Burlington Free Press
January 26, 2016
A divided Burlington City Council on Monday night agreed to allow voters to weigh in on whether to change North Avenue from four lanes to three.
An non-binding question on the North Avenue Pilot Project will appear before voters on Town Meeting Day.
On a 9-3 vote, councilors moved to place this question on the March 1 ballot: "Shall the City Council, Public Works Commission and Administration be advised to keep four lanes open to motor vehicles on North Ave. from the Route 127 access intersection north to the Shore Road intersection?"
The vote will be advisory. The fate of the trial project, which city planners say would alter the lane configuration of North Avenue to improve safety and access for vehicles, pedestrians and bicyclists, lies with the City Council.
Each of the three New North End councilors — Dave Hartnett, I-North District; Tom Ayres, D-Ward 7; and Kurt Wright, R-Ward 4 — supported the measure — even though they, along with the rest of the council, support the pilot. The council's Progressive bloc, which includes Max Tracy, Ward-2; Sara Gianonni, Ward-3 and Selene Colburn, North District, voted against seeking voter input.
Before Monday's vote, Hartnett acknowledged how the project has divided the quiet, suburban neighborhood, which houses about a quarter of the city's 42,000 residents.
“I can’t believe an issue like this has torn our neighborhood apart,” Hartnett said. “Both sides need to stop attacking each other.”
Moments earlier, in an unusual departure from council decorum, Ayres tempered his support for the ballot question by accusing the petitioners of accosting neighbors "with Sarah Palin-like anger and a misrepresentation of the facts.”
Councilors Hartnett and Wright chastised Ayres.
More than 50 people packed Contois Auditorium for the evening meeting. Many brought signs supporting the pilot project, which would change North Avenue’s four vehicle lanes to two, plus a center turning lane along with two bicycle lanes and additional crosswalks.
Neighborhood resident Karen Rowell, who feels City Hall has ignored the input of project opponents, last fall drafted a petition to put the project to a citywide vote on Town Meeting Day.
Rowell delivered the petition to City Hall last week, where clerks verified the document had the signatures of at least 5 percent of city voters, the minimum necessary to place a question on the ballot.
But a problem loomed.
City Attorney Eileen Blackwood determined Rowell's original question — "Shall the City of Burlington keep four vehicular lanes on North Ave." — was too vague. The wording, Blackwood argued, failed to inform voters the question would be advisory rather than binding.
Councilors were left with a choice: Try to interpret Rowell's intent and reword the question to pass legal muster, or keep the question off the ballot.
Blackwood advised councilors against placing a pilot-related question on the ballot. Mayor Miro Weinberger disagreed.
Weinberger supports the pilot project and said he will vote "no" on the question. Despite his preference, Weinberger said petitioners deserve to be heard.
"I am not comfortable denying Burlingtonians who have worked hard to secure a large number of signatures access to the ballot on a technical basis," Weinberger said.
New North End councilor Wright introduced a resolution to adopt a ballot item with more precise language. Councilors adopted Wright's version.
The petition placed councilors in an awkward position, because the body unanimously approved the pilot project in 2014. Councilors sidestepped that issue by expressing support for the public's right to petition their government while personally opposing the ballot question.
“This is about supporting our charter, and people’s right to access the ballot,” said Sharon Bushor, I-Ward 1. "We’ve already voted on the pilot, so you know where we stand on that."
The Progressive councilors — Tracy, Colburn and Giannoni — opposed rewording Rowell's original ballot question. Tracy said trying to guess the intent of each of the more than 1,600 petition signers was an impossible task.
The impact of an advisory vote on councilors is unclear. During a half-hour discussion, not a single councilor stated how the results of a city-wide vote would inform their sentiments about the pilot project.
Pilot supporters organized
During the public forum portion of the meeting, supporters of the pilot greatly outnumbered opponents. Proponents held signs that read “People for a safer North Avenue.”
George Rutherford, who said he has lived in the New North End for a decade, spoke in support of the pilot.
“I’m very much looking forward to the pilot project, specifically so we can gather data and information about whether bike lanes are a good idea,” Rutherford said. “I think they would be an outstanding idea, because I have two kids who have had close calls.”
