By Lauren Ober
Photos by Alison Redlich
September 17, 2008
A cyclist waved a poster at Tuesday’s Rally for Safe Streets that read “I learned to share in first grade.” The sign was meant to convey the message that cyclists and drivers need to learn how to peacefully coexist on Vermont’s roads.
That message was echoed throughout a impromptu lunchtime rally at Burlington’s City Hall Park, prompted in large part by two recent hit-and-run accidents in Chittenden County involving cyclists and cars. While many attendees were angry about the recent hit-and-runs, most agreed that cyclists and motor vehicle operators bear equal responsibility when it comes to road safety.
The rally was organized by Local Motion, a Burlington bicycle/pedestrian advocacy organization. Representatives from the Burlington Police Department, the Green Mountain Bicycle Club, the Vermont Bike/Ped Coalition and the University of Vermont Cycling team spoke at the event. Burlington Mayor Bob Kiss also lent his support, saying that with more people walking and riding bikes, the city needs to find ways to accommodate them all safely.
“Clearly, we can all share the road,” Kiss said.
Chapin Spencer, executive director of Local Motion, spearheaded the rally after two cyclists in a week were struck by motorists who then drove off. Rose Long, a junior at UVM and a member of the cycling team, was hit Sept. 8 while riding with a friend in downtown Burlington. Another young cyclist, whose name was not released by police, was hit a day later on Patchen Road in South Burlington.
Long sustained serious injuries that required 15 hours of reconstructive surgery. Adam Desjardin, 22, of Vergennes has been charged in connection with that incident.
Spencer was adamant that roads are not just for cars.
"The days when we plan for just cars are over," Spencer said. "We've talked about sharing the road. Let's do it."
Spencer detailed a five-point plan aimed at making Vermont's roads safer for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers. The first part of the Local Motion initiative is to secure more bike/pedestrian education funding from the Vermont Governor's Highway Safety Program.
According to recent state statistics, cyclists and pedestrians make up 5.8 percent of traffic fatalities. Of the Governor's Highway Safety Program's discretionary funds, 1 percent is allotted to bicycle/pedestrian safety funding.
Spencer also advocated for an aggressive-driver reporting initiative; lower speed limits in Burlington's downtown and in neighborhoods with no posted speed limit; targeted enforcement, including ticketing rule-breaking cyclists or crosswalk stings; and personal responsibility.
"If we all do these five pieces, our community will be a better place," Spencer said.
Local Motion plans to work with a number of city agencies and nonprofits to get its message out. The Burlington Police Department is working to establish an aggressive-driver reporting initiative, Burlington POlice Chief Mike Schirling said.
The program, which Schirling says he hopes to have up and running by spring, will allow cyclists or pedestrians to report an aggressive driver. If callers have sufficient identifying information on the vehicles, the police will be able to follow up on the report with a call to the drivers, telling them they are on notice.
The police can't issue tickets from the callers' claims, but they can hope to influence drivers' behavior. Schirling says it's about providing education in a neutral middle ground.
"We do traffic enforcement now, but it's very one-dimensional," Schirling said. "We need to change the standard."
Schirling talked extensively about the need to be courteous on the road and the benefits of good behavior. Kim Lang, a bicyclist at the rally, said she appreciated Schirling's message. She said she also agreed with one of the main messages of the rally -- "Give Respect, Get Respect."
"I liked the respect aspect going back and forth," Lang said. "How do we spread that into the greater community?"
One of the main pillars of the rally was the need for more education, both for cyclists and motorists. Ron Manganiello, a local cyclist who volunteers with Bike Recycle Vermont, said he'd like to see people approach road safety education the way seat belt use was promoted. The key, he said, is to make road safety automatic for children, just like buckling a seat belt.
Spencer ended the rally by asking the approximately 100 people in front of City Hall to take a pledge promising to do their share to "create a safe street environment" whether biking, walking or driving.
"We all here stand for safe streets," Spencer said. "We must all share our roadways."
Contact Lauren Ober at 660-1868 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Five Point Safety Plan: Local Motion’s 5-point platform for safe streets
1. Fair share for bike/pedestrian safety education
Since 2001, pedestrians and cyclists have accounted for 5.8 percent of all roadway fatalities. Local Motion calls for the Governor’s Highway Safety Program to minimally dedicate a proportional 5.8 percent of its safety budget to bike-pedestrian safety efforts.
2. Aggressive driver reporting initiative
Our communities need a system, developed in partnership with law enforcement agencies, that follows up on reports of aggressive driving. The simple act of having law enforcement contact vehicle owners of cars that have been reported and inform the owners of Vermont law can address the most dangerous behaviors on our roadways.
3. Lower speed limits
The Burlington Public Works Commission recently adopted the Burlington Transportation Plan, which states: “The City will pursue several policy initiatives including: Changing speed limits to 20 mph in the downtown Slow Streets zone and to 25 mph on neighborhood streets without posted speed limits.” We want to see this enacted. Slow streets are safe streets.
4. Targeted enforcement
Targeted and high-profile enforcement efforts provide great returns. Word travels fast and the news that the police are conducting crosswalk stings or handing tickets to cyclists who ignore the laws will get around. A few well-publicized days of traffic enforcement can be very effective.
5. Personal responsibility
We are all responsible for our actions. We must recognize this responsibility no matter how we travel on Vermont’s roads — whether on bike, on foot or behind the wheel. In the end, there is nothing more effective than modeling good behavior.