Charles Safford

Charles Safford

I would like to acknowledge and express appreciation for Julie Pickett’s service to the children of Stowe.

She is retiring after 32 years as the assistant library director/children’s librarian. She has been a great advocate for children’s services. During her career, she has served as the president of the Vermont Library Association’s Children and Young Adult Librarians Section as a member of the Department of Libraries Services Advisory Committee, and as president of the Friends of the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award.

She has been very active with two of the three Vermont children’s book awards: The Red Clover Award and the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award. She has also been a selected participant in the Vermont Early Literacy Initiative provided by the Department of Libraries and the Vermont Center for the Book.

Julie has been an exemplary role model for youth librarians throughout the state and has positively influenced the youth of Stowe.

• Flashing headlights: We have all seen people do it and may have done it ourselves. Flashing your headlights to warn oncoming drivers of a police officer running radar or presence up ahead.

The police enforce speed limits for public safety purposes, many times based on requests from your fellow citizens to try to get people to comply with the speed limit.

People come from all over the world to enjoy the beauty of Stowe. Slow down, be safe and enjoy the scenery.

• Speed limits: Municipalities often receive requests to lower speed limits. The select board is not free to set a speed limit at any speed. Speed limits can be changed only after a traffic and engineering study and a public hearing process.

An analysis will typically start with a speed study to see how fast motorists are currently traveling and the accident history. The engineer will also look to see if there is anything else that should be taken into consideration, such as sight lines and the amount of pedestrian activity.

Revisiting the speed limit can have the opposite effect. If a speed study demonstrates that motorists are traveling safely at a higher rate of speed and there are no unique circumstances, such as high pedestrian activity within the corridor, then the speed limit may be set at the 85th percentile speed (85 percent of motorists are traveling at or below that speed and 15 percent are traveling over and above that speed).

Roads are meant to carry motorists and nonmotorized persons reasonably safely. It is important for commerce and convenience to be able to move products and people on our public roads. However, people also want to be able to safely enjoy their neighborhoods and it is recognized that the faster someone is going, the longer it takes them to stop.

Finding the right balance can be a challenge for a select board. While it is not an exact science, there is a science behind setting a speed limit and it shouldn’t be set too low based on political pressure. According to the Vermont Local Roads Program, Setting Speed Limits — A Guide for Vermont Towns, “Towns sometimes tend to set speed limits too low. This merely creates more speeders, since the majority of motorist drive at speeds they perceive to be safe. To effectively enforce the law, the public must belief the law is reasonable. The random installation of signs and speed limits can be detrimental to safety by breeding disrespect for all speed limits.”

At the other end of the spectrum, if speed limits that are set too high, it can create a hazard for both motorists and others who may be using the road.

Please remember that speed limits are supposed to be the maximum, not the minimum. People should be neighborly and avoid speeding, especially in neighborhoods and village centers.

• Traffic control devices: By state law, all municipalities are required to follow the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. This document provides for uniform regulatory signs and provides guidance on their placement. The intent is that, no matter where you are driving, you have common signage that is universally recognizable.

In order to install a regulatory sign, it is required to be warranted. This requires an engineer to do a traffic study using the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. It has guidelines that establishes when it is appropriate to do so and when it is not. Again, while it is not an exact science, it is a science that is intended to give motorists a sense of predictability regardless of what municipality they are driving through.

When driving on a road, you should have an intuitive sense of the pace you should be traveling and when to stop. If there is a concentration of housing or significant numbers of pedestrians, you should already have a sense it is time to slow down and the signs should be confirming it. If you are on a narrow dirt road with a limited sight line (visibility), it is time to slow down. If you are on a large straightaway outside of a community center, it may be OK to increase your speed in accordance with the established speed limit and you may not have to stop often.

• Road crew challenges: Ideas on their own may seem simple to take care of, but it may not be as easy when you have to take other factors into consideration. Let’s take the road crew maintaining gravel roads as an example.

The town has a 10-person road crew, a number that has not increased in over a decade. In that time, the state has implemented increased stormwater regulations that take an increased amount of time to implement by stone-lining ditches and improving drainage. The intent of these regulations is to help prevent sediment from running into the public waters for water quality reasons.

At the same time, Stowe has a number of designated scenic roads that predate modern stormwater regulations. These are roads with restrictions that are meant to preserve their scenic, rural feel, which is important to our quality of life and tourism economy. These are often narrow, tree-lined roads that provide limited opportunity to provide adequate drainage, which can lead to erosion of the road and corresponding sediment runoff.

The road crew is faced with the requirements of stormwater regulations while trying to maintain the roads’ scenic nature. Both are laudable goals and it is possible to balance the two, but it takes time and resources to do so. The crew is increasingly being asked to improve standards on a number of fronts often while trying to reconcile competing goals without necessarily being provided more personnel or funding.

• Please be civil: In the era of trolls on Facebook, it has become far too common to disparage people, including municipal employees. However, unlike Facebook, we are not some distant, faceless person; we are your friends and neighbors trying to serve you. It’s more than appropriate to ask questions and question us, but please do so in a civil manner.


Charles Safford is the Stowe town manager. Email letters to news@stowereporter.com.

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