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About 60 students live within a mile of Warren Elementary School, but walking to school isn’t always the safest, easiest option. At the Warren Select Board meeting on Tuesday, December 11, Greg Goyette of the consulting firm Stantec presented a feasibility study for constructing sidewalks connecting Main Street, Brook Road and School Road.
The sidewalk study was conducted as part of Safe Routes to School, a federally supported program that encourages walking or biking to school on a routine basis. In Vermont, towns can apply for grants from Safe Routes to School via the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans).
On Tuesday, Goyette presented three pedestrian path recommendations to the select board and to the public, but ultimately “it’s up to the town to decide what improvements they want to move forward with,” he said.
After conducting an extensive survey of existing roads and rights of way, Stantec decided that the best method for encouraging foot and bicycle traffic in Warren Village would be to install a 5-foot-wide bluestone or gravel path along the west side of Main Street, a 5-foot-wide bluestone or gravel path along the north side of Brook Road and a 10-foot-wide asphalt path along the east side of School Road.
In order to receive funding, any path constructed must adhere to VTrans’ standards. At a preliminary Safe Routes to School meeting that took place in October of 2011, homeowners wondered about the width of sidewalks and how much they would encroach on their front lawns.
According to VTrans, paths can only be narrower than 5 feet if they include a 5-foot section every 200 feet, in order to allow those in wheelchairs room to pass. In Warren Village, however, the paths would likely cross driveways often enough that they could count as the 5-foot sections, making a 4-foot-wide path a viable option along most stretches of road.
The less obtrusive 4-foot path appealed to many members of the select board, as “it’s very important to minimize impact on property owners,” select board member Matt Groom explained. “We don’t want to take away anyone’s lawn,” he said, even if it technically falls within the town’s jurisdiction.
As it stands, Stantec’s recommendations “are not set in stone,” Goyette said—no pun intended—and the consulting firm will now work to draw up a final recommendations based on the public input they received on Tuesday.
Some of that input came from residents who live along School Road, who question the aesthetic impact a 10-foot-wide asphalt path would have on their property.
Stantec designed the path to be wide enough for cyclists as well as pedestrians, but Groom suggested that putting kids on bikes on the same path as those on foot could have dangerous consequences.
“They’re going to come zooming down the hill,” he said.
Instead, Groom proposed constructing a 5-foot-wide sidewalk along the east side of School Road, and painting a bike lane on the road itself.
While preliminary cost estimates do not reflect those proposed changes, Stantec estimated that the project as a whole will cost around $1 million ($100,000 for Main Street, $600,000 for Brook Road and $300,000 for School Road).
The town will decide what parts—if any—of the project it wants to pursue, and it will apply for funding accordingly, taking into account that any grants Warren receives from VTrans will likely require 10 percent in matching funds, and any sidewalks that the town constructs will create plowing and maintenance costs.
But the project could have a noticeably positive impact on the town. While pedestrian paths would provide safe routes for those who live within walking distance of the school, “it’s not just the kids who live here [who would benefit],” Groom said. Warren Village is a hangout spot for many kids in The Valley afterschool, on weekends and over the summer. And, come to think of it, for adults as well.