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Norwalk Beach Road fatality motivating activists to try harder

Bike/Walk Task Force co-chairman Peter Libre, M.D.,
Norwalk Bike/Walk Task Force co-chairman Peter Libre, M.D., discusses Calf Pasture Beach Road on Monday in the Norwalk Health Department building.

NORWALK, Conn. – The death of a Norwalk driver Friday on Calf Pasture Beach Road has intensified a push to change the traffic pattern there in a return to a 2012 controversy.

“People die in disproportionate numbers on this one particular road. Doesn’t matter that it was their fault, that they did stupid things; why is it that this doesn’t happen on other roads in Norwalk?” Bike/Walk Task Force co-chairman Peter Libre, M.D., said at a Monday night meeting of the task force.

John Soyland, 27, died Friday night after a single vehicle crash on Calf Pasture Beach Road. Soyland was driving north at about 10:30 p.m. and was partially ejected from his pickup truck when it rolled over after hitting several objects and crossing over into the southbound lane, according to a Norwalk Police press release. Soyland was alone in the vehicle, police say.

“The accident is still under investigation and at this point in time, there is no indication any other vehicle was involved,” Mayor Harry Rilling said in an email. “Beach Road, in and of itself, is not a dangerous road.  It is, however, highly traveled and in some instances, vehicles do travel at excessive speeds.  The Traffic Authority will consider any measures necessary to make Beach Road and any road in Norwalk as safe as possible.  That would include any and all traffic calming measures.”

The power to change the road is in the hands of the three-member Traffic Authority, but the Bike/Walk Task Force intends to make some strong suggestions. Libre, who spearheaded an unsuccessful push in 2012 to institute a “road diet” on Calf Pasture Beach Road, spoke passionately on the topic.

“To me it’s obvious that it’s dangerous by design,” Libre said. “… Speeding and racing are encouraged by this wide open design.”

While Co-chairman Mike Mushak advocated for the road diet as presented in the 2012 Norwalk Pedestrian and Bikeway Transportation Plan – one lane for vehicles in either direction instead of two – Libre had a new concept.

“I think even better would be to make it much more like Gregory Boulevard, which is one lane in each direction heading into each other and there’s actually a pretty simple way to do it,” he said.

That would be putting vehicles on one side of the divider running down the middle of what is now four lanes of traffic and putting pedestrians and cyclists on the other.

“This road is like an uncovered swimming pool, it’s an attractive nuisance,” Libre said. “Is it the fault of the 3-year-old for stepping into the pool or for the parents who didn’t watch him properly? You can lay blame all kinds of ways but you shouldn’t have an uncovered swimming pool and you shouldn’t have a road that encourages drunk people to drive dangerously. Gregory Boulevard doesn’t do that. Nobody wrecks on Gregory Boulevard. … I think it is our responsibility to come up with a road design that is significantly safer than what was there.”

Comments made by Libre and others in 2012 were called “inflammatory, inaccurate and a disgrace” by then-Traffic Authority member Peter Torrano. Libre is sticking to those comments, saying there has been a death on Beach Road on an average of every seven years.

At the time, Torrano dug up police records and found that only four accidents had actually happened on Calf Pasture Beach Road since 1999, and no one had been charged with speeding in the accidents.

In May 2013, a speeding teenager went off the road and hit a stone wall and street sign pole, police said.

Mushak said Monday night that there were 500 signatures on a petition in 2012 to enact a road diet. He didn’t mention that there were 700 signatures on a petition against it. The Traffic Authority, under Mayor Richard Moccia, voted to put shared bike lanes (sharrows) on Beach Road instead of the road diet. Rilling was police chief at the time.

Monday, Mushak said this was a “shock to many of us at the time who thought this was a no-brainer,” because the road diet idea had been recommended by an expert study.

“We were disappointed,” Mushak said. “There have been comments from Common Council members recently saying they support a test-and-learn period to consider the road diet. That is encouraging and I think now we need to look forward to work together in coming up with a solution for public safety here and not concentrate on placing blame or looking backward. But it’s really important that the history of this decision be known and in the future, compromises for public safety should not be made because of political reasons.”

