Norwalk DPW asked to study Beach Road anew

A memorial marks the area where 27-year-old Norwalker John Soyland was killed in a single-car crash Oct. 4.
A memorial marks the area where 27-year-old Norwalker John Soyland was killed in a single-car crash Oct. 4.

NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk’s Traffic Authority is looking to change the configuration of Calf Pasture Beach Road in the wake of a recent fatal accident.

“The Traffic Authority has asked the Traffic Department staff to review the situation and all of the options mentioned thus far and make recommendations for the best solution,” Mayor Harry Rilling said in an email.

The authority met Monday. Bike/Walk Task Force Co-Chairman Mike Mushak spoke at the beginning as a member of the public in support of a test-and-learn period next summer for the “road diet” idea that created controversy in 2012.

That would be one lane for vehicles in either direction instead of two, as presented in the 2012 Norwalk Pedestrian and Bikeway Transportation Plan. The Moccia Administration rejected the road diet idea and installed sharrows, or shared lanes on the road, although consultants say sharrows are only recommended for roads where the maximum speed traveled is 25 miles per hour.

Harold Cobin attended the Traffic Authority meeting and provided NoN with a recording of Mushak’s remarks.

“A gentleman died,” Mushak said. “… We’re sort of several different minds in the task force; we are like everybody else, we don’t have a consensus. But there was an idea of doing a road diet on Beach Road, which means taking a whole lane out. That means a test-and-learn period with cones usually during the busy season so we can see how that works. That’s not going to be feasible over the winter.”

Mushak said the road is scheduled for repaving in two years and it might be good to re-engineer it then. But in the interim, some task force members feel that simply putting down a shoulder stripe to narrow the outside lane, keeping the sharrows, would be sufficient as an interim step.

“Something does need to be done. I think we all agree the road could be improved beyond what it has now,” Mushak said.

In an email to NoN later, Mushak said, “Mayor Rilling had previously suggested this as an option to explore to improve safety on Beach Road to the Bike/Walk Task Force. When the discussion came up later in the meeting among members of the Traffic Authority and DPW staff, Mayor Rilling instructed Hal Alvord to come back to the TA with ideas for how to improve Beach Road, that included a new shoulder stripe with perhaps a new bike lane, but not including a road diet option at this time.”


15 responses to “Norwalk DPW asked to study Beach Road anew”

  1. Mike Mushak

    Thank you NON for the article. The decision for what to do with Beach Rd comes down to what is feasible at this time considering the road is sceduled for repaving in 2 to 3 years. The loss of this young life is tragic, and we should be aware that all the details of the one-car accident still have not been released publicly. Speeding was clearly a factor however, which we know the road encourages by design with the existing 14 foot wide outside lane and the 4 lane highway-style layout, and we know drag racing is common based on experiences of people who live nearby and see and hear it frequently. I support some variation of a road diet eventually as do many others, including other task force members and many common council members even though the task force and the common council are not officially part of the decision-making process for road design by city charter. In the meantime, I now support Mayor Rilling’s sensible approach which is to have DPW come back to the TA with recommendations.

  2. Svetare

    It would scare the daylights out of me to walk or ride on Beach Rd unless there are guardrails in place. I witnessed a rollover there a few years ago. I was almost hit while working in the road during that almost fatal accident. My ex coworker hit a mound of snow in the median and flipped. I don’t believe he was speeding, but I didn’t have a radar gun out. Maybe a guardrail in the median would help? It looks like this is how the past fatal crash happened, minus the snow. But yes, something needs to be done.

  3. Ken

    This is silly, who thinks this accident wouldn’t happen on a single lane? Iv been riding bikes and walking on that road for 36 years or so with no issue. This bike/walk task force should be comic relief. The road was built for vehicles and is maintained in part bt taxes levied on vehicles. Its NOT a bike path or sidewalk or skateboard path. The City could easily provide those to get non vehicular traffic off the roadway since it owns most of the east side of beach road. Build a path OFF the street through the school and Taylor farm. The cyclists in the city, emboldened by positive feedback from city officials, are creating safety hazards. They ride in the middle of two land roads, two abreast blocking traffic and its always the cars fault. Rilling should direct the PD to ticket the cyclists when not within three feet of the curb, riding two abreast, going through traffic signals etc. Then at least they would have to obey the laws they want everyone else to obey.
    This recent accident I feel was likely caused by the things the city put on the median more than anything else. Its easy to see how a truck swerving across it might hit a decoration and roll over. If we want the road to be safer a first step should be removing that median instead of further restricting traffic. That and speed enforcement would do a world of good.

