Thursday, January 31, 2008

Bike Advocates Ask for Room on the Road

Seven Days

By Kirk Kardashian


VERMONT — Vermont is renowned for being a great place to ride a bike. Scenery and quiet country roads abound. Safety, however, is in shorter supply. With roughly 50 percent of the roads unpaved and many without a designated shoulder, it takes bravery, luck and good handling skills to keep the rubber side down.

Bike advocates are hoping to better cyclists’ odds this legislative session with three bills that confer and clarify rights and responsibilities for motorists and cyclists. Though still in the early miles of the legislative journey, the bills are already experiencing a bumpy ride, as the Senate Transportation Committee expresses concerns about enforcement and the chance of increased hostility between bikers and motor vehicles.

The centerpiece of the bike-safety bills — H.577, H.578 and S.275 — is a new requirement that motorists leave at least 3 feet between their vehicles and a cyclist while passing that cyclist. A similar recommendation has existed for some time in the driver’s manual from the Department of Motor Vehicles but does not have the force of law.

Other features of the proposals include designating cyclists as “vulnerable users” in relation to the negligent operation of a motor vehicle; giving cyclists the ability to “take the lane” to make left turns; and further protecting bike riders from the dreaded “right hook,” which happens when a car turns right immediately in front of a cyclist going in the same direction.

Nancy Schultz, executive director of the Vermont Bicycle and Pedestrian Coalition, says the 3-foot-rule concept has been around for a long time. Wisconsin has had such a law since 1973, she notes. Eight other states also have it, and an equal number are working on one right now.

For Vermont, Schultz sees the main benefit of such legislation as “the opportunity to educate the general public. Because motorists are often unaware of what it feels like to be passed too fast and too close when you’re on a bicycle.”

Sympathy for cyclists was flowing freely at the Senate Transportation Committee hearing on S.275 a few weeks ago, especially from Senator Philip Scott (R-Washington), 49, an avid race-car driver and road-bike rider. Scott couldn’t endorse the 3-foot rule because, he says, “I think it will be very difficult to enforce. I think it’s subjective at best and very hard to administer.”

Scott adds that he’s concerned the law will “create more animosity between motorists and cyclists than we have right now,” explaining that cyclists will upbraid motorists for passing with less than 3 feet, while motorists will resent cyclists for having a special privilege. The bill didn’t get past the committee.

Judy Bond, 54, of Underhill, is the board member of the coalition that’s driving these bills in front of lawmakers this year. She’s been riding road and mountain bikes in Vermont for 15 years, and knows well the feeling of being passed closely at high speed by a car or truck. “You don’t hear them coming,” Bond explains, “so it’s a surprise when the car is that close to you, and you can react badly to that.” Another problem, she adds, is the condition of the road’s shoulder. “If you come across bad pavement, potholes, glass, and if the car is too close to you, you have no options; you have no place to go.”

Bond thinks the Senate Transportation Committee is focusing too much on the enforcement question, when the law’s real purpose is to raise awareness. “They see two people arguing in court over inches,” she says of the senators on the committee, “and I personally don’t agree with it.”

Neither does Jeffrey Miller, executive director of the Bicycle Coalition of Maine. That state just enacted a similarly worded 3-foot law in September, with the full support of the law-enforcement community. The key, he says, was being open about the difficulties of enforcing the rule. “We’re not expecting cops to be out there with some sort of special distance-measuring equipment, or running alongside a car with a yardstick to see if the motorist is within 36 inches,” he says. The point, instead, is to communicate that the motorist needs to pass a cyclist safely. And 3 feet, Bond says, better defines a “safe pass.”

Senator Scott questions the propriety of a law that’s not designed to be enforced, and says there are better ways to achieve safety, namely through a cycling component in driver education. “There has to be more respect somewhere, and I’m not sure this piece of legislation creates that,” Scott says.

Meanwhile, the Bicycle and Pedestrian Coalition will meet with law-enforcement representatives to massage the language of the Senate bill into something that might get a more favorable reception. That process will also impact the content of the bills before the House, which are more comprehensive than the Senate version, and include the “vulnerable user” provision, the “take the lane” ability, and the “right hook” law. Advocates reportedly will explain their support of H.577 to the House Judiciary Committee later this week.

But whether or not the coalition is successful in the legislature this year, Schultz says its education efforts, including the “Share the Road” campaign, will continue. “We ask cars to pass bicyclists the same way that they pass another vehicle,” she says. “One of the board members uses the expression, ‘Treat us like a tractor.’”

