NMC Commentary

Can Walkability & Bikeability Improve Economic & Physical Health?

Yes!  As more and more of us look to embrace healthy lifestyles, more emphasis is being put on increasing the safe walkability and bikeability of our local communities. At the same time, it is clear that greater access to worksites and businesses leads to greater economic opportunity. For about a year, officials and staff from St. Albans Town and St. Albans City have been working with RiseVT to explore how to better ensure safe walking and biking between the City downtown and the shopping district at the north end of the Town on Route 7. A grant was secured to help fund the exploration and a consultant has been engaged to study the area and the alternatives. On Tuesday, August 14, a public hearing is being held to discussion options for improved walkability and bikeability for the ‘Route 7 corridor’ connecting St. Albans City and St. Albans Town. The meeting is scheduled for the St. Albans Town Hall (579 Lake Road) at 6:30pm. I would like to encourage you to attend, learn about the options for moving forward together, and share your feedback.

Improvements would create better pedestrian and bicyclist access to employment, shopping, and recreation. That access can lead to enhanced safety, better personal health, improved quality of life, and a stronger economic climate. This community has an opportunity to address real issues which the community itself identified.  The advisory committee on this project conducted a pair of surveys of people who live, work, travel, or recreate in the Route 7 corridor and response was strong. There is concern about people who work at the north end of the Town having to use the shoulder of Route 7 to walk or bike to and from their job.  This can be hazardous, especially in bad weather or darkness. I travel this road to and from work each day. It is just too busy in this corridor for safe walking and biking. When driving, it is too distracting with all the traffic transitions to put walkers and bikers into the mix. As a cyclist, I avoid this section at all costs because of busy-ness. It is just not safe. The Missisquoi Valley Rail Trail is a tremendous community resource for free recreation in the form of taking a stroll, walking the dog, trail running, riding your bike, and more. It is particularly attractive to biking with children, as it eliminates the risk of traffic. However, right now, it is difficult to safely reach the Rail Trail by bike in St. Albans, so access tends to be limited to people who drive to the Rail Trail to bike which cuts down on the usage by children.

The positive impacts of walkability and bikeability on safety, employment, shopping, and recreation, are in place or being pursued other communities in our region. The Swanton recreation path connects numerous destinations across that community, including the school and recreation fields and historical society, safely and efficiently. Highgate is putting in its first sidewalk! That’s a huge step forward! Enosburg Falls is in the process of building a sidewalk from the village to the recreation fields. Other countries are so far ahead with their walking and biking infrastructure. We have an opportunity to begin the necessary work to improve access for all.

RiseVT is in the middle of an active play campaign. Movement is key to the success of a community’s overall health. Investing in the design of our community’s infrastructure so the healthy choice is the easy choice is a vital component of building a healthy future in our community. I am so excited to see all of these projects happening and am so impressed by the positive energy surrounding them across our region. I am pleased the City and Town are collaborating as this is clearly an opportunity to partner in a healthy way.

Please join the conversation by attending the public meeting on Tuesday, August 14, at 6:30pm at the St. Albans Town Hall at 579 Lake Road. Take this opportunity to hear the options which have been identified and share your thoughts. Let’s invest in our future; in the health of our children.

— Jill Berry Bowen, NMC’s Chief Executive Officer