R.J. Lalumiere, a member of the council-appointed task force assembled to vet the pilot, said he opposed placing the project on the ballot. If the council wished to do so, Lalumiere urged councilors place an advisory question on the 2017 ballot, after the pilot is complete. Lalumiere said residents “should be able to vote from a position of experience, rather than from fear, misinformation or ignorance.”
Several cyclists said they support the pilot because they have been involved in crashes or near misses with vehicles. Other pilot supporters implored councilors against trying to interpret the intent of the petition.
Tony Bell expressed support for Rowell’s petition and equated the pilot project, which the Department of Public Works estimates will cost about $150,000, as wasteful spending.
“Potholes, which cause damage to vehicles and accidents, should be repaired,” Bell said. “Sidewalks and crosswalks are needed. These improvements can be made at a fraction of the amount being spent on the complete streets plan.”
Opponent Gary Dion said he feels city officials had failed to explain the project adequately to residents.
“It seems like the New North End was not informed,” Dion said.
Public Works Director Chapin Spencer said crews will launch parts of the pilot project as early as this spring.
Concerned about safety and traffic on North Avenue, Burlington's Department of Public Works four years ago proposed a solution that sounded simple enough: Change the four-lane road to two lanes, plus a center turning lane, new crosswalks and separate lanes for bicyclists.
Four years later, as the city prepares a several-month trial of the new configuration, the issue has deeply divided residents and evolved into a proxy battle over the future of a changing neighborhood.
Project opponents accuse City Hall of cowing to a minority of cyclists and say the Weinberger administration has stifled opposition. Cyclists complain they are harassed for riding on North Avenue. Neighbors blame each other for destroyed road signs for and against the lane reconfiguration.
Those who support the North Avenue pilot project, which is due to begin next summer, say the design would decrease accidents, protect cyclists and reduce speeding. Opponents decry the project as a boondoggle that would create unacceptable traffic jams and cater to a group of cyclists they believe make up only a fraction of New North End residents.
“It’s not the Vermont way to insist you get all this room when you’re such a small amount of the people,” neighborhood resident Karen Rowell said.
Amid the controversy, city officials are trying to convince skeptical residents their voices will be heard.
“We will have a robust public input process,” said Chapin Spencer, the city’s public works director. “People need to know it is a pilot, and the decisions are far from being predetermined.”
A 2014 study on North Avenue concluded a four-lane to three-lane conversion would best address traffic and safety concerns. City councilors that October approved the pilot project, but only after adding an amendment that gives New North End final say over the future of the avenue.
The pilot project is projected to cost about $150,000 and run from four months to a year, Spencer said. The effort is part of Burlington's "complete streets" campaign to improve infrastructure for all forms of transportation: driving, walking and biking.
Unrest along The Avenue
North Avenue begins at Park Street in Burlington's downtown and stretches northwest through the suburban New North End to the mouth of the Winooski River. For eight-tenths of a mile, from the intersection with the Beltline north to Shore Road, North Avenue widens from two to four lanes.
Once a suburban enclave separate from the city's central neighborhoods, the New North End grew to be an extension of them, a bustling warren of streets that now house a quarter of Burlington's 42,000 residents. Along the avenue, longtime residents grapple with an influx of younger residents and families — many of whom want safer opportunities to walk and bike with their children.
Longtime resident Rich Nadworny said the neighborhood clings to its roots as a place where working-class residents could become homeowners, and has long resisted change.
“Back in the 1960s, when the city and state were proposing the Beltline, there was huge opposition,” said Nadworny, who grew up in the New North End. Nadworny said the pilot project is just the latest proposal for reform to hit a wall of opposition in the neighborhood.
A drive along the avenue reveals how battle lines are drawn. Dozens of lawn signs bearing the slogan “4 Lanes 4 North Ave.” dot lawns along the thoroughfare. A number of other signs support the new configuration.
Karen Rowell counts herself among the most vocal opponents of the project. An avid cyclist who logs more than 1,000 miles annually, Rowell said she opposes the pilot project because she believes the lane shift would increase accidents and decrease safety for cyclists and motorists.
Instead of a new North Avenue, Rowell envisions a new, shared-use path for bicyclists parallel to the road. For now, she believes the city should insist that cyclists ride on the sidewalk along the four-lane stretch of North Avenue, which she agrees is dangerous.
As for drivers who use the wider section to speed through traffic, Rowell urged increased enforcement.
