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Norwalk TMP struggles to tame ‘complex intersection’

Saturday on East Avenue. In the foreground is the pedestrian crossing to Morgan Avenue.

NORWALK, Conn. — Efforts to improve one of Norwalk’s most challenging intersections has had one neighborhood resident feeling perplexed and frustrated.

After more than a year of intermittent work on the East Avenue intersection near the Town Green, the City “seems to be preparing to permanently close off one of the two lanes that go toward Westport Avenue,” the resident wrote last week, alleging this would lead to collisions, backups and “constant blockage in the intersection.” Road rage would ensue and more toxic fumes would be in the air.

TMP (Transportation, Mobility and Parking) Principal Engineer Mike Yeosock said the East Avenue/Wall Street traffic signal upgrade is part of a six-signal project funded by the Federal Highway Administration under a Congestion Mitigation Air Quality (CMAQ) grant. Work began in May 2021 and should be done by the end of the year. “Supply chain issues, due to the pandemic, have been mainly responsible for the long construction window.”

The program’s chief aim is to “reduce congestion and minimize delays at intersections through the installation of more responsive traffic signal equipment, while maintaining safe traffic operation and enhancing pedestrian mobility,” Yeosock wrote. “We are confident that the improvements will result in fewer accidents and an overall better experience for pedestrians and drivers maneuvering through the intersections.”

(Google, 2022)

A Google satellite image shows the unique nature of an intersection Norwalkers take as a routine part of their lives, as Morgan Avenue meets East Avenue just south of East Wall Street bringing many cars to a traffic light where Hubbell Lane comes in at a weird angle. East Avenue drivers heading north can continue straight on Park Street or also feel like they’re going straight to continue on East Avenue.

It’s “one of the most complex intersections in the City” due to the number of approaches and the traffic volume, Yeosock said. Add to that “new standards for calculating signal timing” and you might see what TMP/DPW is up against.

Crews installed new equipment and activate the traffic signals Aug. 8, Yeosock said.

“We have been collecting data and observing traffic flow over the past few weeks and have been adjusting the timing, signage and road markings as needed to ensure vehicles have sufficient time to clear each approach during peak travel periods. It may be a few more weeks until we settle on the optimal configuration,” he wrote.

The resident, who asked to remain anonymous, objected to TMP closing a northbound lane on East Avenue, beginning with the Morgan Avenue intersection. She also thought the “reasonably safe and sane” red light setup that had existed for years before giving way to changed timing that is frustrating drivers.

Morgan Avenue drivers sit and wait even when the intersection is empty because the right turn on red has been eliminated, and, “The red light is very long,” she said.

Saturday on East Avenue. Note two right turn traffic signals for one lane.

Yeosock agreed that northbound East Avenue drivers find four traffic signals where there are three lanes.

“The City is required by State law to construct all traffic signals in accordance with the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD),” Yeosock said. “The MUTCD requires the primary direction of travel (in this case, East Avenue continuing north to East Avenue) have two signal heads, despite there being only one lane.”

He said, “We recognize that this can be confusing to some, so we are looking at ways to reduce this confusion. This most likely will be accomplished by relocating the two rightmost signal heads a little further to the right.”

Yes, the signal operations changed. Yeosock mentioned the little jag where East Avenue splits and drivers can go either to the left or the right of the green and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.

“The signals for the travel lanes northbound to Wall Street and Park Street operate independently of the traffic signal northbound for those continuing on East Avenue. This is being done to prevent queuing through the intersection blocking access to and from Morgan and to prevent queuing on East Avenue further south,” he said.

As for East Avenue being slimmed to one lane northbound via the use of orange traffic cones, Yeosock said, “The design plan for this location is to only stripe this area with a painted island and not to physically enlarge the island. This was proposed during the design phase as the best way to maintain efficient signal operation and address a conflict in this area due to Hubbells Lane and Morgan Avenue receiving a green light at the same time. To provide each of these approaches with their own signal phase would increase the amount of time needed to service the intersection and result in additional driver frustration.”