Vt. communities awarded $2.8 million for transportation projects

Burlington Free Press
Published: Wednesday, January 30, 2008

MONTPELIER -- Hinesburg has been awarded $240,000 in funding for sidewalks and landscaping projects as part of a $2.8 million in federal funding package for transportation enhancement projects.

Gov. Jim Douglas today announced the enhancement grants that will go to 21 Vermont communities. The grants go for a wide range of federally-eligible projects such as restoring historic buildings, rebuilding and extending sidewalks, enhancing the environment and improving hiking and biking trails.

More than 300 grant awards have been made to Vermont communities, totaling nearly $40 million, since the program began in 1995.

Enhancement grant recipients:
-- Cornall, $155,000
-- Monkton, $25,000
-- Arlington, $190,000
-- Bennington, $150,000
-- Walden, $40,000
-- Hinesburg, $240,000
-- Brighton, $300,000
-- North Hero Historical Society, $150,000
-- South Hero, $300,000 [LM: for the Bike Ferry!]
-- Belvidere, $40,000
-- Cambridge, $40,000
-- Strafford, $285,000
-- Hubbardton, $40,000
-- Poultney, $40,000
-- Rutland, $30,000
-- Wallingford, $300,000
-- Montpelier, $60,000
-- Waitsfield, $270,000
-- Marlboro, $150,000
-- Putney, $27,000
-- Springfield, $35,000

Questions about the grant program may be answered by calling 828-0583.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Jericho native representing U.S. in world cyclo-cross championship

Published: Saturday, January 26, 2008
By Lauren Ober
Burlington Free Press Staff Writer

Amy Dombroski's first cyclo-cross experience lasted about 30 nightmarish minutes.

It consisted of a tutorial on dismounting courtesy of her older brother, Dan, and a couple of jumps over some twigs. After that exercise, she vowed to move onto a sport that induced fewer tears.

However, the Jericho native's decision to abandon the steeplechase of cycling, as cyclo-cross is known, was short-lived. With some gentle encouragement from her brother, Dombroski got back on the bike. Two months later, the now 20-year-old was crowned the 2006 U-23 cyclo-cross national champion.

In December, Dombroski, riding professionally for Velo Bella-Kona, won the 2007 U-23 national championship by a substantial margin, earning herself a berth on the United States elite women's cyclo-cross team that will be competing in Treviso, Italy, at this weekend's World Cyclo-cross Championship.

Cyclo-cross is a cycling event where participants ride a course studded with barriers that require them to dismount their bikes and run. It combines the worst aspects of mountain biking and the worst aspects of road cycling, Dan Dombroski often says. In spite of that, or because of it, Dombroski was determined to master it.

For much of her life, Dombroski focused her athletic energy on ski racing. After graduating from Burke Mountain Academy in 2005, Amy headed out to Boulder, Colo., to pursue a possible professional ski racing career. But after getting sidelined by a knee injury, a career in skiing was out and Dombroski needed a new competitive outlet.

A doctor recommended cycling in order to rehabilitate her knee, and within months, Dombroski was entering road races. Dan Dombroski says his sister was "hooked immediately."

Her first road race was not her finest. One of the pedals flew off her bike, and Dombroski finished fourth out of eight women. But soon after that debacle, she began winning practically every race she entered and quickly rose in the ranks to join the elite field within a year.

Dombroski, who is a student at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colo., has only been cycling competitively for the past year and a half and she is already a pro in the three major disciplines -- cyclo-cross, mountain biking and road cycling. In September, Dombroski came in second place in the women's professional field at the Green Mountain Stage Race. More recently, she signed with Webcor Builders professional women's cycling team, which was recently named the best women's cycling team in the country by the cycling magazine Velo News.

Cycling seems to suit the compact and reserved Dombroski. Having been a cross-country runner in high school, Dombroski already had naturally good aerobic fitness. Plus, says Michael Engleman, head of the U.S. Women's Cycling Development Program, Dombroski has an "athlete's mind," and an ability to endure the strictly regimented training schedule needed in order to compete at an elite level.

"She's very small, but she can put out a lot of power, and she's very tough," Engleman said. "She's a small athlete with a big engine."

Dombroski's big engine helped pedal her to her second consecutive national cyclo-cross title in early December. The conditions were less than ideal in Kansas City, Kan. -- frozen ruts, cracking ice, thick mud that clogged the cyclists' gears. She couldn't believe she had to race on that terrain. But for some reason, it appealed to her.

