Editorial: Taking a stroll, imagining change

For Middlebury-area residents the newest pastime is to take a stroll over the Cross Street Bridge in early evening hours. The bridge is yet to be open, there’s no traffic and the sunset on a warm fall day is spectacular.Admire, too, how the Otter Creek is suddenly center stage in the downtown. Admire the profiles of the historic Battell Block, glance backward toward Court and Water streets and see anew a few older Victorian homes that had been tucked beyond public view all these years. Imagine, if you will, the historic lights on the bridge aglow in the evenings of each season (as spectacular in summer as in winter), and picture the completion of the round-about, which — critics must admit — is taking shape in more spectacular fashion than many might have hoped.What’s encouraging is the increasingly positive change the Cross Street Bridge is bringing to the downtown with each passing week. The buzz in town is overwhelmingly upbeat. Not that the traffic jams caused by the construction aren’t a pain, but that the aesthetics are so pleasing. (And that is no small feat considering the project, at base, was to build a huge concrete bridge in the middle of an historic downtown. And there was reason to worry. The numerous examples of other bridge construction projects gone awry were enough to make some area residents think the town was taking on a fool’s errand.Fortunately, within a few weeks — Oct. 30 is the official opening of the bridge — the entire community will be able to celebrate what town leaders now think may be one of the most important milestones in the town’s recent history. It will expand the density and depth of the downtown by suddenly making the Kinney Drug-Aubuchon Hardware shopping complex within easy walking distance of the downtown center and the college community. Because that’s so, the downtown retail district will — over the next several years — have the ability to in-fill, establish new parking centers, and create a more vibrant walking/bicycling core that connects this expanded vision of downtown.In these changes, Main Street through traffic will hopefully be diminished, allowing for a more pleasant pedestrian experience and the possibility (down the road) of considering expanded sidewalks in front of businesses on Merchants Row to promote more activity on the sidewalks for cafes and every day events — an abridged version of Church Street, perhaps.Trying to foretell what the future will bring, however, is not the point. The point is that suddenly the town has many options for a new era of downtown development, for new art and architecture to flourish and for new uses of the town’s commercial center.To that end, many challenges lie before us and the public should be encouraged to participate in ongoing discussions that could cover such issues as how to promote more walking and bicycling in the downtown; the potential for additional parking lots (smaller but more numerous pocket parking, for example); night lighting; an improved and upgraded railway that will need a revitalized rail station; the potential of a public park below the Cross Street Bridge on flood-plain land that used to house the town’s icehouse — it’s the land between the Cross Street Bridge and the trestle that lies to the west of the railway tracks.Such new possibilities will hopefully spark the imaginations of area residents and bring about the type of progress that excites a community and creates vital momentum for the next generation. Through it all, residents can take some comfort knowing that the process taken by current leadership has gone well, and there is every reason to believe that future projects — a center piece for the round-about is one — will be approached with similar respect for the community aesthetic and with a careful eye on the town budget. That is not, however, a call to default to town leadership. On the contrary, citizen involvement through personal contributions and constructive criticism is a cornerstone of any success.That said, if you’ve been involved, stay involved; and if you haven’t, look for the opportunity to pitch in and contribute your talents, hands-on labor or thoughts. It’s all needed to help restore Middlebury to the market town that it used to be and could be again if we define the vision and work together to make it happen.Angelo S. Lynn

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Addison County Independent

58 Maple Street
Middlebury, VT 05753

Phone: 802.388.4944
Fax: 802.388.3100