Is Burlington, VT Really Committed to a Bikable Downtown Core?--A Current Parking Study May Hold an Answer
Below is a challenge to the staff and study membership looking at a target residential area of the Burlington, Vermont urban core where harvesting 50 on-street parking spaces would allow for easy installation of a two-way cycle track along one of the only two north-south corridors feasible--each corridor critical to the access of the the walk-only Church Street Marketplace and accessing all the primary institutions of the the City--from Fletcher Free Library, YMCA, Memorial Auditorium Complex and City Hall to the highest volume cooperative market in the United States--City Market. Burlington touts itself as walk/bike friendly, seeks the highest level national designation and like practically all urban areas today faces the prospect of major street corridor re-configurations (in this case) or outright reconstruction to provide quality bicycle and walk "infra." The City gets a taste of the challenge in the following suggestion communicated this week at the start of a residential parking study from this member of the advisory committee----
Burlington Residential Component of Overall Parking Study
...Including a study component--harvesting of 50 parking spaces on South Union from Pearl to Main Streets to enable installing two-way cycle track
An important element of a parking study needs to be how to harvest downtown on-street parking spaces on key blocks where cycle track naturally belongs—blocks where street reconstruction in order to install cycle track obviously is cost-prohibitive. The task is to suggest option to remove parking and other impediments between Pearl Street and Main Street along South Union Street so that cycle track can be installed to serve the neighborhood and various business, institutional and other destinations.
In one neighborhood selected for analysis—including South Union between Pearl and Main Streets—such a needed downtown cycle track exists along with a cost prohibitive reconstruction—only “harvesting” roughly 50 on-street spaces enables installing cycle track on the west side and provides for 10-11 foot travel lane (now mostly nine feet, far too narrow to prevent constant incursion by vehicles into the bike lane—a context that extends from Pearl Street to the end of North Union at North Winooski Avenue).
The three blocks of South Union constitute a natural connection to adjacent uphill residential areas and Buell Street as well as some of the residential areas just north of Pearl Street. It is the only north-south main plateau street to service a residential area of similar size or scope in the downtown.
The importance of this South Union Street connection to major attraction sites cannot be denied. The Marketplace is one, but consider the immediately adjacent YMCA, churches, City Market, Fletcher Free Library, the Roxy Theater and Memorial Auditorium.
Look at the other five similar historic north south corridors on the main downtown plateau. The Pine Street and St. Paul Street corridors no longer exist erased by Burlington Town Center—and even a St. Paul restoration though desirable at best would be limited to walk and some bike mode traffic which to the north faces the coming blockage from the new transit center. The western corridor, Battery Street involves Battery Park to the west and a sharp downslope so that by College Street walk and bike mode movement to Church Street becomes somewhat problematic because of increasing grades as one approaches Main Street. Note that Battery Street with stable to declining traffic numbers does remain a good candidate for on-street or sidewalk level (or hybrid) cycle track, possibly attained through a road diet.
The leaves two corridors—the Marketplace’s Church Street obviously does not allow bicycle or vehicle modes. And South Winooski clearly becomes a critically important corridor for the blocks between Pearl and Main Streets to be reconstructed with quality cycle track and roundabouts.
Obviously there one or more avenues can lead to harvesting the 50 spaces, including but not limited to demand management, regulation, re-allocation of nearby parking resources, and, yes, if economically reasonable purchase of space for surface parking expansion and/or parking garage facilities. What this residential parking study can do is plot alternatives to attain the goal we seek: a quality, usable by all, two-way cycle facility on South Union Street between Pearl and Main Streets.
It is also important to note that the City does designate the downtown area and the treatments and improvements in the downtown area do not have to conform or should they conform to areas outside the downtown. There is the grand scheme if you will of long bike corridors isn the Burlington City Transportation Plan and all of North and South Union are designated a bike route in that 2011 (pre-cycle track era) plan. But it is only fair and reasonable to focus on the economic and social center of our City in the downtown, and initiate quality infrastructure there first on a no-regrets basis and not get lost in “let’s wait and do the entire corridor” thinking that prevents any action whatsoever to start already decades long delay.
In sum, the South Union Street corridor—Pearl to Main Street—not only deserves and rates cycle tracking lacking only the removal of on street parking to achieve that objective with very little expense. The street itself is uniformly about 25 feet in width curb-to-curb throughout its length (also extending from Pearl Street north to North Winooski). The current basic configuration is an eight foot parking lane (the very minimum allowed), a travel lane of about nine feet, a two-foot marked bike lane lines and six foot bike lane. The current configuration serves not users well and because of the minimum widths for each mode poses a constant safety concern. Parked vehicles cannot open streetside doors without invading vehicle travel lanes, drivers aware of the narrow travel land routinely crowd into the bike lane and wise bicycles use the sidewalks during busy traffic times.
So what is the parking inventory—all on the west side of the corridor? The block from Pearl to Buell Street is residential parking only totaling 24 spades and four driveway curb cuts: six spaces/curbcut, six spaces/curbcut, six spaces/curbcut, two spaces/curbcut and four spaces to Buell Street. From Buell to College Street several different uses exist as follows with abu 18 parking spaces: two spaces/curbcut, four spaces/curbcut, two spaces/curbcut, 5-6 spaces related to the funeral home, City Market entry, five metered spaces, parking lot entry, YMCA with unloading area, College Street. From College to Main Street: seven metered spaces, parking lot entrance, then loading and access spaces associated with the Memorial Auditorium.