Fall 2020 Transit Updates!

Just in time for fall and back-to-school, there are some exciting transit updates from both sides of the river!

Tri-Valley Transit (formerly Stagecoach) has a new midday route on the 89er South route. This route connects communities from Randolph to the Upper Valley along the I-89 corridor.
The 89’er has long been a popular route for commuters from Randolph through Sharon, providing three
morning and three afternoon runs to help riders get to large employers in White River Jct., Lebanon, and Hanover. By using the new mid-day service in one direction and the traditional commuter run in the
other passengers can have convenient access to appointments, shopping, and other services.

Tri-Valley Transit is also close to launching the Thetford Connector Route to expand upon the current public transportation service between Bradford and Sharon.  This expansion is intended to connect rural communities in Orange and Northern Windsor Counties, while providing vital access to important destinations in the community, including Thetford Academy, Sharon Academy and Vermont Law School.  This proposed expansion would connect to a growing hub of service at the Sharon Park & Ride, off Exit 2 of I-89, that would increase commuter options for residents to access the Hanover, NH region as well as Randolph, Bethel and Royalton.

Stay tuned, and direct questions or comments to Mike at mreiderer@trivalleytrasnit.org or 802-728-3773.

In case you missed the news last month in the Eagle Times, Sullivan County Transit (Southwestern Community Services) is close to establishing a commuter bus from the Claremont area to the Lebanon area! Stay tuned for more info.

For info on how to commute by bus safely during the pandemic, check out our previous post.

How to Commute Safely During the Pandemic

Even with the need for physical distancing and many people working from home, transit and carpooling are available for those who need them. Here is some information on how to use each safely these days. 

Riding the bus 

Our region’s amazing buses have been running throughout the pandemic! All passengers must wear masks and keep at least 6’ of distance from others as they board, ride, and disembark the bus. The bus companies have strict sanitation protocols in place to keep passengers and drivers safe. Several use plastic barriers around rows of seats to minimize contact between passengers. Here a guide from the State of Vermont on riding public transit during the pandemic, good guidance even if you live and travel in New Hampshire. 

Before riding, please check out the specific COVID-19 route/schedule changes and more from our local bus companies:

You can ride all Upper Valley commuter buses for free right now! 

  • All commuter buses in Vermont are currently running fare-free.
  • Sullivan County Transit (Southwestern Community Services) is running fare-free.

Since physical distance is maintained on the bus by limiting the number of passengers to keep some seats empty, please take the bus only if you have no other transportation option. That way, there is room on the bus for those who must ride. 

Carpools

Fewer people are carpooling in these times of COVID, but if you do need a ride, carpooling is open. Please wear a mask if you are a driver or a passenger, and limit the total number of vehicle occupants to two, if possible. Keep the windows open if you can! Avoid sharing a ride if you have symptoms of or think you have been exposed to coronavirus. You can read more about precautions for carpooling from the CDC. You can find a carpool at Go! Vermont (or on the Go! Vermont app available at the App Store or on Google Play) or at New Hampshire Rideshare. Please note that since fewer drivers are comfortable with carpooling these days, you may have to wait longer to find a match. Likewise, if you don’t have to find a ride with someone, consider finding another mode of transportation to save that seat for someone who has no other option. 

Still Have Questions?

If you live or work in Vermont, and have any questions about your transportation options or need a ride, please call the Go! Vermont help line at 800-685-7433. No matter where you live in the Upper Valley, you can also email uvtma@vitalcommunities.org with questions about your options and we will either answer your question or direct you to someone who can.

You can also check out our Getting Around the Upper Valley page for more info. 

Safe Routes to School During Pandemic

School reopening is the big topic right now: how to do it safely, effectively, and efficiently. New requirements for health checks, physical distancing, and reduced bus capacity are likely to create bottlenecks, congestion, and lost instructional time at pick-up and drop-off. At the same time, students and their families may be seeking physical activity and stress relief—available through walking and biking. Below, find several resources that may be useful to school communities!

Check out this webinar from our friends at Local Motion to help school communities lessen transportation challenges this fall by encouraging walking and biking. (The PDF of the webinar presentation can be found here.)

Local Motion also offers this resource list, which has guides and information to help school communities through this work. Though geared toward Vermont schools, both resources from Local Motion can be useful to New Hampshire schools as well.

