MONTPELIER — A new study proposes alternatives aimed at making travel through the Capital City safer for cyclists and pedestrians.
The Main Street/Barre Street Bicycle and Pedestrian Scoping Study was presented by representatives of Dubois & King at a meeting of City Council on Wednesday. The year-long study was funded by a $20,000 grant from the VTrans Bicycle and Pedestrian Program with a matching grant from the city.
The study was aptly named for the Barre Street/Main Street intersection, the most conflicted intersection in the city for vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians. The study proposed safety alternatives that included changes to roadways, intersections, sidewalks and shared pathways.
The options were welcomed by city councilors and residents; there was consensus that public meetings should be held to review choices before making any decisions.
The study suggested that traffic circles on Main Street at the intersections with Memorial Drive and Barre, State and School streets would help regulate a more equitable traffic flow for drivers and improve safety for all. A traffic circle at the intersection of Spring and Elm streets was also proposed.
Mini-traffic circles that could be mounted would still allow large vehicles to make turns through intersections and were an easy, low-cost fix to improve traffic flow, the study states. The use of traffic circles would also eliminate the need for left-turn lanes and allow for buffered bike lanes to increase safety for cyclists and encourage biking downtown, the study states.
Councilor Dona Bate, who was on the study committee, said she strongly favored the use of traffic circles after having visited European and Scandinavian cities, where they are favored for safety and traffic-control benefits.
A second traffic control method proposed the use of adaptive traffic signals along Main Street at the intersections with Barre, State and School streets that would use real-time video monitoring to synchronize traffic flow to reduce congestion but is a more expensive option.
A third “hybrid” alternative could combine the alternate use of traffic circles and traffic signals, said Public Works Director Tom McArdle.
The use of either or both options would also help to reduce traffic delays and frustration for drivers and increase safety for cyclists and pedestrians at crosswalks at the Main Street intersections with Barre, State, Langdon and School streets, councilors were told.
Raising crosswalks for visibility and curb extensions to shorten the distance across the roadway also would improve safety for pedestrians, the study stated.
Inevitably, other solutions for traffic control and safety raised the issue of reducing street parking in the city. The study did not consider the possible effect of the proposed city-owned parking garage off State Street in its findings.
The study found improving sight distances at intersections by removing parking spaces to “daylight” them would increase safety.
The loss of parking would be even greater if the city decided to add buffered bike lanes that separate cyclists from vehicles to increase safety. In some cases, it might require the loss of parking on one side of Main Street to provide the extra width needed for bike lanes on both sides of the street. Farther down Main Street, it might require changing angled parking to parallel parking that would also reduce spaces.
It is also proposed to move the Main Street opposite Langdon Street further north to reduce traffic delays at the Main and State streets intersection.
Other issues highlighted included making pedestrian safety at priority at the Main and School streets intersection for school children in crosswalks by eliminating parking spaces within 20 feet to increase visibility.
On Barre Street, where it is proposed to provide a recreation path link from Main Street to the Rec Center to connect with the recreation path on Stone Cutters Way, an alternative suggested the creation of a shared-use path for cyclists and pedestrians.
Another proposal to improve safety on Barre Street for cyclists would be to create buffered bike lanes that might eliminate parking farther up the street.
With the opening of the Caledonia Spirits distillery facility on Barre Street at the end of May, it is expected that visitor traffic on Barre Street will increase. Other efforts to attract new businesses and visitors to the downtown will also add to traffic challenges that the study hopes to address.
Councilor Ashley Hill, who used to live on Barre Street, said she was concerned any loss of parking on Barre Street would make it more difficult for residents to find parking.
There is also pressure to address the Barre Street/Main Street intersection, with the completion of a short section of new recreation path between Taylor Street and Main Street this spring that will connect the west and east sides of the city for recreation path cyclists and pedestrians. A solution is complicated by the rail line that also crosses the intersection.
A survey during the study showed the greatest interest was in increasing bicycle friendliness and safety around the city.
One resident suggested the city should consider a micro-transit system that would reduce the need for people to drive downtown. Creating safe bike lanes on city streets would also encourage people to bike instead, he added.
The council agreed to hold meetings to measure public input before a final report on proposals is completed.
To view the study, visit www.montpelier-vt.org/999/Main-and-Barre-Street-Corridors.
In other business, the council postponed discussion on a revision of the city’s tax stabilization policy.
The council also approved spending $10,000 on a study to renovate the Rec Center on Barre Street.