Lincoln, Bristol, Starksboro eye bike paths
LINCOLN — Lincoln Town Clerk Sally Ober loves walking and biking with her kids to school each morning, though she admits that the path that stretches from the center of town to the Lincoln Community School can be a treacherous one.
“We live about a mile or so from the school,” she said. “Certainly when they were little I would bike my kids there in the mornings and it’s a really narrow, scary path from town to school.”
It was Ober’s concern for the safety of her kids and their classmates that led her to apply for grant money to plan a better, safer path.
This fall, the towns of Lincoln, Bristol and Starksboro were all granted funds by the Addison County Regional Planning Commission’s Transportation Advisory Council (TAC) to move forward with feasibility studies centered around the improvement of bike and pedestrian safety and accessibility.
Each of the towns will use the money to perform studies on the routes near and around their village centers where bike and pedestrian paths could be added, or where paved shoulders could be expanded, to improve accessibility for all modes of transportation.
Lincoln and Bristol are looking to create safer paths for pedestrians and bikers along their main drags. For Lincoln, Ober envisions a wider path that would connect the center of the town to the community school and preschool.
“Right now there’s really almost no shoulder, and there’s just a little bit of sidewalk that goes out toward the old hotel and that ends pretty abruptly,” Ober said. “One thing that happens a lot is that the teachers move the children into town to do field trips. Second-graders walked past my window yesterday. They do this quite often to save on transportation money and to get some exercise and get out, and I’m concerned for their safety. I’d like to see wider lanes to horse ride, bike ride — however you want to get to school — and just make it a little bit safer for everybody.”
Bristol also hopes to create safer routes for walkers and bike riders, and will focus its planning to the area along Route 116/17 from Main Street east to the intersection with Lincoln Road.
Starksboro plans to analyze the current village center setup in terms of “complete streets,” or what regional planning commission transportation planner Rick Kehne described as, “a new approach to looking at how do we best make a village accessible to all modes of transportation — bicyclists, walking, kids walking.”
“You look at how you can enhance the quality of life there and the health of a downtown community,” he said. “And at what you can you do in terms of your design and not have, say, just the automobile being the dominant factor and everything else kind of taking a back seat to that.”
Each year, towns are allowed to submit one proposal each to the TAC, a group consisting of one representative from each of the towns in the county. Together, TAC members determine which of the proposed projects are most worthy of dividing the $40,000 set aside each year for feasibility studies within the region. According to Kehne, all of the proposed projects this year were related to bike and pedestrian issues, including the rejected Bi-State Park proposal.
“One study worth mentioning that wasn’t funded that we’re trying to find other funding for is, if you’re familiar with the Champlain Bridge situation, there’s been a movement to form a bi-state park that would essentially coordinate activities between New York and Vermont,” he said. Kehne explained that the TAC thought the scope was a bit bigger than what it could actually fund. The new bridge, which will have three-foot-wide shoulders in addition to sidewalks on both sides, reflects the growing trend across the state to improve bike/pedestrian accessibility.
“I would say there’s a really strong demand for that statewide, especially in Addison County,” Kehne said. “This is prime bicycling territory for a lot of reasons. There’s always been a strong bike/ped presence. And now, with all that is happening with global warming and energy, there’s a lot of emphasis happening … I’d love to see village areas really get supported, you know where you’ve got a lot of population density and relatively short distances where people, instead of driving short distances, can walk. If you provide them with the infrastructure, they’ll do it.”
Kehne said that the areas that town and transportation planners need to focus on initially are the village centers.
“To me the highest priority is those village centers,” he said. “That’s where we really want to feed. What will happen is as fuel prices increase and scarcity increases — which they will and it is — it’s not a matter of ‘if,’ but more ‘when.’ And the when is pretty soon. You want to be able to give people an alternative to driving and we want to put as much infrastructure in place as close to these centers as we possibly can so that they will actually draw the people.”
Kehne, who asked Vermont Agency of Transportation employee Jon Kaplan to present on European bike/pedestrian infrastructure to the commission last week, sees a lot of room for implementation of such sidewalk and bike path infrastructure in the village centers of Addison County.
“Those are the low-hanging fruit,” he said. “You can really get a lot of bang for your buck. You wouldn’t see as heavy of traffic. I’d like to first really serve the communities where you have great opportunities to move a lot of people.”
But do not expect to see street trees and expanded shoulders in the middle and on the sides of Route 116 just yet. Kehne says that projects like these can take years to implement, and Bristol, Lincoln and Starksboro are just taking the first steps in what could be a long march toward improvement. Backers in Lincoln, the first of the towns to get started, met on Wednesday to outline the scope of the project and to discuss the hiring of a consultant.
“It takes some years,” he said. “You don’t just do this in one or two years. Infrastructure is a lot more complicated than a lot of people realize, but it’s very doable.”
Tamara Hilmes is at [email protected].