By Stephanie Choate
October 24th, 2013
Personal property and personal safety took opposing sides during a Thursday night meeting intended to gather resident input regarding possible bike and pedestrian improvements in town.
Approximately 30 people packed into the Town Hall on Thursday to weigh in on proposed bike paths and sidewalks—some homeowners loath to relinquish any of their already-limited front yard space, others bicyclists hoping for a safer and greener commute to work.
Three studies—all part of the possible package of improvements considered as alternatives to the canceled Circumferential Highway—were outlined by Stantec consultant Greg Edwards. Each study is intended to fill missing links in the town’s bike and pedestrian network.
“The need is to really address the gaps that are out there today,” Edwards said.
The most expensive and contentious stretch of proposed pathways was the 3-mile section on Mountain View Road.
The study looked at the possibility of a shared use path on either the north or south side, as well as a four-foot widening of the road and creation of four-foot wide shoulders on both sides. Road widening and shared use shoulders—which would require rebuilding and resurfacing the entire road—would cost approximately $3.1 million. A shared use pathway would run approximately $2 million.
Edwards said Mountain View is recognized as a “growing destination and through route for bicyclists.”
Bikers, as well as residents who live nearby, said Mountain View Road is downright dangerous for anyone not behind the wheel of a car.
Kevin Batson, an avid biker and member of the Williston Planning Commission, said he often has to find an alternate route when he rides his bike to work, avoiding the busy stretch of road.
“That would be my commute, but during the busy hours I can’t ride that road. It’s just too scary,” he said. “It’s very unsafe.”
Resident Jude Hersey said she used to walk on Mountain View Road “feeling terrified every time big trucks came through.”
Hersey said her bicyclist son was hit by a bus—something she does not want to see happen on Mountain View.
“I’m very, very sensitive to their safety,” she said.
Some said that serious cyclists would not use a shared recreation path for commuting, preferring on-road bike lanes—including one who said that bikers often refer to rec paths as “wreck paths.”
“It’s extremely unsafe for a person who’s commuting at high speed to be on a path, and it’s not practical,” Sharon Gutwin said. “When you’re commuting, you’re acting as a car.”
Others said that a rec path may serve the greater population—including those who may live in any future development on the south side of Mountain View, which is in the residential zoning district.
“Keep in mind the future demand and all the families and kids and people using that 20 years from now,” said Katelin Brewer-Colie, who works for Local Motion. “This is a long-term process.”
A group of Mountain View homeowners, however, were less enthusiastic about the path, which could require up to three feet of land beyond the public right-of-way in some places.
“Our house is right there,” said Julie Murphy, adding that a path would bring bikers and walkers right by bedroom windows. “I have no lawn as it is.”
Aerial photos of the road showed that a path would be almost flush with the back of cars parked in Murphy’s short driveway.
Homeowner David Martel said a bike path would encroach on his already-limited privacy.
Gutwin said statistics support bike paths in communities—property values tend to go up, crime goes down.
“I think that we have to keep in mind the big picture of what all of this could mean in value,” she said. She added that the town has taken steps to address privacy concerns among residents in other path projects, like adding screening vegetation and fences.
The proposals are part of a package of options that came out of the process to identify alternatives to the Circ Highway. Proposals will be considered by the Selectboard, which will make recommendations to the Circ Alternative Task Force—a group comprised of representative from Williston, Essex, Essex Junction and Colchester, as well as the Agency of Transportation. The task force will ultimately recommend a package that will go before the legislature for funding approval.
Eighty percent of the funding for Circ alternative projects would come from the federal government, and the state would pick up the rest of the tab. Towns would be on the hook for continued maintenance.
Thursday’s meeting was intended to gather public input before proposals are presented to the Selectboard on Nov. 4.
“If you really have strong feelings about any aspect of this one way or another, your best opportunity is to show up at the Selectboard meeting,” said Planning and Zoning Director Ken Belliveau. “They are your elected officials. Part of their job is to be responsible for community needs and make those decisions.”
Also being considered is a 1,600-foot long concrete sidewalk on the east side of Harvest Lane, providing a missing section near Goodwill and Natural Provisions. That sidewalk would run $250,000.
Sidewalks are also being considered on Route 2A. Filling gaps on 2A just south of the intersection with Route 2—a 300-foot gap in the existing path on the west side and a 400-foot gap in the sidewalk on the east side—would cost a total of $180,000.
Also on 2A, between Knight Lane and O’Brien Court, a 700-foot stretch of shared-use path is being considered, running at about $220,000.