Friday, August 8, 2008

Pedestrian Needs on South Burlington's Front Burner

Burlington Free Press
Sara Buscher
August 8, 2008

SOUTH BURLINGTON -- Some city residents are no longer wondering why the chicken crossed the road. They're wondering how she did.

In April, a man was struck by a car while walking in a crosswalk on Farrell Street. The following month, residents of the city's Eastwoods neighborhood lobbied the council with a request to add a three-way stop to the intersection of Eastwood Drive and Farrell Street for the safety of pedestrians and drivers alike. Their request is under review.

Residents in other areas -- especially seniors and those with mobility challenges -- have also expressed concern for their welfare on foot in the increasingly urban city.

South Burlington has grown rapidly over the years -- from 1,736 residents in 1940 to 17,838 today -- in part due to an abundance of open land ready to be developed.

City Manager Chuck Hafter said in May that since the high-density residential development on Farrell Street was built, South Burlington has become more aware of the needs of cyclists and pedestrians.

Following the April incident, police stepped up patrols in the area to raise drivers' awareness of pedes- trians; and Hafter said the Metropolitan Planning Organization would review the potential need for a three-way stop on Farrell Street.

The city is also adding signs -- like the fluorescent green "pedestrian crossing" placards that point into the street -- to make crossings more visible, said Public Works Director Bruce Hoar. Hoar said he's writing a grant in an effort to fund installation of additional mid-block crossing signals in certain areas of the city as well.

Crosswalks are typically located at the end of a block, where drivers are attuned to the approaching intersection. Without a traffic signal, midblock crossings can be less visible to drivers.

The April incident occurred at a midblock crossing.

The Public Works Department set reflective signs in the middle of Farrell Street to make the crosswalks more obvious and added orange posts near the curb cuts where pedestrians enter the street.

Seven crosswalks are marked with fluorescent pedestrian crossing signs along Farrell Street, which passes Grand Way Senior Housing, Eastwood Commons condominiums and O'Dell Apartments as it winds its narrow way between Shelburne Road and Swift Street.

Wider streets present another challenge -- particularly in the designated growth area around Dorset Street, the "backbone" of City Center. Dorset Street's parallel sidewalks and bike paths extend from Williston Road to Kennedy Drive, offering easy access to University Mall, Healthy Living, Hannaford and other restaurants and businesses for those traveling without cars.

However, seniors living at the Pines on Aspen Drive have said they can't get from one side to the other.

Ginny Donner said she no longer drives, but reaching the bus stop across the street from her home can be difficult. In the winter, the long wait for the crossing light is even worse.

Donner worries the light will change before she's reached the other side of the road. Sometimes, the pedestrian signal doesn't seem to work, she said.

"When you're 86 or 87, it's no longer funny. You stand there and try to cross, and you can't."

"It's an issue that's been perplexing for everybody," said Lou Bresee, chairman of the city's recreation path committee. "As soon as you make the streets wider, it's more difficult to get the pedestrians across."

Bresee's committee serves as an adviser to the City Council, recommending ways to make South Burlington's streets more welcoming for pedestrians and bicyclists.

Some Pines residents choose to drive their cars rather than risk the walk across five lanes of traffic to reach the bus stop.

"Even if they're 80 or 90 they drive. And they probably shouldn't," Donner said.

Donner says she understands it's not an easy problem. She said she would like to see a new countdown timer device installed at the corner, so people can see how many seconds they have left to cross.

"It helps people feel safer," Bresee said . He said the recreation committee encouraged the city to install more timers.

Public works has plans to install more of the devices at established crossings, beginning with the intersection of Vermont 116 and Williston Road, Hoar said.

Bresee said the city almost always follows up on the committee's recommendations "in one way or another." In most cases, the big problem is where to find funding for the improvements, he said.

If grant funding for the solar-powered LED midblock crossing signals comes through, the first of the new devices could be in place in about a year, Hoar said.

South Burlington has about two dozen midblock crossings, and Hoar estimates the equipment could cost $12,000 per crossing.

Hoar said some other complaints about the crossing signals might be relieved with a better explanation of how they work. Many people don't understand what the symbols at the intersections mean, he said.
Contact Sara Buscher at 651-4811 or Crossing signal lingo

Bruce Hoar, South Burlington public works director, offers tips on reading a crosswalk signal:

In a traditional "hand-man" signal, pedestrians have 20 seconds to cross before the hand symbol stops flashing. Pedestrians should not start crossing the street if the hand symbol is flashing, and should wait for the next cycle.

Pushing the crosswalk button does not mean traffic will stop immediately; the signal will eventually respond.

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