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Great Streets Initiative For Burlington Raises Questions

Burlington City Hall Park
Kenneth C. Zirkel/Wikimedia
Burlington City Hall Park

Burlington City Councilors have been considering a proposed new downtown streetscape plan.  But some councilors question if the plan would ban cars from the center city area.
The city of Burlington is redeveloping its downtown and part of that includes a change in the downtown streets.  A Great Streets Initiative was launched in the summer of 2016 to advance three connected projects: the standardization of design and construction of downtown streets during redevelopment; redesigns of City Hall Park and Main and St. Paul Streets.

Burlington Planning and Zoning Department Principal Planner Meagan Tuttle told councilors at a recent meeting that over the past 18 months the department worked with a number of partners to develop a comprehensive set of standards for the design and construction of downtown streets.  “As we look into the Great Streets standards we have been baking into this document the elements of what makes a great street. Great streets are walkable and bikeable. They’re accessible for users of all levels of mobility. They are sustainable not only in terms of their environmental performance but also in terms of their longevity and durability. They’re vibrant. They’re streets that both support and are supported by the adjacent public and private uses along them. And they’re also functional. They’re places that accommodate all of the different users and uses that are expected of our public rights of way.”

Tuttle noted that the plan is guidance for a unified streetscape which seeks to reallocate the use of space to ensure that a full range of users from walkers to bikers to vehicle traffic can be accommodated.  Following the presentation North District Independent David Hartnett said he could not support the plan because it appears to eliminate vehicle access to the downtown.  “I have big concerns about where we’ve gone with this with the walkable bikeable city and now this plan, especially in the downtown area. What we are saying here is just no to cars and we have no mass transportation in this city. And if you look at this plan it says if you own an automobile really don’t bother coming downtown. And we’re building a brand new downtown that we want people to come to. And most of the people today and in the future will be coming downtown in their cars. Now I want people to walk and bike.  But there’s got to be a better balance.”

Ward 4 Republican Kurt Wright says he too probably won’t support the Great Streets plan.   “My fear is that Councilor Hartnett is wrong but that we may make the automobile obsolete in Burlington if we continue with all of the plans that we are talking about here not in just the Great Street ones but with all the different initiatives that are going to be going on around the city.  I think that all of the different initiatives may in fact make the car obsolete in Burlington to our detriment.”

Mayor Miro Weinberger said he understood the concerns and admitted there is a potential for overdesign. But he noted that Waterfront North and a portion of the St. Paul Street redesign have already successfully incorporated the Great Streets concepts.  “I’m optimistic about this. I think this complements.  We are in an era of major public investment and this is going to help us get those public investments right.”

This was a preliminary presentation on the Great Streets Initiative and no action was taken by the council.

Audio is courtesy of Channel 17 Town Meeting Television.

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