured a cyclist on Pine Street last week are reminders of the need for change, Stoops said.   

"It's very sad and tragic."

Burlington can lead, he added, by creating "real, protected bike lanes and slower speeds for cars and actually enforcing the speed limits."

The brainstorming session took place in a vacant restaurant space at 144 Church Street across from Burlington City Hall. It was part of planBTV Walk Bike, a city-led effort to get people out of cars. The ultimate goal is to produce a bike and pedestrian plan for consideration by the city council. If approved, the plan would be one chapter in a larger municipal plan.

The previous day, city officials and consultants conducted "handlebar" and "walkabout" tours of Burlington with anybody who wanted to point out things that are working—or not working. At Thursday's workshop, people spoke up. Some beefed about problems ranging from cracked sidewalks to crabby motorists, and others offered suggestions. 

Among the observations: The Burlington bike path is busy with cyclists and not always safe for pedestrians; the rotary where Shelburne Street triangulates into South Union, South Winooski and South Willard is so inhospitable to cyclists that some have nicknamed it "the intersection of death;" and each shuttle bus heading up steep College Street should pull a big trailer to carry bikes.

During the summer, the city could try demonstration projects to slow traffic and expand bike access and pedestrian safety, according to City of Burlington Transportation Planner Nicole Losch. Then in September, the city will host more meetings at sites around Burlington to solicit opinions on a list of specific improvements. Completion of the bike and pedestrian plan is targeted for December.

Numerous people at Thursday's meeting said Burlington needs more bike lanes that are separated from traffic. They predicted that until that happens, it will be difficult to increase cycling among those who currently feel that riding is unsafe. The painted white lines now designating bike lanes at the side of many city streets are not adequate, they said.

Cities around the world use various strategies—ranging from posts to narrow concrete islands to curbing—to create barriers between cycling lanes and traffic. One of the slides presented at the meeting showed a demonstration project using wine barrels and flower planters to establish a bike lane—the idea being that it's relatively easy for communities to test solutions.

Losch said the city is interested in separated lanes. "It's definitely something we want to take a really close look at."

That city's proposals are good news to Kiersten Hallquist, who decided to stop sinking money into her beater car a year ago and live car-free. The downtown Burlington resident, who works as a student services representative at the University of Vermont Medical College, estimates she's saving at least $500 a month on car payments, repairs, insurance and gas. Hallquist said more people would follow her example if the city could design streets to make cyclists feel safer.  "Living carless is something I like and I'm proud of and wish more people had the opportunity to consider without risking their lives."

Right now cyclists sometimes feel there is no room for them anywhere—motorists yell it them when they ride in the street, and pedestrians yell at them when they ride on the sidewalk, Hallquist said. Sometimes this creates a feeling of "I can't go anywhere." 

Hallquist isn't giving up, though, and has fully adapted her routine to cycling. At the workshop, she stowed a waterproof backpack full of clothes in a corner because she was on the way to the laundromat. She planned to put on the pack and ride off after the meeting, which Hallquist said was well worth the stop.

"Having an event like this is promising and exciting."