Letters to the paper are not fact-checked and do not necessarily represent the views of The Bridge.
Yay for Scooters
I’d like to take a moment to thank Conor Casey and everyone else involved in bringing Bird scooters to Montpelier. These kinds of low-impact experiments with the city’s transportation options are exactly what we need at a time of transformational change. Most important, Birds help us as a community to think differently about what is possible, about ways social technology can transform our community for the better in the years ahead.
Bird scooters have their flaws to be sure, chief among them their lack of power to govern users’ adherence to safety guidelines. Parents and adults will unlock them for minors; uncertain users will ride them on the sidewalks; unprepared riders will operate them without helmets.
I chalk these shortcomings up to a combination of the novelty and irresistible nature of the product. Social adoption is a tricky thing; call it the 100th monkey effect. I think it’ll take Montpelier time to get the variables right. Here’s what I think the most urgent issues are, and why it’s worth the investment:
Travel lanes: While Bird encourages travel on roadways, to make that a fair proposition Montpelier must invest in bike lanes and bicycle-friendly routes throughout the city.
Signals: If Birds are to be used on the road, they should have bright flashers built on to the handlebars. Riders should not be expected to use hand signals because the scooters are unsafe when operated single-handedly.
Reduce hoarding: One of the ways Bird is accessible and affordable is that it rewards riders who charge the scooters overnight. This responsibility is best shared among as many riders as possible; those who take too many scooters damage the reward system for others.
Uphill limitations: Be upfront about the limitations of the technology as a complete commuter solution. Birds will not perform well on most hill climbs and this can result in dangerous and upsetting scenarios.
Permit younger: Young people are a killer use case, especially those who commute to school. Open the Bird pool to all young people 15 and older who have a learner’s permit or are fully permitted.
Here are ways I think we can benefit from innovations like Bird scooters if they are expanded and made permanent in a city the scale of Montpelier:
1. Bird scooters can tie in well to emerging public infrastructure such as pocket parks. It doesn’t take a lot of room to store a few scooters, and pocket parks and parklets provide the perfect, tested platform for storage.
2. The city can develop a Bird credit system for residents to encourage a stronger bike-walk culture throughout Montpelier. Likewise, destinations such as the Hunger Mountain Co-op can become partners in this effort by incentivizing Bird ridership.
3. Fine-tuned Bird data can be gathered and used to express, quite precisely, one dimension of the city’s progress toward expanding bike-walk culture in Montpelier. These data can be used for marketing as well as concentrating city services on well- and under-served areas.
4. Bird scooters will have a mitigating effect on automobile traffic, which too often moves with excessive speed through downtown while failing to observe common courtesies such a yielding to pedestrians. Bird riders play an important part in helping drivers remain alert and more attuned to the world around them.
5. Sharing is good; Bird leverages the concept of a shared public infrastructure that, at the same time, feels personalized. The city should study the way apps, cloud services, and location-aware devices can propagate even greater use of “smart” infrastructure solutions.
H.G. Wells famously said, “Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race.” When I see a Bird rider flow along traffic in Montpelier, I too feel a twinge of that heady optimism. It’s the right direction for our little slice of humanity in Central Vermont.
Lars Hasselblad Torres, Montpelier
Please Vote “NO” on the Proposed New Parking Garage
I am writing this letter to urge Montpelier voters to pay very careful attention to a current proposal that would, if approved, flash a green light to construct a new (348-space) parking garage at a cost of $10 million on land donated by the Capitol Plaza Hotel behind Christ Church in downtown Montpelier.
Please note the following.
According to the City of Montpelier, the proposed new parking garage would be entirely paid for by TIF (Tax Increment Financing) and by parking garage fees. Please also note the cost of the new garage would not be paid for by increased local property taxes.
Finally, please note that Montpelier voters will be asked to vote “Yes” or “No” on the proposed new parking garage as part of the upcoming general election on Tuesday, November 6.
Speaking for myself, here is why I oppose the proposed parking garage proposal:
First, I oppose the new parking garage because it continues to commit us to our near-total dependence on the private motorcar at a time when we should be developing transportation alternatives that will lighten our use of fossil fuels and our damaging carbon footprint.
Let’s not construct a garage that reinforces our continued dependence on the private motorcar.
Instead, let’s take a careful look at the recent (award-winning) proposal from Team Bridges as part of the recent Sustainable Montpelier Contest.
That proposal takes us from near-total dependence on private cars to a mix of transportation alternatives, including satellite parking areas to a number of points outside the city’s downtown core. Those satellite parking areas would connect us by rail with downtown Montpelier. And these rail connections would link us from Waterbury through Middlesex to Montpelier all the way to Barre.
The Team Bridges’ proposal would preserve productive rural open space and concentrate housing and commercial development within our towns and cities. The net effect of adopting the Team Bridges’ proposals would reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and would give us a chance to avoid the worst impacts of climate change—as in warmer oceans, rising sea levels, and damage to our critical life-supporting ecosystems.
With all the new building and development projects either taking place in downtown right now or soon to take place, the new parking garage will have the following impacts: it will compromise Montpelier’s Farmers’ Market, add traffic and congestion to downtown Montpelier, and commit us to cars instead of developing mass transit.
Please take note of the Team Bridges’ proposals by searching for Team Bridges on the Sustainable Montpelier website: netzerovt.org
It’s a good thing that we are currently either constructing or will soon construct a number of housing and transportation projects in downtown Montpelier—as in the new transit center at One Taylor Street with 36 new apartments, and the French Block rehabilitation project on Main Street above Aubuchon Hardware with 18 new apartment units, and the improved bike path through Montpelier with an eventual link to Barre.
These are good projects that will add housing and activity to Montpelier. But constructing a (348-space) parking garage will only clog up the center of Montpelier, which is why the Team Bridges’ proposal for reactivated rail, public parks, new housing and commerce, and satellite parking areas makes such good sense.
Nat Frothingham, Montpelier
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Deadline for the next issue is November 9