Select Board Considers Pedestrian Safety

by Doug McClure

HARDWICK – At its August 20 meeting, the Hardwick Select Board briefly discussed the recommendations made at the previous meeting by the pedestrian and traffic safety task force. At that meeting, the task force presented a series of ideas it viewed as low-entry-barrier in terms of costs and complexity to improve conditions in the downtown area for pedestrians, bikers, and motorists.

Select Board Chair Eric Remick suggested waiting until spring to begin the road work so the winter weather could play a role in eliminating old paint from the crosswalks.

“My takeaway is a lot of it had to do with changing parking spots and crosswalks and things painted on the road, and the nice thing about winter is that it takes all the paint off the road,” Remick said. “So, next spring would be a great time to implement these things because we’d be starting fresh.”

Board member Shari Cornish described the work as “low-hanging fruit” that should be performed sooner rather than later. She said the town had already budgeted for a flashing crosswalk sign and should order one without further delay.

Town Manager Shaun Fielder reminded the board that the swinging bridge is “down for the count” and the cost to repair it is not yet known.

“I think we need to consider that,” he said.

Cornish replied the crosswalk by the closed swinging bridge is still “heavily used” and that waiting until spring would delay progress needlessly.

“I’m hoping that we’re not just going to wait until spring,” she said. “We’re not going to do anything after all that work focused on traffic safety? Really?”

Public Works Director Tom Fadden said, “We’re also talking about a lot of money.”

Board member Ceilidh Galloway-Kane said with the fall season still to come, perhaps some sort of inexpensive prototypes could be installed “so it’s not a huge shock” when the changes become permanent.

Galloway-Kane said, “Is there any way we could do something that would not be super-expensive to prototype these ideas?”

She suggested the name of a company that might be able to create simulations for components such as bump-outs. She said another idea, even simpler to implement, was to temporarily use straw bales to block off spaces that are too close to the crosswalks and thus violate Vermont law. According to the task force, statute dictates that on either side of each end of a crosswalk, 20 feet of space is needed for line of sight, or 10 feet if a bump-out is used. The bump-out option would mean losing one space per end of the crosswalk instead of two.

The subject of parking was next, with Galloway-Kane pointing out “All through that presentation, I was thinking about, ‘where are there parking signs?’ It’s really hard to know unless you were born here where the parking is.”

Remick agreed that parking signage could improve and said he thought the simulated bump-outs “would be a great thing to try, to stimulate public discussion.” He said the proposal should be subjected to “a fairly public process before we start talking about taking away parking spots.”

Fielder he was a “little anxious” about making big changes right now. He said that while he is on the task force and understands the reasoning behind those recommendations, “I just have some angst about some of the downtown businesses. It’s tight right now. I just think if you start talking about taking away some of the [parking] spots right now with the state of emergency on and foliage season [coming], it’s really going to be a challenge for some of those businesses.”

Also discussed was the accessible parking space in front of the Rehair Shop. The space obstructs line-of-sight for people exiting and entering the Post Office and has accessibility issues caused by utility equipment. The board pondered why the space was there in the first place, and if it was legally required.

“It just seems a little random to me,” said Remick.

The 2015 Hardwick Parking Traffic Ordinance specifically designated the Mill Street space as a restricted zone: “On the south side of Mill Street from the Mill Street-Perry Lane intersection, east from 42′ to 62.'”

Whether six American With Disabilities (ADA)-accessible spaces are legally required was unclear. Vermont statutes defer to the ADA Accessibility Guidelines, which require accessibility in six of 151 to 200 total spaces in a parking lot. The accessible spaces are required to be 96″ wide.

Galloway-Kane saw moving the spot as “a pretty basic thing we could do.” She asked how the budget looked regarding the pedestrian safety recommendations.

Fielder said that is difficult to answer as the town is just six weeks into the budget. Along with Fadden, Fielder said he would look into acquiring the flashing crosswalk sign or signs and investigate possibilities for simulating the recommended adjustments such as bump-outs.