Completing the crescent connect and slicing a leg off the Five Corners traffic flow could cut the notorious intersection’s vehicle delays by more than half, at least according to a study showing how the village could make its Design Five Corners project a reality.
The study, authored by a team consisting of regional and local planners, lays out how the village can implement the findings of its community-wide planning exercise within the village’s municipal plan, which is up for revisions this year.
The municipal plan offers a snapshot of what the community wants to achieve within the next five to 10 years and remains the best avenue for achieving the Design Five Corners’ goal of creating a more vibrant and walkable village center.
“This is not just in terms of decreasing wait times for pedestrians to cross the intersections,” said village president George Tyler, explaining traffic woes remain the biggest challenge to the plan. “It’s also about how pedestrians perceive the public space. Is it visually appealing? Does it look safe?”
That’s a hard no, according to project manager Lucy Gibson, a traffic engineer with DuBois and King who worked on the study with village officials and the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission. Pointing to wide swaths of pavement and long waiting times at the Five Corners intersection, Gibson said the village now hosts several barriers to walking.
“It’s very difficult to be a pedestrian in the village,” she said.
Several infrastructure changes could fix all that, she said, though some decisions are still up the air, like whether the trustees want to block off traffic to Main Street and create a pedestrian hub akin to Burlington’s Church Street.
First, trustees want to judge the success of their long-awaited Crescent Connector, a bypass road that will swing around three legs of the Five Corners, in decongesting the intersection. Village officials said work on the connector, which has been delayed multiple years in a row, will start in the next few months.
Once the connector is up and running, the village can temporarily close off Main Street and demonstrate how a four-way intersection would impact traffic flow – according to the study, doing so would cut average wait times from about 45 seconds down to less than 20 seconds.
Still, there’s no consensus on Main Street’s fate – or whether traffic projections are a reliable source.
“When you narrow it down and you lose a street for vehicles, bikes, pedestrians, the pressure from that has to go somewhere else,” said trustee Dan Kerin. “You’re looking into the future and not knowing.”
“I totally understand how it’s counterintuitive that fewer lanes could be better,” Gibson responded. She explained the efficiencies come from having quicker wait times through the intersection.
Others wonder how the move would impact traffic on other residential streets.
The trustees have also heard some pushback to the idea from local business owners who fear changes to Main Street will negatively impact their stores there. Citing this, trustee Lori Houghton stressed the importance of educating the community on any eventual changes.
“We can’t just put this in and say, ‘Well, data shows this, we’re not going to listen to your perception,’” she said. “It’s still a perception that’s very valid … until we show it, I think there’s going to be a perception that it can’t possibly happen.”
Tyler agreed, noting such a change would require a “big political effort.” But in an opening statement, he lamented how pedestrianizing of Main Street has been conflated with the biggest motivation to close the road – traffic improvements.
“Our reason for converting the five corners intersection has always first and foremost been to calm and moderate the flow of traffic through the village center, while also making it move more efficiently,” he said.
Joining the trustees at last week’s meeting were three village planning commissioners, including Diane Clemens, who expressed disappointment that the study didn’t include the entire Design Five Corners concept – namely components that focused on additional economic development in the area.
“People need business and things to do to want to come down here,” she said.
Tyler said that work still needs to be done, but he called the study’s focus on transportation and infrastructure “pretty foundational for moving forward.”
Echoing that statement, consultant Gibson said there’s a lot of evidence that shows when communities make investments in their walkability, businesses are more likely to set up shop there.
“If they’re comfortable walking there, then more people will,” Gibson said.
In the end, officials again reaffirmed support for a slow-and-steady approach. With the connector set to break ground this spring, that could mean at least another year before the board has substantial data to study the impact on Five Corners and whether Main Street’s closure is preferred.
One resident in attendance at last week’s meeting, Raj Chawla, supported this incremental approach, even if it frustrates some who want a faster process.
Chawla, who’s running for an open trustee position in next month’s election, said it’s important to identify and address problems early on. He called the closure of Main Street an opportunity to “change the dynamic of the village,” but said he, too, believes more research needs to be done before any decision is made.
“It’s worth exploring, and I think the trustees are on the right track,” he said.