Does Burlington, VT reflect a tipping point for roundabouts and cycle track?
Two public meetings in Burlington, VT within the last two weeks give strong evidence both modern roundabouts and cycle track (protected bike lanes) may have reached a tipping point and now comprise major elements in making urban streets both truly walkable and bikable for all users with the highest level of safety and comfort.
Both roundabouts and cycle track possess a European heritage—the modern roundabout born in England in 1966 and cycle track a staple in urban bicycling “infra” for decades now. Applying the Netherlands 18,000 miles of cycle track to the United States equates to about 1,100 miles of cycle track per million U.S. population--45 miles in Burlington with its population of 42,000.
The Burlington meetings were the advisory Burlington Walk Bike Council project prioritization for the upcoming year and the North Avenue Corridor Study Advisory Committee completing its set of options for the last public involvement session schedule later in the month. Each meeting forwarded roundabouts and cycle track for consideration—the Walk Bike Council as priorities for the upcoming year and the Advisory Committee as options for consideration of the neighborhood meeting prior to completing the recommendations and plan in June for the three mile corridor. Both actions represent unprecedented public involvement outcomes in the City in terms of size and scope.
Roundabouts and cycle track play a pivotal role in creating safe, walkable, bikable streets. And, the roundabout also increases traffic capacity as well for cars in addition to car occupant safety and reduced fuel use as well as associated pollutants.
The basic North Avenue plan options include cycle track along the entire three-mile corridor with roundabouts at key intersections. While bicycle travel is mostly restricted to young adult males now, cycle track—as pointed out in the Illinois State Bike Transportation Plan released in April—creates a safe and comfortable environment for users of all ages and skills. Roundabouts not only provide for the highest level of safety for all—including for those who walk and bicycle—the roundabout also traffic calms with reduced speeds central to accident and injury reduction, particularly for those who walk and bike. The Dutch lead in bicycle facility design and cycle track along street segments and “pathed” roundabouts at busy intersections is the accepted treatment for corridor accommodation of the bike mode.
Burlington certainly is not alone in the change taking place, but the sudden embracing of transportation policy groups of both roundabouts and cycle track does symbolize their use has reached a tipping point. And this tipping point represents a pre-condition to the shift of transportation resources to walk and bike “infra.”