“I agree, it’s sitting out there and we should do something,” said Councilman Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large), a task force member.

Kimmel said that if it were “doable” to have an entire road heading to the beach dedicated to pedestrians, cyclists and skateboarders it would be great.

But, he said to Libre, “You’re an MD, and (DPW Chief Hal Alvord) and company are going to have to talk about that. … I like your idea because it’s simple and it seems to be safe, but I don’t know what the recommendations were, the original recommendations.”

The recommendations in the 2012 Norwalk Pedestrian and Bikeway Transportation Plan are attached below.

Libre said his version might have been in there but, “I think the consultants were very wary from the very beginning about pitching this to Hal Alvord because they knew that Hal Alvord would have the potential to censor their ideas, so they were trying to keep it as palatable as possible and maybe minimize change as much as possible. We are now at a point where we have to acknowledge this road is really dangerous by design and it’s no longer enough to just kind of fiddle around the edges of it.”

Mushak said Libre’s idea would be “very tricky for emergency vehicles because you don’t have places to pass.” He recommended one lane on either side of the median and an 8-foot bicycle lane on the outside, with a 6-foot striped buffer between them.

“We really have a lot of real estate here devoted to speeding cars,” Mushak said. “This is the mindset that the city has been in and I think the whole road diet idea is taking that valuable real estate and saying this it can be done for all the other users. This is being done all over America. … It’s time that Norwalk catches up.”

Both men talked about delineator posts, which mark lanes and can be removed as needed.

The Calf Pasture Beach Road sidewalks were another topic of concern. Although the city, under Moccia, put in new sidewalks, Task Force member Esme Lombard said the sidewalks are inadequate and people are walking in the street.

“The buses come along and drive along the lane closest to the sidewalk, and the mirrors are literally overhanging the sidewalk. Kid could step off into the road,” she said. “Both sides are inadequate for passing or general use.”

Plus, she said, residents can hear cars speeding at night. “They open it up right there on Calf Pasture Beach Road. You can hear the racing all the way over” on Cove Road, two blocks away.

“We have had enforcement for years. … Everything the police could possibly have done to slow traffic has really just made a dent,” Mushak said. “Because the road is dangerous by design, it makes you want to speed up even if you are a safe driver because the lanes are interstate width.”

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Calf Pasture Beach Road diet

 

Comments

14 responses to “Norwalk Beach Road fatality motivating activists to try harder”

  1. Harold F. Cobin

    The road is perfectly safe for sane drivers. For the rest, no road will ever be safe enough. The city has many more important things to spend money on. H.F.C.

  2. Casey Smith

    “People die in disproportionate numbers on this one particular road. Doesn’t matter that it was their fault, that they did stupid things; why is it that this doesn’t happen on other roads in Norwalk?”[said] Bike/Walk Task Force co-chairman Peter Libre, M.D.

    I respectfully disagree, Dr. Libre. Has anyone looked at the number of accidents on East or West Avenues? Or how about Connecticut Avenue? I’d be interested to hear what those figures were. Also, why blame the rest of us when people do stupid things, like popping motorcycle wheelies? Yes, I’ve seen it on Beach Road — and also on I-95! With the number of people living in Norwalk, accidents are bound to happen.

    Mushak said Monday night that there were 500 signatures on a petition in 2012 to enact a road diet. He didn’t mention that there were 700 signatures on a petition against it.

    Thank you, Nancy. I appreciate your thoroughness.

    “The buses come along and drive along the lane closest to the sidewalk, and the mirrors are literally overhanging the sidewalk. Kid could step off into the road,” she said.

    Yes, Ms. Lombard, they could step off into the road, just like they could on other sidewalks in Norwalk that directly border the street. The State is putting in sidewalks all along Connecticut Avenue between Fairfield Avenue and Exit 14 that border the road which the buses take. It could happen there, too.

    Bottom line, it’s a tragedy that this accident happened and the young man died, but frankly, at this point, no one knows why it happened. For all anyone knows, he could have had a seizure, which would have caused him to lose control no matter what road he was on. He could have swerved to avoid an animal or any other variety of scenarios. But to put the blame on the design of the road is wrong simply because no one knows what happened yet.

