Town may mandate parking, showers for bicyclists

Proposal is part of revised land-use ordinance

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Bicycle commuters may find Williston a more pleasant destination if a proposed addition to the town’s land-use ordinance is adopted.

John Adams, the town’s development review planner, has suggested provisions to serve bicyclists as part of a comprehensive revision of the town’s land-use ordinance. The proposal mandates bike parking spaces – and in some cases even showers for sweaty cyclists – as conditions of approval for new development.

The new requirements would include facilities that “encourage commuting to work on bike,” Adams wrote in a memo to the Planning Commission. “The practice of including these provisions is common in progressive municipalities – including Burlington.”

Under the proposal, bike-parking requirements would apply to most new structures except for single-family homes and duplexes. The number of spaces would vary depending on the size and type of project.

For example, a shopping center or store would be required to have one long-term and four short-term bike parking spaces for every 20,000 square feet of interior space.

The proposal says long-term spaces must protect the bike against weather and include a clothing locker that can be in a different location. Short-term spaces are defined as racks visible from a building’s main entrance to which bikes can be locked.

Requirements for “end of trip facilities” – a changing room with lockers and showers – apply mainly to developments that are large enough to need one or more long-term bike parking spaces.

So a retail store or shopping center with 20,000 square feet of space would be required to furnish one unisex shower and changing facility. Stores the size of Wal-Mart and Home Depot must have one or more shower/changing rooms for each gender.

Such facilities benefit more than bicyclists, said Chapin Spencer, executive director of Local Motion, a Burlington-based nonprofit that advocates for bicycle riders and pedestrians.

“With increasing traffic congestion and global warming, we need to try to develop a true multi-modal transportation system,” he said. “And obesity is on the rise in Vermont and throughout the nation. This type of thing encourages employees to go for runs, for example.

“It’s more about building a healthy workplace than just serving a few people who ride bikes to work,” Spencer added. “But it encourages bike riders, too.”

Adams emphasized that the proposal would apply only to new development. He said the numerical requirements for parking and shower facilities could change as the proposal is further reviewed.

“Right now, the idea is not to place too much burden on small businesses,” he said. Still, he said the threshold for shower facilities may be too high because it rules out such facilities for all but the largest buildings.

The bicycle provision is part of a larger effort to rewrite Williston’s land-use ordinances to conform with the new Comprehensive Plan. Town Planner Lee Nellis and other planning staff members have worked for months on the rewrite, with the Planning Commission and the Selectboard reviewing each section as it is written.

The bicycle requirements are part of the section on parking that sets standards for the number of vehicle spaces for each land use.

Burlington, too, is in the middle of rewriting its land-use ordinances and is also considering mandating facilities for bike riders.

City officials could not be reached for comment. But Spencer said though Burlington currently has no formal rules, it has in the past required some new developments to include bike facilities.

Adams said Williston’s new land-use ordinance is a little more than halfway done. When the entire document is completed, public hearings will be held before the Selectboard votes on whether to adopt the new ordinance.