Making Brattleboro a safer place to walk

Wednesday February 20, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- A committee that formed to address bicycle and pedestrian safety in Brattleboro is moving its campaign into the fast lane.

Following last winter's tragic spate of vehicle-pedestrian crashes, which left three people dead and at least six more injured, the town promised to start an education campaign to get pedestrians, bicyclists and drivers more aware of the issue.

A committee was formed and the town began working with Local Motion, a Burlington-based organization that works on bicycle and pedestrian safety issues in Chittenden County.

Now, Town Manager Barbara Sondag says, the town is starting its campaign which she says will extend into the spring and summer.

"Last winter's multiple fatalities were a huge tragedy and an avoidable one," said Sondag. "Everyone has a part to play in making our streets safer."

Volunteers and town employees will be handing out free reflective leg bands over the next few weeks.

The Brattleboro Police Department, groups that work with seniors, and other volunteers will be distributing the 300 leg bands over the next few weeks to make pedestrians and bicyclists more visible, especially during dusk and dawn when it is most difficult to see people walking or riding bikes along the sides of the roads.

The leg bands will also be available at Town Hall.

Sondag said the leg-band distribution is only the first step of a long campaign that will include educational and promotional messages.

She said bicyclists, pedestrians and motor-vehicle operators have to work together to make it safer for everyone.

"We encourage anyone who is regularly out after dark to come by town hall to pick up a free reflective leg band," said Sondag. "Whether you are walking the dog in the early morning hours or walking home from work after dusk or walking to school at any hour, a reflective leg band will make you far more visible to motorists."

Windham Regional Commission Senior Planner Matt Mann is on the townwide committee and says the group has been eager to move ahead with the safety campaign.

Mann said handing out the leg bands is an important first step and he says it will take a long time of stressing a sustained message to motorists to be more aware while driving around town.

"There has been a good cross section of community involvement now that we are taking it into the implementation stage," Mann said. "It will take a many-fold effort to change patterns and have people stop when people are in the crosswalks."

The Brattleboro partnership with Local Motion is the first time the group has worked with a municipality in southern Vermont.

Jason Van Driesche, director of advocacy and education at Local Motion, said the Brattleboro group has been working hard to address safety issues around town.

He said the town, and the community volunteers, have been coming together to put together a program to increase awareness of bike and pedestrian safety issues.

"Our first goal was to keep people safe this winter, but the bigger picture is much broader," Van Driesche said. "Visibility as one part, but the main idea is that everyone has a part to play in making the streets safer."

The town has been looking at much more ambitious projects, such as adding sidewalks or adding traffic calming apparatus, but Van Driesche says the group will be working on more immediate and inexpensive ways to increase awareness.

"We are trying to come up with creative ideas to make improvements at a low cost," he said. "Everyone is distracted these days and awareness is the biggest issue. The town is committed to doing this. We're going to find out what will work best for Brattleboro and then bring that message all over town."

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 279, or You can follow him on Twitter @HowardReformer.


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