Thursday October 06, 2011
Holly Rouelle, principle at South Burlington’s Chamberlin School, keeps tabs on how her students get to school.
On any given day, says Rouelle, many of her students, about thirty to forty, walk or ride bikes and scooters. It’s for this reason that Rouelle supports laying a sidewalk down the north side of White Street. “Enhancing the sidewalk will increase the safety for our students,” Rouelle told the Planning Commission on September 27, when Commissioners and a handful of White Street residents took up a months-long study of the project.
As part of a federal program called Safe Routes to School that seeks to encourage walking, the Chamberlin School qualified South Burlington for funding to study ways to improve the school area’s walkability. South Burlington received a $20,000 grant in January of 2011, and in March contracted Jody Carriere, an engineer with Lamoureaux and Dickinson, to conduct the study on White Street.
After a preliminary meeting with the Commission in May, Carriere on Tuesday presented early schematics for three variations to construct a prospective sidewalk on the north side of White Street—a sidewalk already runs along the south side—between Patchen Road and Chamberlin School. The first alternative, she said, would maintain the existing curb and install a five-foot sidewalk. The cost estimate is $285,000.
A second alternative is identical, but includes re-striping the road to include a bike lane on each shoulder, eliminating on-street parking, for $310,000. Both options involve dipping into residents’ lawn by nine feet—within the City’s right-of-way—and include removing some trees and relocating fire hydrants and water valves.
The final option, said Carriere, is to move White Street’s curb inward, reducing the width of the road to two twelve-foot lanes. The new sidewalk would not impact homeowners, hydrants, or water valves, but would require significant changes to the storm drain system and also eliminate on-street parking. Carriere estimates the cost at $496,000.
All three alternatives include a new crosswalk at the Patchen Road/White Street intersection, said Carriere, which in turn would require improvements to the three crosswalks already there. “Once you start to upgrade a signal, you have to fix all the approaches if they don’t meet ... current standards,” such as Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, she said.
Limited federal funding is available for construction, said Justin Rabidoux, director of Public Works. “The Safe Routes to School program, while they will pay for construction, has a maximum project amount of $200,000,” he said. Any expense beyond that must be provided by the City, although Rabidoux acknowledged that other grants are available for sidewalks. Additionally, the City is responsible for matching 20 percent of the federal grant.
While Rouelle and school district Assistant Superintendent Winton Goodrich attended the meeting to express support for constructing the sidewalk, a half-dozen White Street residents voiced a variety of reservations, from the maintenance costs to whether there would be enough use to justify a new sidewalk. One long-time dweller, Richard Brice, said only one child lived on the north side of White Street, and supported reducing the road lanes by moving the curbs.
“My main concern is the speed on White Street,” he said. Although the posted speed limit is 25 m.p.h, Brice estimated that the average speed is closer to 40 m.p.h.—an estimate corroborated by other residents.
Rabidoux noted that bike lanes have the potential to reduce traffic speed by creating narrower travel lanes. He also said the city is pursuing two upgrades in the White Street neighborhood, independently of the sidewalk project: because the state has identified the intersection of Patchen Drive and White Street as a “high-crash location,” traffic signals along the road will be upgraded with LED lights. White Street was also tagged as one of thirty-two sites around South Burlington that will receive light-enhanced crosswalks, said Rabidoux.
Carriere will work with Rabidoux to prepare a final report incorporating comments, options, and cost estimates within six weeks. South Burlington is under no obligation to build the sidewalk because of the study. If the City decides to continue to construction, they’ll apply for grant money from the state after earmarking municipal funding. “We’re still probably twelve months away from that process,” said Rabidoux, “if the community and the City Council decides this is a priority for the city.”
SOURCE: Eric Blokland, Correspondent