Friday, August 29, 2008

Bike/pedestrian policy key to campaigns

Times Argus
August 24, 2008
By Jenny Nixon Carter - Correspondent

It is August in an election year – and that means the incumbent office-holders and new candidates will soon be on your doorstep (if they have not been there already).

While you have the candidate's attention, don't forget to remind them that a safe walking and biking system — which includes adequate pedestrian sidewalks and bike lanes – is an important component of our local and statewide transportation infrastructure.

Yes, these are lean times for our local and state government, but that only means that we should focus our transportation funds on projects that: 1) reduce our dependence on expensive foreign oil; 2) limit our environmental impacts; 3) augment our public transportation systems; and 4) enhance the vitality of our downtowns.

Pedestrian and bike projects, of course, do all of these things (and they also have this nice side effect of making our communities healthier). It is important, therefore, that your representatives know that pedestrian and bike projects must remain a part of our transportation mix and be included in any broad transportation plan.

The challenges are big. During the past several years, Transportation Enhancements funding has significantly decreased and the Bicycle and Pedestrian Program is closed to new projects. Many bike and pedestrian projects — and this includes large-scale sidewalk improvements and paving new bike paths and lanes – rely on these programs. State support of these projects is critical if we want our communities to be something other than car- and truck-choked places along a highway. Let your representatives know where you stand on funding for pedestrian and bike infrastructure.

Note too that during the past legislative session the Vermont Senate and House Transportation Committees considered, but did not bring to a vote, a bill to make roads safer for bicyclists. Several states have implemented the so-called 3-foot rule or similar legislation, which mandates that motor vehicles give bicycle riders at least 3 feet of space when passing. Until we actually have designated bike lanes, bikes have to share the road with cars.

The goal of the law is not to give motorists tickets or to encourage reckless and unyielding cyclists. Rather, the evidence suggests that just having a 3-foot law – which could then be included in driver safety courses – increases both motorist and cyclist awareness of their surroundings and decreases potentially harmful interactions.

As I have noted before in this column, providing a minimum passing distance is especially important in places like Rutland County that lack specific biking infrastructure (there is not a designated bike line in the county). In the end, if more people feel safe riding their bike and sharing the road with cars, then more people will actually ride their bikes to work, to school and to the store. Again, let your representatives know where you stand on this issue.

Fall is in the air, and another election is on the way. When they come to your doorstep and ask for your vote, find out where the candidates stand on funding pedestrian and bike projects and the 3-foot rule.

After that, vote accordingly.

Jenny Nixon Carter is the Executive Director of the Rutland Area Physical Activity Coalition. She can be reached at For more information on RAPAC go to

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