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As Bicycle Commuting Grows, Grants Will Help Expand Bike Lanes

Andrew McKeever
Five million dollars in funding from the Agency of Transportation will help to improve roadways like Depot Street in Manchester, Vt. (shown here) for pedestrians and cyclists.

Across Vermont, as elsewhere in the country, an upsurge of interest in bicycling — not only as a form of recreationbut as a way to commute — is underway.

Last month the Agency of Transportation announced $5 million in funding for 28 Vermont communities to enhance their streets for pedestrians or bikes.

Audio from this story will be posted at approximately 11 a.m. on Monday, Oct. 12.

Part of what is driving the interest in retrofitting streets and roads in Vermont’s communities is an interest by younger Vermonters to live in more urban areas as well avoiding some of the costs that come with owning automobiles.

That’s according to Nick Meltzer, the assistant bicycle and pedestrian coordinator with the state’s Agency of Transportation.

"Part of it is the younger population choosing not to drive as much … we’re seeing more people living in cities younger so when they see they don’t need to own a car, which comes with a lot of costs, I think you’re seeing that transition into a desire for more biking and walking," Meltzer said.

Meltzer says this year the agency saw a big increase in interest in the federal program which provides money for 80 percent of the total cost of a proposed project. The state and municipality will also each kick in ten percent. 

The competitive grant program evaluates applications based on about ten criteria, which include factors like whether a project connects destinations within communities and how much it is likely to be used.

Manchester received one of the largest individual awards for a road way project designed to overhaul one of the busiest commercial streets in its downtown.

The $580,000 project will reconfigure an existing three-lane thoroughfare into two slightly narrower lanes for automobiles, and a middle lane which will have so-called “refuge islands” for pedestrians crossing the street.

"Part of it is the younger population choosing not to drive as much… when they see they don’t need to own a car, which comes with a lot of costs, I think you’re seeing that transition into a desire for more biking and walking." Nick Meltzer, Agency of Transportation.

Two new 5-foot wide bike lanes will be built into the road. The project is expected to be completed in 2017.

Manchester’s town manager John O’Keefe says the newly designed roadway will be a boost for the downtown area and takes note of increased numbers of bicyclists. He says it will make it safer for both bikers and motorists.

"Right now it's more of a suburban road, and with the reconfiguration we'll be providing more pedestrian access, bike access and also providing a lot of aesthetic appeal to the road," O'Keefe said.

While the project to transform the local street encountered some local skepticism, on the whole the community seems to have gotten behind the idea, O’Keefe says.

Meltzer said one of the reason’s Manchester’s project got the nod was that it was close to an ideal project from the transportation agency’s standpoint.

"It was taking a stretch of road designed for cars and turning the entire stretch into a corridor for people that walked, biked and drove. It had all the criteria we were looking for," Meltzer said.

The original Depot Street Corridor project, as it’s known locally, included dozens of trees and other street-side amenities and also extended further from Manchester’s downtown, but has been scaled back since it was first scoped out more than a dozen years ago. But now, the roadway has a green light, and construction is expected to start next year.

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