By: Todd Thomas
Did you know that something happened this summer that will change all of our lives? And no, I am not talking about the Br-exit vote. Nor am I talking about the duplicitous NFL Commissioner punishing Tom Brady for footballs that were naturally deflated (alas us Vermonters know how cold air works in the winter).
I am talking about the ribbon-cutting that took place in June in Morrisville for our section of the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail. As a land use planner, I love talking about how transportation shapes the built environment, especially how providing active transportation choices can improve the physical health and economic wellbeing of a community. But first I will tell you how our new rail trail is going to change downtown Morrisville, much like how a similar recreational amenity slowly but profoundly changed where I grew up.
As a kid, I grew up on Boston’s North Shore and I was afforded a front row seat to the metamorphosis of towns like Newburyport and Ipswich as recreational bicycling slowly invaded each of these downtowns, forever changing them. This “invasion” started when the commuter train line into Boston started replacing the train’s passenger seats with bike-racks in one of the train cars heading out to the coast on Saturdays in the summer. This train bike-rack pilot program quickly grew in popularity to where, before long, on various warm weather days, trains were rolling north out of Boston’s North Station with more cyclists and bikes onboard headed to Newburyport and Ipswich than regular train passengers. Not surprisingly, all of these cyclists starting patronizing my sleepy local lunch spots after a hard day of pedal-touring places like Plum Island in Newburyport. Pretty soon these lunch spots were no longer sleepy and the locals even had to contend with lycra-wearing road warriors for seats at our (no-longer-so-local) pub on Friday night. I think I finally realized how grand this recreational-induced transformation had become when a local bait shop turned into a gift shop seemingly overnight – like a caterpillar turning into a beautiful butterfly.
In Vermont, everything is smaller and everything seems to take a little longer than it does in southern New England. So while I do expect the opening of the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail to profoundly and positively affect downtown Morrisville, like it did for Newburyport and Ipswich, it could take a decade or so for that to happen. When high-value active recreational opportunities like the new rail-trail in Morrisville, or even the Rec Path is Stowe, are offered to people, these recreation amenities become heavily used and become cherished attributes of the community.
So let this blog post encourage you to dust off that bike in your garage and put it to good use on the rail trail. In doing so, you will be improving your health and making the already fabulous downtown Morrisville even more vibrant. Hopefully I will see you out on the rail-trail, where I will be pedaling towards a healthier me and a more economically robust downtown Morrisville. And finally, don’t say I didn’t warn you when, ten years from now, you realize how important the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail was towards furthering the revitalization of our ever-improving downtown.
Todd Thomas has a Master’s Degree in City Planning from Boston University and has worked both in Massachusetts and Vermont as a consultant and as a land use planner for town government. Todd is currently the Planning Director for Morristown, Vermont.
Todd’s recent work includes helping to revitalize downtown Morrisville, making it the fastest growing city and/or historic downtown in the State since the 2010 Census. Todd attributes much of the downtown’s housing and population growth to zoning reform as it relates to minimum parking requirements.