Gov signs into law 'Complete Streets'

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BRATTLEBORO -- Gov. Peter Shumlin signed into law a locally supported bill to ensure Vermont's transportation policy takes into account the needs of all users, including motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians of all ages and abilities.

The so-called "Complete Streets" legislation designs an integral policy to ensure all users of the Vermont transportation system are considered and accommodated in the planning, development and construction phases of any state or locally managed project.

"This law will guarantee that we're designing roads that work for the future -- for older Vermonters, for those who choose to take public transportation, for people who opt to walk to their jobs and errands, and for motorists," Shumlin said.

According to the legislation, this act amends current statutes and covers most state and local roads. Complete streets would also apply to new roads prior to their construction, as well as the rehabilitation or maintenance of paved roads.

Rep. Mollie Burke, a Progressive/Democrat from Brattleboro and the bill's lead sponsor, said the state now must consider all users on most transportation projects.

"This bill came up last session and it got voted down because basically it was more of a mandate. And people from the (Agency of Transportation) worked hard with the AARP and the Vermont League of Cities and Towns to make sure it was not a mandate, but a suggestion," she said. Burke attended the bill-signing in Montpelier on Wednesday.

"It's really about comprehensive planning on the front end of transportation projects," she added.

Advocates said the following changes will improve transportation safety:

-- Retiming the signals at pedestrian crossings to allow for slower walking speeds.

-- Adding sidewalks connected to public transportation services and installing curb ramps, sidewalk seating and bus shelters for would-be passengers.

-- Having more left turn lanes with green arrows, which transportation officials say can cut the number of left turn accidents by 50 percent.

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The Green Mountain State now joins Connecticut, Hawaii and New Jersey with complete streets policies.

Representatives for AARP Vermont and the Vermont Natural Resources Council were among those on hand for the bill signing. Those organizations and other advocates supported the legislation and worked for its passage at the Statehouse earlier this year.

AARP Vermont made direct contact with lawmakers in Montpelier in the 2011 session, calling for complete streets as a statewide policy for planning roadways that encourage walking and biking.

"A lot of people are moving in this direction already. There's a greater awareness that we do need to be thinking of bicyclists and pedestrians and older drivers, so I think it's catching the wave of stuff that's already coming down the pike," said AARP associate state director Jennifer Wallace-Brodeur during an April interview with the Reformer.

The Vermont Natural Resources Council also supported the passage of complete streets because it expands transportation options while improving safety for bicyclists and pedestrians.

"VNRC supports the bill because making our downtowns and village centers more walkable is good smart growth policy. Enhancing the state's reputation and as a destination for bicyclists is good economic development policy, and reducing our reliance on the single occupancy automobile, which complete streets will do, is good energy policy because it reduces our reliance on fossil fuels," said Brian Shupe, VNRC's deputy director.

"In an era of rising gas prices, reducing our reliance on fossil fuels will not only help Vermonters save money, but will also reduce Vermont's contribution to global climate change," Shupe said.

Locally, the Healthy Communities Coalition of Windham County hailed the legislation as promoting more exercise and fitness among children and Vermont's elderly residents.

"Today, healthy choices became easier choices for the tens of thousands of people that live or work in Windham County," said Steve Fortier, founder of Healthy Communities Coalition of Windham County and a member of the leadership team for Fit & Healthy Kids Coalition.

"More kids and parents will now be able to walk to and from school each day. More seniors will be able to keep active by walking to their neighborhood market. More workers will be able to ride their bike for their commute rather than driving their car," he added. "We congratulate and thank Rep. Burke who sponsored and championed this bill and Gov. Shumlin for seeing to it that it got enacted."

The Vermont House overwhelmingly passed the legislation in mid-April, with the Senate following suit soon after. The act goes into effective on July 1.

Chris Garofolo can be reached at cgarofolo@reformer.com or 802-254-2311 ext. 275.


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