Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Repair options to be discussed at Burlington Bike Path hearing tonight

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Advocates for walking and biking will hold a public meeting tonight to discuss ways to repair and upgrade Burlington’s beloved — and well-worn — waterfront multipurpose recreation path.
The 7.5-mile, mostly paved pathway runs from Oakledge Park to the Winooski River, where it connects with the Island Line Trail. The path serves commuters, strollers and competitive racers, and is routinely touted as one of the Queen City’s “crown jewels.”
The all-volunteer Burlington Bike Path Task Force was formed in 2010. Its work took on an undiluted sense of urgency in the wake of last year’s spring flooding on Lake Champlain, which damaged portions of the trail and highlighted its vulnerability to erosion.
The path’s outmoded design and safety standards, and the cost of its rehabilitation, are outlined in a 75-page study completed in February by Resource Systems Group Inc. and commissioned by the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission and the Burlington Department of Parks and Recreation.
Three cost scenarios for the path’s restoration are pegged at $11.6 million, $13.8 million and $16.8 million, with corresponding upgrades to structure and safety.
The study is a work in progress, organizers say; public input will be incorporated into the task force’s presentation to the City Council later this spring.
Today’s forum takes place from 5:30-7 p.m. at Contois Auditorium.
Although the bike-path study doesn’t recommend funding strategies, it cites a 2010 University of Vermont Transportation Research Center study that estimates the path’s annual contribution to the local economy from one-day tourists at $4.5 million.
A more thorough discussion of the economic impacts of walking and biking — one that ventures well beyond tourism — will take place from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, and will be streamed online.
The discussion, hosted by the Vermont Agency of Transportation, will accommodate comments by logged-in participants. It also will serve as an introduction to another walk-bike study, this one completed last week by Resource Systems Group, Inc., Economic and Policy Resources, Inc., and Burlington-based nonprofit Local Motion.
Among findings for the 2009 calendar year:
• The contribution to Vermont’s economy of bicycle-pedestrian infrastructure and program expenditures, event tourism and bicycle-pedestrian-oriented businesses generated about $82.7 million.
• Walk-bike activities sustained about 1,400 jobs with $40.9 million in labor earnings (wages and salaries plus proprietor income).
• The “net positive” impact of walk-bike activities totaled about $1.6 million in tax and fee revenues for Vermont.
• More walkable and bike-able neighborhoods in Vermont are estimated to have increased home values by a total of $350 million.
• Cost savings through avoidance of car-borne transportation saved consumers and public coffers about $42 million apiece.
• Less easily quantified benefits include savings to society in health care and social service costs.
Sound too good to be true? It might be. The study takes pains to acknowledge its analytical shortcomings. The authors also remind us that their study remains a work in progress, and will benefit from public input.
Advocates and skeptics at the forums likely will agree on this point, at least: Most humans are built to power their own progress through landscapes, and if the landscape happens to be the shores of Lake Champlain — all the better.
Contact Joel Banner Baird at 660-1843 Read his blog at and follow him on Twitter

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