Sunday, June 30, 2013

Pearl Street Improvements

I do not feel safe in this scenario.
This is Pearl Street. It's a heavily used corridor, connecting Winooski and Burlington, that ebbs by the hospital, the University, flows downhill past old houses, by the top of a pedestrian mall, and 1.5 miles later, ends at venerable Battery Park for grand Lake Champlain views.

From it's illustrious roots as a dirt road, where wealthy Burlingtonians built homes, then an Italian neighborhood, razed in the 1960s for urban renewal—the border of which is the section of Pearl Street in the above photo—the renaissance of this street changes with the times. It is changing once again.

Because it's a thoroughfare, used by tourists, students, and residents, cyclists often use it—myself included—to get to the lakefront. Two years ago, federal transportation money supported a section of reconstruction. City planners reached out to the public, asking for design assistance that would serve all users. Three proposals came forward, one of which supported bike lanes. Cycling advocates spread the word on this particular plan, and many of us weighed in on our decision. I was thrilled that I could pedal with my children on the street. Plan 3, with bike lanes was adopted.

Crosswalk at head of Church Street pedestrian mall. Notice cyclist on sidewalk.
Fast forward to today. Most of the work is complete. Power lines are below ground. Pretty street lights are in place. Bump outs, with parallel parking replaced angled parking. There are safer pedestrian crosswalks, with traffic lights and posts clearly defining their space. Lane markings are yet to be striped.

I often ride the sidewalk if I'm going to the post office (building on right).
But therein lies the problem. If one inspects my first photo, there was never enough room to accommodate a safe bike lane.

I studied the published schematic. Three feet of space is allotted for cyclists. That's smack in the door zone.

Yellow is bump out for pedestrian crossing. Notice narrow 3-foot margin for cyclists
Realistically, to begin with, there was never enough room for parking, driving lanes, plus adequate width for safe cycling. Originally designed as carriage roads, then widened for automobiles, all New England roads are narrow. There is a lesson here. As cyclists advocate for more road space, we should get the facts to better champion our presence.

All this makes me wonder why the lanes have not been striped. Did cyclists speak up? There's been a flurry of e-mails regarding this situation. Some have said it's far better to add sharrows than stripe a 3-foot cycling lane. If lines are painted as planned, they say, it could lead a novice rider down a potentially dangerous path. I tend to agree.

Hopefully, we can learn from this experience. I, for one, will be reading plans more closely.


  1. What a pity that so much work was done and the final solution is still not a good one for cyclists. When upgrading is done on our roads here in Oz, they have to provide a cycling route as a part if it. It means things are (slowly) improving for cyclists. I know people who enquire about the plans for road upgrades regarding the cycling friendly aspect when the plans are made public. Vicki

  2. Hmm I hope they find a solution.


Due to increased Spam, I am moderating comments. Thank you for your patience.