Senate bill would lower speeds, expand shoulders for cyclists and pedestrians

By Ciara McEneany | Community News Service

Cyclists and pedestrians may soon have a safer time on Vermont roadways as state lawmakers look to improve access to certain highways by lowering speed limits and narrowing lanes to create more shoulder space. A bill introduced last month, S.64, would focus on bike and pedestrian safety for non-limited access highways — roadways that do not have on- and off-ramps. These include Class 1 and 2 highways in towns and extensions of state highway routes. They do not include Vermont’s four interstates.

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Complete Streets, a state Department of Health program adopted by towns across Vermont, aims to consider all users of a road — not just drivers — and to roll out desirable, practical and affordable improvements to roads.

Cyclists and advocates of the bill say those roadways aren’t seen as the safest option. “I’ve been in a few situations over the last several decades that were a little scary,” said Kevin Bessett, president of the Green Mountain Bicycle Club. “I think more people would possibly ride on these roads if they live close to their work, but only if they were safer.”

In the last five years, there have been 32 fatal crashes involving pedestrians or bicyclists in Vermont, according to data from the state Agency of Transportation. All but one of those incidents occurred on a road that would be subject to the bill.

Under the bill’s proposed policy, state officials would use guidelines set by municipalities as part of their Complete Streets programs to add more space for cyclists and pedestrians on their roads.

Complete Streets, a state Department of Health program adopted by towns across Vermont, aims to consider all users of a road — not just drivers — and to roll out desirable, practical and affordable improvements to roads. “South Burlington’s original Complete Streets policy goes back to the 2011, 2012 timeframe, and our council adopted our comprehensive plan. The last one was in 2016, and we’re looking to update it now,” said Erica Quallen, deputy director of capital projects in South Burlington. “Even though they’re several years old, (people) started identifying gaps in our bicycle and pedestrian network that rely on both Class 1and Class 2 town highways, which are referenced in the bill.”

Even with the bill’s provisions of lowering speed limits, widening shoulders and marking with signs who can go where, groups and municipalities worry whether it will make roadways safer.

“Some of these roads in a lot of Vermont, especially in the southern end of South Burlington, turn rural pretty quickly,” Quallen said. “And even if a road is posted at a 30 or 35 mph speed limit, that doesn’t mean that’s how people are going to drive.”

Still, groups like the Green Mountain Bicycle Club see the bill as an opportunity to expand the number of bicycle-friendly roads across the state.

“I think this bill is really cool, and it mentions markings on the pavement along with signage, which I think can be useful, especially for drivers to remind them that cyclists are on the roads,” said Bessett.

A representative of the Agency of Transportation declined to comment on the bill because the agency wasn’t involved with the initiative. Local Motion, one of the state’s most prominent safe streets advocacy groups, also declined to comment.

The Community News Service is part of the Reporting and Documentary Storytelling Program at the University of Vermont.

Images courtesy of Bruce Parker/TNR and Public domain

5 thoughts on “Senate bill would lower speeds, expand shoulders for cyclists and pedestrians

  1. How about also mandating what color jackets they have to wear, and flashing lights, front and back, too. And weather they have to ride with traffic or against it. These things will also save the lives of people on bikes.

  2. This kind of thinking is bereft of common sense. It may be that some of the most narrow, twisty hilly roads make a beautiful bike ride, but they are also the most deadly for those who try to argue with the laws of physics. Especially in the winter!

    Roads should are already restricted for certain types of vehicles, why not add bicycles to the list.
    At least when there is a fatality, the driver of the multi-ton vehicle would not be liable for the cycle fly which got squashed on their front bumper.

  3. Who will pay for these changes to the roads in town. Will the state pay for the cost of these modifications to the applicable roads in our smaller towns. Will the town be expected to pay for these modifications to the roads? Either way the tax payer will have their pockets picked again. Pedestrians and bicyclists need to keep to the far edges of the road and not walk or ride down the middle of the road, as I frequently see. Proper light colored and reflective clothing should be worn by walkers and bicyclists at night.Something that many times does not happen. Before the state legislature again mandates something that will not “fix” a problem and logistically might be impossible to complete in a time frame mandated due to availability of a workforce/companies, they need to think again to see that the “fix” is not a fix but another way to flyush away money and create a problem that is not yet a problem.

  4. The real author of this bill is the Green Mountain Bicycle Club. As in the past they have lobbied hard for increased bicycle paths and laws making bicyclists a protected class, while contributing nothing to the Transportation Fund. Many of Vermont’s laws regarding bicycles actually defy common sense- such as allowing cyclists to use the travelled portion of roadways directly adjacent to bicycle paths.
    Indeed cyclist behavior is seemingly irrational at times, placing themselves in harms way- almost as a dare.
    Many fatalities of cyclists have occurred because the cyclist turned their head for a look backward and swerved into vehicle, or cyclists riding 3 and 4 abreast- yet this bill does nothing to require safety equipment for the cyclist. just preferential treatment on Vermont highways.

    • bicyclist are the most discourteous users of the highway’s now. They already act as if they own the road while they pay nothing to be hogging it. I’m also sick of legislators deciding I have to adjust my life for the likes of these pushy non vehicle road users.Let them use the interstate which already has broad shoulders for them to safely ride without intruding on car/truck traffic.

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