“If there’s so many concerns about speeding, get a cop out there,” Rowell said.
Some New North End residents oppose the pilot project because they dislike the city's push to accommodate cyclists and pedestrians. Others have more practical reasons.
"We'd never get out of our driveway," North Avenue resident Larry Hammond said.
Hammond, who lives 100 yards north of the Beltline interchange, said limiting North Avenue to three driving lanes would make rush-hour traffic jams a bigger headache.
Farther up the avenue, Phong Vu agreed four lanes are better. So did Angelo Barton, who said he rides his bike to go downtown and believes the two bike paths in the neighborhood are adequate. Barton placed a "Four Lanes for North Ave." sign in his yard but is open to results of the project.
"I'm up to give it a shot," he said. "There's no other way to see if it will work."
Liam Griffin, who rides his bike on North Avenue daily, refuses to bring his children along the route on their commute to school because he fears for their safety. On his own, he worries about being rear-ended and said drivers harass him daily.
“I’ve had people swear at me. I have people pull up behind me and yell at me as they pass,” Griffin said. “I feel like it's gotten worse since those signs went up.”
While Griffin spoke with the Burlington Free Press with his bicycle on North Avenue last week, a man in a pickup truck slowed, rolled down his window and hollered at Griffin to take the bike path instead.
The new lane configuration, Griffin hopes, would diffuse tensions between cyclists and drivers and make the road safer for all.
"It’s worked in other parts of town and other cities across North America," Griffin said of the four-lane to three-lane conversion.
He rejected Rowell's notion that City Hall is catering to a minority of cyclists over the desire of thousands of drivers. If the road were safer, Griffin said, more residents would be eager to ride their bikes.
Andrea Todd, who serves on the pilot project task force created by the City Council, urged neighborhood residents against judging the project prematurely. She pledged the task force will act on input from residents during and after the experiment.
“There are going to be a lot of opportunities for people to share what they think and feel once the paint is down,” Todd said.
Rowell said she sees no need to wait for the results of the pilot, because she believes City Hall already has committed to making the lane configuration permanent.
The second, for which Rowell has secured 700 signatures so far, attempts to head off the pilot project next spring by forcing a city-wide vote on North Avenue's lane configuration in March.
Michael Ly, whose opposition to the pilot project nearly won him a seat on the City Council this spring, said he plans to sign Rowell’s petition.
“It’s fair for New North End residents to get a vote on this,” Ly said. “If a majority vote to cancel the pilot project, it should be canceled.”
The New North End businessman said he understands why residents feel their elected officials have abandoned them. Although he believes most neighborhood planning assembly leaders are objective, he added that he thinks some use the positions to push their own opinions.
Councilors tread lightly
Caught in a political pickle, the three city councilors who represent the New North End said they plan to reserve judgment on the experiment until the pilot project is complete.Each said they would have opposed the project without the amendment to allow neighborhood residents to control the fate of North Avenue.
“I believe the people who live in Wards 4 and 7 should decide,” said Dave Hartnett, I-North District. “If it doesn’t work, we’ll go back to the four-lane configuration.”
Hartnett, who operates a gas station on North Avenue, said he understands the passion of his constituents. He outlined the importance of the arterial road: North Avenue has a police station, a shopping plaza, a mobile home park, two firehouses, a pair of nursing homes and four public schools. The limited-access Beltline provides the only other exit from the neighborhood, which is bounded to the west by Lake Champlain and to the north and east by the meandering Winooski River.
“This road is different, because the New North End is tucked away,” said Kurt Wright, R-Ward 4. “Most of the people who travel on this road live here, going back and forth to work.”
Wright said he is believes the pilot project would only worsen traffic congestion on North Avenue, but he remains eager to see data sets collected in the study.
"I am open to be proven wrong," he said.
Ward 7 Democrat Tom Ayres, who narrowly survived Ly's challenge, echoed Wright's sentiment. Ayres said he hopes data city engineers will collect would add needed context to a discussion that has been dominated by anecdotes and opinion.
“By establishing a firm set of metrics in the beginning, we’ll have measurable, quantifiable results in the end,” Ayres said.
