Burlington Free Press
Published: Sunday, December 16, 2007
By Michael Hechmer
Thank you for the article about the college and hospital shuttle buses ("Shuttle space," Dec. 13). It is indeed a complex issue and I can empathize with those who would like to see more of these people walking around town and up and down the hill to Winooski, and also with those who want to encourage more Vermonters to use mass transit systems. The problem seems to be how do we encourage those who can walk to do so, while still providing safe, environmentally acceptable alternatives to those who can't, and the possibility of rides for all during genuinely bad weather.
I am one of the people who regularly bicycles to the hospital about seven months of the year, but drives to Winooski and walks to the hospital most other days. The major obstacle to either of these activities is safety. Vermont cities and towns aren't doing nearly enough to make either walking or riding in them safe. I'm certain a lot more people would walk and bike if they didn't perceive it as so dangerous.
To walk from Winooski to the hospital I either have to traverse a lengthy section of Colchester Avenue without any sidewalks, or I must take on the fairly difficult task of getting across that road at a very busy intersection at the bottom of the hill and then back again at the top.
In the winter, Burlington makes a concerted effort to keep the roads free of snow and ice, but the sidewalks are an afterthought. By the time they get cleaned the snow has been packed into ice, and the corners are piled with snow. Last winter I watched a small city snowblower, probably purchased to clear walkways, drive down the shoulder of Colchester Avenue and blow the remaining snow onto the sidewalk. We can't expect a great many people to walk under these conditions.
Burlington prides itself on being one of America's "livable" cities, but it would be a lot more livable if it had more bike lanes, better-maintained walkways and express buses to bring people into town from outlying areas.
Michael Hechmer lives in Westford.