Letter to the editor: ACTR bus stop site makes sense

As a local elected official concerned about access to our downtown and serving as Public Health and Safety Committee Chair and ACTR board liaison, I am keenly aware of the tension for convenient and safe access to the post office and its nearby buildings and businesses.
The recent move of the ACTR Transfer Hub to Academy Street impacted walkability and access to downtown locations for riders, many of whom are elderly or have mobility issues. ACTR buses have ADA and Title VI requirements for accessibility, similar to handicap parking spots. This required the town and ACTR to find a solution with stops at the town office and post office. This was not taken lightly.
The Public Health and Safety Committee heard concerns for safety and objected to a scenario that would have the buses pull off over the crosswalk to minimize lost parking. It also heard concerns of businesses and residents, as represented by Better Middlebury Partnership, which seek to restore parking on the St. Stephens side of the post office, and urge ACTR to find another solution.
Some suggest that the bus could stop in the road to let off riders going to the post office or its nearby buildings. Studies show that bus pull offs at busy locations are safer for everyone. As ACTR director Jim Moulton shared in a recent letter to the editor, stopping in the travel lane, while possible, increases the risk of accident for all travelers.
The accommodation made by ACTR to use the travel lane during December was made with the intention for extreme diligence and a limited period to reduce risk. The temporary holiday configuration put the stop on the St. Stephen’s side behind parked cars. This poor site line led many riders to wait on the opposite side and then attempt to hurry across both lanes when they saw the bus approach. The confusing road striping on the St. Stephen’s side tempts people in a hurry to park in the bus stop, just as they do in handicapped parking.
Some suggest that the town office stop is adequate and ACTR riders can walk from there to the other end of Main St. It is approximately 900 feet or the equivalent distance ACTR riders walked from previous stops at South Pleasant St. or Merchants Row. This is not as easy as it sounds. Imagine zigzagging with a walker or weighted, restricted legs across Main St. from Ilsley to the post office and then the opposite side to catch the bus out to your Otterside or Woodbridge apartment on Seymour St. Or imagine you are at the post office end of town and you can only catch the tri-town bus to Bristol or Vergennes by walking all the way back to the Academy St. hub.
I hope ACTR shuttle buses will be a solution to downtown access, not an obstacle. For that to occur, stops need to be convenient and frequency increased. For frequency to increase, bus ridership needs to increase. For that to occur, it needs to be convenient. Taking away downtown bus stops would impair convenience, especially as we consider shuttling from destination lots as the bridge construction intensifies.
Let me know if you’re interested in experiencing what it’s like to walk to the post office from Ilsley Library and the town office if you were restricted or want to experience how the ACTR buses shuttle you about town. Join me at the Town Office lobby on Tuesday, April 3, at 8:30 am. We’ll talk about downtown car and bus parking solutions you may have as we do this.
Laura Asermily

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