Planners mull ways to get people out of cars

MIDDLEBURY — Crosswalk signals that tack on extra time when walkers need it, bike lanes with strategically painted lines and symbols, along with pedestrian “refuges” — all of these could soon be integrated into a downtown near you.
Jon Kaplan of the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) recently presented to the Addison County Regional Planning Commission these and other ways Addison County could implement European bicycle and pedestrian safety strategies into local roadways.
Kaplan, the bicycle and pedestrian manager within the Local Transportation Facilities Section of VTrans, participated in the 2009 International Scan of Pedestrian and Bicyclist Safety and Mobility. Through this program, Kaplan visited and studied 10 different cities in Europe including London; Copenhagen, Denmark; and Winterthur, Switzerland.
Along with the other participants in the program, Kaplan is now working to bring some of the innovative strategies being used across the ocean to U.S. soil.
“Our major objective is both to (increase) the number of people who are biking and walking, and to improve safety for bikers and walkers,” Kaplan said.
Kaplan and the rest of the team studied systems like low-speed streets, raised sidewalks and pedestrian refuges with low walls. The low walls, Kaplan said, were especially clever as they not only directed traffic away from the pedestrian zone, but forced people crossing the street to first look at and be aware of oncoming traffic. When crossing two lanes of traffic, the path in the median forces pedestrians to enter the median facing one direction and then turn to face traffic before turning again to exit the median space.
As Kaplan pointed out, there is no simple, singular solution to bike and pedestrian safety concerns.
“Unfortunately, there’s not one silver bullet,” he said. “It’s going to take a combination of a lot of different things.”
Out of the multitude of ideas that Kaplan and the others acquired whilst overseas, he has distilled his list of priorities to a handful of things that can be done in Addison County right now to improve road safety for people outside of vehicles.
Kaplan’s top five include:
• Wider use of pedestrian refuges.
• Passive detection incorporated into pedestrian signals. This would entail using signals that automatically sense when a pedestrian needs more or less time to cross.
• Regional traffic gardens, or areas where kids can learn to ride bikes in and around car and truck traffic.
• Collection of up-to-date crash data and counts of people biking and walking regularly in the towns of Addison County.
• Enhanced public transit coordination, including additional bike racks and/or storage facilities for commuters who need to stow their bike while riding from pick-up points to work.
Members of the regional planning commission listened to Kaplan’s ideas, but some pointed out that not all of these urban and suburban, European methods will mesh with the rural spaces in Addison County.
“This is a rural state,” said one man. “A lot of these only really apply to Burlington or Montpelier.”
Beyond the installation of small things like signals and additional lines on the road, there needs to be a more extensive paradigm shift in the way that people think about bikes and pedestrians and their relationship to the roadways, Kaplan said. Currently, America is dominated by private car and truck traffic. Cities in particular tend to favor the honking and revving variety over those who pedal and shuffle, he said.
“We need to establish policies that give biking and walking modes the highest priority in the road-user hierarchy,” Kaplan said. “The private car needs to be at the bottom of the list.”
Tamara Hilmes is at [email protected].

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