Burlington drivers squeezed by new protected bike lanes

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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) A new designated bike lane on Burlington's Union Street is designed to protect riders, but critics say it's just a waste of taxpayer money.

In sun or snow, people bike year-round on North and South Union Street, and while the protected lane makes it easier for cyclists, drivers are feeling the squeeze.

"Driving down this street is already pretty tight," said local resident Shannon Stewart.

The barriers were added late last fall, but when you add snow piles and cars parked on the other side, Stewart says the space narrows fast. "If someone opens their door and tries to get out, your trying to avoid the pylons. You are more likely to hit a person getting out of their car," she said.

When drivers saw WCAX cameras rolling, they worked extra hard not only to avoid the cars across the street, but also the pylons. When our camera was off, we saw multiple cars and buses hit the pylons.

"We have narrow rights-of-way. It is a challenge to accommodate all the modes within our narrow streets. That said, we've heard positive comments about this. We've also heard concerns," said Burlington Public Works Director Chapin Spencer. He says this is the first protected bike lane that the city has put up. But facing its first winter, plow drivers are finding the barriers hard to avoid. Video of the lane before and after plowing shows several pylons missing. Spencer says they're working on solutions. "We are using a sidewalk plow down the bike lines. We are using a smaller plow down the travel lane," said Spencer.

The barriers cost $29,000 to install. The city has already has already had to reinstall sections.

Drivers can expect more of the Queen City's streets to shrink. Spencer says the city hopes to add more protected lanes in the future. "The protected bike lanes not only provide a protection for cyclists, but also provide protection and predictability for other folks to know where the cyclists are going to be," he said.

Burlington fire officials say it's been a tighter drive down the one-way street, but there have been no issues.