The councilors said they take the the mayor and Public Works Director Spencer at their word, but Wright said he is concerned about the impartiality of the pilot project task force. Most support the pilot, Wright said, and have at times failed to welcome concerns of opponents at task force meetings — a claim Todd, the task force member, disagrees with.
The longtime New North End public servant acknowledged some of his constituents feel ignored by City Hall.
“The reason the petition drive is happening is because of this distrust,” Wright said, adding he knew the signatures Rowell secured were legitimate because he heard similar concerns while campaigning this spring.
Hartnett, Ayres and Wright believe the pilot project is the best way to determine the safest and most efficient future for North Avenue. They hope the results will calm tensions in the neighborhood.
“I hope we can figure it out and not have New North End people at each other’s throats,” Wright said. “Everybody wants the roads to be safe.”
City promises to listen
Mayor Miro Weinberger said the future of North Avenue ultimately will be decided by New North End residents. He defended the city's planning process as transparent and welcoming to residents' concerns.
"I have no interest in imposing a solution on the New North End that New Northenders don't want," Weinberger said.
Spencer, the public works leader, said the city will evaluate the success of the pilot using a comprehensive set of metrics. He said engineers have yet to set this criteria, but the metrics likely will include traffic speeds, travel times, parking, crashes and mobility of emergency vehicles.
Spencer said he'll wait for the pilot's results before endorsing a permanent solution, but he cited Colchester Avenue as a traffic reconfiguration success story.
In 2011, Burlington launched a similar project that switched the four-lane section of Colchester Avenue from South Prospect Street to East Avenue to two lanes, plus a center turning lane. Satisfied with easier access to the University of Vermont Medical Center and less congestion, Public Works adopted the new traffic pattern.
Spencer rebuffed criticism that his previous role as head of bike advocacy organizationLocal Motion influences his actions as a city official.
“Let’s be blunt. I used to run Local Motion. My role here is different,” he said. “I fundamentally disagree with the assumption that we are just doing this for bicyclists, as a three-lane configuration provides benefits for all who travel the corridor.”
Regardless of the results of the pilot, Spencer said Burlington must decide on a long-term traffic solution for North Avenue that accommodates cyclists, drivers and walkers. Addressing traffic patterns after the neighborhood has grown further, Spencer worries, would bring more challenges with fewer solutions.
“The pilot will answer the question definitively,” Spencer said. “It will be an answer for the design of North Avenue for the next 10 to 20 years.”
Local Motion announces a Request for Proposals (RFP) as part of the Lake Champlain Byway Bicycle Rest Areas project, as described in the RFP documents and plans for VT10002 and VT11001. Work on this project generally includes construction and installation of seven covered picnic tables and informational kiosks, minor site work and related items for six bicycle rest areas at various sites in Grand Isle County and two bicycle rest area sites in Chittenden County. This is a federal aid project, and federal requirements shall apply.
Proposals can be submitted via email until on . There will be a non-mandatory pre-proposal meeting at Local Motion on . Local Motion is located at 1 Steele Street #103 in Burlington, VT 05401.
Burlington Free Press
Free Press Staff
September 25, 2015
Together with the Vermont Highway Safety Alliance, AAA, Ride Safe Vermont, and many others, Local Motion organized Vermont's first statewide rally for safe roads Friday night in front of the Statehouse in Montpelier.
Lt. Gov. Phil Scott headlined a roster of organizations and agencies taking action to improve safety for everyone.
ZACH DESPART FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER
Burlington Free Press
September 9th, 2015
Event experiments with innovative bicycle infrastructure
Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger, city leaders and bicycle advocacy group Local Motion on Tuesday announced the second installment of an innovative transportation infrastructure experiment.
Burlington on Sunday, Sept. 13 will play host to Open Streets BTV, a celebration of the city's multi-modal streets.
"One of the major goals for Burlington in the years ahead is to become a more biking and walking city," Weinberger said. "This is something we have committed to as an administration."
Some Old North End streets will be closed to car traffic while others across the city will feature experimental traffic patterns to better accommodate bicycles and pedestrians. The event will run from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Weinberger, Department of Public Works Director Chapin Spencer, Parks and Recreation Director Jesse Bridges and Local Motion head Jason Van Driesche made the announcement from the corner of North Street and North Winooski Avenue on the unseasonably humid September afternoon.
