Letter to the editor: Rail bridges project need not paralyze downtown

For the past year, a lot of concern has been expressed on these pages about the future of downtown Middlebury. The necessary replacement of the two railroad bridges likely began this recent round of angst. At the moment, there is a lot of discussion about the use of a few parking spaces for a bus stop on the town green. Most recently, Gregory Dennis lamented the lost spaces in his “Between the Lines” column of May 10th.
Perhaps he is right and the loss of two (or is it three?) parking spaces will lead directly to a derelict downtown. Conversely, however, maybe those with limited mobility should be advantaged and those who are privileged enough to own a car and able enough to walk should stroll those two or three blocks that Mr. Dennis would prefer bus riders to walk.
At any rate, as long as the focus is on cars and parking spaces, the potential vibrancy of Middlebury will be limited. More cars and more parking do not a lively downtown create. People make a downtown vibrant, and people do not linger long in spaces dominated by cars and loud trucks.
So how to attract people into the center of Middlebury and, more importantly, how to get them to stay? The solution is to build traffic calming infrastructure. Bike lanes (actual bike lanes, not useless sharrows) would slow down traffic and provide a buffer between cars and pedestrians. Curb extensions to shorten pedestrian crossings are another effective traffic calming method. The town should work to make it easier for pedestrians to cross the streets, rather than suggest they wave a yellow flag to ask vehicles for permission to cross.
Cities like Copenhagen and Amsterdam have bike lanes and other traffic calming measures in abundance. These cities prioritize people over cars because multiple studies have shown pedestrians and cyclists create more economic, health, and societal benefits than cars. Not surprisingly, these cities also have vibrant city centers.
Now, I recognize that Middlebury is not Copenhagen or Amsterdam, or even Burlington. However, those like Mr. Dennis and myself who would like to see the center of Middlebury thriving need only to look to the other side of the Green Mountains for inspiration.
In 2016, Bethel, Vt., teamed with AARP and Team Better Block to make multiple temporary improvements on their main street. For one weekend they removed parking spaces and replaced them with bike lanes, slowed down traffic, and created little parklets along the street for people to stop and gather while enjoying the established stores and multiple pop-up shops.
The result of that weekend was a community that came out to enjoy the calmer and more people-friendly downtown and, perhaps most relevant for Mr. Dennis, several pop-up shops began to investigate ways to open permanent stores in vacant buildings. The way to create a livelier and economically thriving downtown is not to try and accommodate as many cars as possible, but rather focus on making it more accommodating to people.
Erik Remsen

Share this story:

More News
US Probation Office Uncategorized

US Probation Office Request for Proposals

US Probation Office 2×1.5 062024 RFP

Middlebury American Legion Uncategorized

Middlebury American Legion Annual Meeting

Middlebury American Legion 062024 1×1.5 Annual Meeting

Sports Uncategorized

MAV girls’ lax nets two triumphs

The Mount Abraham-Vergennes cooperative girls’ lacrosse team moved over .500 with a pair o … (read more)

Share this story: