Burlington City Council to Consider Biking and Walking Master Plan | Off Message

Burlington City Council to Consider Biking and Walking Master Plan


Oakledge Park - CALEB KENNA
  • Caleb Kenna
  • Oakledge Park
The Burlington City Council is scheduled Monday to discuss, and vote on, a long-awaited blueprint for the future of city streets, sidewalks, paths and intersections.

Lead sponsor Max Tracy (P-Ward 2) called the 200-page document "a world class vision for walking and biking." At the Wards 2 and 3 Neighborhood Planning Assembly last Thursday, he urged residents to come to Monday's meeting to voice their support. "I'm really, really excited about this," he said.

PlanBTV Walk Bike is part of a Queen City effort to achieve a "Gold Level" designation as a bike-friendly municipality, which requires that 65 percent of its roads have bike lanes. Currently, 12 percent of Burlington streets — 11.9 miles — have bike lanes.

The plan recommends pilot bike lanes on Winooski Avenue, as well as Main Street, Pine Street and Shelburne Road. Going forward, it also calls for adopting safety ordinances, implementing bike share programs, and improving intersections and signage. According to the document, two-thirds of 540 survey respondents said that they "don't bike in Burlington because they don't feel safe."

If adopted, the plan would nearly double the city's expenditures on sidewalk and biking infrastructure — a jump from the current $1.5 million up to $2.5 million. The additional costs would be covered by a capital bond voters approved in March.

Monday's vote on the master plan will come after the city spent two years asking questions of community members, conducting studies and working with organizations to develop the plan, said Nicole Losch, who helped oversee the project for the Department of Public Works. Work would begin as early as this summer, focusing on safety at intersections, and a "quick-build" approach, using adjustable materials for experimental, temporary bike lanes, Losch said.

For some, the plan poses concerns. It'll limit parking, said Councilor Dave Hartnett (D-North District). Despite an increase in cyclists and alternative transportation, "most people get from A to B by cars," he added. "My concern is that it would congest traffic in our downtown area so that it'll keep people from coming downtown."

Kurt Wright (R-Ward 4) said he'd be hesitant to vote "yes" without more time to review the lengthy document. "There are a lot of ramifications to the plan," he said.

The master plan does not include a mandate for the controversial pilot bike lane program on North Avenue, which sparked debate last year. The city reduced the roadway from four lanes to three and added a bike lane on either side as a way to improve safety. Some residents in the New North End have protested the changes.

The city has hired the Castleton Polling Institute to survey New North End residents about their use of North Avenue, and to determine if they support the three-lane roadway with the bike lanes — or if they prefer a return to four lanes.

The surveys will go out in May, said Hartnett, and residents will have 30 days to respond in written form, by phone or online. The master plan, meanwhile, labels the road a "crucial corridor," pointed out Tracy.

The city council will consider all the resident feedback and vote in July on keeping — or removing — the bike lanes, Hartnett said.

If the council approves the master plan on Monday, it would still need to be approved by the Planning Commission and incorporated into the 10-year capital plan. And although the council's vote will move the plan forward, each of the individual recommendations would need to be explored and approved individually, said Chapin Spencer, head of the Department of Public Works.

It's not a mandate, but a starting point for an ongoing discussion, Spencer said. "It sets a direction for a city to improve walking and biking," he said.

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