Civil Unrest.

Earlier this spring, I wrote a blog post about some needed traffic-calming measures on South Street here in Middlebury.

I wanted to vent a little bit about the many commuters driving too quickly down our street on their way to the hospital, college facilities or Eastview. We live on a quiet street that is (unfortunately) the only pathway to busier destinations. The street is getting torn up for underground work this summer, so it seemed like a no brainer that when it is put back together, it would be done in a way that would ensure the safety and character of our neighborhood.

Not so. Much to my surprise, this has turned out to be a very different story.

The story here is not about the existence of creative and appropriate ideas for slowing traffic. It’s about the town of Middlebury and its unwillingness to participate in any meaningful dialogue on the issue.

From the outset, an active and well-researched neighborhood group has been requesting conversation and flexibility. Recognizing and accepting the fact that the street needs to accommodate many kinds of traffic, we have brainstormed ideas ranging from alternate side of the street parking (creates a weaving effect), to bumpouts at crosswalks, speed monitors and stop signs. We have educated ourselves about the relative merits of crosswalks (not necessarily safer, it turns out) and bike lanes. With documentation in hand and open minds, my neighbors have presented ideas for a solution that makes everyone happy.

Representatives from the town seem to be, at best, unprepared and indifferent. At worst, in my opinion, condescending and patronizing. Although traffic-calming has been on the table for several years now and assurances of attention to this issue were made during the Eastview debate, nobody from the town of Middlebury seemed prepared to make it an integrated part of the South Street construction project. Now that the issue has been brought (with considerable effort) back to the table, they’ve continued to meet suggestions with shrugs and unexplained refusals.

Icing on the cake: a representative from town came through and, without warning, removed the “please slow down” signs from our yards. Signs that neighborhood children had made and posted, and that seemed to be working. Really, town? This just seems antagonistic, and is certainly not contributing to constructive debate. (And I’m aware of the rules about signs, but town is otherwise bristling with signs for garage sales and whatnot. Are you going to shut down lemonade stands this summer for zoning violations?)

When I talk about Middlebury, I tell people that I live here because the quality of life is wonderful, and it’s the kind of place that I want my son to grow up. It’s Pleasantville — the kind of place not many people in this day and age have the privilege to experience. This situation is bringing it vividly home to me that in fact, as town residents, we may be on our own in protecting that quality of life. The town officials don’t seem to be our allies. This is a huge disappointment.

My messages to you:

Neighbors: Thank you for your enthusiasm, attention and persistence. Let’s keep at it.

Other Middlebury friends: Think about what this means for you, too. Insist on a town government that listens and responds to the community, because the next issue could be yours.

Town: I think you can do better. We feel disregarded – please, prove us wrong.

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