Cyclists offer insight on proposed bayside upgrades

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Parks and recreation campers cross the street at the four-way Bayside Park intersection earlier this summer. The site is one focus of a two-year scoping study the town conducted to weigh bike and pedestrian upgrades, stormwater management and traffic mitigation.(File photo by Michaela Halnon)

Dozens of cyclists packed into the town offices last week to extensively evaluate the suite of proposed bike and pedestrian upgrade options in Malletts Bay, offering their own perspectives on riding through town.

The well-attended Sept. 26 presentation also ran through options to reduce traffic congestion at the four-way intersection at Bayside Park and manage stormwater runoff in the region.

All of alternatives were narrowed down through an expansive two-year scoping study, which the town conducted with help from the Chittenden Regional Planning Commission. Officials also administered an online public survey to source opinions on the propositions.

Bike safety dominated the discussion at last week’s selectboard meeting. Attendees were presented with four options: perform no upgrades, improve pavement markings and signage without changing the roadway, add five-foot bike lanes on both sides of the road or install a 10-foot wide shared-use path on the south side of the road, a strip of grass separating bikes and pedestrians from cars.

Resident Lee Cordner said he was perplexed by option two, since current state law essentially mandates shared-use paths. And later, resident Carrie Neuschel said she didn’t believe all cyclists would want to get off the road.

“You spend all that money to create that path over there that’s supposed to be bike and pedestrian shared and you will find the commuters — the bicyclists that commute — are going to stay on the road no matter what,” Neuschel said, noting the $5.16 million price tag of the final option.

Still, Colchester Rep. Maureen Dakin, a self-proclaimed casual cyclist, said she doesn’t feel comfortable riding on the road and wondered how a path alongside vehicles would effectively serve young and old riders.

The 10-foot wide path survey option also allows residents to vote for as many as three additional features, including a north side extension at road elevation with a dedicated scenic outlook and stairs down to the beach.

More than one attendee asked whether that element could potentially be incorporated into option three, despite only having cost estimates relative to option four. Consultants said they were open to exploring that idea.

“Because we have a very highly-educated bicycle community here, we’re getting a lot of really good hybrid ideas of our alternatives,” public works director Bryan Osborne said. “Let’s keep the slate open as we go forward.”

A CCRPC rep reported the approximate 100 survey respondents thus far preferred the 10-foot multi-use path by almost a two-to-one margin, a stark contrast to the opinions voiced at the meeting.

On October 10, the consulting team will make a formal recommendation to the board based on public comments and the survey results. The board is then expected to endorse its preferred alternatives.

During the same meeting, representatives from consulting firm Design Concepts will present an updated Bayside Park master plan, including upper and lower Bayside Park and the Bayside-Hazelett parcels.

The scoping project has long been correlated with the parks and recreation department’s conceptual designs, especially surrounding talk of a potential pedestrian tunnel to connect lower and upper Bayside Park.

Town officials have since said their study assumes the tunnel will not be built in the next 15 or 20 years, but Colchester’s technical services manager Karen Adams noted last month that at least one traffic mitigation effort would directly impact aspirations to develop the Bayside-Hazelett parcel with park amenities.

Essentially divided into three options, the traffic change alternatives include new crossing signal times and an upgraded left turn lane, a one-lane roundabout at the four-way and turning East Lakeshore Drive into a dead end.

One version of the third proposal simply encourages travelers to access the area of town in question via Severance Road rather than Bay Road. But a further — and more expensive — option would direct East Lakeshore traffic down a road that would cut through the Bayside-Hazelett property and reconnect by Laker Lane.

The final segment of the presentation centered on water quality. Five watersheds with 49 sub-basins in Colchester have insufficient drainage infrastructure and “excessive loadings of stormwater volume, sediment and nutrients,” according to the survey.

Participants were asked to choose improvements that would either meet or exceed water quality standards in each of the five cases. In some instances, Adams said the costs are relatively similar. Others would require much larger budgets.

For more information about the projects, visit http://bit.ly/2ffxmge.