The following was submitted by Nathan Mealey.
NOTE: There is a public information session TONIGHT, 6:30PM, Macdonough School.
The DOT plan for channeling additional auto traffic through downtown and the neighborhood streets surrounding it, is the complete opposite of the direction that Middletown should be taking. The DOT’s plans clearly prioritize the needs of drivers and cars over those of the families who live in these neighborhoods and the businesses that reside downtown. Increased traffic will surely decrease the quality of life and increase the safety concerns for those living in or near downtown.
I moved to Middletown a little over 2 years ago, and currently live on the edge of downtown by Wesleyan University with my wife and 2-year old son. We are regular walkers and runners, making our way to campus and downtown as well as walking throughout the surrounding neighborhoods. Each day we walk to work and school, or go for runs in the area, and so have a great deal of first-hand experience as a pedestrian in Middletown.
On a day-to-day basis, I am consistently taken aback at the extent to which Middletown's streets prioritize cars and traffic over families and neighborhoods. Sidewalks are haphazardly available (at best) as soon as you get past High St., making it dangerous to walk on many streets, particularly if you have children with you (Bretton Road is a nightmare). And traffic regularly builds up in smaller neighborhood streets around downtown. When combined with the disregard drivers consistently demonstrate towards pedestrians and speed limits, this undermines the quality of life in these neighborhoods and makes them patently unsafe to live in.
Instead of continuing to prioritize cars over residents and families, Middletown and the DOT should be prioritizing the people who live here. Instead of doing things such as widening neighborhood streets so that more cars can pass through more quickly, the city should be making these streets less amenable to cars through whatever traffic calming means are appropriate. While traffic on Main Street and Washington Street may be inevitable, this does not mean that surrounding neighborhoods should be sacrificed to commuter traffic as well.
At the same time, the downtown district has become increasingly vibrant in just the short amount of time that I’ve lived here. Making it harder for people to find parking in town, or more dangerous for pedestrians to cross streets in downtown (and it is already fairly treacherous), will only serve to reverse this momentum. The city needs to grasp the opportunity to change the downtown experience from one that prioritizes the needs of traffic, to one that makes it safe and desirable for people to stroll and visit local businesses. This will increase the volume of foot traffic, which will benefit local businesses, and create the momentum that downtown needs to continue to evolve as a destination. Taking things in the opposite direction by prioritizing commuter traffic, will only erode the downtown experience.
Middletown has an opportunity to create a vibrant downtown ringed by coherent and safe neighborhoods, where people can live and walk without the constant presence and threat of traffic. Giving over more of our neighborhood streets is the wrong direction for the city, and a disservice to the people who live here. Instead of redesigning neighborhood streets to favor auto traffic, the city should be making them safer by building more sidewalks and implementing traffic calming measures wherever possible. The living conditions for residents and families in these neighborhoods should be the city's priority, and not the cars and traffic of commuters who are simply passing through.