Weinberger said experimental "pop-up" infrastructure allows city planners to test traffic patterns in the field rather than on paper.
"If you look around the country, around the world, cities have made the transformation from being a really automobile-driven city to one that has outstanding walking and biking infrastructure," the mayor said. "These experiments are part of the recipe for getting there."
Weinberger noted that the pedestrian-only Church Street Markeplace began with weekend experiments.
Temporary infrastructure will include:
Burlington in 2013 was recognized with a silver award for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure by national nonprofit Walk Friendly Communities. Spencer, the DPW head, said he'd like to see Burlington achieve the gold designation.
Spencer touted the infrastructure changes in Open Streets BTV as temporary and low-cost.
"They give people a chance to try them out and respond, and not just do a idea on a screen, but something on the road," Spencer said.
Spencer said research has shown increased bicycle ridership in Burlington, but a greater increase in interest in biking.
"Sixty percent of people say they want to bike more but they don't feel comfortable on the roads," Spencer said. "This is an effort to reach that 60 percent."
Local Motion Executive Director Jason Van Driesche said safer bicycle infrastructure will encourage more city residents to get out and ride.
He pointed to the intersection of North Street and North Winooski Avenue and said experienced riders such as himself will ride along the southbound, unprotected bicycle lane towards downtown. But novice riders may be more hesitant to do so, he said.
"When I look at this street ... I'll do it by myself without a second thought, but I won't do it with my 9-year-old daughter," Van Driesche said.
The effort is part of the Walk-Bike Master Plan, Burlington's first city-wide bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure planning document. Spencer will host another public forum on the plan on Sept. 14, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf.
"These investments are good for the quality of life of Burlington, they're good for the economy, they're good for our social connectivity," Spencer said. "We are committed to accomplishing the mayor's goal of getting to Gold Level walk- and bike-friendly communities, and see this is a key piece of that."
POSTED BY SARAH GALBRAITH
FRI, AUG 21, 2015 AT 9:01 AM
As cyclists-turned-parents, Tristan and I enjoy touring Vermont's many excellent off-road bike paths — like the Stowe Recreation Path, the Cross Vermont Trail (between Plainfield and Wells River), the Burlington Recreation Path and the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail — with our 9-month-old daughter, Elise. But our favorite so far is the Island Line Trail. It runs 4 miles each way fromAirport Park in Colchester to the end of a causeway that juts out into Lake Champlain. (Cyclists can go even farther into South Hero with the Local Motion Bike Ferry.)
We made it out to the end of the causeway, where there is open water for boats to pass through and asmall ferry that connects cyclists with the causeway on the other side, which continues on to South Hero. The ferry was not operating that evening, so we stayed put and watched and waved as boats went by. As the sun started to set, we loaded back onto the bikes and began our return ride to the park. As we pedaled along, the sun was getting very low over the Adirondacks. At first, I thought we should rush to get back before dark. But then, after I remembered there is some daylight left after the sun goes down, it occurred to me to stop and enjoy the sunset.
New York Times
August 19th, 2015
Burlington, home of the University of Vermont and the birthplace of Phish, Ben and Jerry’s and Seventh Generation, has long embodied the earthy progressivism and can-do independence that define the state’s spirit. Lately that ethos has taken on a sophisticated sheen, as chefs applyVermont’s longtime obsession with local ingredients in exciting new directions. There are still plenty of Birkenstocks about; they’re just parked under tables spread with confit duck poutine, braised leek crepes and crisp, complex Vermont craft brews like Alchemist’s Heady Topper, a beer ofnear-mythic reputation among hops aficionados.
Burlington, Vermont’s largest city at just over 42,000 residents, comes alive in summer. The deep aquamarine Lake Champlain thaws and Waterfront Park, built on industrial land reclaimed in the 1980s during Senator Bernie Sanders’s tenure as the city’s mayor (he announced his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination there in May), teems with students and families. Kayaks and skiffs dot the water’s glassy surface while runners and bikers fill shoreline paths. Abundant recreational opportunities along with the city’s high walkability factor — you can stroll from the postcard-pretty downtown to the burgeoning arts scene in the South End — mean foodie tourists can burn off calories as quickly as they pack them on. (It’s a nice thought, at least.)
For the rest of this great article abour Burlington, please click here. NY Times travel column, 36 Hours.