by C.B. Hall
The tug-of-war between Montpelier’s bicycle and parking advocates continued October 8, as the city council, for the third time, weighed what State Street between Taylor Street and Bailey Avenue should look like once state-financed reconstruction of the thoroughfare is completed.
This time, however, the discussion did not get very far, as the council, having heard a presentation from three members of the city’s Parking Advisory Committee in support of increased parking, declined to take up the issue formally for a re-vote. The council directed city staff to work toward creation of a transportation committee with representation from the bike, parking, pedestrian and Montpelier Alive design committees.
On April 16 the council voted 5-1 to recommend the reconfiguration of State Street so as to allow for angle parking on its north side and thus create 16 new parking spaces on the busy street, when it is rebuilt in the course of the 2015 or 2016 construction season. The council simultaneously urged the installation of a single bicycle lane on the south side of the street.
That solution did not sit well with some of the city’s bicycle advocates.
“The angle parking is super-dangerous for cyclists,” Bill Merrylees, of the city’s Bicycle Advisory Committee, explained in an October 5 phone interview.
It was the city’s understanding that the street would be widened for the sole purpose of adding the angled parking, Mayor John Hollar told The Bridge in an email interview. In early September, however, state officials informed city representatives that the state intended to widen the street to address drainage issues on the State House lawn and sidewalk. The plan for a wider street—regardless of parking configuration—allowed the city to consider adding bike lanes on both sides of the thoroughfare, Hollar explained. Accordingly, on September 10, the council voted 4-3, with Hollar casting the tie-breaker, to change its prior position. The September 10 revision recommended that the rebuild retain the current parallel parking in the area and add bike lanes on both sides of the street.
The pro-parking constituency protested, questioning the city’s willingness to kiss the 16 prospective parking spaces goodbye. In a September 25 letter to Hollar and the council, the Parking Advisory Committee requested a re-reconsideration of the issue. The letter, signed by committee co-chairs Michael Clasen and Nolan Langweil, expressed concern over “the reasoning behind creating what appear to be symbolic bike lanes that are only one block in length and which would have limited use during the winter months, when the demand for parking is greatest.”
“We had additional information at that September meeting that justified the reversal,” Hollar stressed, referring to the state’s clarifications, in an October 4 phone interview. “We have now a full understanding of the issue, and our decision reflects that, and in my opinion we need to move forward and not focus on this issue.”
The September 25 letter got the Parking Committee onto the October 8 agenda, but, noting that State Street is going to be widened in any event—next year or the year after—council members saw no immediate need to rehash how the lanes on the street might be realigned.
The debate over State Street’s redesign illustrates the hard choices the city has to make between alternative transportation and walkability, on the one hand, and, on the other, adequate parking for the automotive traffic that Montpelier contends with.
“The conventional wisdom in Montpelier for years has been, more parking spaces are good,” said Merrylees. “Now I think that has been questioned by many citizens who value green space and a less congested, more liveable city.”
The State Street controversy has revolved around the stubborn facts of geography and space in a built-out urban neighborhood. A parallel bike route already exists along the Winooski, a couple of hundred feet to the south, and plans call for it to be extended eastward of its current terminus at Taylor Street. Responding to the charge that this redundancy is unnecessary, bike advocates say that the State Street routing would accommodate a different segment of two-wheeled traffic, since, unlike the riverside route, State Street lies within the city’s business and government district.
In an October 4 interview with The Bridge, councilor Justin Turcotte, who voted against the council’s April and September decisions, acknowledged that the two routes serve different types of bike traffic, but questioned whether the State Street bike lanes “are worth the 16 parking spaces.”
“Generally we’d like to know what the bike master plan is, so that we know where this [State Street] bike route goes to and from,” he continued, referring to the council, and noting that he himself is an avid bicyclist. “I want to know how we’re going to connect the dots—to encourage people to ride their bikes.”
Merrylees said the bike master plan would be presented to the council in December. With the council’s September decision confirmed, the master plan will likely open a new phase in Montpelier’s bike lanes-versus-parking debate.