Here are some sources for New Hampshire-specific Safe Routes to School info:

Finally, here is a Safe Routes to School toolkit specifically for fall 2020 from a program in Oregon.

Thanks to Local Motion for contributing content for this post.

Bike & Walk Funding Available in Vermont!

Are you a Vermonter who would like to see better bike and pedestrian infrastructure in your town? Funding for this is available through the VTrans Bicycle and Pedestrian Program to local governments, transit agencies, school district or schools, and regional planning commissions. Talk to your selectboard, town planning staff, school administrators, etc. and urge them to apply!

The intent of the VTrans Bicycle and Pedestrian Program is to improve access and safety for bicyclists and/or pedestrians through the planning, design, and construction of infrastructure projects. Applications are due by Wednesday, September 30, 1 pm.

The Bike/Ped Program provides funding for either a scoping study or a design/construction project for one or any combination of the following facilities:

  • Bicycle lanes (on-road facility delineated with pavement markings and signs)
  • Shoulders (generally a minimum of 3-feet wide to accommodate bicyclists)
  • Sidewalks
  • Pedestrian crossing improvements, including median pedestrian refuge islands
  • Pedestrian signals
  • Improvements that address requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act
  • Shared-use paths (for both bicyclists and pedestrians)

Projects with the following emphasis will be considered favorably if they:

  • Address a documented safety concern such as a high-crash location
  • Connect to existing bicycle and pedestrian networks
  • Are accessible from village centers and downtown areas
  • Serve multiple uses; e.g., access to businesses, homes, and schools

For a copy of the VTrans 2020 Bicycle and Pedestrian Grant Program Guide and to access the application materials, visit the VTrans Bike/Ped Program website.   You may also obtain a copy or ask any questions about the program or application process by contacting Jon Kaplan by phone at (802) 498-4742 or email at jon.kaplan@vermont.gov.

Get Ready for the Upper Valley E-Bike Library!

Do you wish biking was part of your life? E-bikes can greatly increase that possibility. E-bikes (electric bikes) are like regular bikes but with an electric motor in addition to human-powered pedals, a battery to store power for that motor, and a heavier frame to accommodate the increased hardware. The electric assist can help with the physical issues, daunting hills, and the need to haul heavy loads (kids, groceries, or both are easier with a cargo e-bike like the one pictured!) that might otherwise keep you off your bike. This could enable you to replace many car trips with breezy, two-wheel journeys that don’t clog the roads or present parking challenges. 

Worldwide, e-bike sales are booming, and the market is stuffed with different choices on frame, type and size of motor, battery storage —  to name just a few variables. How do you choose?

The first step is to try some models and see what features you like best. Enter Local Motion’s Upper Valley E-bike Library. Organized by eight Upper Valley town energy committees with the help of Vital Communities, this new program of Local Motion is a spin-off of its popular Traveling E-bike Library that visited Hartford and Norwich last summer. 

From Monday, June 29 through the end of October, the library will be stationed in various Upper Valley communities. Residents of each community can borrow either of two e-bike models free of charge for a few days (or an hour) to get a feel for the two-wheel life. 

The library is scheduled to be based in the following locations during the following time periods:

Monday, June 29 – Sunday, July 19: Norwich
Norwich residents can reserve a bike here.

Monday, July 20 – Sunday, August 9: Thetford
Thetford residents can reserve a bike here.

Monday, August 10 – Sunday, August 30: Cornish/Plainfield
Plainfield/Cornish residents can reserve a bike here.

Monday, August 31 – Monday September 28: Hartland/Windsor
Hartland/Windsor residents can reserve a bike here (scroll to bottom of page, past the Plainfield/Cornish section).

We are so sorry, but Hartford’s time slot has been postponed until spring! 

Friday, October 2 – Sunday, November 1: Hanover

The coronavirus pandemic delayed the anticipated mid-April launch of the Upper Valley E-Bike Library but Local Motion and local organizers are excited to be able to offer the bikes for the rest of the summer. Each bike will go through a rigorous cleaning protocol after being returned from one borrower and again before being lent to the next one. 

Check back in this blog post for program details and registration information as the bikes move to the next town!

Raise Money while Working from Home

Work from home and help raise $500 for Vermont Foodbank. Simply record your telecommute trips in your Go! Vermont account every day that you work from home and when 500 telecommutes have been recorded, we’ll donate $500 to the Vermont Foodbank.

