Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Fighting for a Complete Streets Pilot Project

Karen Rowell and supporters divide the populace on North Avenue. Photo credit: Burlington Free Press

A pilot project to renovate a major artery through a growing residential and commercial region of Burlington, already resoundingly supported by city council, came up before Burlington voters as an non-binding issue on Tuesday, fortunately solidifying that voters really want to see four lanes turned into three for the spring/summer trial period.

The whole debacle is mystifying to me. One resident who lives in the region solicited 500 votes on a petition, opposed to letting the trial happen, which put the issue on the ballot. Neighbors were pitted against neighbors. "4 Lanes 4 North Avenue" signs appeared everywhere. Many constituents who signed the petition later came forward to the press, claiming they were misinformed. Mayhem ensued. Council members in the aforementioned region went back and forth on the issue, while outspoken bike and pedestrian advocates took to the streets, wrote editorials, contacted their council people, handed out fliers, and posted their own signs "People for a Safer North Avenue".

Photo credit: Liam Griffin on Twitter

I quietly kept my opinions to myself during the past month, but followed the conversations floating on paper and online, all the while shaking my head at the insanity of the situation. I still can't quite understand how and why it all happened, how a plan to create safer streets in a high crash area, backed by numerous studies, where city government held neighborhood meetings, could back fire. Or more importantly, that the rising angst of so few could put a choke hold on city government.

I'm all for freedom of speech, but sometimes it goes too far. Thank goodness many residents weighed in with their vote, speaking up for the pilot project. But I'm still shaking my head.


  1. Some people find the idea of supporting any mode of transportation other than a car to be both a silly waste of money and threatening. It's hard to figure how silly and threatening go together, but somehow they do.

    I heard someone comment (wish I could remember who -- a blogger?) that we are in a period of backlash to bike and pedestrian-friendly infrastructure, and that this is a good sign. It means such changes have entered the mainstream. Not sure if that analysis works, but I do feel like I'm hearing a lot more angry rejection of proposals that seem reasonable, modest, and common sense to me.

  2. This posting is timely. I received a bike survey from the City of Tucson, AZ this week, because I own a home there and follow bicycle activities in that city. A focus of the survey was the idea to reduce speed limits on residential streets to 20 mph - to make cyclists feel safer. Sounds like a good idea? I wish. But not that simple. I think the vast majority of drivers would ignore the law as ridiculous and no city can enforce a law like this. I would see such a law creating more animosity to cyclists and motorists already treat us with enough hostility.

    I feel your post shows that many people in America simply do not understand the problems confronted by cyclists. They did not grow up riding a bike regularly. I feel this is an education problem. Unfortunately, I think the burden falls to us as cyclists to first educate. Educate our friends, coworkers and family. It will be a long slow process. But we will not achieve safer cycling until everyone understands.


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