WTF: So Many Questions About Roads, Construction and Other Motorist Issues | WTF | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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WTF: So Many Questions About Roads, Construction and Other Motorist Issues


Published November 21, 2018 at 10:00 a.m.
Updated November 21, 2018 at 12:06 p.m.

Hypothetical Pastafarian license
  • Hypothetical Pastafarian license

Consider this week's "Whisky Tango Foxtrot" column the roads and streets review. We often answer readers' questions about puzzling things they've spotted while driving — perhaps a sad reminder of how much time Vermonters spend behind the wheel.

True to form, we've received a plethora of road-related queries recently. So here are some answers that, like highway flaggers signaling traffic to move along, appear in no particular order.

"What's up with those large planters and barricades at intersections around Burlington?"

In 2016, the City of Burlington unveiled its planBTV Walk Bike master plan, which included, among other things, two ambitious goals: "to eliminate traffic-related fatalities and serious injuries by 2026" and "to make walking and biking a viable and enjoyable way to get around town."

To that end, the city undertook several "quick-build" projects that could rapidly and inexpensively test the effectiveness of various approaches to slowing traffic at dangerous intersections, while also making it easier for bikes and pedestrians to cross roads, explained Department of Public Works Director Chapin Spencer.

Some of those traffic-calming devices were installed in 2017, though most were completed this year, including 11 quick-build intersection improvements, as well as 4.2 miles of new bike lanes. Because many of those improvements use temporary barricades such as moveable planters and plastic bollards, Spencer said, this winter, DPW staff will review how well they're working and then decide which ones to make permanent.

By the way, if you're wondering how well the city's plows are navigating those tighter corners, Seven Days spoke to Spencer on the morning of the first snowstorm of the season. He was happy to report that, aside from a couple of sidewalk plow breakdowns, his crews were handling them just fine.

"We have the most talented plow team in the state," he boasted. "We've got to plow around a very dense urban environment, and our team is second to none."

"What's all the construction about on St. Paul Street in Burlington?"

Perhaps a more accurate question is, What's going on under that street? As the DPW director explained, St. Paul is part of the first stage of Burlington's Great Streets Initiative, which involves "very significant" upgrades to the street's above-ground and below-ground infrastructure. When completed, it'll include new stormwater drains, rain gardens, buried utilities, widened sidewalks, granite curbs and so-called "silva cells." The latter are nifty devices that help absorb stormwater runoff and allow trees to grow better in an urban environment.

Spencer called it a "generational investment" in a street where buried utilities were more than 100 years old. Plus, the cost of construction is covered by tax-increment financing — a bureaucratic way of saying that development of the new Hilton Garden Inn on Main Street and Champlain College apartments on St. Paul Street helped foot the bill, offsetting any increases to residents' property taxes. Nice!

"Why are so many Vermont license plates so faded that they're unreadable?"

If you're one of the unlucky drivers who got a license plate made between 2003 and 2005, there's a fairly good chance that, by now, yours is just a white smear. According to the Department of Motor Vehicles, some plates had manufacturing defects, while others simply succumbed to Vermont's harsh weather, ample road salt and time.

For a few years, the state did outreach to get drivers to swap out their faded ones, according to Shannon Fassett, the DMV's section manager. That effort included a yearlong program in which state inspection stations and DMV staff looked for faded plates and provided drivers with applications to order replacements on the department's tab.

Faded plates can still be replaced at no fee to motorists — assuming, that is, you're not concerned about getting the same number or vanity plate you had. If you are, faded ones can be replaced for $12.

"I just moved to Vermont from California. Is it legal to keep my tinted headlights?"

Sorry, Charlie. State law requires that all headlights be "forward facing and white in color." Also verboten in the Green Mountain State are license plate glow lights, undercarriage glow lights (whether flashing or constant) and tinted drivers' windows. The last are especially irritating and dangerous because you can't tell whether the driver is paying attention, asleep at the wheel or yapping on a cellphone.

We couldn't find any state law that outlaws the hydraulic lift kits popular on California lowriders. However, if you enjoy bouncy rides, we can recommend a few washboard dirt roads.

"What does the DMV list on Vermont driver's licenses for hair color if someone is bald? Ditto for people who wear religious head coverings."

The DMV makes reasonable accommodations for drivers whose religious faiths require them to wear head coverings in public. These include yarmulkes, or skullcaps worn by Jewish men, and hijabs, or headscarves worn by Muslim women. Vermont drivers are permitted to wear them in their driver's license photos. In fact, several states, including Massachusetts, have even allowed members of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster to wear pasta strainers on their heads for their photos. To date, Vermont hasn't reported any kitchen-utensil-related DMV photos.

As for listing the hair color of bald drivers, the DMV's Fassett noted that Vermont driver's licenses do not list hair color, though drivers must come clean about their weight. To those who are unhappy about revealing that tidbit: Be thankful that the DMV doesn't have driver weigh stations like it does for trucks.

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