    Norwalk has an identity crisis trying to accommodate everything and everyone but not rebuild. Beach road is not a big road and the sidewalks aren’t up to code. The issue is really one of volume more than anything. If it was a road leading to a beach used by US it would be fine. But its become a money making venue with citizens need secondary at best. ALL East Norwalks roads are overtaxed, many were laid out in the 1600s. Its how things are but the city chooses to see things how they want instead of how they are. Sad really, we have a wonderful little place to live, and those tasked with running it care more about money than quality of life.

  4. Oldtimer

    That short stretch of four lane road certainly encourages speeding and the idea that the police dept has the manpower for any consistent enforcement is not realistic. A road diet plan, essentially cutting the road down to single lanes in each direction, would eliminate the speeding and drag racing and, in the process, the bad accidents. The simplest, and cheapest, way would probably be to enlarge the median. With no parking on either side, the sharrows would work much better once the motor vehicle speed was more reasonable.

  5. WOW just WOW

    I would not be a bit surprised that this accident was in fact caused by the confusion created by these bike lanes. The whole bike lane ideas is a . They are almost 100 percent unused. Maybe its time the intelligent citizens in Norwalk get together and get a court order to stop further destruction of our roads by ridiculous unused bike lanes.

  6. EastNorwalkChick

    What about the high volume of cars during the fireworks and other large events at the beach, how would that be handled?

    It’s already bad enough with two lane, narrowing it would surely bring everything to a grinding halt. It would also cause more people than what we already have now, parking on Canfield, Pine Hill and Gregory, plus all the little side streets just to avoid getting stuck in traffic during the fireworks.

    The only way to cut the number of cars from that road during the summer months is for Council and Parks & Recs agree to stop out of towner’s from coming to the fireworks and using the beach…which means we would have to pay for stickers, which is not going to happen.

    So we really need to think this thing through before we start digging up and reconfiguring Beach Road.

  7. Mike Mushak

    EastNorwalkChick, the road diet as proposed in the expert studies has no digging up required. It’s all done with paint on existing roadway surfaces and allows for quick conversion back to 4 lanes on the 4th of July with police supervision. It’s likely not an option at this time anyway before the road is repaved in 2-3 years, and would also require a “test and learn” at peak times anyway in a summer time frame with traffic cones and portable signs to work out details. I am pretty sure some other simpler options will be proposed by DPW for the immediate future to improve safety, which is what the mayor requested.

  8. Rusty Guardrail

    A bad driver goes buck-wild on Beach Road. Because of that, you want to change the road?! The city government has no mandate to modify a perfectly ordinary straight flat 4-lane road in response to irresponsible driving.
    The city government does have a mandate to cite bad drivers and remove them from the road when possible.

  9. Mike Mushak

    Rusty, anyone who drives on Beach Rd can see for themselves what the problem is. The speed limit is 25. The road design is similar to interstate highways designed for 65 mph speeds. The average speed is about 40, with many driving faster than that as they race past each other to get to and from the beach.

    Sidewalks along large sections of a Beach Rd especially near Marvin Elementary School are dangerously narrow and have no safety buffer yet are often filled with pedestrians including children walking to the beach or school. Bike traffic is heavy especially at peak times when I ride and see lots of bikes in the road.

    Try driving a car at 25 mph at peak times as I often try to do and watch what happens. You will be passed by most cars going much faster, just as the road design encourages even for the safest drivers.

    National studies have shown that a pedestrian or cyclist getting hit by a car going 40 mph has an 80% chance of being killed, which drops dramatically in half to a 40% death rate at 30 mph, and to a 5% death rate if hit by a car going 20 mph. Speed kills, and statistics in a 2013 SWRPA safety study prove we live in a dangerous city for pedestrians and cyclists.

    National safety experts hired by the city studied the obsolete design of the 1960’s era Beach Rd (when moving traffic as fast as possible dominated road engineering) and made recommendations based on traffic counts and best practices that other cities around the country are successfully installing to improve safety and slow speeds. Many folks in Norwalk agree we should listen to what experts have recommended in studies that we all paid for with out tax dollars. Why should we ignore them based on emotional knee-jerk responses like your comment that are not based on science or facts but just a fear of change?

  10. WOW just WOW

    Why Bike Lanes are a Bad Idea

    A bike lane is a lane reserved for cyclists, and it’s usually on the right edge of the roadway. Bike lanes are separated from the rest of traffic by a solid or striped line.

