Bristol studies pedestrian safety

BRISTOL — Bristol residents have consistently expressed that they are concerned about the safety of children, joggers and bicyclists that frequent the stretch of Route 17/116 between downtown Bristol and Lincoln Road. 
A “pedestrian feasibility study” will be conducted throughout the summer to provide the town with several options for constructing a pedestrian path along this precarious stretch of road.
The study was the subject of a local concerns meeting last week in which Senior Transportation Planner Rick Kehne of the Addison County Regional Planning Commission and consulting engineer Corey Mack of the Resource Systems Group in Burlington spoke with Bristol residents.
The primary message that Bristol residents relayed to Kehne and Mack at the May 23 gathering is that they want a year-round route for pedestrian traffic.
The regional planning commission awards pedestrian feasibility studies on a yearly basis. The towns of Bristol, Lincoln and Starksboro were this year’s winners.
“We sponsored this study to see if there could be anything done by the town to improve pedestrian traffic,” said Kehne. “It’s a very difficult engineering spot to do things.”
Mack told Bristol residents, “The purpose of the study is to identify the most viable routes along the corridor.” Due to the positioning of the road — with the New Haven River on the south side and a steep slope on the north — feasible options for year-round paths appear to be limited.
Nonetheless, residents have vehemently articulated that they want a safer route along that corridor.
“There tends to be high-speed traffic … there’s very little shoulder and some of the guard rail areas make it really dangerous for pedestrians and bicyclists,” said Kehne. “To boot you’ve got one of the most popular swimming holes in the state, so there’s regular traffic from kids and adults along that road.”
“I would love to be able to walk into town from Rockydale Gardens, but I would never bike or walk … it’s very scary,” said Rockydale Gardens owner Ed Burke. “I could see a recreation path for jogging or walking … that would be great.”
Many residents also expressed concern for the safety of the town’s children. They said kids returning from school, going to friends’ houses, or heading for a summer dip at Bartlett Falls are placed in grave danger.
“My major concern is someone getting killed,” said Karin Wisell.
According to Kehne, one of the main obstacles that usually confronts a pedestrian feasibility study is town division, but in Bristol it seems unanimous that the town wants a safer path.
“Often you’ll have people that are really supportive of building infrastructure of this type. But, almost always you’ll have some other group saying, ‘Why are we doing this? We can’t afford it,’” said Kehne. “But, there was no one doing that at the meeting. It’s a recognized need. The question is will we be able to engineer something in that corridor.”
The study will explore necessary permits, costs, the landscape, and natural elements associated with a viable plan for a pedestrian path.
“The ultimate goal of this study is to provide a document for future funding, so that you can apply for transportation grants through the state of Vermont,” Mack told residents.
“Feasibility studies are a necessary step if you’re applying for state or federal funding,” added Kehne.
The regional planning commission will hold a second meeting with residents in June or July to explain how the study has progressed and gather community input. The study is scheduled to be finished by Aug. 30.
Reporter Andrew Stein is at [email protected].

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