He concluded, “Once we finalize the optimal timing, signal placement and signage, and drivers get used to the new traffic pattern, we believe this intersection will be greatly improved.”

Reminder: NancyOnNorwalk requires full names from commenters. For more information, go here.

A Norwalk resident provided this satellite image of the intersection of East Avenue with East Wall Street and other roads, before recent changes. “There is a car moving from the middle lane toward the right lane that is circled in red. There is a vehicle blocking the intersection (also circled in red) just before the lanes that go toward East Wall Street and Park Street. And there are several vehicles (one with a red circle) on the side heading toward I-95 that are either trying to enter or leave the left lane used for the turn onto Morgan Avenue,” she said. The City’s efforts haven’t made it better, in her opinion.

15 comments

Johnny cardamone October 3, 2022 at 6:52 am

There’s an old adage if it ain’t broken don’t fix it it was fine! 🦔 The city screwed up this intersection🥵👎🏽 I should’ve left well enough alone!

Scott Vetare October 3, 2022 at 8:36 am

Why close a lane? With the traffic we now have in Norwalk it’s imperative we have more lanes to move traffic along. Just wondering who did the traffic study on this intersection? What a cluster- you know what- this city is becoming!

Mark Berns October 3, 2022 at 9:32 am

What are the statistics on accidents and crosswalk issues at this intersection? What is the data that makes the engineer think this will be an improvement?

I’ve lived nearby for 35 years and haven’t seen or heard of many accidents or pedestrian issues. Rather than improving traffic flow and safety this change will increase congestion by squeezing down two lanes that have worked for years into one lane and by restricting the flow toward Park Street. It’s already backing up traffic in the right-hand lane past Buckingham Place. The whole thing is made even more confusing by the two lights directing traffic to East Avenue when one of those lanes will be shut.

True, it’s a weird intersection, but it has “worked” for a long time. This feels like available money looking for a way to be spent rather than a solution.

Kay Anderson October 3, 2022 at 9:56 am

Illuminating isn’t it! And for years I believe Hal Alvord’s claim that this intersection had smart lights… and any concerns drivers had was because we weren’t smart. Now we find out all the lights in this intersection aren’t smart lights after all…
Let’s hope the adage ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same’ doesn’t fit this work.

That said, I am cautiously optimistic about this attempt to actually improve a challenging intersection.
Kay Anderson

Brad Craighead October 3, 2022 at 11:21 am

While we’re pleased to see that the City & State seem to be working together to improve vehicular flow at this complex intersection, it’s clear that Pedestrian Safety unfortunately remains a complete afterthought.

The “East Avenue Expressway” has become a gigantic traffic funnel that simply facilitates cut-thru, speeding, chaotic traffic from all destinations North & South thru Rt 1 to I-95.

> Has anyone noticed the massive clear-cutting of trees to accommodate a new on-ramp for I-95 at East Ave & Hendricks Ave?

> Ever-increasing, faster and noisier traffic Destroys Lives, Communities, Property Values, and the Quality of Life for everyone along the East Ave Corridor.

After our Neighborhood spent years lobbying the City to please add crosswalks to safely connect pedestrians to / around The Green, we’ve realized that the real problem is East Avenue itself – its lack of stop lights, crosswalks, meridians, turning lanes, striping or any other established form of traffic calming mechanism.

Consequently, the Norwalk Green Association has teamed up with the City Hall Neighborhood Association to Raise Awareness and formally request a Pedestrian & Vehicular Plan for East Ave on the 2023 Capital Budget.

https://norwalkgreen.com/eastave

We urge homeowners, commercial property & business owners, members of the various civic & religious organizations, and concerned citizens to join in and support #EastAveSafety to formally ask our City Officials to endorse a Pedestrian & Vehicular Plan for East Avenue on the 2023 Capital Budget.

