Letter to the editor: Middlebury traffic pattern should be altered

With the closure of five more downtown parking spaces (near Triangle Park), the parking situation in the center of the Middlebury business district has reached truly crisis proportions, with potentially catastrophic results for local businesses. I have what I think is a simple, straightforward, and inexpensive suggestion which could do a great deal to alleviate this problem, at least until both Merchants Row and Main Street are closed completely in year three of the project.
I propose that Main Street between Merchants Row and Mill Street/Bakery Lane be restricted to one-way traffic, with parallel parking being allowed across the Battell Bridge along one side of the travel lane. This would allow for the creation of at least 12 additional parking spaces in the heart of downtown, maybe more, basically for the cost of applying a little paint to the street surface. Two-way traffic would still be in place for all other portions of Main Street, including the section in front of the National Bank and the post office.
Obviously it’s not quite that simple. Consideration needs to be given to emergency and delivery access, direction of flow, whether or not traffic congestion will be increased, and how to reduce confusion for through travelers.
There is a precedent. At one time parking was allowed across Battell Bridge with two-way traffic. This shows that there is room for emergency vehicles to pass against the flow of traffic, if need be. A special lane could be marked for police, fire, and ambulance traffic. Parked cars and delivery vehicles would need to be prohibited in that zone.
A one-way traffic plan could probably work with the flow in either direction. However, given the current alignment of other one-way streets (Merchants Row, Bakery Lane and Mill Street), it makes more sense for Main Street traffic (Route 30) to flow south, toward the college. This means that northbound traffic would be diverted at the roundabout over the Cross Street Bridge to Court Street, where it would turn left at the traffic light.
I don’t think left turns at South Pleasant Street should be prohibited, but the detour signs should direct through traffic to Court Street to avoid left-turning back-up on Cross Street. However, it might make sense to re-think the direction of flow on Merchants Row to allow traffic from the south to have more convenient access to the stores, the bank, and the post office in the center of town.
I’ve heard the argument that one-way traffic through the downtown area would slow traffic and increase congestion. First of all, I don’t think that is true. Traffic to the hospital and college is restricted to a single lane just beyond the roundabout anyway — this proposal is not effectively reducing the southbound lanes through town. Secondly, is it such a bad thing if traffic through our downtown goes a bit slower, perhaps needing to wait while someone backs into a parallel parking space?
I hope this proposal will be considered seriously, in light of the issues I have raised and in light of ones I have not thought of. Meanwhile, if you are able-bodied there is something you personally can do to ease the parking crisis in downtown Middlebury Park just a few yards outside the center of town and walk. It’s good for your health, and good for the vitality of our downtown businesses.

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