BRATTLEBORO — It's not Spider-Man or Batman shielding the community from danger.
It's actually the Brattleboro Safe Streets Project that is stepping in to protect pedestrians and bicyclists from further fatalities or serious injuries in road traffic.
Tonight, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., this group will host a free-of-charge Safer Streets Forum at the The Robert H. Gibson River Garden where they hope to inform citizens about related local projects and citizen groups as well as empower people to engage. There will be guest speakers such as Town Manager Peter Elwell and representatives from the Brattleboro Police Department, Traffic Safety Planning Department and the Public Works Department.
"Vermont ranks number three in the country for commuters who walk and bike to work, and we're number two in the country for pedestrian and cycling fatalities," said Alice Charkes, co-chair of the Brattleboro Safe Streets Project. "We have a lot of people involved in crashes; that's not right, we shouldn't have that."
The Safer Streets Project is an action-based group that consists of 10 people who meet quarterly with the goal of keeping the streets safe for pedestrians and cyclists. Charkes and Kathleen White are the co-facilitators of the group.
At the forum there will be a light supper with pizza, vegetables, drinks and desserts. There is also a chance to win some raffle prizes such as reflective lights and vests, donated by local bicycle shops, for people who walk or bike the streets at night. The first hour will include a presentation from various community members and then from 7 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. there will be an opportunity for questions and answers and an interactive activity. This activity will involve a large map of Brattleboro on display where forum attendees are encouraged to place sticky notes on routes they feel are "hot spots," such as areas that need sidewalk repair, where speeding often occurs or that are seen as dangerous or unsafe for pedestrian and cyclist travel.
"The forum is important because it will give the public the opportunity to engage in one interactive setting with various government officials and various private bike/ped advocates about the collaborative work we are doing to make Brattleboro's streets and sidewalks safer for everyone," Elwell said.
Charkes encourages people to attend who are concerned about pedestrian and cyclist safety, but urge them not to feel obligated to stay for the entire two and a half hours. However, Charkes notes there will be learning opportunities at the forum that she finds valuable such as the town's ongoing infrastructure projects, like the Route 30 project that was designed to change the approach to the West River Park.
"I'm going to be talking about how we go about enforcing certain areas," said Police Chief Michael Fitzgerald. "Some is data driven, some is citizens calling PD departments, and then other is through the traffic safety committee. With all those combined, we then analyze."
Fitzgerald will also talk about laws for pedestrians an cyclists, how to share road with motor vehicles. He will include data between motor vehicles and pedestrians and cyclists in the more congested areas where there are frequent accidents.
"This forum is important for information, people can come with any questions concerning roads or plans the town has, questions about funding projects, enforcement," said Fitzgerald. "We will also all be available after the presentation if it's real personable."
Another goal of the Brattleboro Safe Streets Project is to keep the public informed about citizen groups, such as VBike that helps people choose and use electric cargo bikes. Charkes also hopes forum attendees will engage and feel like they have a voice in these types of concerns.
"I am very interested in safety for cyclists and pedestrians, I've been doing this work for 20 years in various organizations in town," said Charkes. "The reason we chose to have this particular forum is because I found the police fire forums to be a very effective way to inform people about work going on. Even in our small town of Brattleboro, people are very unaware of what groups or issues people are working on, and I'm sure a lot of people have no idea what Safe Streets Project is."
Safe Streets Project has been involved in the community for about four years, according to Charkes. She mentioned that some of the group's past work has involved handing out reflective bands to pedestrians, homeless shelters and cyclists so people are visible, especially during the winter, which she said historically is the time when more pedestrians and cyclists are hit and killed by vehicles.
Charkes mentioned that the group has also made some chalk stenciling of safety messages around town such as, "use the cross walk," or "be light be seen."
"New York City has a program called 'Vision Zero,' where they want zero fatalities for pedestrians and cyclists, so if New York City can have a vision of zero, so can Brattleboro," said Charkes.
Madd Shaw can be reached at 802-254-2311 ext 275