Bethel Better Block

Sep 30th- Oct 2nd, 2016

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In October of 2016, AARP Vermont partnered with Team Better Block an over fifty community volunteers, multiple organizations and the Town of Bethel for the first Better Block project in Vermont. The project is a real time example of the AARP Livable community principles and basis for the further revitalization of this wonderful town.

Working with key property owners, advocates, designers an residents the Team conceptualized ideas for landscaping storefront facade improvements, and programing to the area. The concept plan imagined temporary intervention using materials that can be borrowed, built and bought for a weekend event to reveal the true potential of downtow Bethel. These included a blue lane, a parklet, bulb outs and crosswalk enhancements, and beautification elements built by the community.

The Better Block improvements created a livable street. One that you can still drive through, albei slower, and you really want to explore. The street was made safe for everyone. A few indicators provided metrics to support permanent changes. Travel speed is the best indicator of a street’s safety for pedestrians. The faster the car, the more likely of death if struck while walking. Team Better Block and AARP volunteers conducted a before and after speed study of Main Street in Bethel. Before the Better Block speeds on Bethel Main Street in downtown averaged 27 MPH. At this speed, it is likely almost half of pedestrians struck by a vehicle would not survive. This proves that the community was correct in identifying safe crosswalks as a major priority. During the Better Block a culmination of the traffic calming measures that include pedestrian islands, bulb-outs, crosswalks, blue lane and parklets, reduced speeds to an average of 15 MPH. At this speed you could almost guarantee the survival of any pedestrian being hit by a vehicle. Pedestrian safety is not the only reason to calm segments of streets. Slower vehicles means less noise pollution. Retail streets with lower noise levels have higher sales ratios. Noise was measured using a decibel (dB) meter and compared to a chart of common noises. Great retail streets typically have a dB of 60 or less. Prior to the Better Block, vehicle noise created an average of 80dB on the sidewalk of Main Street. This is the equivalent of an alarm clock continually going off. Large trucks spike the dB frequently over 90. At this dB it is human nature to move away from the noise. You certainly would not have an extended conversation or dine with
this level of noise nearby. During the Better Block, Main Street became the equivalent of a quiet library, registering just 40dB. This is a direct result of the traffic calming measures nearly halving the travel speeds and reduced heavy truck breaking and accelerations. At this dB you wanted to gather on the sidewalk, eat a taco and talk to a neighbor.