A Makeover for the Burlington Bike Path
The smell of fresh earth is heavy in the air while bikers, runners, walkers, skateboarders and people on rollerblades detour around a section of the bike path in Waterfront Park. Beneath the canopy of silver linden trees, the old bike path has been dug up to make way for a more resilient pathway.
Extending roughly eight miles from Queen City Park Road to the Winooski River Bridge, the bike path provides excellent opportunity to exercise with a view of Lake Champlain and beyond, the peaks of the Adirondacks in New York.
Burlington Parks and Recreation Director Jesse Bridges said, “The bike path is kind of the spine of the city, the spine of the waterfront.” Running along Lake Champlain’s waterfront the Burlington Bike Path Rehabilitation project broke ground on the first of many phases on Oct. 2, 2104.
Originally used as the railroad bed for the Rutland and Burlington Railroad companies, the conversion from rails to trails began in 1973. Through the help of federal and state funding, Burlington’s Bike Path was completed in 1986 and was one of the first in New England.
The bike path is important to Burlington for three main reasons: alternative transportation, recreation and tourism. To enhance these factors, connectivity is an important part of the rehabilitation.
“A lot of people from Canada come here. They ride from Montreal through the islands to here,” said Parks Foundation of Burlington chair John Bossange. “This bike path [should] connect to Colchester, South Burlington, Winooski. If it’s connected people will start to use it to get to work. It’s safer. You want to make it easy for people to use alternative transportation, like a bike.”
Economically the bike path brings in $4 million annually. “It’s such an important piece to people’s real estate values. People sell their homes and they say ‘on the bike path’ or ‘near the bike path.’ Restaurants and hotels are building bike racks in their basements, they have huge storage places for when people bring their bikes. Hotels downtown advertise ‘ride the bike path.’” Bossange said. “When you do something like this there’s a trickle down effect on industries.”
Burlington often attracts college students due to the wide variety of outdoor activities available. “Whether it’s the St. Michael’s brochure, or the UVM brochure, they’re all advertising the same thing,” said Bridges. “It is definitely a factor in why people come and stay. It’s accessible and it is a public resource, it’s there for everyone.”
Many college students utilize the bike path for transportation and recreational purposes. “I used the bike path to run and exercise, to relax and read while looking at the lake and as a way to easily get to North Beach or Oakledge Park this summer,” said Laura Sullivan ’16, who lived in Burlington this past summer.
Fundraising and cost is a constant battle to keep the bike path rehabilitation in motion. The bike path will be paid for using a number of things including tax increment financing and government funding, a room and meals tax, a bond and private donations through the Parks Foundation.
“It is a shared responsibility of everybody chipping in to get us there” said Bossange, chair of the Parks Foundation, which is aiming to raise $1 million through a quiet campaign of wealthy donors as well as public donations. The bike path rehabilitation will cost between $11 and $16 million, depending on what amenities are added. The current rehabilitation phase is financed using federal funds.
Due to wear and tear, as well as the flood of 2011, rehabilitation is necessary to provide a safe environment for those using it. “The path right now is 8 to 10 feet in width, with no defined shoulders. The [rehabilitated path] will have two foot running shoulders and 11 feet of paved width with a center line stripe, so each lane is 5½ feet, which is enough for two riders to ride side by side,” said Bridges.
A green surface will be used at roadway crossings and other paved locations to enhance path visibility. Appropriate pavement markings will be added to ensure rider safety, such as ‘keep right’ and ‘stop ahead.’ Some routes will change to accommodate riding habits found in a 2012 study of the bike path usage.
“It’s like planting a tree,” said Bossange “It doesn’t give you shade now but generations after you it does, for your kids and your grandkids. We’ll pay for this and get another 30 years out of this, but someone has do it so that future generations can enjoy it.”
The rehabilitation, should all phases go smoothly, is expected to be completed in three to four years.
This article was originally published in the Saint Michael’s College award-winning newspaper, The Defender, in the Fall of 2014.