The Depot Street corridor study was presented to the public at a meeting of the Planning Commission Monday, July 21, by Mark Anders, the Bennington County Regional Commission's regional planner. Anders has previously presented the study to the planning commission and worked with them to implement their earlier reactions.
Greg Boshart, the acting chairman of the planning commission, said this study was done as a way to see how to calm traffic, introduce bike lanes and increase greenspace.
"This is a general overview ...think big-picture," he said.
This plan won't be implemented all at once, Boshart said, but asked to audience to consider how this could be introduced in phases, over a long period of time. The total cost of the project would be roughly $750,000.
Anders gave his presentation, focusing on why the study was done, presenting what changes could be made to Depot Street and then asking for public input. Now that the study has been completed and received good feedback from the Vermont Agency of Transportation, Anders said what is needed is public feedback.
"The first part of the report is what are the problems with Depot Street that we're trying to address," Anders said. "The basic problems are ... there are some safety issues and some aesthetic issues.
Some of the safety issues include difficulty crossing Depot Street, a stressful environment for cyclists and speeding vehicles.
"Danger to pedestrians rises exponentially by speed," he said.
For example, Anders shared a statistic that if a pedestrian is hit by a car going 30 mph, the survival rate is 55 percent. It drops to 15 percent when a car is going 40 mph.
There are also many aesthetic problems along Depot street, something many audience members brought up during the presentation. On more than one occasion, the street was referred to as "downright ugly."
Some of these problems include too much pavement, a poorly defined street edge, too few trees and the Green Mountain Power Substation.
While the planning commission has discussed moving the substation and what that land could become, with an approximately $3.5 million price tag, Anders said its removal was not part of this study.
As for the conceptual plan itself, it varies along the street, but a basic idea is the sidewalks staying the same size, with a four and a half-foot strip of green space, a six-inch curb followed by a five foot bike lane and two 10 and a half feet wide travel lanes, Anders said.
In some areas, where the road narrows, or when going downhill, there will be a shared bike lane. Shared bike lanes versus a separate lane is debated in the planning and engineering community Anders said. However, Boshart said a shared lane that is unmarked is what Manchester currently has, so adding a shared bike lane marking would be an improvement.
A shared lane is necessary when going downhill, Anders said, because it is safer to ride more towards the middle of the road. Amy Verner, owner of Battenkill Sports, wanted to know why a shared lane is safer when traveling downhill.
"The engineering guidance is to not put bike lanes going downhill because there's various dangers when riding a bike, the biggest one is being hit by turning vehicles and the faster you go, the less time there is for them to see you," he said. "When you're going downhill, you want to be closer to the center."
Verner raised the concern that the cyclist will be pushed off the road by vehicles, which currently happens on many occasions, when they try to move into the shared lane going downhill and in other places.
Other comments included add ing more crosswalks to the areas closer to the retail shops near the roundabout, because many people will want to go to stores on both sides of the street.
Overall, the majority of the individuals present were supportive of the project. On more than one occasion, those attending the meeting said this would bring economic development to the area, as well as make the entrance to town more beautiful. The safety issues were also expressed, concerning making sidewalks safer for pedestrians, as well as the addition of bike lanes for cyclists.
Anders pointed out the more people start to walk and ride along Depot Street, the safer it will become because drivers will become more aware. One man spoke in support of this project of multiple occasions said this will totally change the environment.
"I think this is an urgent situation to do something...it looks like it's not connected to the town," he said. "It is time to do something to it and we have to become pedestrian and bike oriented...We need to do something so that people want to walk around...If you were to do something like this, you would create an entirely different environment in town."
To see the full plan, visit the BCRC website, www.rpc.bennington.vt.us or the town website, www.manchester-vt.gov.