Community forum: Middlebury encourages crosswalk safety

This week’s writer is Laura Asermily, a member of the Middlebury selectboard.
The town of Middlebury deploys several pedestrian protection measures. These include many reflective white-lined crosswalks, pedestrian-crossing buttons on traffic lights, crosswalk safety flags, and a variety of pedestrian-crossing signs. Some crosswalks feature fluorescent-yellow, diamond-shaped pole-mounted signs. Some have mobile yellow signs placed in the middle or to sides of the crosswalks. The position of mobile signs gets changed periodically to respond to a need and enhance their visibility.
These safety measures depend on all road users slowing down and noticing them and each other. Motorists should yield to cyclists and pedestrians, and cyclists should yield to pedestrians. Cyclists may claim roads with no shoulders such as Main Street and motorists are reminded of this by “sharrow” markings on the road.
Middlebury currently has a policy requiring cyclists to walk bikes on busy downtown streets to protect pedestrians with reminders to this effect on sidewalks at crosswalks. I prefer to see the “Walk Bikes on Sidewalks” stencil replaced with one that reads “Stop — Look — Wave” in a similar sized circle. This would reinforce the message to pedestrians and cyclists alike to make eye contact and communicate intent to cross and would remove the ambiguity for young and vulnerable cyclists regarding use of sidewalks to schools and parks.
Reflective white-lined crosswalks have been repainted over the past few weeks when weather conditions and staffing allowed this. Downtown line markings along busy Main Street, the town green, bridges, Court Street and Washington Street are done at night to minimize the disruption of traffic and have been delayed due to high humidity in recent nights. They will be completed as soon as drier conditions prevail, maybe even by the time you read this.
Middlebury piloted the use of crosswalk safety flags at the Middlebury Post Office last fall as part of Middlebury’s Safe Routes to School initiatives.
Pedestrians wanted additional visibility at vulnerable, high-traffic crosswalk locations, like the post office, to reduce accidents.
Brightly colored yellow flags were placed in a container at each end of the post office crosswalk. Pedestrians were instructed by a sign at the container to carry and wave the flag while crossing the street and then place it in the container at the opposite side of the crosswalk. The flags alert drivers that pedestrians have a desire and intent to cross the street. Many drivers wonder if pedestrians are just standing at the crosswalk with no intention to cross. Drivers then get tempted to drive by without yielding. With flags, drivers know that pedestrians intend to cross.
Middlebury Director of Public Works and Safe Routes to School team member Dan Werner proposed crosswalk flags to the Safe Routes to School team as a low-cost measure worth trying. Flags have been added to other crosswalk locations on the path to Middlebury schools.
A number of cities nationwide use crosswalk flags, in addition to other measures, to protect pedestrians. Drivers in these cities commented that simply having the flags make crosswalks stand out more upon approaching them. Occasionally flags are taken and need to be replaced. Please return any found flags to the containers or town offices.
Middlebury’s Safe Routes to School Team pondered rapid-flashing beacon lights, powered by solar, similar to those along Pine Street in Burlington, as another safety measure. Rapid-flashing beacon lights can only be placed at uncontrolled crosswalks (where there is no traffic light) and where adequate sunlight can power the lights. They cost between $5,000 and $7,000 each. The team opted to try crosswalk flags as a lower-cost measure until funding could be secured for beacon lights and while crosswalks are monitored further to determine beacon light location priorities. One possibility being studied is the busy Cross/South Pleasant/Water streets intersection toward schools at the Cross Street Bridge.
Middlebury’s Safe Routes Team met monthly at Mary Hogan School to discuss measures to encourage more students to walk and bike to school and to improve safety in their transit to and from school. Its recommendations can be viewed at its Middlebury School Travel Plan posted at the Mary Hogan School website.
The team consists of parents, teachers and other community stakeholders. It works closely with the town of Middlebury Public Works and Parks and Recreation departments, school administration, regional planners, local and state transportation agencies, and bike/pedestrian advocacy groups.
Infrastructure improvements such as prioritized sidewalk construction in areas of town where children live, enhancing existing and increasing the number of crosswalks throughout town, retiming traffic lights to favor pedestrian crossing, creating designated bike paths and lanes, and improving pedestrian passageways through parking lots near school would all improve the safety of children walking and biking to school.
Anyone in Middlebury and the wider community wishing to be updated on, or participate in, bike and pedestrian safety efforts can contact me at 388-9478 or [email protected] or request to be added to the [email protected] list by contacting Adam Franco at [email protected].

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