A newly painted bike lane along Falls Road has been turning heads. The lane meanders along the roadway, and in some places narrows to inches across.
Last month, the town hired FreshCoat Asphalt Services of Barre to paint the double yellow line, white fog lines and a “de facto” bike lane along Falls Road. The selectboard allocated about $4,200 to the project, following recommendations from the Village Pedestrian Safety Group, a volunteer organization.
But residents have criticized the lines in letters to the Shelburne News and on Front Porch Forum.
Discussions about safety improvements on Falls Road began during the selectboard’s June retreat, according to Jane Zenaty, a member of the Village Pedestrian Safety Group. When the group fretted about speeding drivers in the village near Falls and Marsette roads, the selectboard asked it to come up with conceptual designs for a safer village.
The group focused on the Upper Falls section of Falls Road, between the Shelburne Post Office and Church Street, Zenaty said. It suggested a grass barrier between the road and sidewalk from the post office to a pumping station, repainted crosswalks and the additions of crosswalk signs, among other ideas. All those steps were completed last month by the highway department, except for the crosswalk touch-up, which was contracted out.
The safety group also wanted bike safety measures recommending fog lines be painted 10 feet from each side of the center line to slow down traffic.
“To the eye, the road appears to be narrow” with 10-foot fog lines, Zenaty explained. “Our instinct is to drive more slowly.”
The group also suggested a bike lane along the eastern side of Falls Road. But it did not recommend double lines along the western side of the road, Zenaty said. And on the “Lower Falls Road” stretch from the four-way intersection to the Laplatte River bridge, its only recommendation was 10-foot spacing for the fog lines.
“I don’t know what happened,” Zenaty said. “They painted double lines on Lower Falls Road that squiggle around.”
She wondered if the contractor was misdirected. “Even if that was what happened, they did a lousy job,” she said. “We’re concerned about the way it turned out. … It takes a long time for these things to fade away.”
Town Manager Lee Krohn said he and Highway Superintendent Paul Goodrich decided on double white lines.
“Paul and I thought, ‘if we’re going to do this, it makes sense to do the double white lines,’” he said. “We know it won’t be perfect, but we think it will create a clearer visual delineation.”
Krohn considers the bike lane “de facto,” meant to encourage drivers to steer closer to the center line.
“They’re not legally or practically full-blown bike lanes,” he said. He added that bicyclists needn’t use them; Vermont law grants them the same rights and responsibilities as automobile drivers.
The white lines won’t fade out for about a year, Goodrich said. The highway crew might touch up three or four particularly bad spots before that time. But removing road paint is harder than it might seem, he said.
Zenaty said she doesn’t want to place blame. She’s grateful for the town’s cooperation with the safety group.
“Shelburne roads are taken care of better than any roads around here,” Zenaty said. “Our highway department head works really hard. … He is very proud of the roads of Shelburne and goes above and beyond in taking care of them.”
Plenty of critics
The Falls Road bike lanes have drawn plenty of criticism in the Shelburne News and on Front Porch Forum.
“Who painted the lines?” Tracy Monnell of Falls Road wrote. “We are the laughingstock of the town.”
“The lines that have been put on Falls Road and Marsette look terrible and as far as I can see will be absolutely worthless,” Larry Godard wrote. “Money could have been spent in a lot of other places.”
While Falls Road resident Bruce Nunziata says the lines aren’t perfect, he believes the bike lane is a step in the right direction.
“People are trying to work on this issue and make things better,” he told The Shelburne News. “The town steps up and tries to fix it and catches flak. … Some people want to criticize everything.”
Nunziata said the village has a lot of walkers and bicyclists, and with a radar sign along Falls Road, he’s seen cars travel upward of 45 miles per hour.
“To me, that’s just an insane speed,” Nunziata said. “Totally unacceptable.”
About two years ago, the Falls Road speed limit was changed from 35 to 30 mph from the four-way stop to Route 7.
Nunziata said he’s glad to see street improvements in the village.
“We’re talking about relatively inexpensive fixes to get to safety,” he said.
‘Life isn’t perfect’
Krohn said that, while the lines are imperfect, time will wear them, and they will be redone.
“Life isn’t perfect; the striper made some mistakes,” he said. “In a perfect world you would make someone come back and fix it.”
But it’s difficult to schedule painting. Only a limited number of companies do line work, and they are quickly booked during Vermont’s short summer, Krohn said.
“We got a lot of work done for a very reasonable price,” he said.
And while Krohn is glad the selectboard supported some of the safety group’s measures, he said there’s only so much that can be done.
“It’s a dynamic balance between perceived and real needs,” Krohn said. “We have to be responsible for the whole town.”
“It’s always going to be the selectboard’s call as to how to allocate our limited resources,” Krohn said. “We can’t let the perfect be the enemy of good, so let’s get the good done within the budget.”