Sunday, March 6, 2011

Push for alternate transport grows in Burlington

Charlene Wallace, operations manager at Local Motion, demonstrates how a re-design of Pearl Street will benefit pedestrians, bicyclists and even cars on Wednesday March 2, 2011.
Icy sidewalks and snow-narrowed streets might hamper headway for pedestrians and bicyclists in Chittenden County, but they haven’t slowed the drive for saner, safer and slower urban traffic.

Vote with your feet, but leave the rhetoric at home, advocates tell us. Their efforts appear to have borne fruit; people-powered conveyance (or “active transportation”) can rightfully claim an early spring in Vermont.

Early harbingers abound: in the Vermont Legislature and shovel-ready municipal street plans; on bus routes and park-and-ride stops; on campus Facebook sites and on elderly-housing bulletin boards.
Burlington-based One Revolution has begun signing up customers for its new, bicycle-powered food-scraps-to-compost pick-upservice.
The late-winter prospect of yet another disruption to Middle-East oil supplies has prompted several experts to suggest that vest-pocket, planet-friendly philosophies might have finally merged with the common sense of our pocketbooks.
Chittenden County has reached “a critical mass of advocacy,” said Steve Norman, an active member of the Burlington Walk/Bike Council.
“For Burlington’s size, its involvement in change is orders of magnitude bigger than other cities — including Los Angeles,” he continued. “It’s starting to have an effect. People are out in the streets, and they’re talking to each other.”

Learn to share

The sociable, street-side exchange of triumphs and complaints is one that largely excludes car-enclosed drivers (unless they’re on their cellphones), and the open-air conversation is building nationwide, said Cambridge, Mass.-based transportation advocate Steven M. Miller in a recent phone interview.
Miller, the keynote speaker at an informal, public walk-bike forum Saturday afternoon on the University of Vermont campus, added that the recent apparent surge in momentum springs from decades of slow, methodical groundwork — and an equally slow and painful realization that “the caris no longer king.”
Miller and other transportation experts are quick to point out that few, if any, communities can (or should) abandon automotive traffic. 

But, they tell us, a broader appreciation for safer, healthier and less-wasteful alternatives drives the point home: Motorists will have to learn to share.
The proof exists in a blueprint for a soon-to-be-reconstructed stretch of Pearl Street in Burlington. The drawings show two-way bike lanes, improved sidewalks and pedestrian “bump-outs” for better visibility at crossings. Although the plans accommodate more parked cars, they aim to narrow (and in theory, slow) the passage of vehicles rolling east and west.

Action stations

Slated for construction this summer, the Pearl Street upgrades were gradually refined through input from the all-volunteer Burlington Walk/Bike Council, said Nicole Losch, an environmental planner with the Department of Public Works.
The group, formed through the merger of longstanding bike and walking groups in 2009, holds official advisory status to city planners. It has gradually become more diverse — and more effective, Losch said.
On the council’s online (and public) listserve, its members swap local anecdotes, international trends, legal precedents and urgent legislative alerts.
Among the latter:
• “Complete Streets” legislation to ensure policies that grant broader access by walkers and bikers to state and local roads (H.198)
• a state law that would allow towns to lower speed limits in school zones, even on state roads (H.118).
• a bill that would increase bike parking at state buildings (H.307).
Nancy Schulz, executive director of Montpelier-based Vermont Bicycle and Pedestrian Coalition, credits the arrival of the proposed legislation to a never-more-vibrant collaboration of grassroots organizers, nonprofit groups and government agencies.
And, she noted on Tuesday, “everyone is more optimistic with the arrival of the new (Gov. Peter Shumlin) administration. There are windows of opportunity that didn’t exist before.”

Driving at dollars

Pledges from the Agency of Transportation to revive its dormant list of walk-bike projects, combined with a modest (two-percent) proposed increase in state funding, signals a new set of priorities, Schulz said.

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