Blurred Lines Between Town Boundaries And Open Road

Jul 9, 2018

It’s been widely reported that three small Vermont towns issue about one-quarter of all speeding tickets in the state. And the resulting revenue is said to be used to boost town coffers.

But urban planner Julie Campoli offers a very different perspective in her blog, Sustainable Transportation Vermont, where she puts the focus on changes in Vermont’s settlement patterns.

It used to be clear where the open road ended and the town limits began. But over time we’ve built more houses and businesses away from village centers and scattering them along the roadsides – in what’s commonly called sprawl. The upshot is that new buildings have blurred the lines between village and countryside.

At the same time the distances that we drive between work and play, between visiting family and shopping have all increased. We drive more, longer, and greater distances while also expecting to be able to drive those distances at higher speeds.

And to allow for that to be done safely the Agency of Transportation - which until fairly recently was known as the highway department - has widened and straightened many roads, making them more like interstates – and putting the safety of the driver first.

But Vermont is a state of two hundred and fifty one towns and villages. And superimposing wide, straight, interstate-like roads onto this patchwork sends cars shooting through our towns and villages in a manner that’s not compatible with the slower traffic, walkers and cyclists that live in and use these small population centers. Yet that’s precisely what we’ve done.

This is evident in the small town of Mount Tabor, for example – a town that’s been cited in the speed trap coverage. It’s a small town of just two hundred and twenty five people on Route 7 in Rutland County, where Route 7 has been repeatedly widened and straightened over the years, allowing cars to drive safely at higher speeds.

And, in fact, the section of the road in town under debate was designed to allow cars to travel at 60 miles per hour. But the town requested a speed limit of 45 to slow those cars down to make it safer for local residents.

Public investment and public policy enabled sprawl, which in turn led to building wide and straight roads.

The challenge now is how to keep the resulting traffic from destroying the very heart of our small towns and villages.