Walking paths need upgrade, study says
By Caleigh Cross | Stowe Reporter
In Stowe, it’s not a question of why the chicken crossed the road; now, it’s a matter of where.
The proverbial chicken, along with Stowe residents and visitors, may be encouraged to cross the road elsewhere, depending on decisions made by the Stowe Select Board after hearing results of a study by Fuss & O’Neill, a consulting engineering firm with nine offices around New England and one office in California.
The study outlined improvements needed for Stowe’s sidewalks and crosswalks. Now is a good time to look at them because the Vermont Agency of Transportation plans to pave Route 100 between Morrisville and Stowe in 2020, and it’s better to do all construction work at once, says Nicole Fox, a senior Fuss & O’Neill engineer.
Sections of town considered in the study include Main Street from the public safety facility to Cemetery Road, Mountain Road to its intersection with Weeks Hill Road, and in the village, Park Place and Depot, Park, Pond, School and Sunset streets.
That amounts to 15,000 feet of sidewalk in total, Fox said.
Sidewalks in Stowe need an upgrade because some portions are disconnected, such as the one at the intersection of School and Pond streets, which has uneven sections and inconsistent access for people with disabilities.
Crosswalks aren’t visible enough, either, Fox said.
She proposed a list of materials, including asphalt, concrete pavers, such as the ones currently used on Main Street, granite pavers and concrete stamped with decorative patterns.
Fox recommended concrete sidewalks with colored accents, since it’s durable, cheaper than granite and easier to maintain.
Joshua Goldstein, who owns Stonewall Hardscapes in Stowe and has done some contracting work for the town in the past, thinks concrete pavers are the way to go.
They’re better looking, Goldstein says.
“We have a place people come here to look at,” he said, and thinks the town should consider using concrete pavers.
At the same time, “there’s been a lot of struggle with the concrete pavers in this town,” said Harry Shepard, Stowe’s public works director.
Fox told the board to make those decisions later in the process.
For crosswalks Fox said some aren’t well-situated, such as the one on South Main Street near Laughing Moon Chocolates. Its sightlines are short due to the curve of the road, making it dangerous.
“Tourists and out-of-towners are coming to the end of that sidewalk and are lost,” Goldstein said, and they almost get hit trying to cross the road.
Fox’s study proposed either straightening out the crosswalk and leaving it in its current location, or moving it to the intersection of Mountain Road and Main Street, in front of the Vermont Ski and Snowboard Museum.
Charles Safford, Stowe town manager, pointed out that while Stowe doesn’t have a jaywalking ordinance, placement of a crosswalk indicates preferred locations for people to cross the road, and he doesn’t think the current location of that sidewalk is safest.
The total project cost, including all 15,000 feet, is $4,100,000, Fox said, all of which would be borne by taxpayers.
She said Main Street and Mountain Road are the top priorities, followed by School and Pond streets, then Depot Street, Park Street, Park Place and Sunset Street, in that order.
Changes to crosswalks and sidewalks will rejigger the parking in Stowe somewhat, Fox warned. For instance, an eight-foot-wide sidewalk on Main Street will reduce on-street parking to 14 spaces, taking five away.
However, if on-street parking on Maple Street is considered, that could add 22 spaces. Current right-of-ways mean on-street parking there isn’t possible, but “22 parking spaces is a lot, so it’s worth considering,” Safford said.
In total, the proposed plan would mean a net loss of 2 spaces in Stowe village, Safford said.
Other potential changes could include moving the guardrail on the bridge on Mountain Road past Image Outfitters to the other side of the sidewalk, to better protect pedestrians from the slope, and changing the parking in front of Black Cap Coffee & Beer to parallel parking.
“Anytime you have traffic backing out into the flow of traffic, it’s dangerous,” Fox said.
The select board didn’t make any decisions Monday night, but it plans to consider what’s been proposed at additional public meetings, and potentially ask voters to approve a bond to pay for the improvements in 2018, along with another bond to bury the power lines beneath the sidewalks. Those projects would be different, but doing the work at the same time would be advantageous, Safford said.
“What we’re looking for is to get all the pieces into place,” he said.
What the board agreed on is that improvements are needed.
“What initiated the conversation is the deterioration” of the current sidewalks, said board member Neil van Dyke.
“We all felt the pressure this fall” at crosswalks, said selectman Billy Adams. “You can feel traffic grinding to a halt” when town is jam-packed.
“This is going to be our Big Dig,” said board chair Lisa Hagerty to a ripple of chuckles.
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