by Dot Helling
For those who like to hear me rant, this is for you — pet peeves balanced with some favorite things about Montpelier. After all, Montpelier is a contrast in many respects. Just compare the government bureaucrats to the aging hippies or the historic downtown buildings to the Crowley Center.
While Montpelier’s attractions include a small downtown atmosphere, “walkability,” minimal traffic and only a few downtown traffic lights, we have our complaints. The high-decibel beeping of the crosswalk directionals at State and Main no longer seem to keep nearby residents awake, but this crossing is not pedestrian friendly. It often skips us. When it does you can wait through two or three cycles of the traffic lights, jaywalk or take another route, or use this as an opportunity for a corner visit. We are generally pedestrian friendly. Numerous crosswalks and signs give pedestrians the right of way. But pedestrians take advantage, using this right as an invitation to cross without looking or, at night, cross the streets in dark clothes in a city with limited lighting. No light at the end of Barre Street and Main is an accident waiting to happen. This crosswalk seems misplaced while other parts of town have too many.
We are a pet-friendly city. Notice the water bowls and the number of dogs on our sidewalks and welcomed into our shops. Biscuits are readily handed out by retailers and banks. My dog habitually drags me into the establishments that have handouts. I appreciate those who have honored my requests to keep the treats to a minimum, lest Sophie’s waistline expand.
But pets don’t come without negative consequences, all of which I blame on their owners. Owners, pick up your dog’s poop wherever it lands. And when you do, dispose of the poop bag in an appropriate container; don’t “forget it” on the side of the trail in Hubbard Park. Montpelier provides bags and receptacles around town — although regrettably, you won’t find garbage cans on the streets during winter months.
We are a clean city, relatively litter free. Our Tree Board and Montpelier Alive keep up with weeding and beautifying the downtown. So why is it some residents don’t pick up debris in their front yards and sidewalks? I observed this over time by watching and not picking up significant pieces of litter, such as crushed coffee cups, in front of resident doors. Items sat for days while the resident walked over and past, ignoring or simply not noticing the item. Don’t be a “litter walkby.” If each of us picked up one piece of litter a day, imagine the results. If cigarette smokers picked up their butts and used the Sidewalk Buttler, and folks would not mow their lawns onto the roads and sidewalks without sweeping them afterward, imagine the results. If the city would not plow a wall of ice onto the end of our driveways, often within minutes of the driveway being cleared, imagine the relief to our backs.
We are working on becoming bike-friendly, e.g., the downtown “sharrows.” Sharrows are those recently painted images of bicycles on the street with arrows that are intended to alert drivers to share the road with bicyclists. The responsibility for keeping our city “bike safe” rests with motorists, cyclists AND pedestrians. The roads are ours to share. It’s important to remember that we have differing perspectives. Motorists, don’t just throw open your car door into a bike travel lane. Pedestrians, don’t strut into the crosswalks without looking. Cyclists, act like motorists and follow the rules of the road. We can all take the high road and let others pass safely, even if technically it’s your turn. And while I’m on cars, please don’t idle. It’s against the law, bad for the environment and costs you gas. And, if you’re not truly handicapped or do not have an electric car needing to power up, don’t take the spaces designated for such.
“What about parking?” you may ask. It’s our continuing downtown complaint and a pet peeve, along with the condition of our street, that’s what a majority of the residents I spoke to said. It’s a problem exacerbated by the use of spaces for other things such as bike parking, parklets and the bus. It’s an access problem for the elderly and disabled, and a disincentive to out-of-towners and tourists who come here to shop and eat. There are ways to minimize this problem, such as making the circulator bus a real “circulator” so that it is on a more user-friendly schedule, or finally building a parking garage, or not taking up parking spaces for frilly things.
The arts in this city amaze. We have endless quality venues for music, painting, acting, photography, storytelling and more. Beautiful banners line our streets. We deck out for the holidays and create city space, indoors and out, for the full enjoyment of these activities. We do have limited space, and some projects get overdone. We currently have a proliferation of graffiti, and we need to determine what is art and what is not acceptable to our residents, cover the rest, and somehow dissuade those who are denigrating our walls and buildings to stop doing this. We have beautiful outdoor spaces, including parks, trails, historic bridges and a bike path. We have the state house, most impressive when its golden dome is lit up at night or in the early dawn mist.
We have one-of-a-kind events, such as our Third of July celebration, the annual Vintage Trailer show and our weekly summer farmers’ market. I love the incorporation of such events downtown. However, the Farmers’ Market needs more room and exposure. Placing it on State Street in front of the state house with the street closed off between Gov. Davis and Bailey avenues would maximize access, exposure and vendor space. Our permitted downtown vendors would continue to set up on our downtown sidewalks seasonally, offering yummy Asian dishes, Gaylord burgers and mouth-watering sweets. We are a city of first-class food options, watering holes and sumptuous gelato. We are a unique city of “mom and pop” stores, as Steve Everett puts it, with only one nationwide chain. We are a city that celebrates the new and the old. One of my favorite vestiges of the past is our singing ice cream truck, which still makes the neighborhood rounds. My current new favorite is the summer’s end outdoor film on the state house lawn, this year “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” last year “ET,” complete with free popcorn and Ben & Jerry’s in five flavors.
Montpelier residents pay high taxes and water/sewer rates, which drive some residents away. But perhaps we can credit the balance between “faves” and “peeves” for keeping those of us who stay here happy that we live in this special place. After all, “no pain, no gain.”