  3. Bruce Kimmel

    Speeding has been a problem in Norwalk for years. No matter how much residents complain, we can’t seem to get a handle on it. All of the data and all of the national guidelines indicate that wide lanes encourage speeding and that the presence of bicycle lanes, which narrow the car lanes, are one of the best traffic calming measures a municipality can implement. It’s happening all across the country. This may be counter intuitive to some, but drivers tend to slow down as the lanes narrow and they have to share the road with folks on bikes.

  4. MarshaV

    How many of these accidents have happened late at night when there is NO traffic? Traffic calming will not address this issue, and narrowing the road to one lane will make matters worse for us Norwalk residents trying to get into the beach on a busy summer weekend or when there is a special event. The rest of us should not have to suffer because people do not know how to drive. What about the Route 7 connector and all of the racing that goes on there? Is anything being done about that? How about having more police issue speeding tickets on Beach Road? Nothing annoys me more than as a native Norwalker that respects the speed limit is seeing people speeding (ok, even 35mph is speeding) down Beach Road on the busier weekends and there is no police patrol. It would earn Norwalk some extra money in the budget if more tickets were handed out. They just paved the roads in my rural neighborhood and, of course, some people had to “lay their tracks” on the newly paved roads. People are going to do irresponsible things and you can’t fix stupid.

  5. Oldtimer

    There have been changes in the way police enforce speeding laws. Years ago, when there were a lot less calls for them to deal with, any officer that observed speeding felt obliged to pursue and stop the offender. Today, partly because they are so busy, most officers seem content to leave speeding enforcement up to officers assigned to that and nothing else, usually with radar or a similar device. While most of us still try to avoid passing a police car on the road, we are not too concerned that every officer we see is prepared to stop us for speeding or other motor vehicle offenses. Look, or listen, to how many vehicles are on the road with modified, extremely loud, exhaust systems, apparently not worried about enforcement.

  6. EastNorwalkChick

    Even if they made it one lane on both the north and south bound lanes the kids would still use it as a drag strip in the evenings after the beach has closed. It’s flat, straight and has very little traffic in the late hours, perfect conditions for racing.

    As for Mike’s assertion that this road is well enforced, it’s only at peak beach hours in the summer. Even that is questionable on a summer Sunday evening around 6PM as I have witnessed several times myself. Only to find that they are parked at Old Well Lodge on the phone on the corner of Old Saugatuck and Gregory, or getting coffee at the Mobil Station….

    I’m on that road just about everyday, sometimes twice a day on weekends, on my way to Taylor Farm to run my dog. 98% of the time there’s not a cop in sight when I’m doing the speed limit of 25 MPH and people are passing me as if I’m standing still….and these NOT just the kids speeding, more often it is adults who should know better.

    So unless you add some curves or lights, chop it up somehow, you’re not going to stop people from speeding on that road.

  7. Mike Mushak

    To be clear, the petition against the road diet in 2012 with “700 names” was actually never released to the public with the names and addresses of the signers to confirm teh count, as the petition supporting it was. That was how Councilman Dave McCarthy saw a supporter’s name who was a political rival from Rowayton (Mike Barbis), which Mr. McCarthy intentionally made into an issue as he said no one from Rowayton should have an opinion about making Beach Road safer! I guess folks from Rowayton never go to Calf Pasture Beach?

    The petition against the road diet was also highly deceptive with its wording and the name of the fictitious group that supported it (but never met), using the word safety over and over when keeping the 4 lane layout was the unsafest idea based on statistics and expert studies. A photo was shown of a traffic backup at the light at Gregory Blvd and said the road diet would create traffic jams like this, but much worse, with no counts or expert study to back it up. There was no mention when this photo was taken, whcigh likely was at a peak time like the boat show (traffic engineers studying Beach Road stated that 2 lanes would handle the traffic just fine even at peak times).

    Nancy, please try to get the “700” petition names and addresses which we couldn’t get in 2012. What would have stopped us from saying we had 1,000 names on our petition, if we kept our list a secret? I will be convinced when that list is produced, although it doesn’t matter as much as it did then. Are we really going to design for safety improvements (recommended by 3 studies totalling almost $1 million) based on public opinion polls?

