BRATTLEBORO — Concerned citizens – from cyclists to crossing guards – filled the Robert H. Gibson River Garden for a recent forum about making local roads free from harm.
The Safer Streets Project hosted Thursday's meeting which covered such topics as infrastructure, engineering and policy as well as education and outreach. There were many speakers represented at the meeting, but perhaps the most vocal were community members concerned about safety for pedestrians and cyclists.
"I've been brushed by people's side-view mirrors, being as close to the white line as I can without hitting the telephone poles," said Bob Glennon, a cyclist who lives in Brattleboro.
Throughout the forum questions were addressed by the Windham Regional Commission, town manager, Highway and Utilities superintendent, Planning Services director, Brattleboro police chief, AARP, VBike, Local Motion and the transportation subcommittee of the town Energy Committee.
One topic discussed at the meeting was the Vermont Agency of Transportation's plan to build a sidewalk along Putney Road. The project would start at the bridge at the West River and then continue up to the bridge that goes over the brook just south of the roundabout for Route 9.
Town Manager Peter Elwell said the first planning meeting for preliminary design occurred last week, but construction is unlikely to begin for another six years as it is a two-year process for planning, acquiring land to create wider spaces and other details to getting the project bid. While construction may be off in the distance, Elwell said citizens are encouraged to be part of that planning process.
"I don't understand why there aren't sidewalks in this area," said a forum attendee who was concerned that, at 80 years old, she would not be able to see this sidewalk in her lifetime. Other meeting attendees chimed in and agreed that a sidewalk on Putney Road should be a prime consideration.
Thursday's meeting also included a discussion about the crosswalk near Union Hill where two people have been struck and killed in recent years. Crossing guard Jeanushka Fishell said that while adjustments to the crosswalk have improved visibility, she believes it remains unsafe. She suggested more visibility at night and that the crosswalk should come out further towards the road.
Highway and Utilities Superintendent Hannah O'Connell said that has been reviewed and was determined to not be a better alternative.
Fishell also suggested installing a crosswalk near Avenue Grocery on Western Avenue as she feels people make risky crossings in that location.
"And flashing lights would really help because I almost got hit and I have a red sign, I have an obnoxiously bright vest on," said Fishell.
O'Connell also addressed concerns around speedy drivers. She said lowering the speed limit in areas has little effect, and speed bumps are an issue for emergency vehicles and are known to create a lot of noise in small neighborhoods.
Elwell and O'Connell both touched on the idea of installing more push button signals. They suggested that drivers become numb to crosswalks when there are so many throughout town that they simply become part of the landscape. But push button signals, they said, alert a motorist that someone is standing at the crosswalk and needs to cross. O'Connell added that it has worked well near Academy School and that a crossing guard has helped teach the students how it operates. She said they are looking to install push buttons near Linden Street by the Brattleboro Retreat, near Holton Home and near Greenleaf Street.
Rod Francis, the Planning Services Director, discussed the Route 30 corridor and said they have considered lowering the speed limit to 40 mph because of the busy activity at West River Park. Francis also said a bike lane could be constructed on both sides of the road.
Police Chief Michael Fitzgerald was also at Thursday's forum to talk about enforcement.
"This is nothing against town manager, but we will never have enough cops," Fitzgerald said as a reason to why they cannot patrol everywhere.
He said police generally focus on certain "hot spots" in town. He noted that historically, areas of concern are the high school around September as there are often many new drivers on the road. Police also cover Memorial Park when there are large activities going on.
"If you're biking or walking in an area and you know there are road violations in that area, continuous, please let us know and we'll do what we can," said Fitzgerald.
He said the police department's objective is not tickets or revenue, but rather to get people to do the right thing under the law.
Towards the end of the presentation, Alice Charkes, co-chair of the Brattleboro Safe Streets Project, talked about the group in detail and her co-chair, Kathleen White, drew names for the raffle.
Maddi Shaw can be reached at 802-254-2311 ext 275