City works to make pedestrians and bikes safer

VERGENNES — Vergennes City Council members on Dec. 20 continued to discuss their ongoing effort to make the city’s downtown safer for pedestrians and cyclists, an effort triggered by a November discussion at a council meeting attended by about a dozen residents.
Alderman Matt Chabot reported on the first meeting of the task force the council recently created to focus on the issue and make recommendations to city officials. Chabot said he was encouraged by what was a get-together to assess the task and marshal resources.
“It was really a meeting of the minds, getting everybody around the table,” Chabot said.
The task force will meet again in January as it tries to come up with practical and affordable steps the council can take to make downtown safer. Much of the discussion has focused on the best ways to make city crosswalks safer on Main Street, Green Street and New Haven Road.
The group will be receiving help from the Addison County Regional Planning Commission, including its Addison County Walk-Bike Council, and Burlington nonprofit Local Motion. Chabot said both would be valuable resources, noting, for example, regional planners believe grants could help the city buy flashing lights for crosswalks.
Planning commission Chairman Shannon Haggett was enthusiastic about the help from Local Motion, which he said “was presenting a lot of ideas at a very low cost.”
Chabot added city planner Stacey Raphael is continuing to work to involve both city schools in a Safe Pathways to School effort.
Alderman Mark Koenig said he is going ahead with making handmade pedestrian flags that can be kept in buckets at either end of crosswalks on an experimental basis. Flags have been used in Middlebury and elsewhere as a way pedestrians can alert drivers to their presence, but how well they work has been debated, including at council meetings.
“It doesn’t seem it’s really a benefit to pedestrians,” Chabot said. “As (City Manager) Mel (Hawley) said at the last meeting, flags don’t stop cars. Brakes stop cars.”
Koenig said he would like to see how the flags work, especially given the low cost, and that the buckets themselves would help make crosswalks more visible to drivers.
Benton said he hopes the task force will make recommendations so the council can “hit the ground running” and begin to make improvements in April.

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