'Splaining the BTV Sidewalk Stencils | News | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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'Splaining the BTV Sidewalk Stencils


Published July 27, 2010 at 12:58 p.m.

Sometimes pictograms can be hard to understand. What, with all those symbols and images making things hard to figure out and all. Luckily, I'm here to help decipher some for you. Well, really just one. This one: 

This is an image that details a gender-neutral amputee standing next to a cocktail table with some stairs behind it. This neuter person, who has preternaturally long legs, is inside a crosshairs of sort. This is a warning. It suggests that if you are a lower-arm amputee with inexplicably tall limbs standing at a bar in front of some stairs, then you might risk assassination.

A couple weeks ago, these pictograms showed up on sidewalks all over Burlington's City Center (bounded by Main Street, St. Paul Street, South Winooski Avenue, Pearl Street). I suppose they're meant to warn people who fit the aforementioned description that imminent danger awaits them downtown.

 Only joking! I kid because I love. These handy bits of municipal graffiti were actually put there by the a collabo of folks: the Burlington Walk/Bike Council, the Department of Public Works and the bike/ped advocacy group, Local Motion. Here's what they really mean:

Got it?  

If you want to get all crass about it, what the sidewalk sign really means get the eff off your bike so you don't kill those mothereffing tourists who are far more important to our city's economy than you are. Charming.

The stencils first appeared a little more than a year ago to encourage cyclists to follow the damn rules and not ride their bikes on the sidewalk like a sissy in the city center. In addition to the fact that sidewalk bike riding in the city center is insanely dangerous and not the least bit bad-ass, it's also in violation of Burlington's municipal ordinances.  (You can read the full text of the ordinance at this lively and riveting website.) It's also not kosher to ride your bike on the sidewalk in the Inner Fire District (King, Grant, Pine and Union Sts.), if you're over 16 years old. Also not allowed if you're over 16 y.o.? Listening to Justin Bieber or wearing anything from Hot Topic.

Unfortunately, most people have never read Burlington's municipal code and therefore don't realize you can't ride your bike on the sidewalk. Fair enough. I've never read the ordinances either. Frankly, I've been too busy chatting on Battlestar Galactica fansites and teaching my cats to read to have time for that noise. But thanks to the stencils, I don't have to.

The pictogram stencil is new this year. It replaced a stencil that said "Walk Bikes on Sidewalk." Apparently, that wasn't clear enough. Or maybe people felt it was too aggressive. Or that people who don't speak English or are illiterate wouldn't get it. Whatever the reason, the new stencil is meant to encourage friendly compliance with the rules.

Has that been that case? Not exactly. Instead, I've seen about 900 bikes (with riders astride) roll right over the signs with impunity. Recently, I saw a person who was walking his bike look at the sign and the hop on his ride and pedal away. Maybe he was dyslexic.

I realize that compliance takes time. Cultural shifts need to happen. People need to get with the program. Streets need to be made safe for bikes. I dig it. But if everyone got off the sidewalk and rode in the street, as uncomfortable as it might feel, it's a hell of a lot safer for everyone. Plus, it ups the visibility of cyclists. The more cyclists on the road, one might presume, the more resources might go into creating safe cycling infrastructure.

But what do I know? Honestly, not that much.

For the complete rules of the road for Burlington, click here.

PS- Please notice how good the dirty sidewalk gum looks in those photos. Yum.