Friday, January 31, 2014



Union Street from Main Street to North Winooski Avenue in Burlington (VT) gets “bike street” status in the adopted 2011Transportation Plan.  About four-fifths of a mile it looks ideal for a first installation in the City of cycle track (protected bike lanes).  Further, a bike lane already exists along the roughly three-quarter mile corridor, and that bike lane has no adjacent parking.

But appearances deceive.  The one-way street (northbound) throughout does not function well for cyclists.   The upper four blocks, North Union Street, for example, contains a uniform width of 25-feet breaking down this way: west side parking 8 feet (absolute minimum in standards); travel lane 9 feet; divider markings between the travel lane and bike lane 2 feet; and bicycle lane 6 feet.  At first it looks like cycle tracking poses not problem, for example, properly placed bollards, about 50 of them, could be installed to protect the one-way (northbound) traffic from the northbound bike lane while enabling easy access in and out of the residential driveways (North Union is almost entirely residential in character and there are nature strips between curbs and sidewalks on both sides.

Rookie bicyclists quickly learn and drivers know, the bike lane does not work as the vehicle lane of 9 feet width and with no clearance from the minimal width parking lane means many vehicles (and almost always the transit buses) use part of the bike lane, often half of it.  Regular bicyclists know the bike lane is not safe after trying out the lane and experiencing some rather uncomfortably close vehicle buddies.  On Union Street traveling by sidewalk becomes the sensible bicyclist choice. In effect, the current parking and bike lane together make drivers unwitting scofflaws and exposes unwary bicyclists to high risk travel.  Note the northbound bike lane on North Union pairs with the southbound lane on North Winooski.

While the Union Street corridor does feature green strips on either side along most of its length it is unlikely to be a high priority for reconstruction just to provide bike lanes—compared to, for example, reconstruction of certain sections of North Avenue where a complete corridor of cycle track nicely fits within the public right-of-way and a high percentage of the corridor either lacks parking on either side or sporadic use of curbside parking.

What to do, then, with this Union Street Corridor?  If one erases the curbside parking along the west side of Union Avenue from North Winooski to Main Street,  thereby making available eight additional feet, then almost magically two easy choices come into play: (1) a six foot wide cycle track on both sides of the street using bollards combined with a 12 foot wide travel lane; or (2) a two-way cycle track using bollards and, again, a 12 foot vehicle travel lane.

Even with the task of forging a consensus and necessary accommodation of on-street parking demand in an alternative way, the Union Street corridor represents a good place to start cycle track in Burlington.  Cycle track—like recreational bicycle paths—will surely develop neighborhood and public support once built leading to a far easier task to extend them along other busy corridors, such as, Winooski Avenue, Battery Street, Shelburne Street, Pine Street, etc.  Those streets pose far more difficult barriers as possible first corridors to install cycle track.  North Winooski Avenue, for example, with parking on both side of the street throughout presents difficult challenges with the street from the North Street intersection north to Riverside Avenue having extensive commercial and retail businesses on either side of the street.

Consider the two-way cycle track along the Union Avenue corridor and the access it enables for the far larger potential users the cycle track hopefully will attract.  First, there are major residential areas whose streets feed into Union Avenue.  And, second consider the destinations north and south for that potential bike traffic.  The south end destinations include: (1) Memorial Auditorium with its variety of events and arts facilities and daily activities; (2) the YMCA; (3) the second highest attraction magnet (second to the Marketplace) in the downtown area, City Market; and (4) within a block or so the Fletcher Free Library as well as the Marketplace itself.  On the north end significant destinations include: the McClure Center, Barrios Bakery, the food shelf, social services, and other local stores, restaurants and human services.

Addressing directly ending on-street parking through working with the neighborhood and installing two-way cycle track can be broken down to two phases: (1) North Union Street from Pearl North Winooski Ave. and (2) South Winooski Avenue from Main St. to Pearl St.
While each “phase” has its pros and cons, the “north option” does entail only one predominant current land use—residential—and affords a chance to determine the popularity, use, and value of cycle track, including finding out how to deal with snow and other clearance issues--this 0.4 mile section has been suggested as a possible demonstration project. 

If Burlington is going to get their 45-mile Dutch equivalence of cycle track providing a safe and inviting travelway for all regardless of gender, age or skill--then Union Street makes a good place to start.

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