MANCHESTER - The Planning Commission met last Monday with representatives from the Bennington County Regional Commission (BCRC) to discuss the potential continuation of work on the Depot Street corridor.

Mark Anders, Transportation Program Manager at BCRC, presented three layouts to the board on Depot Street and how it divides travel lanes, turning lanes, sidewalks, and so on. The designs came from the last study done on the street, in 2004.

The board initially planned to vote on one design that they would then focus on, and then receive a cost estimate of carrying out the design they chose. However, they eventually opted to wait for more information.

The first design showed how the street is currently set up - two 14-foot travel lanes, one 12-foot turning lane, and two five-foot sidewalks. The second, referred to for the rest of the evening as alternative one, included a 12-foot sometimes grassy median and sometimes turning lane, two 14-foot travel lanes, with a five-foot green space and five-foot sidewalk on each side. The final option, referred to as alternative two, was made up of two five-foot sidewalks, two eight-foot greens, and two 12-foot travel lanes with the occasional turning lane.

The first option immediately met with opposition due to the width of the improvements. When the sizes of all the lanes and sidewalks were added up, it equaled 60 feet, which is 10 more than the street is currently. The board was not comfortable with the idea of needing to procure 10 extra feet of right-of-way. The second option, however, still lies within the pre-existing 50 feet of right-of-way.

One aspect that the board spent a lot of time discussing was the potential of adding bicycle lanes, or striping within a traveling lane to indicate bicycles could travel through there.

"Bicycles are very doable, but might complicate things," advised Anders.

Anders showed the board the different ways that they can add bike lanes. They ranged from the simple - such as keeping the travel lane as-is and adding striping to indicate that is shared with bicycles, or adding an extra four feet, level with the travel lane, for bicycles, to the more complex - such as putting up physical barriers between the vehicle and bicycle lanes that range from plastic dividers to a complete landscaped strip.

Board Chairman John Ringwood expressed concern that Depot Street was too short to truly utilize a bike lane, when there are not any other bike lanes in Manchester or connecting lanes to surrounding towns. They were, however, receptive to the idea of what is known as "sharrows," adding in arrows and striping to a vehicle lane to denote sharing between bicycles and vehicles.

The board considered taking option number two and adding lanes to that design; it would kept the two five-foot sidewalks and the eight-foot green, add two five-foot bike lanes, and reduce the two travel lanes to 12-feet. However, this brought the design to 54 feet across, four feet longer than desired. "You can reduce one and add to another," Anders explained. "It's easy to play with the numbers." However, Anders also said that while it is easy to take a foot from one aspect and put it to another, Vermont Transportation has minimums that they would have to adhere to.

After much discussion, the board accepted the motion to use option number two as the design to consider for further discussion. They asked Anders to return with a third design, a hybrid of all their preferred aspects of the two original designs. They requested that it stay within the current 50-foot right-of-way, focus on a 10-foot median, two 12-foot travel lanes, and a five-foot sidewalk on each side.

Also on the agenda was an update on the electric substation on Depot Street near the intersection with Center Hill. The board heard a presentation on this by BCRC Director Jim Sullivan.

Green Mountain Power (GMP) has taken a look at the substation and created a potential design for relocating it off of Richville Road. On the new site, there will be no issues with acquiring additional land or right-of way access to accommodate the substation. 

GMP is currently awaiting funding information so that they can update their drawings accordingly and be able to present their plans in completion. At the time of the meeting, there were only rough estimates for how much the relocation would cost, but it did include purchasing the land on which it would sit.

The final item of the meeting involved public comment from Steve Burzon of Garden Arts Fresh Market. Burzon was speaking on behalf of himself and his neighboring businesses on the issue of being able to display an open flag - a flag or banner that denotes if a business is open or not - outside of stores in Manchester.

Currently, the bylaws in Manchester do not allow a business to fly a flag or banner that denotes if a store is open. Burzon said he was appearing to begin the process of attempting to alter the language in the bylaws to allow for open flags to be flown.

Ringwood explained that the board would hear his comments, and they would take a vote as to whether they would officially put the issue on their next agenda.

Burzon expressed his belief that open flags can bring in more business for those driving by, so that potential customers don't drive all the way into their parking lot only to find that they are not actually open.

After a brief discussion that involved the possibility of a uniform open sign for all businesses, rather than every business using a different flag, the board voted to include the item on the next agenda for an official hearing.