by Nat Frothingham
MONTPELIER — Ten days of walking and biking activities designed to benefit everyone who participates and to strengthen a push to achieve national recognition as a “walk-friendly community,” will be held Friday, May 8 through Sunday, May 17.
Already, 50 communities across the country have achieved “walk-friendly” status from the national Pedestrian & Bicycle Information Center in Chapel Hill, North Carolina — a project of FedEx and the U.S. Federal Highway Administration. The 50 “walk-friendly” communities are diverse — as large as Chicago (population 2,695,598) and as small as Sister, Oregon (population 2,118) and the walk-friendly list includes two Vermont communities: Burlington and Essex Junction.
According to longtime Montpelier resident and walking enthusiast John Snell, a member of the (City Council-appointed) Pedestrian Advisory Committee, the City Council established the pedestrian committee to “walk-friendly status” for Montpelier.
“We’re in the process of having a conversation with them,” said Snell of the city’s current effort to get the Pedestrian & Bicycle Information Center to put Montpelier on the “walk-friendly” list of communities.
But there are hurdles to be cleared. “Education is a big part of it,” he said. Infrastructure is a big part of it. City policy is another part of it.”
To achieve the “walk-friendly” status a community has to provide convincing answers to questions like this, “Do we incorporate the maintenance of our sidewalks in our Department of Public Works planning process?”
“One of the things that drove me to join the committee is the poor condition of our crosswalks,” Snell said, adding that he wants the crosswalks painted in time. “It’s essential to safety,” he said.
Readers of this article can turn to the calendar pages of The Bridge to get all the details of the many walking and biking activities that will be on offer from May 8 to May 17. But consider the range of choices.
If you want to walk consider exploring the new Cross-Vermont Trail, or join a group of people walking through Hubbard Park, or learning about trees in the city, or looking out for migrating birds along the North Branch, or walking through the city with an eye to historic buildings and bridges. Or a story walk. Cyclists should consider a bike ride to the Red Hen Bakery out Route 2. Or a chance to bike through town with Mayor Hollar. Or walk through town with a city councilor. Or “Walk with a Cop” — a chance to talk about law enforcement with police officer Mike Philbrick.
Committee member Anne Ferguson has developed a StoryWalk Project in collaboration with the Kellogg-Hubbard Library. The idea is for families with young children to get outside and enjoy a story together. About walking and storytelling, Ferguson wrote, “This is important for multiple reasons. For some it will be the need to connect with their natural world and be reminded of how soothing that experience can be. For others, it might be noticing how great they feel after even a short walk while for others it will be the opportunity to spend time with friends or family in a peaceful place.”
Committee member Jim McQueston said he encourages people to walk for some pretty obvious reasons. “Walking on a regular basis is a demonstrated plus for most people’s health. And anything that substitutes walking for driving serves to decrease the use of cars in Montpelier — a plus for both the community and the environment.”
Eve Carnahan, who can often be seen walking to work, said that the purpose of “Walk & Roll Week” was “to raise awareness of the ease and joy of walking. As people realize how easy and enjoyable it is to walk around downtown, they may be more willing to park in a remote lot and walk to do errands.
Snell, whose enthusiasm for walking is almost infectious, said he’s lived in Montpelier for 40 years and when he worked downtown, he says, “I commuted with a 15-minute walk. Heaven! There are many weeks when I don’t use a car at all because I live near downtown.”
Snell appears to understand the “drive versus walk” face-off. About the powerful attraction of driving a car, he said, “There’s a tremendous amount of power holding onto that wheel.” On the other hand, there’s an alternative, “Take one day a week and not drive.”
“When you walk,” he said, “the world looks different. It’s a slower world. We’re so used to punching our key, the door opens and closes. These are habits we have gotten into. Walking affords me the opportunity to see my world in a different way.”