This week some members of the Waitsfield Select Board sought to undo a plan to look into whether or not it is feasible to add or widen a shoulder on Joslin Hill Road when that road is repaved in 2016.
It was in response to citizen input during public hearings held for Safe Routes to School grants that concern was voiced about the improving safety for pedestrians and cyclists.
In response to that public input the town applied for and received a grant to fund the engineer to see whether a shoulder is possible on one side of the road. The grant is specifically to look at whether it is feasible and how much it would cost. The grant is no guarantee that it will be feasible to add or widen a shoulder but it is the only way (at no cost to taxpayers) to determine if it is do-able.
Some select board members were caustic in their dislike of looking at whether making it easier and safer for pedestrians and kids on bikes might be a good plan.
Others suggested that grants are not a boon to the town because they come with conditions and favored forfeiting the grant in favor of the town just repaving as quickly and cheaply as possible.
First of all, yes, it is important that our communities look at ways to make it safer for non-car traffic to use our roads. We are already an overly car-centric society, and we are remiss if we don't explore ways to encourage non-car movement throughout our towns.
Secondly, climate change is upon us. It is related to carbon emissions. Getting places via foot or pedal power should be encouraged and made safer when possible. That is the point of planning. We plan for road repairs and if/when possible we make the roads safer for all users – not just the emissions spewing ones.
And thirdly, there is an obesity epidemic in this country. We should all be walking and riding and doing our recreating whenever and wherever we can. Public policy should encourage and facilitate this.
Finally, Waitsfield voters filled the elementary school this week to strongly endorse -- via voting -- that the town be authorized to borrow money to pay for its share of two other village sidewalk segments. Clearly there is support for improving pedestrian/bike access and safety.
To reject a grant to access whether it is possible to make a road safer for pedestrians and bikes is poor planning and bad policy.
This issue will be discussed at the September 8 meeting of the select board.