BURLNGTON -- Commuters headed into Burlington may soon be parking in a new garage in the South End and riding a bus or a bike into town. City officials are moving forward with a plan to build a multimodal transportation center -- including a three-story, 575- to 600-space garage -- on a concrete-covered strip of land adjacent to the bike path, south of the General Dynamics plant. The city has operated a commuter lot on the site for the past 10 years; the garage and the increased bus service that would accompany it would be a significant upgrade.
Burlington voters defeated a similar transportation center proposed for Battery Street in March of 2004. The South End project is still in the design phase. Two dozen area residents gathered in the library at Champlain Elementary School last Thursday for the second of three public meetings to discuss it.
Architect Rob Swierk and Dan Bradley, transportation planner for the Department of Public Works, outlined the proposal, which would be funded by federal grants, and with money from the Campus Area Transit Management Association. The garage would be bordered by railroad tracks -- and the Lakeside neighborhood -- on the West, and on the South by Sears Lane, with a "Kiss and Ride" drop-off area. Their blown-up posterboard diagram showed the structure emptying into the future Southern Connector, which borders it to the East; when completed, that thoroughfare will run parallel to Pine Street. Unlike the transit center planned for downtown, this project would not include access to rail service.
Reaction to the proposal was mixed. No one disputed the need to improve congested traffic conditions along Pine Street and Route 7 going into Burlington. But many residents questioned the location of the commuter-transit hub in a residential neighborhood. After the initial presentation, South End resident Harry Clarke said the city should look at sites closer to I-189. "We need to get the traffic out of town," he said, "not get it into town." Judging by the number of nodding heads, several others shared his concern.
Vivian Esparza had a similar complaint. The mother of three young children noted that the site would draw traffic to the intersection of Sears Lane and Pine Street, in front of Champlain Elementary School. "I envision a complete, utter traffic nightmare for families in this area," she said. "I think we're asking for a child to be killed."
Michael Monte of the Community and Economic Development Office called her concern "legitimate," but added that the project also calls for improvements to the sidewalks and signals on Pine Street. "I think we've been very careful of kid issues," he said.
After the meeting, City Councilor Joan Shannon (D-Ward 5) also expressed reservations. "Something like this is needed," she said, "but I don't think the South End should have to support all the parking needs for the institutions on the hill." At least 300 of the spaces in the garage would be reserved for Champlain College, the University of Vermont, Fletcher Allen and the Red Cross.
But Dan Bradley says putting a transit hub in the South End makes sense. The city's transportation plan calls for hubs to be built to the south, north and east of the city. Bradley says that when the city opened its South End lot, it attracted 125 cars on the first day; an experiment using a similar lot on North Avenue never drew more than 8 or 10 cars a day for six months. An eastern hub would likely prove popular, but though the city has looked into a site near I-89, possibly behind the Sheraton, they haven't pinpointed a location yet. The South End site is being considered first because the lot is already in use there.
Bradley says all parties involved will "continue to talk." A third public meeting will take place before the proposal goes before the City Council on November 21.