"The feeling of knowing you're going so hard and you're in so much pain, but it's a good pain. That's the satisfying part of it," Dombroski said.

Dombroski's trip to the World Cyclo-cross Championships is more a learning experience for her this year and it will be only the second time she's competed outside the United States. In her first international race last weekend, Dombroski rode to a 24th place finish at a Cyclo-cross World Cup event in Hoogerheide, Netherlands.

She'll be in good company in Italy. Fellow Jericho resident Jamie Driscoll, a University of Vermont student and current collegiate national champion, will be representing the United States on the U-23 men's team in Italy.

Dombroski and Driscoll join two other Jericho cyclists who have recently competed in world championships. Sisters Lea and Sabra Davison, who were introduced to mountain biking by Dan Dombroski, have both competed on the international stage. In 2003, Sabra Davison raced in the World Mountain Biking Championships in Switzerland as a junior, and this past summer, Lea Davison wore the Stars and Stripes at the same event in Scotland.

Dombroski's had to foot the bill for her trip to Italy and that, coupled with school pressures is causing her some stress, she said. But despite all that, she's ready to race. She might not make it to the podium this go around since the Europeans have a rabid obsession with cyclo-cross and Americans have historically had a hard time breaking the ranks. But Engleman says it's just a matter of time.

"If you think she's good now, think how good she'll be in three years," Engleman said.
Contact Lauren Ober at 660-1868 or

Transportation, energy dominate planning conference

Published: Saturday, January 26, 2008
By Joel Banner Baird
Burlington Free Press Staff Writer

SOUTH BURLINGTON -- Higher energy costs might accelerate denser, "smarter" urban settlements in Chittenden County -- and spare its more pristine countryside -- but only if regional and state agencies get on board, say local planning experts.

Jeff Arango, the director of planning and zoning for Essex Junction, was one of about 50 planners Friday at the DoubleTree Hotel Conference Center in South Burlington to mull the roadblocks.

Disconnects between visions, funding, regulations and incentives enlivened the first half of the conference, which was hosted by the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission.

Arango said automobile-dominated communities might benefit from assertive makeovers, such as the one planned for the village strip mall along Pearl Street. The village hopes to reduce parking-lot requirements for the area, broaden sidewalks and reduce the number of traffic lanes in some sections.

"It might mean that the 1950s shopping center model might be outdated for us," he said. "But we can't talk about alternative transportation without making the investments."

Residents of a town do not always agree on development's price tag, said Lee Nellis, the town planner for Williston.

One impetus for smart-growth development at Taft Corners, the state's first designated growth center, has been Williston's commitment to preserving rural land, Nellis said.

Another is sustainability.

"The energy issue is in the background," he said. "We're looking at the reality of a $5 gallon of gas down the road. We need to have developments where people can walk."

Yet Taft Corners' success needs much more than a mere seal of approval from Montpelier, Nellis continued. "The state needs to step up and provide better and more consistent incentives before I would advise any other town to participate in the (growth center) program," he said. "If the state doesn't support us, this attempt at compact growth is ultimately not going to succeed. We'll get more and more spin-off development and more and more commuting."

He said the state's lack of follow-up was "like being hit with a water balloon."

Even so, Colchester's application for growth center status at Severance Corners is still in the works, said Town Planner Sarah Hadd.

Hadd said she hoped financing incentives would draw developers away from prime agricultural land and head off future sprawl. The application went hand in hand with town efforts to gently dissolve residents' co-dependency on the automobile.

"The less traffic we generate, the less surface parking we have to build; the less we have to spend on traffic improvements," she said.

Greg Brown, the commission's executive director, said the Chittenden County Transportation Authority provided "an excellent foundation for broader transportation service" in the area, but further upgrades -- improvements that would accelerate smart growth -- required updated state guidelines.

"That ball bounces back to the Legislature and the Governor's Office," he said.

This summer, Brown plans to retire and move to his home in Windham County, far from the rumble of Burlington's metropolitan growth pains.

"People there tell me that Chittenden County is nice because it's close to Vermont," he said.

Contact Joel Banner Baird at 660-1843 or

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Volunteers honor King's vision through service

Published: Tuesday, January 22, 2008
By Sara Buscher
Burlington Free Press


The day's events began at City Hall, where nearly 200 community members gathered before heading out to work on a number of projects, including cleaning the Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf and the kitchen at the King Street Youth Center; rebuilding bicycles at Bike Recycle Vermont; and reading to elderly residents at the Converse Home...

