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Tuesday, Apr 23, 2024

If Middlebury Had a Metro System

Readers, I write to you today with urgency. Middlebury is in the midst of a transit crisis.

Middrides is nonfunctional. Public Safety is on the prowl to give out parking tickets. It takes a full 20 minutes to walk from the Bihall to the gym — and that’s if you’re speedwalking.

A subway system could solve these problems. Call it the M-etro. Imagine the convenience of being able to travel from Bihall to the gym in a matter of moments.

The basics of it work like this. There will be four main lines. The ADK line, stopping at Bihall, Ross, ADK circle, Gifford, Proctor and Stewart, with a limited service stop at the cemetery. This line would primarily be used by science students, as well as people who eat in Proctor.

Then you have the Atwater Express, shuttling guests from the Coffrin and the Atwaters to Battell, Warner, Davis, and eventually to the new museum which should be built. (For preliminary designs, see the architecture majors’ thesis work from January.) This line will probably get the most traffic, especially the Davis stop.

The Ethan Allen line is a big one for athletes, as it connects the other lines to a straight shot up the CFA, gym, football stadium, and golf course. Down the other way it also makes stops at admissions and Laurie Patton’s house before terminating at Mr. Ups.

One of the most useful lines will be the the College Street trolley. It runs the entire length of that road from Ridgeline to Twilight, making stops at Forest and Sunderland. Bar nighters will be pleased to see the trolley providing full service to Two Bros; crunchies will be excited to see a limited service stop at the organic farm.

The Murray line ties up loose ends by connecting the ADK and Ethan Allen together, adding stops at Munroe, McCullough, Axinn and the biomass plant. There’s also a shuttle line between Proctor and Davis for convenience.

In total, it’s about 2.5 miles of track, so at a going rate of $250 million per km, we should be around . . . $1 billion dollars. Perfect — our endowment is just over that amount, giving us a bit of change left over.

Obviously, the Vermont Underground is never going to happen. A boy can dream, can’t he? But without any serious commitment to thinking about built space, our vast campus will still be hostile to pedestrians, to the spontaneous encounters that make for a vibrant campus life.

A good guiding document is Middlebury’s master plan, drafted by a major architectural firm, Michael Dennis & Associates, and meant to last for 50 years. It’s a serious document, though you might not realize it from hearing the jokes about it in Old Chapel.

Broadly speaking, the plan proposes beautifying the campus by thinking about how buildings relate to each other. It also rails against sprawl, and suggests that most new buildings be placed in the core rather than the periphery. It’s an urbanist’s dream.

Of course, Middlebury’s most recent construction projects disregarded this advice — the Ridgeline development and the new temporary building. These projects expanded the campus footprint rather than articulating vast and out-of-scale open spaces like Battell Beach.

Good design should be a part of everything this school does. It’s up to all of us to hold the powers that be to account. To the architects and artists at Middlebury, say no to poor design. Say no when a building feels hostile or inaccessible. Say no to a logo that looks like Clip Art. Whenever possible, propose better designs and better spaces. And to the trustees, when it comes to major construction projects, say yes to the master plan.

And with that, I’m signing off. Thanks for reading. I hope to see the Ethan Allen subway line at a reunion in 50 years — or at least a few of the proposals in the master plan actually realized. Until then, let’s hope it’s onward and upward for the college on the hill.

Ethan Brady is the editor in chief.