BURLINGTON - In an effort to make it easier for pedestrians and drivers to access the Burlington waterfront, the Department of Public Works has unveiled three design proposals for improving parking, sidewalks, signage and traffic flows in and around Waterfront Park at College and Battery streets. But tinkering with one of the Queen City's most precious gems may be easier to do on paper than in reality, as the public-comment period revealed during two meetings held last week.
The "College Street/ Waterfront Improvements Project" is meant to address the dearth of public parking, the traffic snarls that occur in the turnaround at the bottom of College Street, and the absence of a loading area for buses and shuttles that pick up and drop off passengers at the cruise ships, ECHO Center and Waterfront Park.
Robert Chamberlain is director of Resource Systems Group, one of three consulting firms hired by the city to come up with possible design solutions. At two public meetings held January 24, which were attended by about 90 people, Chamberlain outlined the main features of each option and fielded comments and questions.
All three alternatives would involve much-needed "base improvements" to the area, Chamberlain explained. They include burying utilities, relocating a stretch of the Burlington Bike Path to the west side of the railroad tracks, widening sidewalks along Lake and College streets, improving the walkway to the Burlington Boathouse, and installing a center median on Battery Street to slow vehicle traffic and make pedestrian crossings safer and easier.
The three alternatives appear to differ principally in the extent to which they add or remove parking spaces. "Alternative 1," which Chamberlain dubbed the "minimalist approach," would involve expanding the Pease Lot on College Street to the north, resurfacing the parking lot south of ECHO, and creating a new "control point," or booth and access gate, to restrict vehicles entering the College Street circle. This proposal, Chamberlain noted, would add five spaces to existing parking and would be the least expensive of the three options.
"Alternative 2" proposes building a two-story, 150-space parking garage on the site of the current Pease Lot. The parking structure would include a bus drop-off area on the first floor and a pedestrian viewing deck on the second floor. Alternative 2 would also eliminate the parking lot south of ECHO, a space that, Chamberlain suggested, could be used later to create more green along the waterfront or to expand ECHO itself. This proposal would result in a net loss of eight public parking spaces, since some on-street parking on College Street would be eliminated.
"Alternative 3" also proposes a two-story, 168-space parking garage at Pease Lot with an observation deck. However, this option would locate the bus and shuttle drop-off and turn-around area behind ECHO and would prevent most vehicle traffic from accessing the College Street circle. It would result in a net gain of nine parking spaces. Both alternatives 2 and 3 also call for new "gateway enhancements" on College Street, just west of Battery Street.
Public reaction to these proposals, which were the product of four months of public meetings and design sessions, was mixed. Some people commended the designers on their efforts to extend public transportation access down to the waterfront itself.
Eli Lesser-Goldsmith of Burlington spoke favorably about Alternative 3, calling it "a brilliant plan" for moving large numbers of people to and from the waterfront. "Getting people to the waterfront to eat, shop and recreate is a necessary reality these days," he said. "The parking deck is a really excellent solution that addresses that problem."
Marti Woodman, who lives in a condo at College & Battery, said that as a blind woman, she considers Battery Street to be "the second-scariest place in town to cross." She liked the idea of adding a center median on Battery Street if it would make it easier for the elderly and disabled to traverse that busy intersection.
But others at the meeting were critical, objecting that all three proposals place too much emphasis on motorized traffic rather than on bikes, pedestrians and rail service. Some expressed incredulity at the idea of spending millions of dollars to build a parking garage that adds no more than nine parking spaces to the entire waterfront.
Ward 5 resident David Barber expressed concern that such a garage would be "an eyesore" and would violate the city's master plan, which calls for no above-ground parking structures on the waterfront.
Richard Moulton, whose wife, Melinda, is one of the developers at Main Street Landing, said he wants to see more "outside-the-box thinking" on this project, particularly when it comes to planning for future rail service into Burlington. "I hate to see us always catering to the car," he noted.
Eighty percent of the $3.5 million price tag would be paid for by federal transportation dollars, with the remainder coming from local funds. The public comment period on this project ended on January 28. However, Dan Bradley of the Department of Public Works emphasized that there will still be opportunities for public input, as well as chances to "mix and match" different aspects of the three alternatives. Whichever option is finally presented to the city council for approval will then have to go through a series of committee reviews and public hearings.
Construction is expected to be completed before the 2009 quadricentennial celebration marking Samuel de Champlain's discovery of his namesake lake.
Visit http://www.cedoburlington.org/waterfront/college_street_access.htm for more information.