To record a telecommute, just select “Record a trip” and choose the “telecommute” mode. If you have trips that are automatically being recorded every week, you can update your trip profile and change the mode to “telecommute”.

Not a member? Please consider joining today. Find the app in the App Store or Google Play or use the online platform.

Together, we can help our neighbors and make a difference in Vermont during these tough times!

Dazzlingly Reflective, 80’s Style

We love pairing style with nighttime visibility, so we’ve ordered REFLECTIVE SLAP BRACELETS to reward people who bike or walk to Flavors of the Valley on Sunday, April 7!

If you bike and walk to the event, stop by the Vital Communities corner and let us know. Choose a plain bracelet or you can bedazzle yours with rhinestones for the full effect!

These slap bracelets are for many sizes of wrists and can also work on ankles.

– Bethany & Paige
Vital Communities Transportation 

Get your bike, boots, or shoes ready!

Get your bike, boots, or shoes ready! From our friends at Local Motion comes the Winter Edition of Vermont’s Bike-Walk Challenge, February 1 to 8! Simply record two bike or walk commutes in the Go! Vermont app that week to be eligible to win prizes. “Multi (e.g. walk + transit)” commutes also count if you walk, run, or bike to a bus or other transit mode. Run commuting counts as walking.

Please email ross@localmotion.org with any questions, and check out www.localmotion.org/winterbiking for winter biking advice and tips.

(above photo: Upper Valley year-round bike commuter Steve demonstrates his winter biking gear!)

Donuts & Hogwarts: A Transit Travel Training Case Study

One thing a group of Millennial cartoonists doesn’t need is help using a smartphone app – especially an intuitive one that shows the real-time location of buses in the rural transit system, Advance Transit. No, a lack of tech savvy is not the barrier keeping these students off the bus. It’s more like,

“Cool, there’s an app, but how do I know the name of the bus stop out front?”
“Does the bus go to the theater where Black Panther is playing?”
“I’m just nervous to try the bus—what if it doesn’t show up?” 

Over Vital Communities’ two-year partnership with Advance Transit to promote their real-time bus system, we’ve learned that it often takes a little extra to get people confidently riding transit. “Travel training,” which traditionally only serves people who need special assistance, can be valuable to almost anyone.

Car ownership is low among the several dozen students at the Center for Cartoon Studies (CCS) in downtown White River Junction—a Master of Fine Arts program in sequential art. The school has consistently promoted Advance Transit as a way to explore the Upper Valley. But in talking to several alums, we discovered that many CCS students were hesitant to try the free bus, and tended to stay close to campus.

We decided to change this by partnering with a recent graduate now employed by the school –who had never been on Advance Transit either but was eager to help. He distributed a simple graphic flyer (right and below) to students that promised a Friday afternoon bus trip to neighboring Hanover to get donuts from famed Lou’s Restaurant & Bakery and visit Dartmouth’s “Hogwarts-esque” Baker Library.

On a sunny February day, I met a dozen students and alums in the school’s lobby. I prompted them to download Advance Transit’s real-time app and gave them a bus system overview—how to find the bus stops, which routes run where, etc. Then we walked around the block to the bus stop and took the 15 minute trip from White River Junction to Hanover, New Hampshire.

Once in Hanover, we picked up an overstuffed bakery box of assorted donuts from Lou’s and walked across the Green to Baker Library. The students had a great time

digging into the comics and graphic novel section of the library “stacks” and then tiptoeing through the ornate Tower Room.

Many had never been to Baker before—even though CCS maintains a library card there for its students. But now this vast resource is only a short bus ride away.

Aside from giving a few pointers, I didn’t have to do much after the students boarded the bus in White River. That’s just it. Simply getting them on the bus that first time undid the majority of their concerns about the bus. After all, they had watched the bus’s movement on the real-time app while they waited at the bus stop, and then a knowledgeable and friendly driver picked them up on time and took them to Hanover, as promised. Sure, they still had to learn their way around town and get on the right bus, but the bus was now a known and trusted entity. Perhaps Robyn, an alum, put it best: “I just needed someone who knew the system to go with me the first time.” And remembering the impact of a coworker first taking me on Advance Transit almost two decades ago, I think she’s right.

– Bethany Fleishman, Transportation Program Manager at Vital Communities/Upper Valley Transportation Management Association

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