“WALKABLE AND BIKABLE” AND “WALK AND BIKE FRIENDLY”—WHAT THEY MEAN IN AMERICA AND WHAT THEY DO NOT
……..Some Vermont examples
Today an emerging paradigm defining busy urban streets and nodes which safely and comfortably serve all populations who walk and bike can summed up, in addition to the presence of sidewalks: cycle track (protected bicycle lanes) along street segments and roundabouts at intersections equipped with bicycle pathing.
Most busy urban streets can be retrofitted to cycle track and roundabouts with Carmel IN (80,000 population with several freeway exchanges) and Manchester Center, VT well on their way toward all roundabout intersections with a varying potential for further installation of cycle track. One other variation of the paradigm comes in the form of “shared space”, a European innovation, where for a block or in an intersection all modes intermingle at walking speed (walkers with right of way), perhaps the safest environment for all modes. Separate street parallel bike or multi-user paths also meet “walkable and/or bikable” which otherwise would be supplied by cycle track and/or sidewalks. However, to date the bulk of multi-user paths do not connect at busy intersections served by roundabouts thereby their service, safety and accessibility are diminished. However, cycle tracks just now are being adopted in North America with major investments completed or under way in San Francisco, Chicago (100 miles), Seattle and Montreal.
The roundabout provides two common elements vital to both modes at intersections—safety and service without delay. The roundabout uniquely provides a high level of safety for those who walk and when properly pathed offers a far higher level of safety and service to those who bicycle versus a signal. Already the roundabout is the preferred or only intersection treatment for three U.S. departments of transportation (New York since 2005, Virginia and Florida) and two Canadian provincial departments (British Columbia and Alberta).
Applying the roundabout/cycle track criteria to existing American street systems quickly leads to the conclusion the presence of either remains infrequent and the presence of both—something common in many European nations—remains a vision only. One noticeable missing treatment which does not meet the test of “bikability” is the unprotected bicycle lane or any shared vehicle/bicycle street space. The problem with simple bike lanes comes from the fact that less skilled bicyclists in general as well as most old and young bicyclists are uncomfortable much less safe—therefore not choosing bicycle for trips on lanes with moderate to high levels of traffic. When the Dutch retrofitted many of their busy streets with cycle track, already high bicycle volumes increased 25-50%, presumably resulting from lane averse populations. The Dutch cycle track installations were part of a major bicycle and walking infrastructure investment in response to increasing car traffic sending child bicyclist fatalities to more than 400 annually—and attained a drop to just over a dozen following the major infrastructure investments.
While the term “bicycle friendly” and “walk friendly” remains in common usage, those phrases signify more an attitude than the presence of safe and comfortable infrastructure usable by all populations.
Looking around the State of Vermont there exist a few examples of bikable and/or walkable street segments, short corridors or nodes.
1. Manchester Center With two new roundabouts completed November 2012, the three roundabout corridor—first in Vermont—along Main Street, one of the two major streets in the upscale shopping area truly deserving its claim “Fifth Avenue of the Mountains.” The village center roundabout is a mini-roundabout dubbed a “button” by the locals. This roughly four block long village center and dense retail area completes half of a 1995 town center plan calling for roundabouts on Main Street and the other street leading to the U.S. interchange, Depot Street. It becomes the first walkable town/city center corridor in Vermont open to all modes.
2. Burlington Church Street Marketplace Although a walker plaza, this four-block street turned over to walking only does involve three “shared space” intersection with all modes. Bicycles are not allowed during the normal retail hours of the day.
Walkable and Bikable Examples
1. Montpelier Stonecutter’s Way Winooski West path provides a multi-user pathway along most of its length from the old Montpelier and Wells River station on Main Street east and parallel to the Winooski River with a lumber yard and major food coop on the west end. It is part of an eventual multi-town multi-user path stretching about nine miles. A portion of the Winooski East Path from behind Main Street to Montpelier High School via the State House area parking lots also serves a multi-user transportation function.
2. Burlington A multi-user path along Riverside Drive from the Winooski River Bridge connecting to the center of Winooski extends about a mile to the Community Health Center near the intersection of US 7.
3. South Burlington Burlington and South Burlington possess extensive primarily recreational multi-user path systems mostly located so as to serve a limited transportation role, although a very important transportation for those who are able to use sections of the paths for transportation purposes. Two parts of the South Burlington bicycle network qualify for consideration as walkable and bikable, though lack of roundabouts at major intersections limit safe and comfortable connectivity to nearby development which ranges from major schools, government facilities, shopping centers and residential developments. Kennedy Drive from Dorset to Heineberg Road is served by a multi-user path o the north side. And Dorset Street is the only joint grade separated sidewalk/bike track on each side of the street with the walk and bike section distinguishable by pavement coloration.
Certainly there are other examples of nodes, multi-user paths, and roundabout corridors either in place or well along in the development stage. Brattleboro, for example, screened the bulk of its built up intersections in 1993 for roundabout conversion and the Putney Road corridor (one roundabout in place) has Town and State approval for plans to provide all roundabouts along with walking and bicycling infrastructure which may well be the first both walkable and bikable corridor with full service roundabouts. Montpelier’s Main Street is another candidate for a roundabout corridor. And, the Middlebury Town Center roundabout with some calming measures along Merchants Row is a good candidate for retrofitting to a walkable and bikable downtown area. Depot Street roundabouts along with cycle track in Manchester Center might move that area into the walkable/bikable category.
The next step for walkable and bikable downtowns and village centers require comprehensive planning efforts to identify at the same feasibility and priority for roundabout/cycle track nodes and corridors. Investment dollars to carry out plans require tens of millions of dollars yearly, but the payoff will be increased walking and bicycling as well as public transit usage. These changes enhance the value of commercial and retail center areas, and households have long been know to choose their housing in part on the availability of quality walking and bicycling infrastructure.