Bikers enjoy some of the bucolic Addison County scenery during the annual Kelly Brush Ride in September 2018. Photo: Kelly Brush Foundation

MIDDLEBURY, Vt. – A vision of a safe biking loop connecting several Addison County towns has come a step closer to reality thanks, in part, to the work of Middlebury students in an Environmental Studies Senior Seminar.

Based on the students’ 2018 research, the Vermont Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) recently awarded a $35,000 consortium grant to the towns of New Haven and Vergennes to engage residents of Bristol, Ferrisburg, Middlebury, New Haven, Vergennes, and Waltham in planning a dedicated bicycling route among these towns that provides a safer space for both drivers and cyclists sharing the roads. The project successfully competed against 67 municipalities and was one of 29 funded.

“The students truly laid all the groundwork for this,” said Bethany Yon, a representative from the Vermont Department of Health, who sits on the Walk-Bike Council of Addison County (WBCAC). Yon said the students’ work helped the council shorten its timeline to apply for the grant. “We had their boots on the ground, their time, their energy, their creativity to fast-forward this project from a ‘Wouldn’t this be a great idea?’ to ‘Oh gosh, we can now run with it in a professional manner.’”

Connor Pisano ‘18, Hunter Cole ‘18.5, and Maria Celestina Abragan ‘18.5, all students in the Environmental Studies Senior Seminar taught by Mez Baker-Medard, assistant professor of environmental studies, and Nadine Barnicle, professor of the practice in environmental studies, worked in partnership with WBCAC, the Addison County Regional Planning Commission (ACRPC), and Local Motion, a Vermont walking and biking advocacy group.

Over the course of their study, the students collected a wide range of data related to infrastructure weaknesses and social conflicts due to shared road use in Addison County. They conducted focus groups with both bikers and motorists, and used GIS analysis to study biking safety throughout the county.

Students hope the project will “spur physical infrastructure change and initiate social and long-term cultural change regarding biking/pedestrian/motorist relations.”

The Addison County Regional Planning Commission assisted with the grant application and will act as the project coordinator. “This project will bring together communities in our region and enhance recreation and transportation options. The Regional Planning Commission looks forward to working with the partners,” said Mike Winslow, transportation planner for the regional planning commission.

Awarded annually and administered by DHCD, the Municipal Planning Grant program supports local community revitalization and planning initiatives. Since 1998, the program has provided over $12 million to 234 cities and towns across Vermont.

“At the end of the day, we will have a solid plan document in place that has involved much greater community engagement to begin the process of developing what would be a safe bicycle loop connecting those towns,” said Yon.