City designers consider different options for Winooski Avenue makeover

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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) Designers of a project that aims to make Winooski Avenue more bike-friendly are heading back to the drawing board after hearing feedback from people in Burlington.

On Wednesday night, city leaders and project designers from Resource Systems Group held a third public meeting to show bicyclists and drivers the seven different layouts they’re considering as part of the corridor study plan to redesign Winooski Avenue.

They’re looking at ways to revamp the corridor from King Street to Riverside Avenue. Some of the concepts include installing roundabouts and mini-roundabouts, improving traffic signals, and eliminating some right-turn lanes. They’re also thinking of removing parking spaces to make room for bike lanes.

Resource Systems Group Director Jonathan Slason says the current plan calls for the removal of 109 parking spaces. He says the design team is trying to reduce that number after hearing concerns from people who live and work there.

“I think the primary barrier is the loss of parking and we have a lot of people who believe, and rightfully believe, that their businesses and their residences might be impacted negatively by the loss of parking,” Slason said.

Cyclists at the meeting applauded the plan saying it’s necessary for their safety. “Where it gets scary is when you get to Pearl Street and then from Pearl to Main where there are no bike lanes, where there are four lanes of vehicles going in both directions, where you have to fend for your life and it’s scary as hell,” said one attendee.

Drivers, however, feel the proposal favors bicyclists and could put them in an unfavorable position. One woman said she once almost collided with a cyclist who sped in front of her.

“If I hadn’t been quick on the brakes, I would’ve hit him,” she said. “And if I had been without my dashcam, good chance I would’ve been held liable for that. I suggest everybody in this city with a car get yourself a dashcam to protect yourself, because I guarantee you, somebody on a bike is going to cut you off and you’re going to be held responsible.”

Another woman questioned what will happen if bicyclists don’t follow the rules of the road.

Slason told WCAX News that a particular issue hasn’t been analyzed in the study. “There’s always enforcement issues that can occur and this study nor any other study is going to address that,” he said. “As somebody mentioned, if you build the facilities, better behavior can occur and also if you build the facilities, safer behavior is going to occur.”

Even some bikers said the proposal is good but needs work. Laura Jacoby, the executive director of Old Spokes Home, said she would like there to be a barrier between cars and bikes, like bollards.

After the meeting, Slason told WCAX the design team will revisit some of their current blueprints and come up with new concepts, based on the feedback they heard from the public.

They heard the most pushback on the current plan for North Pearl Street, which involves removing 45 parking spaces and adding a north and southbound bike lane. Slason says it will likely evolve.

“It could unfold to be a different plan. This was a process. We heard a lot of feedback today that maybe the project that we identified north of Pearl Street shouldn’t happen the way we designed it. I think south of Pearl Street there could be some really good, nice wins out of this project. But north of Pearl Street, maybe we have some challenges that we need to address still,” Slason said. “I think here tonight we saw that tension between parking loss and the overall mobility and benefits of the corridor improvements would bring and today we heard that loud and clear.”

Slason says the fourth meeting will most likely be held in front of the city council sometime in either January or February.