    The consultant’s plans did not get into detail such as at the southern end of Beach Rd, where we had originally proposed 4 lanes for a couple of hundred feet to allow the left turn towards Taylor farm from a four lane layout, and a turn lane into the marina and for stacking into the beach. Also, special events especially 4th of July would have the bike lanes converted to car use with police supervision, and stacking for Marvin school pickup and drop off, and bus stops, would be permitted in the bike lanes.

    A test and learn period was suggested in 2012 that was voted down by the Common Council, resulting in the dangerous 4 lane layout being preserved and the sharrows being installed which were NOT recommended by any of the experts as the average speeds are too fast for safe mixing of bike and car traffic there. The Task Force and many members of the Common Council are hoping for a new test and learn period with cones, so we can see how the road works with a road diet before any restriping occurs.

    I also stand by my comment that no amount of enforcement will slow traffic on a road that is inherently dangerous by design, built to interstate highway standards for high speeds in a low speed setting, and where even the safest drivers are prone to speed as the conditions encourage it. This fact is supported now by the national organizations of highway engineers, AASHTO and NACTO, in their new standards, so don’t just take my word for it.

    When all the national experts agree on something, and public safety is at risk, isn’t it time to listen here in Norwalk?

  8. Ed

    I walk my children to school every morning and the stretch from Ludlow park to where we can cross to school is incredibly dangerous due to the narrow sidewalk and no buffer to the outside lane.
    To provide a buffer I walk in the road since we cannot fit two people side by side on the sidewalk.

    When people come the other direction someone needs to make a choice of who will step off first in to the traffic. It would seem logical that a pedestrian walking in a beach /park / school area shouldn’t have to make that choice.

  9. Rit V

    30 years ago (“back in the day”), I used to race down beach road. Some times I’d get caught, most times I didn’t. Now that I’m all grown up I obey the speed limit. This recent accident is obviously a case of speeding […]. “Back in the day” there used to be 1 or 2 police officers patrolling the beach with another doing radar on beach road. To narrow beach rd would make it A LOT more dangerous for EVERYONE. Lets not forget that there is an elementary school and a playground on that road also. Maybe speed bumps would curb speeders. In the end I hope and pray that COMMON SENSE and RATIONAL decisions will be made in this case. Let the offenders be punished NOT the conformers. Hopefully those in city government will push aside there own agendas and do the right thing!!!!

    This comment was edited to remove a potentially libelous phrase.

  10. michael foley

    Leave Beach Road Alone ! Accidents happen all over Norwalk ! Some Family just losses a son, a father , lets not sensationalizes this tragic accident for the sake of bike lanes. Really People

  11. EastNorwalkChick

    Mike, I usually agree with the ideas that you propose, but not the road diet one.

    I live in this area, back-ups occur on Gregory Blvd. just about every weekend evening from springtime to well into the fall, if the weather is good. Add any event down at the Beach such as an old car show, bands, movie nights the traffic doubles. Add the Oyster Festival, the fireworks and the Boat Show the traffic multiplies ten times.

    If you narrow Beach Road it will slow people down alright, right to a grinding halt…..

  12. M murray

    Please bring that petition to me so I could make it 701. Has anyone done a study to see how many people actually bike to work in norwalk. I rarely see it. And the bikers I do see are not stopping for stop signs, passing stopped cars on the right at stop signs and lights, and traveling 2 or more abreast. Narrowing the roads also lead to even narrower roadways in the winter when the plows push the snow into both sides of the road.

  13. Local Ed

    As a active Bike Rider and Long Boarder down to the Beach not just in the summer but in the fall and Spring as well, I can easily say that I never feel safe with that stupid shared right lane.

    I think its plain and simple put in a bike lane, that will add some traffic to beach road, but the long term effect will be great. More people will be walking and biking down to the beach. Maybe the town doesn’t want that cause they could lose out on parking money, but either way that will create a better beach environment.
    Bike lanes are what we (young Norwalkers in our 20’s) want to see put in. That is the type of thing that keeps young people in this city and will see it grow into the future. Older Generations stuck driving cars are going to slowy see thier way out!

  14. MarshaV

    Speed bumps…there, solved

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