Monday, January 21, 2008

Bolton Valley helps protect Catamount Trail

Published: Monday, January 21, 2008
By Lauren Ober
Burlington Free Press Staff Writer

BOLTON -- The 300-mile Catamount Trail moved one step closer Friday to becoming fully protected from development or other land-use changes after representatives from Bolton Valley Resort and the trail association signed an easement preserving a section of trail that runs through the resort property.

The easement, which will conserve a 3.5-mile section of the Catamount Trail that runs between Bolton Valley and the Trapp Family Lodge, is one of many gained over the years by the association to ensure that the trail for backcountry skiers, snowshoers and hikers exists in perpetuity.

Although the route of the trail, which runs from the Canadian border near Jay to the Massachusetts border near Readsboro, is complete, about 90 miles of the trail is still unprotected. Jim Fredericks, executive director of the Catamount Trail Association, said ideally the organization would like to have the entire trail protected in the next 10 years.

"We're trying to get as many easements as possible so the trail will be permanently preserved," Fredericks said.

Friday morning during a light snowfall that clogged the trails with heavy, moist snow, Fredericks nailed a blue trail marker into a tree on part of the trail that runs through Bolton Valley's Nordic skiing area. The section of trail that is being preserved, he said, is one of the most widely traveled of the entire network. It's also the highest elevation on the Catamount Trail and full of postcard-perfect views.

"Everything is just so caked with snow up there that it's just a different world," Fredericks said. "It's pristine; it's very magical; and it shows the protected beauty of Vermont."

The idea of the Catamount Trail was conceived in 1984 and grew to become the nation's longest backcountry ski trail. It's divided into 31 sections, many of which run through public lands and are automatically protected. The rest of the trail that runs through private or commercial property is what the association is trying to protect.

The association has conserved nearly 76 miles through easements. Many of those easements were paid for by the association to the property owners, but a number of them were free, as was the Bolton Valley easement. Doug Nedde, co-owner of the ski area, said the trail was an asset to Bolton Valley and needed to be preserved.

"We thought it was important because it's quite an amenity," Nedde said.

This move is just the latest by Bolton Valley to establish itself as a true community ski area. With after-work race leagues to $10 early season lift tickets, Bolton is working on attracting the local crowd to the mountain. Nedde says the easement reflects the resort's desire to "deepen ties with the community."

It makes sense that a resort with 62 miles of Nordic trails would want to support the Catamount Trail. The trail is growing in popularity, and many of the associations' nearly 2,000 members are from out of state.

As more development occurs in Vermont, it is essential to preserve what is becoming a true winter attraction, said Tara Hamilton, trail protection director for the association.

"The whole trail protection component is really critical if we want the trail to be around in the future," Hamilton said.

Contact Lauren Ober at 660-1868 or lober@bfp.burlingtonfreepress .com

Monday, January 7, 2008

Commuter makes way with kick, glide

Published: Monday, January 7, 2008
Burlington Free Press
By Lauren Ober
Free Press Staff Writer

Friday began much like any other winter day for Steve Crafts. After leisurely eating a bowl of oatmeal, Crafts got ready for work.

Over a black long underwear top, Crafts threw on a black wool vest and a black soft shell jacket. He picked up a hat and boots and headed toward the door of his New North End house. He just needed to grab one more thing before he started his morning commute: his cross-country skis.

No, Crafts wasn't going skiing after work. He was skiing to work.

Stories of people using alternative transportation for the sake of the environment and their pocketbooks are common in Vermont. Some folks take the bus. Others choose to carpool. The heartiest souls commute by bicycle all four seasons.

Crafts, a partner at Place Creative Co. in Burlington, wanted to do a little something different. He had been running or biking the 6 1/2 mile round-trip from home to work in the more clement weather, but winter put a halt to that. So Crafts figured, why not ski into work?

"When the snow came, I skied in. It's seemed a logical alternative," Crafts said.

Luckily for him, Crafts and his family live right off of the bike path, so there was a pristine ribbon of snow to take him from his house to his office in just about 30 minutes.

This time of year, few people use the bike path. Those who do cross-country ski or snowshoe, as the path isn't groomed . Crafts said he rarely sees other people out on the path and those he does encounter aren't on their way to work.

"The bike path this time of year is really overlooked," Crafts said. "I don't see a lot of people, which surprises me because the skiing is great."

