I'm writing for 2 purposes.
FIRST: To commend and support efforts by the VTrans Working Group, VTrans Executive Staff, Consultants, Advisory Panel and Advisory Committee in preparing the Draft Vermont Pedestrian and Bicycle Policy Plan. It does provide a framework for future efforts to support, increase, promote and integrate pedestrian and bicycle usage in Vermont.
SECOND: To comment on what I perceive as it's greatest weakness - A FAILURE TO SET MEANINGFUL AND USEFUL GOALS AND OBJECTIVES REQUIRING SIGNIFICANT PROGRESS, AGAINST WHICH ACHIEVEMENT CAN BE MEASURED.
This is NOT an unimportant criticism. The draft plan STATES EVERY GOAL as intending to "ENHANCE" this or "IMPROVE" that. Without meaningful targets, ALMOST ANY progress achieves the stated goals and objectives.
Similarly, the draft plan sets forth OBJECTIVES in terms of "Accommodate", "Build", "Provide", "Fund", "Maintain", "Educate", "Encourage", "Work", "Develop", "Assess" and "Promote" this or that objective. While these objectives generally go somewhat further in setting meaningful targets, many still fall short if one examines how they will actually make large and measurable progress toward extending bicycle and pedestrian usage throughout the state. Having "Performance Measures" is helpful in telling us what progress is being made, but they are NO SUBSTITUTE for REQUIRING THE AMOUNT OF PROGRESS TO BE MADE and then measuring progress against that goal or objective.
The following relates to the MILES of sidewalk or paths for pedestrian and bicycle usage on or beside or near the 2,708 miles of total roadway mileage in Vermont which VTrans has jurisdiction over. Here is a comparison of how much progress Vermont has made in this regard over the past 40 years, versus some of the rural alpine and tourist areas of the European Alps.
Vermont is a small, largely beautiful, rural state with tourism an important part of our economy. Bicycling, hiking and walking are important to our tourism, economy, health, safety and transportation - not just within communities but as a means of linking communities and promoting tourism. Consider the impact of bicycle touring within our state. The same is largely true of the European Alps areas I visited.
As a native Vermonter with a strong interest in bicycling, walking and hiking I had the privilege of living for 2 years in 1964-66 in southern Germany near the Alps and of traveling and skiing extensively through the nearby alpine areas of Austria, Switzerland, southeastern France and northern Italy. At that time bicycling from town to town through these alpine areas was essentially similar to Vermont. Aside from the roads, there was essentially no special accommodation for bicyclists, walkers and hikers wishing to travel between towns and cities.
This past summer, after 40 years of absence, I returned to the European Alps to bicycle almost 2,900 kilometers over 7 weeks through the Alps of Switzerland, France, Italy, Austria and Germany to revisit the areas I'd previously known. I was astounded by the changes I saw with regard to bicycling, hiking and walking between towns and cities in these alpine areas. Fully 1/4 (725 kilometers) to perhaps as much as 1/3rd (950 kilometers) of my entire trip between towns and cities were on paths for bicyclists and pedestrians, mostly not on the shoulder of the roadway, but separate and paralleling the roads. Most of the time I bicycled on a graded asphalt path about 10 feet in width. With money for transportation improvements from their considerable gasoline taxes, these alpine areas (and my experience varies somewhat from country to country) appear to have extended their legal road rights of way to include sufficient width for both the highway and the separated bicycle/pedestrian paths. I observed several instances where the entire roadway was being reconstructed together with a new 10 foot wide, asphalt, bicycle/pedestrian path being constructed parallel to, but separate from, the new road. And most importantly, These paths were generally being very well used by commuters, tourists and citizens out for more extensive exercise.
Before I left Vermont I thought of our state as being conducive and bicycle friendly. I returned with the realization that there is much, much more that our state can do to promote and integrate pedestrian and bicycle usage in Vermont.
So how does this example relate to our Draft Vermont Pedestrian and Bicycle Policy Plan? Simply put, it's this. In 40 years, the European Alps regions I bicycled through have moved 25% to 33% of the way toward linking all of their towns and cities that I visited with modern, safe, healthy and climate friendly alternatives to motorized transportation. During this same period (based on statistics in our VTrans Draft Plan) Vermont has not yet exceeded 1% of the way in this regard.
If we think in terms of progress over the next 100 years, it seems sensible to me to be discussing whether and to what extent, Vermont should attempt to provide modern, safe, healthy and climate friendly alternatives to motorized transportation along our 2,708 miles of total roadway mileage in Vermont which VTrans has jurisdiction over. If our goal, for example, over the next 100 years were to create 50% (1,354 miles) of such path alternatives, I'd like to see a goal of achieving perhaps 1/20th of this (67+miles) over the next 5 years.
Instead our Draft Plan's stated goal is: (Under Transportation Choice) to "Enhance pedestrian and bicycle transportations options in Vermont ................." and to "Promote a transportation network that facilitates the ability for pedestrians and bicyclists to connect to other modes." So please ask yourselves: What amount of new bicycle path mileage over the next 5 years will achieve this goal? And where?
In the European Alps areas I visited, they are on path to actually meet, or even exceed, a 50% goal such as I hypothetically proposed above. Where will we be here in Vermont in 100 years?
When goals and objectives are set to be achievable without actually being set to "get the job done" I want all of the participants in this Draft Plan to understand that ... IT GETS NOTICED. I notice it and it gets noticed by many, many other concerned Vermonters.
Frankly, the Draft Plan is a good beginning and I support it, But in terms of what is in the best interest of Vermonters, you can do much better.