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North Avenue Bike Lane Survey Leads to Controversy

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A bicyclist heading south on North Avenue - MATTHEW THORSEN
  • matthew thorsen
  • A bicyclist heading south on North Avenue
A slim majority of New North End residents favor the controversial North Avenue bike lane configuration, according to results of a survey — but opponents and two city councilors who represent the area claim that it was flawed.

Forty-eight percent of New North End residents reported satisfaction with the pilot project, which changed North Avenue from four lanes to three last year, compared to 45 percent who feel dissatisfied, say the results, released in mid-June.

The citywide results indicate a wider margin of support for the bike lane — 53 to 40 percent.

But the year-long pilot project has sown distrust and frustration over the city process.

"It's divided the neighborhood," said Councilor Kurt Wright (R-Ward 4).

On Thursday, opponents of the pilot sent an email to the press with the subject line: "North Ave Pilot Survey was manipulated."

"It is the opinion of many that the outcome of the survey ... was decided before the study was made," wrote Karen Rowell, an opponent of the project.

The Castleton Polling Institute conducted the survey. The Burlington City Council is set to vote Monday to either make the change permanent or abandon it.

Nicole Losch, a senior planner for the Department of Public Works, said that in spite of the criticism, the department has worked to be fully responsive to citizen concerns. "We've done more project modification and more public outreach than we've ever done for any other projects," Losch said.

Overall, 3,336 Burlingtonians completed the survey between May 4 and June 8 — more than three quarters of whom were New North End residents.

The city's process has been a series of slip-ups and faulty communication, said Dave Hartnett (D-North District). Last fall, Hartnett said, Mayor Miro Weinberger vowed to send all the surveys to residents by mail. Instead, the city sent postcards notifying residents to answer the survey — either online, by phone or by mail.

The initial postcards were nondescript, Hartnett said, and more than 1,300 were incorrectly addressed. Hartnett and Wright used their discretionary council funds to pay for a second mailing, which arrived only one day before the survey ended, Wright said.

The councilors expected they would see the data before it was released to the Department of Public Works. That didn't happen either, Wright said.

"There's a lot of distrust from a lot of people of the process," Wright said.

"We've gotten this wrong from the start," Hartnett echoed. "It's been really disappointing."

As a result, Hartnett said, he would not be attending the public presentation of the data held by the Department of Public Works on Thursday.

"I'm washing my hands of it," Hartnett said.

Losch defended the department against the allegations. "We didn't make any revision to any of the survey results," she said.

The survey marked the final of three measures the city used to gauge the impact of the three-lane configuration. Crash data from police showed fewer and less serious crashes overall, though there were a higher number of rear-end crashes. According to traffic data, the configuration also caused commutes to increase by just more than three minutes at the peak of evening rush hour.

The North Avenue pilot project emerged from a two-year public planning process that was completed in 2014. The bike lane was installed in June 2016, and follows the stretch of road that links Burlington's northernmost neighborhood to the city proper. A resolution passed by the city council included language noting that New North End residents must support the project for it to become permanent.

Wright said he planned to introduce an amendment Monday asking city councilors for a citywide vote on the project next Town Meeting Day. He's not optimistic his measure will pass, he added, but a public vote would provide a final objective result for those concerned about the process.

"As important as the road itself is to people, the issue of trusting government is also a really big issue," Wright said.


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