Academy school students and parents cross at the crosswalk on Western Avenue.(Kayla Rice/Reformer)
Academy school students and parents cross at the crosswalk on Western Avenue. (Kayla Rice/Reformer)

BRATTLEBORO - The Department of Public Works will hold a special public information session Tuesday night to present a number of proposals the town is considering to improve pedestrian and bicycle safety along Western Avenue in West Brattleboro.

The town has scheduled the informational meeting for May 13, at 6 p.m. at Academy School, to release the detailed plans that include proposals for a continuous four- to five-foot bike lane and widened sidewalks on Western Avenue.

The new plan offers three alternatives for improving the safety conditions from Academy School to Greenleaf Street.

"I think the public is going to be very excited to see these plans," said Brattleboro Highway and Utility Superintendent Hannah O'Connell. "This is a dangerous area that gets so much pedestrian traffic with the school, churches and businesses. The engineers have been in a town a few times, and have been gathering information and they now have a concept to present."

The town received a $35,000 VTrans grant in 2012 to do the scoping study of Western Avenue and hired RSG and Broadreach Planning and Design to do the report.

The report which will be discussed Tuesday includes the most detailed plans yet for improving pedestrian and bicycle safety along the area of Western Avenue.

The report presents three alternatives, including the bike lane and widened sidewalks, a second plan to enhance the streetscape through a variety of traffic calming measures, and a third idea to construct a shared use path south of Western Avenue and behind the buildings that front the street.

Each alternative has strengths and challenges, the report states, including having to move utility poles, acquiring easements on private property and protecting and/or removing trees.

The engineers have divided the approximately one-mile stretch into three segments, and say it is possible to mix and match the alternatives to create the most appropriate set of recommendations for the study area.

The project engineers have been in town numerous times to walk the area, take pictures and observe traffic, pedestrian and bicycle patterns.

The Department of Public Works also has been working with Academy School Principal Andy Paciulli and with parents from the school, as well with members of the West Brattleboro Association and with emergency response officials.

In the report engineers said the town has taken a number of steps to improve conditions along the corridor, but they said the town now wants to look "comprehensively at the full network of bicycling and walking facilities to create a unified set of recommendations for future improvements."

The improvements are needed, the engineers said, to improve the safety and mobility experience for Academy School students, West Brattleboro residents and visitors, and bicyclists, as well as to calm vehicular traffic.

Since receiving the VTrans grant the town has held a few public meetings about the project.

The report is still a draft proposal, O'Connell said, and the meeting Tuesday is the latest opportunity for residents to meet with the engineers to hear about the alternatives and offer ideas and suggestions about the proposal.

O'Connell said she hopes a good crowd shows up Tuesday.

Engineers hope to get enough public input at the meeting to help the town select one of the three alternatives

"We hope people come out because we want to hear their concerns," O'Connell said.

O'Connell stressed that Tuesday's meeting is just the latest public session on the plan and there will be other public opportunities to learn about the project before construction starts.

Western Avenue carries over 13,000 vehicles a day, including 500 trucks, the report says, and the area covered in the report includes a number of smaller streets that intersect with the busy road.

Brattleboro has had five pedestrian deaths since 2008, and the town has been trying to address bicycle and pedestrian safety issues.

The area covered in the report has also been the scene of numerous crashes through the years.

Since the crashes DPW installed bollards in the area near Academy School.

O'Connell said the new plan offers more long-term, permanent ideas to improve the conditions.

"It's a big deal to get to this stage where we have ideas to present," she said. "It feels like we are taking a big step forward in the right direction in not just talking about something. We now have ideas to move forward with."

O'Connell said the plan is still preliminary and there are no cost estimates for the project, but she said when towns get state money for a scoping study it usually means VTrans supports the concept for improving conditions in the area.

Doing a scoping study is a first step toward developing a project and ultimately applying to VTrans for construction money.

She said it will probably be a few years before the town puts together a comprehensive plan, applies for additional grants and then possibly begins construction.

"This is a wide road. People drive fast and it is also an area that gets a lot of pedestrian and bike use," said O'Connell . "It's an area in town we are focused on improving."

To view the traffic report go to www.broadreachpd.com and click on "projects."

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at hwtisman@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311 ext. 279.