Letter to the editor: Middlebury’s rail project a good time for safety upgrades

To the Middlebury selectboard:
My family first moved to Middlebury in 1994, and I have since either lived or worked in Middlebury for all except four years of that time. I have walked, run, biked or driven the roads of Middlebury regularly for many years. I have also had chances to teach my children how to navigate Middlebury’s streets. While I now live in Cornwall, life still brings me into the shire town several times a week; in some cases multiple trips in one day. So I think it is safe to say I am very familiar with the obstacles and hazards of traveling in Middlebury.
I feel that while Middlebury has taken good steps toward encouraging all travelers to work in tandem to provide safer streets, there is still a great deal more that can be done. I must applaud the efforts of everyone involved with the Walk/ Bike Council of Addison County and other community leaders who have taken an active role in improving the situation.
A site of particular interest to me at this time is Merchants Row. While I was hesitant about the idea of keeping it one way after construction is completed, being an out-of-towner, I likely didn’t have much say in that process. Given that the one-way plan is preferred and being hashed out, I would like to suggest that the selectboard spend a bit more time looking at it.
I am pleased to hear that at least one wider sidewalk is being considered for pedestrians on Merchants Row after construction is completed. However, that is just one stakeholder to consider. I believe Merchants Row is a downtown road stretch where bikers/skateboarders are required to ride in the streets. With this in mind, and considering that parts of Merchants Row would be quite wide for a one-way road, I think you are presented with a golden opportunity to give deeper thought to keeping all travelers safe on this street. Perhaps it could be Middlebury’s pilot toward having bike lanes. Maybe try a different style of parking that makes it easier for drivers to see the travel lane(s) as they enter from a parked position.
I think with completion of the rail tunnel project a couple years out, there should be ample time for you to put a little more thought into this location. I have only heard of a couple of meetings that you have had for this plan.
I suspect if planned well, there would not be a significant change to how many parking spaces you can fit on Merchants Row. I have begun to find the emphasis on the lost parking spaces in downtown Middlebury over the last year to be quite tiresome. It almost seems as though people are surprised to find that the construction resulted in lost spaces. It was only talked about for several years leading up to the project’s commencement. Suggestions like providing parking on the Battell Bridge are very backward thinking. I would expect that if parking was ever allowed on that bridge, there was likely only one, if any, sidewalk available for pedestrians.
While I am talking about pedestrians, I would like to mention one other location I have been concerned about for a few years now. Along the North Pleasant street (Route 7 North) approach to Middlebury, there is a considerable stretch between the first and second cross walks across the road. The first one is at the traffic light with Elm Street and Stewart Lane, and aside from painted crosswalks, there is no indicator system for pedestrians there to utilize. From there vehicles can then barrel down Route 7 for approximately two blocks, right past the Seminary Street/Methodist Lane intersection before having a pair of crosswalks where Main Street (Route 30) dead ends into North Pleasant Street. I would propose placing at least one well-marked crosswalk at the Seminary Street/Methodist Lane intersection. This should make it easier for pedestrians to cross a very busy road without having to walk considerably out of their way or feel like they are risking their lives to get to their desired destination. That area does house many residents, quite a few of whom are low-income or may have disabilities.
As always, I very much encourage pedestrians to do the safe and legal thing, and actually cross at crosswalks when they are in a reasonable range to one’s location.
Thank you.
Ian Ross

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