The issues of sidepath laws, shoulder paving and shoulder widening have been
with the Vermont Bicycle & Pedestrian Coalition from the beginning in 1993.
In preparing our position during the development of the state bike and ped plan
in 1996, we spent many hours going over the indications for asphalt paving
and/or shoulder widening, the complications involved in right-of-way
acquisition and visual impact and the effect on traffic speed and volume. And,
we discussed the fiscal impact of various policies.
THE COALITION'S AGENDA
The Coalition's legislative agenda (
illustrates the result of our discussions:
"3.Sidepath law reversed
"Vermont is one of the few states retaining this vestigial law. Cyclists,
especially trained cyclists, are the best judges of their own skill and safety.
The calculation of where to ride depends on many factors that vary through
time. In many instances obeying the sidepath law puts cyclists and pedestrians
in harms way. It also antagonizes the struggle for cyclist respect on roadways.
The law should be reversed to affirm cyclists' responsibility to choose the
best place to ride.
"4.Eliminate use restrictions on limited access roadways
"Highway engineers who adhere to the doctrine of the forgiving highway often
cite cyclists as a justification for widening roadways. But Vermont already has
hundreds of miles of wide roads that cyclists are prohibited from using. This
contradiction between rhetoric and practice cannot stand. Cyclists and
pedestrians should have full access to public ways."
Originally the sidepath law required all cyclists to use a sidepath -- no
exceptions. The law was softened a few years ago to its current state, which
requires cyclists to ride on sidepaths, unless specifically allowed to ride on
roads by a local selectboard.
H.211 (http://www.leg.state.vt.us/docs/2000/bills/intro/H-211.HTM), Section
1(as introduced) addresses our agenda position precisely. The as-introduced
language reads: "23 V.S.A. § 1139(c) Whenever a usable path for bicycles has
been provided adjacent to a state or town highway, bicycle riders may use the
path or the highway." There's not much more to say in terms of history.
Section 1 of the bill should remain as introduced. It would grant cyclists the
prerogative to ride on road or on path adjacent to either town or state
There has been a suggestion that House Transportation Committee members are
considering simply deleting the existing sidepath law. This suggestion is
good, but the language in the bill as introduced is much better. If the law is
simply deleted, then the choice would remain unclear for cyclists when making a
decision about where to ride. It would also be less clear for enforcement and
The thrust of our policy is that we should achieve full-access to the roads
before pushing for additional road widening because that is the most effective
way to increase rideable shoulder mileage. The last time we checked, the state
was reconstructing about three miles of roadway per year. The mileage of
limited-use highway is on the order of hundreds of miles. So, clearly the most
cost-effective and expeditious way to increase rideable shoulder is to gain
legal access to many miles that currently exist.
If we set our legislative agenda aside for a moment, I can report on the
underlying practicality of such laws and explain why the current language of
the Shoulder Paving Law works as is: motivation and money!
AOT is highly motivated to pave every possible square centimeter of our roads.
Asphalt pavement generally protects and preserves roads. It stabilizes
shoulders, which are used for breakdowns and snow storage,.... The list of
non-bicycle and pedestrian reasons for paving shoulders goes on and on. Indeed
Jon Kaplan provided at least twenty such indications during the last round of
discussion. Which is the point: AOT does not need any special bicycle related
encouragement to pave shoulders. Look at any state road reconstructed in the
last 30 years and you will see wide, smooth shoulders. Paving projects are
generally the same way. These roads were not widened for cycling. But
cyclists receive the supposed benefits just the same.
"Reconstruction" is a key word when it comes to shoulders on Vermont roads.
Contrary to the preamble of the state Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan, the roads of
the state were established before the age of the automobile. Pedestrians and
cyclists were displaced from these roads by automobiles. The state's roads
are typically curvaceous, and fitted to tight geographic constraints on
relatively narrow and twisty rights-of-way. And many buildings are close to
the road -- just as they should be in a pre automobile, pedestrian world.
These facts make "reconstruction" necessary when widening a road to provide
paved shoulders. In order to provide such shoulders a road must be realigned,
right-of-way purchased, buildings moved, earthwork (including blasting)
undertaken ditches relocated, traffic redirected, pavement removed, bad subbase
removed, good subbase added, new pavement laid. It's quite an expensive and
extensive process, taking years of preparation and permitting. That's why the
state only reconstructs a few miles per year, out of more that 10,000 state
and local road miles. A call for shoulders at any cost for the benefit of
cyclists, might double the rate of reconstruction, but it we would all be dead
before seeing the result. And this shift in policy would occur at the expensive
of other cycling programs. Widening roads costs a ton of money.
And that is just fine with the AOT motorheads. They would get to crank up
their straighten-widen-flatten activity and bill the cost to the cycling
account. That's why you see the state plan including lengthy discussion of
shoulders and "shared-use" and excluding the Pedestrian and Bicyclist Bill of
There is a local/state jurisdiction issue involved in the discussion that
should be mentioned now. The state does not control all of the roadways that
are labeled with state route numbers. Many long stretches, especially through
villages and hamlets, are
controlled by towns. These segments of road have received somewhat separate
treatment in the past. With the establishment of RTACs and the MPO, the
handling of these roadways may be more uniform. But it is a local issue more
than a state issue.
On these matters of practicality and strategy, we have thus far managed to
avoid getting into a debate about whether cyclists should ride on shoulders,
roadway bikability, the relative safety of lane position, and least-cost public
spending to improve cycling and walking safety. Previewing the bottom line of
such a discussion: shoulder widening loses to operational and behavioral
changes on all counts.
Section 2 of H.211 should be dropped.
Section 1 should be advanced through the legislative process alone.
Peter K. Duval +1 802 899 1132
98 Sleepy Hollow Road fax: 899 2430
Essex Junction, VT 05452-2798 [log in to unmask]