Brad Craighead
Co-Founder
Norwalk Green Association

Nick Holt October 3, 2022 at 2:54 pm

The engineer still did not explain why the free right on red from Morgan Ave was taken away. I spent about 3 minutes this morning waiting to turn right from Morgan Ave. with no traffic in sight coming from the left (northbound East Ave.). Please explain the need for THAT change.

David Muccigrosso October 3, 2022 at 4:25 pm

And thus far, nobody has asked why one squeaky wheel citizen gets to dictate the entire city’s traffic design.

And y’all wonder why the city has messed up traffic design after generations of kowtowing to every little squeaky wheel. Geez, it’s like watching one of those episodes of South Park where all the “adults” are constantly running around in big dumb mobs.

Chelsea McCarthy October 3, 2022 at 4:35 pm

I live within eyesight of this intersection, it’s extremely chaotic and noisy, and even more so with the new lights. I’m particularly confused by the need for new, additional “data collection” & “observation of traffic flow”.

That’d make sense for implementing better, ideal scenarios, like Complete Streets & Vision Zero projects. But as stated, simply adhering to the MUTCD, shouldn’t require “new” studies – it’s a nationwide instruction manual. The guidelines should allow for an assumption that drivers will enter this intersection expecting it to operate the same as any other, and act accordingly.

I cross East Ave daily walking my dog, and in my opinion, the issue is the design of East Ave altogether. It facilitates unmitigated, uncontrolled speeding.

If TMP isn’t planning any traffic calming measures, and the (well above legal limit) speeding remains as is… then the answer for “ensuring approaching vehicles have sufficient time” would be to adjust for the reality of the highway-level speeds.

Cars are getting on & off I-95, immediately entering a long stretch of 50-60ft wide, straight roadway… and then, this intersection.

The intersection isn’t the issue, East Avenue is the issue.

Audrey Cozzarin October 3, 2022 at 7:53 pm

According to the Strong Towns city-planning model, East Avenue is a “stroad”, both and neither a road or/nor street. It moves car traffic quickly and efficiently between I-95 Exit 16 and Rt. 1 acting as a “road.” And ignores the “wealth”, the civic value such as city hall, Mill Hill historic park, the Norwalk Green, houses of worship, doctor’s offices, residences, etc., which comprise a “street.”

Stroads are destructive to cities and towns, not to mention the ability of pedestrians and cyclists to get around safely and with 0% emissions. East Avenue would do with a makeover through a Strong Towns lens. Courage, Norwalk!
https://www.strongtowns.org/

Howard Urban October 4, 2022 at 2:18 pm

What is being accomplished by turning East Avenue into a temporary one lane road after Morgan Avenue? Won’t this just limit cars getting through at the busiest of times? Now every car staying on East Avenue before the green has to funnel into the right lane before the green.

David Muccigrosso October 4, 2022 at 2:20 pm

Cheers Audrey! That’s indeed correct.

FWIW, Rt.1 is also a stroad. And West Ave is mostly a stroad as well – in fact, the only part where it isn’t is… North Main. Which, not coincidentally, is where the Strong Towns model predicts the most viable neighborhood would be… and wouldn’t you know it, exactly where the north end of SoNo starts!

IMO, the main reason why SoNo/Washington is still standing and Wall Street/Downtown is struggling is because West Ave killed Downtown.

Anthony Pavia October 4, 2022 at 5:51 pm

As a resident of Buckingham Place, I can tell you that this change was not thought out and input from local residents was not sought. With the new striping and forced one-lane route onto East Ave heading to Route 1, traffic is now backing up past the Norwalk Inn to Lockwood and Buckingham Place. However, this is a symptom of the greater issue, which is East Avenue as a whole. It’s dangerous to cross, not easy to navigate, and all it does is transfer speed and heavy traffic (truck and commercial included) from 95 through our neighborhood to Wall Street and Route 1. Local residents have noticed – I have co-founded the City Hall Neighborhood Association to better advocate for our neighborhood because while employees at City Hall tend to just work there and leave, we are left to live with poor planning and uninformed decisions, East Avenue being just the latest and most impactful examples. If you live here, join us! https://cityhallneighbors.wixsite.com/cityhallneighbors/our-vision-values

Bryan Meek October 5, 2022 at 6:35 am

The intersection’s name is Washington Circle. In the early 1900s A trolley system used to run through it from East Ave, down East Wall. When cars started proliferating a traffic cop would stand in a barrel in the middle of the intersection to direct traffic. They used to have pictures up in DPW.

