BURLINGTON – Despite resident concerns about the removal of 10 parking spots, a bike lane project in Burlington’s Old North End is underway.
The transportation change will take place on North Union Street, between Loomis and Grant streets, an area which is designated as one-way. A bike lane will be added to allow for two-way traffic for cyclists, with parking removed from the street’s west side.
The Department of Public Works Commission approved the project by a 6-1 vote on July 19. Officials hope to create other parking places nearby to offset the loss.
The changes are part of the first implementation of Plan BTV Walk Bike, which is a citywide project to improve safety and make the city more conducive to walking and biking.
City Councilor Jane Knodell, P-Central District, voted for Plan BTV Walk Bike, and said she supports the idea of the bike lane but has concerns over safety and the loss of parking. Knodell said she has heard from a number of constituents worried about the loss of spaces. Many apartment buildings on that street do not have enough off-street parking for every unit.
“I was concerned that there hadn’t seemed to be an original analysis of the impact of reduced parking,” Knodell said.
Neyna Minert, a resident of Grant Street, told VTDigger on Tuesday she spends up to 25 or 30 minutes driving around the area to locate a parking spot. She often ends up in one of the 10 spaces that will be eliminated.
“It’s so hard to find parking in Burlington already, they shouldn’t be removing any parking spots,” Minert said while walking back from her vehicle.
The commission initially voted unanimously in June to approve the project. However, the Department of Public Works notified the commission of additional resident data from a Google survey. Members decided to vote again in July so those responses could be considered, according to Commission Chair Tiki Archambeau.
Archambeau said the survey data resulted in a study that located potential new parking spots around the neighborhood.
New parking spaces will be added along the south side of Loomis Street east of North Union, the east side of North Winooski Avenue beginning north of Grant Street. Spots will also be added on the west side of South Union Street between the City Market parking lot and north curb of Bradley Street, as well as the north side of Grant Street between units 24 and 42.
Commission agenda documents show the potential for up to 12 new spots.
Knodell, who also serves as City Council president, said she is pleased with the revisions but believes a solution could have been found that would have maintained current parking. She is also concerned about the loss of parking downtown during construction of the Burlington Town Center, which will raze the current 500-space garage.
“I think we can do better,” Knodell said.
As a result of her concerns with the implementation process, Knodell has submitted a resolution to be considered at Monday’s council meeting. Her proposal asks the Department of Public Works what the future process will be for implementing Plan BTV Walk Bike.
Knodell initially considered introducing a resolution preventing the removal of any on-street parking within one mile of the Burlington Town Center redevelopment project, but has since withdrawn that proposal to give the city a chance to effectively manage parking demands during the construction period.
Knodell said that shifting the power to control parking from the Department of Public Works to the council could be worth discussing, but for now she is focused on improving communication and keeping councilors in the loop on neighborhood projects.
On the bike lane and the loss of parking spaces, City Councilor Max Tracy, P-Ward 2, said he believes the additional parking offsets a lot of the impact.
“My top priority when it comes to making changes to public rights of way is improving safety for all users,” he said.
Tracy believes it is crucial to have an east to west bike connection with the Old North End, and that other options would have led to a far greater impact on parking.
“We have such an imbalance of infrastructure towards motor vehicles instead of alternative modes of transportation,” he said. “This project will help create balance.”
Lawrence Smith and Laura Waters, who own a building at 67 North Union St., presented the commission with alternative plans at the July 19 meeting, which included rerouting one direction of the bike lane, or merging it with the car traffic lane.
“Until we develop alternate transportation systems and lifestyles, car-centric living is all of our reality and removing 10 parking spaces from a densely populated residential area will create hardship and less safety for the residents who are impacted by the removed parking,” the property owners wrote in their statement to the commission.
Waters estimates that the impacted section contains approximately 50 apartment units and over 100 bedrooms.
Despite the concerns of Smith, Waters and other residents who spoke against the proposal at a July 19 meeting, commissioners voted 4-3 to proceed with the project.
Archambeau, the public works commission chairman, voted against the proposal, as he felt it needed more vetting from residents. The process was a concern for him and the other two commissioners who voted no.
“I fear that while some of the local interests won this battle, it puts at risk the future of other walk bike plans that may be similar, and ask for reduced parking in other neighborhoods,” Archambeau said.
He considers balancing the needs of vehicles and cars to be the toughest challenge going forth with Plan BTV Bike Walk.
Calls to Department of Public Works Director Chapin Spencer went unreturned Wednesday. Spencer has been criticized as focusing too heavily on bike transportation planning. He was executive director of Local Motion, a bicycle and pedestrian advocacy organization, before accepting his job with the city.
The pushback surrounding the Old North End project follows a City Council vote on July 10 to maintain a controversial bike lane pilot project on North Avenue. Opponents of the project complained of longer drive times due to reduced vehicle lanes, while proponents cited improved safety statistics.
Archambeau said he is hopeful that on street parking might be restored in the neighborhood down the road.
“I hate to see residents jilted by that vote,” he said.