South Royalton Sidewalks in Line for Improvements

  • Mary Casey, 80, of Phoenix, Ariz., left, her brother Arthur Marin, 84, of South Royalton, middle, and his wife Pauline Vezina Marin, 84, crossed Chelsea Street in South Royalton, Vt., to read Arthur's name of the town's roll call memorial of military veterans Friday, June 1, 2018. "When I was young, they used to have hitching posts for horses here," said Vezina Marin. Royalton will host a public meeting to discuss possible plans to improve sidewalks and roads around the village green on Wednesday, June 6 at 7 p.m. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Lindsay Sweeney, of Tunbridge, left, leaves RB's Deli while shopping in South Royalton, Vt., Friday, June 1, 2018. Sweeney's daughter Hayley, an adaptive athlete who requires a wheelchair to get around, waits outside for her mother because there is no wheelchair accessability on the strip of Chelsea Street stores and restaurants. Dominique and Chad Taylor, of South Royalton, place orders at the RB's ice cream window with their kids Carter, 8, and Lillian, 10. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Friday, June 01, 2018

South Royalton — A key part of village life in South Royalton may soon get a facelift, in the form of improvements to the cracked and crumbling sidewalks surrounding the green.

“This will feel like a revitalization,” said Royalton Town Administrator Rose Hemond. “We have a great green.”

Town officials say their first priority is to bring the sidewalks in front of the Chelsea Street business block into compliance with ADA laws, but they’re open to taking on a much broader scope of work, depending on the public’s appetite for sidewalk widening, rethinking traffic flows, and extending the sidewalk system to make more of the streets radiating out from the village center safer for pedestrians.

On Thursday, people throughout the village center had varying opinions on what they’d like to see done with the space, but one common theme surfaced.

“It’s icy,” said Justin Brock an 18-year-old Royalton native who’s also a student at Castleton University.

“In the cold weather it needs more salt or something,” said Daniel Sherburne, a Vershire resident who works in Royalton as a chef. “The ice gets pretty bad along here.”

“The rain pools right outside there,” said Chris Wood, executive director of Building A Local Economy, gesturing toward the sidewalk running in front of the group’s South Windsor Street offices. “In the winter, it becomes ice. It’s dangerous.”

Though people don’t typically spend much time thinking about them, Wood said that having good sidewalks is a really important baseline for communities that want to have appealing and walkable community spaces.

A state traffic count study showed that as many as 30 bicyclists and pedestrians used the sidewalks on South Windsor Street along the green in an hour.

Pedestrian and bicycle traffic also present a boon to the economy, according to a 2012 study commissioned by the Vermont Agency of Transportation, which found that making a neighborhood walkable increases home values by an average of $6,500.

It also found that walking and biking and their associated industries pour about $83 million into the state’ economy, and help avoid another $85 million in costs that would otherwise be borne by consumers and the public.

To think through the options, the town has hired Greenman-Pedersen, Inc., a White River Junction-based engineering firm, the low bidder for a $35,000 contract, to gather public feedback and price out various options.

A public meeting will be held at 7 p.m. on Wednesday at the Royalton Academy Building on Route 14.

“The engineer wants as many people to attend and to get as much input as possible,” Hemond said.

Roughly half of the study’s cost was paid with a grant from the VTrans Bicycle and Pedestrian Program. Having a completed study qualifies the town to apply for a future, larger grant to cover 80 percent of the cost of any projects identified in the study.

Last year, the state program handed out $4 million to communities to help build sidewalks, shared use paths, crossing improvements, and bike lanes; because the 2018 application deadline is in late June, Royalton will likely target the 2019 funding cycle.

Hemond said that the decision to apply for the grant sprang out of negotiations between the town and the property owners along the business block on Chelsea Street.

“There was a discussion about who was responsible for the sidewalks,” Hemond said. The Royalton Selectboard drafted an agreement under which the town would be responsible for bringing the uneven and cracked sidewalks along the strip to a reasonable condition, while the building owners would be responsible for clearing snow and debris from the surface. Most of the owners have signed the agreement, said Hemond.

Though many expressed concern about the wintertime walkability of the village center, there was no shortage of other issues of interest.

Jessica Lancor, a 28-year-old mother who was strolling Windsor Street while pushing her 1-year-old son, Ares, in a carriage, said that she often feels unsafe while walking to and from her home on Moses Lane, which lies beyond the southernmost reaches of the sidewalks.

“It’s dangerous,” she said, adding that she also gets nervous when walking the route with her 8-year-old daughter.

Kim Thornton, who works at the South Royalton Health Center on South Windsor Street, said she was unimpressed by many of the sidewalk improvement ideas that she’d heard floated.

“It’s a huge drain on the public, to widen the sidewalks,” she said. “I do understand the importance of accessibility; I just don’t know that’s the best way to do it.”

Thornton said she would rather see the town do more basic tasks, like repairing or expanding the existing sidewalks, than invest in major redesigns of the public space.

Thornton said she was also opposed to an idea to eliminate the center lane of a traditional three-lane stretch of Chelsea Street, along the business block, which is where 18-wheelers and other trucks park to make deliveries to the food coop, the deli, and other businesses.

“That middle lane is probably one of the best things in town,” said Thornton. “They should leave that how it is.”

And inside Sherri’s Family Hair, owner Sherri Michaud had similar concerns about the idea of widening the sidewalk and eliminating the trucking lane.

“I can’t understand it,” she said.

But her biggest concern is shared by many business owners: Parking.

“There’s nowhere for people to park,” she said. “I don’t want to see us lose parking. That’s huge for the town.”

Hemond said that she recognizes parking as an ongoing concern for the village center and that, though the bicycle-and-pedestrian-targeted grant funds are unlikely to support parking expansion as a goal, the town’s leadership was unlikely to support any alternatives that would strain parking further.

During a mid-May meeting of stakeholders, minutes show that a variety of ideas were discussed, including making Acton Street one way, extending the sidewalks to Caron Circle, discouraging speeding and jaywalking, and providing for an alternate way for trucks to unload on Chelsea Street.

Hemond said she doesn’t have easy answers for how the various ideas should be weighed, or for how some of the goals can be accomplished — that’s what the scoping study is for.

“That’s the exciting part, to have professionals use tools to come up with possible answers to these kinds of questions,” she said.

Hemond said the alternatives will be presented in distinct phases, which would allow Royalton to spread out the cost over several years. The study is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at mhonghet@vnews.com or 603-727-3211.