Brattleboro Works To Improve Pedestrian Safety

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The town of Brattleboro is handing out reflective arm and leg bands to increase the visibility of pedestrians and cyclists after dark.

The initiative is part of a wider response to a wave of vehicle-pedestrian accidents in town.

Last winter in Brattleboro, three pedestrians were hit and killed by vehicles. The town also saw a rash of non-fatal, but serious, pedestrian-vehicle collisions.

Brattleboro town manager Barb Sondag says the accidents were in different locations.  

"We had a lot of trouble figuring out what was going on," Sondag says. "Was there one variable that had changed that we could attribute these accidents and the fatalities to? We didn’t find any one thing."

The town looked at the location of crosswalks and made sure they were well lit. Officials and volunteers identified some intersections that were hard for pedestrians to cross.

Sondag says the town has projects in the works to make those areas safer. But nothing that was learned explained the spike in accidents in 2012.

Matt Mann is a traffic planner for the Windham Regional Commission. "If there was one common thread," he reflects, "It  would be easy to decipher and then to actually change it. But it’s not. So you kind of work at it from many different angles."

Mann is part of a committee formed by the town. It includes local officials, police, and members of groups that are already involved with issues of pedestrian and bike safety.

The committee is working with Local Motion, a Burlington-based nonprofit that was launched after two hit-and-run accidents in that city.

Local Motion offered a variety of strategies that have proved effective in Burlington and elsewhere around the country.

The Brattleboro group was quick to adopt the idea of reflective arm and leg bands.

Local Motion liaison Jason Van Driesche says it’s a good first step.

"That one is really the most immediate and basic," he says. "It doesn’t really change behavior in any fundamental way, but hopefully it keeps people out of harm’s way."

Brattleboro is also planning for the larger task of changing the habits of the groups that share the roadways.

The plans include safety workshops for seniors and a brochure explaining the rights and responsibilities of pedestrians, cyclists and motorists. Also planned are some highly visible sign-waving events by school groups, elders and others, in vulnerable spots during rush hour.

Matt Mann says he’s hoping in the long term for a change in the local culture.  

He envisions a time "When even drivers coming into Brattleboro get a feeling that you need to stop for pedestrians in the crosswalks. You need to share the road with cyclists. It becomes something extremely apparent even though they’re not from thus community."

After a century of community planning focused almost exclusively on car travel, Mann says restoring the balance will take time.

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