    If you ride regularly, you probably have somebody in your life who’s just itching to tell you that the city ought to put a bike lane on every major street. “It will be safer,” these folk proclaim. Are they right?

    No. Bike lanes only do two things: they make life worse for cyclists, and they allow politicians and uninformed advocates to feel that they’ve “done something for cycling.”


  11. Scott

    Mike why do we continuously pay for studies when we have a highly paid employee that should be able to do it. Doesn’t Fred Ashragi ( hope I speller it right) have the time and knowledge to do this? If not what exactly is his job. Was there a study done for the nightmare that is the East Ave. chicane? Or the Strawberry Hill debacle where you have to change lanes to go straight? If the recent past is an example of how Beach Rd. will be “improved” for heavens sake don’t touch it! Leave it alone.

  12. Local Ed

    I really have to agree with Mike here. I belive a one lane road with nice, well marked bike lanes will make the whole area safer. And everyone complaining about traffic has got to cool it. Really maybe the night of the fireworks will be crazy, but other then that I don’t see it as being a huge problem.
    Imagine how nice it will be to see everyone biking down safely to the beach on a nice summer day. And belive me now it is anything from safe.
    My only suggestion would be for the one lane to go all the way from Ludlow park right up untill the Canfield Ave, where I think it should open up to 2 lanes for people to turn left.

  13. Mike Mushak

    Local Ed, the intention was always to keep 4 lanes at the bottom of Beach Rd with the road diet proposal, with curbside bike lanes in that stretch. We need stacking room to get into the park, and the extra lane for turning right into the marina or left onto Canfield.

    Rusty, you amuse me by dragging out that old anti bike lane nonsense that has been debunked all over the country. The author of that single paper that bike opponents love to wave around is an expert cyclist who thinks bikes should ride WITH traffic at all times, at top speeds to keep up with cars. That ignores the majority of cyclists who are NOT expert commuters, but who are of beginner to average skills, such as children going to school and weekend riders to the beach, let’s say. And older folks and retirees don’t forget who make up a huge growing population of cyclists around the country.

    For those thousands of potential riders in Norwalk, who would never attempt to ride with traffic in the middle of the travel lane as your referenced “authority” would suggest, the bike lanes are the safest and best solution. That is why every city in America is putting them in as fast as they can to improve safety and respond to huge cultural shifts in demographics and lifestyles . That is also why national road safety agencies such as AASHTO and NACTO recommend separated bike lanes as the best solution for our streets.

    Nice try Rusty, but you are going to have to do better than that old debunked paper to persuade anyone bike lanes are not necessary to improve safety for bikes and cars (and pedestrians too as they are proven to slow traffic).

    Have a nice weekend!

  14. East Norwalker

    As someone who has ridden/driven/walked Gregory blvd and beach rd multiple times a week for over ten yrs I can tell you beach rd is NOT “perfectly ordinary” @rusty. People walk in the road at Marvin school almost every time people have to pass on the sidewalk. Not safe at all. There are many bikers and walkers who use this rd and there would be many more if it was more pedestrian friendly. The sharrows are a marginal improvement but it is still unsafe to have cars flying by when it’s unclear what sharing a lane means. As it is the outside 3 ft for bikes have storm drains and potholes which riders naturally want to avoid (road condition is a separate but related issue). Beach rd is for all intents and purposes an extension of Gregory blvd. Narrowing from 4 to 2 lanes would have no real impact on overall traffic flows. Whatever the flow is on g blvd would continue to the beach. Ie, a much more controlled and safe speed. There is NO benefit to having 4 lanes the last 1/2 mile…. Aside from facilitating speeding, passing and saving 20 seconds (literally) of travel time. For sure turning lanes, as suggested, would be key. Separately, the gate people at the beach should open both lanes! To avoid back up!!! Wtf, we all have to wait while people ask directions or whatever while additional attendants hang around. This happens all the time and is absurd. Ok, separate issue from bike lanes but it would help flow at the entry, esp with the marina. Adding new sidewalks would be costly and not do anything too slow speeding. Removing the median? Really? I can’t see how no separation of opposing traffic I safer than a barrier. Re 4th of July, the police already close/manage/change lanes, so it would be the same with painted lane use changes. For the life of me I don’t get why people are apposed to the study recommended plan. It seems like a no brainer to me. The beach and surrounds are one of the biggest assets the city has. Anything we can do to enhance the area and encourage their use would be good for all of norwalk.

  15. Rusty Guardrail

    I didn’t say anything about bike lanes, amusing or otherwise.

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