After a short walk to where the bike path intersects with Driftwood Lane, Crafts clicked into his skis and headed off toward downtown. It was just after 8 a.m., and the temperature was colder than forecasted: about 20 degrees, not including the biting wind-chill. Much of the path was covered in snow drifts caused by the wind whipping off the lake. Crafts blazed new tracks and in some areas had to walk rather than glide. About 10 minutes into the commute, or "skimute" as Crafts calls it, he pulled his hood over his head and tightened the drawcord.

"Time to roll up the windows," Crafts joked as the winds picked up near the lake.

Crafts' Friday commute was virtually silent, and apart from a few crows on the wing, not another living creature was seen. This solitude is part of the commute's appeal for Crafts. He says the 30 minutes spent skiing every morning and night helps clear his head and allows creative thoughts to flow.

Plus, he doesn't have to waste time at the gym.

"It gives you a really nice buzz throughout the day," Crafts said.

Crafts' wife, Keri, also a partner at Place Creative, jokes that she encouraged her husband to commute to work via the bike path so she wouldn't have to drive to work with him. In reality, she says she's looking forward to the day when she can do the same once their toddler daughter is in school.

"Any way you can fit in more exercise and use your car less is great," Keri Crafts said.

Barring a midwinter heat wave that melts all the snow, Crafts will continue to ski to and from work until it's time to pull his running shoes from the closet and hit the pavement. As long as he's not commuting by car, he's happy, he said.

"To be able to have a little fun with the commute is extra gravy," Crafts said. "It's one of the high points of my day."


Photo Caption: Steve Craft skis down the bike path to Burlington's waterfront as he commutes to downtown from his new North end home. Snow allowing, Craft regularly skis back and forth from work rather than drive.

Photo by RYAN MERCER, Free Press

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Man Hit By Car In Fair Condition

Burlington Free Press
December 22, 2007
News Brief

Essex -- A man who was seriously injured when he was hit by a car as he crossed Park Street in Essex Junction late Thursday night was listed in fair condition Friday at Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington, hospital officials said.

Stephen Richert was crossing Park Street at about 11:30pm when he was hit by a southbound vehicle operated by Brett Lewis, 18, of Shelburne, said Vermont State Police.

The Essex Police Department is investigating the accident. Anyone with information on the accident should call the Essex Police at 878-8331.

Westford leaps forward on back roads

Published: Saturday, December 29, 2007
Burlington Free Press
By Joel Banner Baird
Free Press Staff Writer

WESTFORD -- Lying off the beaten path can work to a town's advantage -- especially when some of those paths are hundreds of years old.

The Selectboard appointed six residents Thursday to a newly formed committee charged with tracking down every town-owned highway, visible or otherwise.

Earlier this month, the town received a state grant of $5,000 to support the research, which is part of a broader effort to finalize the ownership of rights of way throughout Vermont.

Towns have until February 2009 to map their findings.

Westford has a head start.

In the early 1990s, the state Agency of Transportation gathered all the deeds, some of them centuries old, that documented legitimate highways.

"We did get pretty lucky," said Westford Planning Coordinator Melissa Manka on Friday. "We know most of our old roads around here, but we still need to trace their history. A hundred years from now people will want to know where they went and how they changed hands."

Each transaction needs to be double-checked for accuracy.

Landowners as well as historians have warmed to the project. Rights of way, even long-disused paths, hold potential. Towns can resurrect them as recreational trails or pave them for ambitious expansion projects.

Once the legitimacy of a road is established (towns relinquished ownership of many old roads), landowners can establish routes of access to otherwise land-locked properties -- or work to secure the closure of once-legal routes through their backyards.

For now, the research stage of the ancient roads takes a back seat to scholarship. Volunteers from the conservation commission and historical society have laid the groundwork.

"We've been working to get a few of our legal trails on our highway map for the past year and a half," Manka said. "It was a first step -- and it showed us that we really hadn't looked at the maps for quite some time. Now we've got to get on to the nitty-gritty. We're really going to dig into it. "

The grant, she said, will fund training for the committee, and maybe the services of a property-savvy attorney or surveyor.

Local amateurs and old-timers have already pitched in. Some, Manka said, hold memories from the middle of the last century: faint traces of what might have been roads.

Fortunately for the ancient roads committee, oral history and good record keeping will make its job easier than detective work in more heavily developed towns.

"We have about 2,100 people living here," Manka said. "We're the little forgotten town of Chittenden County."

Except for its roads.
Contact Joel Banner Baird at 660-1843 or