The MRV Moves Active Transportation Plan had a public meeting and open house in Waitsfield on Wednesday February 11th to get community input on moving around in the Mad River Valley. Over 35 community members attended the meeting, engaging in thoughtful discussions around the plan and lots of great feedback and input was provided.
The meeting began with a brief discussion of what active transportation means in the Mad River Valley. Planning for active transportation means providing for safe and convenient opportunities for physically active travel regardless of where it happens, but as we heard at the public meeting active transportation opportunities in the Mad River Valley are very different from those in more urban locations. For example, a multi-use path in Burlington would not look the same as it would in the MRV. Some paths in Burlington are great for getting around, but may not be very nice for recreation, while it would be impossible to build any transportation path here in the Mad River Valley without it also providing a beautiful, scenic recreational experience. It is with this understanding that the MRV Moves plan envisions a connected regional system of trails, sidewalks and routes that reflect the unique history, culture and character that makes the valley such a special place.
The Mad River Valley is blessed with a myriad of non-profit and government agencies working on trails and active transportation, such as the Mad River Path and the Mad River Riders, and the MRV Moves Active Transportation Plan seeks to build upon the decades of projects of these organizations while establishing a watershed-wide long-range vision for the Valley. The plan does not direct what these organizations are working on, but rather supports all of their efforts and provides a cohesive and collaborative framework to realize the overall vison. The primary product of the plan is a map of important connections and routes in the Mad River Valley, but the plan will also provide guidance for trail design and management, implementation, funding, permitting and approvals to carry the project into reality.
The MRV Moves Active Transportation Plan is supported by an engaged and active Advisory Committee that includes representatives from the MRV Chamber of Commerce, the MRV Rotary the Towns of Waitsfield, Warren, Fayston and Moretown, the Mad River Path Association, the Mad River Riders, the Mad River Planning District, the VT Agency of Transportation, the VT Agency of Commerce & Community Development, the Vermont Land Trust, Sugarbush Resort, and the Central Vermont Regional Planning Commission. The planning team has also engaged the community by tabling at the Waitsfield Farmer’s Market and the Sugarbush Community Day as well as attending the Mad River Planning District Town Leadership Meeting and Vision and Vitality Meetings. A project website, at www.mrvmoves.org, was also created as information portal for the project.
A survey was also distributed throughout the valley to gauge the preferences and priorities of the community. The survey received over 350 responses, primarily from locals, but also from visitors and second-home owners. Unsurprisingly, the survey found that the Mad River Valley is extremely active. People in the Mad River Valley walk, hike and bike at more than twice the national rates, but the amount that walk or bike to commute is relatively low at less than 5 percent. When asked about what prevented them from walking or biking to work or recreation a number of barriers were repeatedly mentioned by survey participants. Safety, concerns about traveling along Route 100 or other “dangerous roads,” and traveling with children were among the top of these barriers, as were physical considerations such as hills and distance. Question after question indicated survey respondents were concerned about safety along roadways, but felt much more comfortable about trails and off road options. When asked how we can best improve conditions for bicyclists and pedestrians, survey respondents indicated “Adding a trail, bikeway or sidewalk to close a critical gap” was the best way, followed by education and improving safety. The three most commonly identified gaps (along Route 100, along the Mad River, and connecting the villages) were in effect all the referring to the same gap: an off-road connection in the valley floor. Route 17 and other in-village locations were also identified as critical gaps by numerous respondents. Finally, the survey results demonstrated that walk and bikeability were important to visitors and second-homeowners in the valley as well as its residents. 78 percent of visitors reported “the availability of recreation trails and opportunities to hike, bike, walk, ski and snowshoe” was important for their decision to visit the MRV, and 34 percent reported Active Transportation as the deciding factor to visit the Valley.
Using this survey data, as well as all the other input from the Advisory Committee and the community, the planning team went to work analyzing the existing conditions in the Valley. Among other considerations, the planning team analyzed municipal boundaries and political realities, wetlands and waterbodies, the Mad River and its floodplain, slope and terrain, wildlife habitat and corridors, existing road and traffic conditions, existing trails, and important destinations to generate a conceptual map of future connections that are important for the Mad River Valley – aptly named the Future Opportunities Map.
The Future Opportunities Map was presented at the public meeting and the four primary connection types were explained: 1) Major On-Road Connections, 2) Major Off-Road Connections, 3) Minor On-Road Connections, and 4) Unpaved Minor Connections. Major On-Road Connections refers to areas of improvement along the major state highways in the watershed: Routes 100, 100b, and 17. Improvements to these connections may include bike lanes, paved shoulders, shared lane markings (sharrows and signage), and sidewalks. The Major Off Road Connections refer to an off road path that generally follows the routes of these major transportation corridors in the watershed, but provides an off road option for connecting the village centers, schools, and important recreation areas in the Valley. The importance of this off road connectivity was mentioned repeatedly by the public in the community survey, and serves to provide a transportation option for all ages and abilities who might not feel comfortable traveling along the state highways on foot or by bike. The connection type could be an unpaved, graded path (like a typical rail trail) or a paved multi-use path. Minor On-Road Connections are found along existing roads, primarily in the valley floor, and include paved shoulders, shared lane markings (sharrows and signage), sidewalks and signed routes. For signed routes, the only “improvement” required is the addition of a few signs and the routes’ formal inclusion into the bike and pedestrian network on maps and in policy. Finally, Minor Unpaved Connections were identified to provide access to public lands and recreation areas, and to meet more minor connectivity goals. These may occur along existing roadways in the form of a signed route, or may include soft surface trails such as mountain biking, hiking, or equestrian trails.
The Future Opportunities Map along with a “Connection Typologies” document that explains each connection type are available for public review on the documents page, as are all the materials presented at the public meeting. Community members are encouraged to review the presented materials and provide comments at the Project Website. Another public workshop is scheduled for May 5, so participants can explore the concepts “on-the-ground.” The presentation of the final plan to the community is scheduled for July 21, 2016. Hope to see you out there moving around in the MRV!