ST. ALBANS TOWN — Cars whizzed along Route 7-North Monday under a harsh, blinding afternoon sun. One truck driver pulled in aggressively to Colonial Mart without checking his surroundings while another small car sped up the exit lane of Walmart.
At the opposite end of the town, a steady stream of cars turned in and out of the St. Albans State Highway (SASH) to Interstate 89 and Exit 19, while many others trundled on the stretch of Route 104 between Collins Perley Sports & Fitness Center and the Jolley Store.
On North Main Street, making a left turn out of the Hungerford Plaza to head north was nearly impossible due to all the traffic, and crossing the road to the Jolley Store was an even bigger challenge.
“It’s like playing Frogger,” said Elite Hair Salon & Body Boutique receptionist Jen Quilliam, referring to the computer game where a frog tries to get across a busy road without getting flattened by a car – and often fails. Quilliam said she and the other hair salon employees often try to cross during the day.
All of these areas have two things in common: they are busy with traffic, and they could possibly (and should probably) have more crosswalks or sidewalks for pedestrians.
The latter point has been recently emphasized by an accident near Colonial Mart over the weekend. On Saturday night, John Farr, 28, of Enosburgh, was hit by a car driven by Samantha Rice, 23, of Swanton. St. Albans Police Department (SAPD) determined the cause of the accident was that Farr crossed Route 7 in dark, non-reflective clothing where there was no crosswalk.
There are no crosswalks anywhere near the accident site.
According to a Facebook comment by Marinda Ingerson, Farr was allegedly having car trouble and was crossing the road from where his car was parked at Burger King to buy brake fluid.
Alcohol and speed were not factors in the accident, according to police.
Farr was originally taken to Northwestern Medical Center for significant injuries to his face, shoulder and abdomen. He was then transferred to University of Vermont Medical Center in “critical” condition, and hospital officials didn’t return calls by press time today.
According to SAPD chief Gary Taylor, while car accidents involving pedestrians aren’t all that common, they are a concern. “Certainly I think in the future we should be looking to the possibility of crosswalks,” he said. Taylor did add, “I’m not sure that would have prevented this accident.”
Problem to fix
An incident like that over the weekend has been a fear for the St. Albans Town Selectboard, which has been heavily discussing pedestrian and bicyclist safety over the course of the year. According to Messenger archives, the last pedestrian hit by a car was on Lake Road in August of 2011.
The main concern has been the safety of school children walking or biking from St. Albans Town Educational Center (SATEC) and Collins Perley. A conceptual planning and feasibility study by Broadreach Planning and Design for a bike and pedestrian path between the two places was completed in June, and it was approved by the selectboard in October.
“I think the town has made it clear they find that important,” said selectboard chair Bernie Boudreau on Monday. “I think we’re going to see this problem more and more with traffic.”
“We need to start somewhere,” he added, indicating the school to complex path.
Last Monday, selectboard members discussed a Town Meeting 2015 ballot item asking voters for funding for the bike and pedestrian path project.
In addition, town officials have been pursuing crosswalks in busy traffic areas with a lot of pedestrian crossings. In conjunction with Town Manager Carrie Johnson, the selectboard has pursued a crosswalk on Route 104 between Collins Perley and the Jolley Store, where a lot of school kids cross before and after sports games or practices.
“[They] just come in and fill the place like a busload,” said Jolley’s employee Rose Clements. She added, “Personally, I would [like to see a sidewalk] because I walk home sometimes.”
The crosswalk project has been held up for a number of months at the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans), which originally took five and a half months to respond to Johnson’s initial inquiry.
Now, Johnson is waiting on approval for a speed reduction in that area of the road. In addition, adjustments will have to be made to make a crossing compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), meaning a sidewalk may have to be put in along Collins Perley’s east edge. After that, an engineering study will have to be done.
According to traffic operations engineer Amy Gambol, once those items are done, the state decides whether to issue an order to put in a crosswalk or not. “The process is pretty simple,” said Gambol.
According to Boudreau, however, the conversation between VTrans and the town is still at a standstill.
“It really shouldn’t be that difficult,” said Boudreau on Monday, voicing some of his and others’ frustration. “I just think it’s important that we get a model in place.”
He added that Collins Perley has sent a letter of support for a crosswalk in the area, and town officials have also contacted state representatives Corey Parent and Lynn Dickinson for help.
Projects moving along
While the selectboard has been waiting on VTrans for their crosswalk project, it sent out a Nov. 24 letter request to St. Albans City Mayor Liz Gamache for a crosswalk across North Main Street near Lakeview Terrace, the street across from Hungerford Plaza.
According to Gamache and city director of business development Marty Manahan, that project is already well underway. The design has completed by engineer Peter Cross, and VTrans now needs to approve a reduction in speed in the area from 35 mph to 25 mph.
“We don’t anticipate any problems,” said Gamache on Monday.
“It’s just a matter of checking some boxes with the state,” said Manahan. “I’d think we’d be able to get that done in the next couple of months.”
As for future sidewalks and development, the north end of St. Albans Town will most likely be the focus of the selectboard’s safety concerns as the area grows with stores and more traffic.
At Colonial Mart, for instance, employee of 10 years Terry, who asked the Messenger to withhold her last name, said people cross the road in front of the store frequently.
“One person just cross a little while ago,” she said on Monday. “I do think a crosswalk would be nice.”
In light of the potential Route 207/Loop Road project by Interstate 89 Exit 20, safety will have to be reevaluated in the entirety of Swanton Road, which is where the highest percentage of car accidents took place in St. Albans Town in 2014, according to police data.
“If the loop road was in place,” said Boudreau, “the last thing [somebody] would want to do is cross Route 7. Extremely dangerous,” he added.
Right now, a sidewalk from Walmart ends after only several hundred feet along Route 7 in both directions, leading to nowhere. This is the result of the St. Albans Town Selectboard, in years past, deciding to not require developer Jeff Davis to include a sidewalk up to Dunkin Donuts, the nearly full length of the developed area along Route 7-North in the Walmart plans.
Boudreau, who was on the board at the time, remembered that decision coming down to one factor. “It all came down to maintenance,” he said.
While current zoning bylaw language doesn’t include a strict requirement for large developments to put in connecting sidewalks, Boudreau said he expected that decision would perhaps come out differently today. “I think the board has shown its commitment.”