Planning for tri-town bike loop progresses

NEW HAVEN — A tri-town bike loop in Addison County is one step closer to becoming a reality.
Coordinated by the Addison County Regional Planning Commission (ACRPC), the town of New Haven and city of Vergennes have teamed up to apply for a Municipal Planning Grant to develop a master plan for a designated bicycle route connecting Bristol, Middlebury and Vergennes, via New Haven.
“This is very significant for the walk-bike community,” said Claire Tebbs, who wrote the application for the ACRPC. “This is the first regional master plan proposal of its kind for Addison County. It is a step toward understanding how we can make our roads safer for both drivers and cyclists.”
If approved, the Triangle Bike Loop, which covers roughly 32 miles of established roadways, would include the alpine views of Munger Street, the leafy corridor of Green Street and rustic Plank Road.
“This does feel like a milestone,” said New Haven resident Doug McKain, a member of the Walk-Bike Council of Addison County who has worked tirelessly on behalf of bicyclists for a number of years. “I know that other cyclists and I have long envisioned connecting Middlebury, Vergennes and Bristol with a bike route that would enhance both commuting by bicycle and recreational cycling. That this is a significant first step in that direction is exciting.”
Like the Champlain Bikeways route around Lake Champlain, the Triangle Bike Loop could be signed, which McKain said would raise motorists’ awareness that there are cyclists on the road, making traveling safer for both cyclists and motorists.
The Municipal Planning Grant (MPG) program, administered by the Vermont Department of Housing and Community Development, encourages and supports planning and revitalization for local municipalities in the state. Since 1998 the program has awarded more than $12 million to cities and towns across Vermont. In 2018, individual grants ranged from $4,000 to $35,000 each, including one in Addison County (Monkton, $9,677) to facilitate public input regarding renewable energy and flood resilience in an updated town plan. 
Recipients must provide a cash match equal to 10 percent of the grant amount.
Triangle Bike Loop planners hope to use the potential grant money to hire a consultant to vet the proposed route, identify needed route improvements, determine cost estimates and develop a community engagement strategy. Estimated consultant fees range from $35,000 to $37,000.
The project has received strong support from the Middlebury and Vergennes planning commissions, the Bristol Trail Network, Addison County Transit Resources, the Vermont Department of Health and the Walk-Bike Council of Addison County. The Vergennes City Council pledged $1,500 toward the financial grant match.
“This project is a model of community collaboration and offers a vision for Addison County that is worthy of support,” Porter Knight wrote on behalf of the Bristol Trail Network.
A perfect storm of state, regional and local projects has made a significant contribution toward bicycle planning in Addison County.
Between 2016 and 2018 the Vermont Agency of Transportation has been developing an On-Road Bicycle Plan to improve the condition of state roads and to enhance safety and better accommodate bicyclists’ needs.
At the same time, in 2016, the Walk-Bike Council of Addison County was formed, with the goal of reinvigorating Safe Routes efforts in Bristol, Middlebury and Vergennes, as well as increasing municipal and citizen outreach.
This past spring, building on the efforts of VTrans and the Walk-Bike Council, three Middlebury College students, for their senior seminar in environmental studies, used focus groups, online surveys and graphic information system analysis to determine:
• cyclist and motorist road use attitudes
• best and worse county roads for cycling
• the best routes between Bristol, Middlebury and Vergennes
The final map of those best routes, created by Middlebury student Maria Celes Abragam, serves as the draft concept for the Triangle Bike Loop.
On April 28, Middlebury student and professional cyclist Farid Noori gave the route a test ride.
“This is a super fun loop,” he wrote for the senior seminar’s final report. Among the highlights were Otter Creek, Plank Road, and the Bristol Cliffs Café.
Noori also listed a number of cautions along the route, including rough bridge surfaces, blind curves and areas that are likely to ice over in spring and fall — details that will likely get more attention if and when consultants are engaged.
Noori recorded the following travel times:
• Middlebury to Vergennes: 37 minutes.
• Vergennes to Bristol: 42 minutes.
• Bristol to Middlebury: 42 minutes.
These times should perhaps be taken with a grain of salt, however: Noori is an accomplished bicyclist with Olympic aspirations.
Whether or not the proposed route becomes permanent remains to be seen. Part of the master plan project is to vet every detail of that route, so parts of it could change if better alternatives are found. Some New Haven residents are also hoping to establish a clear route connection to New Haven Village Center, and their concerns will be included in any vetted route discussion, Tebbs said.
Applicants have been working since summer toward an October 1 deadline. Municipal Planning Grant awards should be announced by late November or early December.
Reach Christopher Ross at [email protected].

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