The cones are going to cause an accident as people learn the new pattern. It’s curious why there isn’t forewarning signage to the effect that you need to be in the right lane only to get onto East Ave past Morgan.

Regardless, East Ave will never see relief as long as 7 never connects to 15 and it remains a cut through from our two sole highways. DOT uses Norwalk for its perpetual job security scheme. From the 12 year guard rail project on the Merritt, to the 4 year bridge replacement on Strawberry Hill, to the 7 / 15 connector which has been in the design phase for 7 years now, we are simply a trough to feed on for the State.

Fairfield County and New Haven produce over 2/3s of the states receipts and we have 2 highways and a 100 year old train system. Hartford County has 10 highways going through and around it and a brand new train line all so state workers can continue to telecommute. All roads lead to Hartford. But at least we are getting a new high school we didn’t need.

Kelly Wheeler October 6, 2022 at 5:07 pm

I have lived in Norwalk 34 years and drive through this intersection every day to my job just off east ave. This intersection has always been a bit of a challenge but narrowing it down to two lanes at the right merge to east ave continuing to Westport ave (RTE 1) is not the answer. I think lights with the arrow signals and proper signage next to those light signals may be the answer? They did this design to help motorists at Courtland Ave in Stamford for NB 95 on ramp traffic, SB 95 Traffic on ramp traffic & Route 1 Traffic going either right or left and so far is seems to have worked so signage not narrowing the lane may be a better solution.
The lights also in Washington Circle (as this intersection is called) are badly placed as well. If you are going south on East avenue & you get caught at the light that faces the funeral home, the stop line in practically under the stop light. I have to lean on my dash to look STRAIGHT up to see what the light is. This light was previously placed farther out into the intersection or the line was farther back. BAD placement there for sure. The timing for the light on Park Street continuing south on east Ave is longer than ever but what’s worse is the timing of the light adjacent to Morgan ave that changes when absolutely NO one is there. The light at Morgan should be a censored light so when a car is waiting on Morgan it should change. If there is none, then that light should remain green.
I can’t wait to see what you guys come up with (IF YOU EVER DO) for the awful signal situation at West Rocks Rd & Main Avenue (traffic flowing from Walmart and west rocks colliding with traffic from the medical office park and la fitness). There absolutely should be a alternating signal situation there for sure but seeing how this East ave project is going, I won’t hold my breath, I’ll just continue to possibly get into an accident.

Bryan Meek October 7, 2022 at 4:31 pm

@Kelly. The intersection at W. Rocks and Main is Rte 7 and that is a state road. Perkin Elmer has been gone over 20 years and the light pattern is the same now as it was then when it was mostly shift workers coming and going every 8 hours, not the constant flow of patients and gym goers. The state does not care and the primary concern is job security and longevity. If we manage to get improvements along the way we should consider ourselves lucky. The guardrail replacement on the Merritt is still going on 11 years later. The Strawberry Hill bridge will be over 4 years. The intersection of Rt 1 and East ave was supposed to be one year, took 2. The Merritt/7 interchange is in its 7th year of the design phase. Multiply these by 100 all across the state. Our utilities are so tightly regulated by the state we also get multi-year projects there and then there are the prevailing wage requirements that pay entry level labor $120k a year including benefits.
It’s why our infrastructure is falling apart.

Everyone should take a look at FL, who just restored power to 2.5 million customers in less than a week, built a bridge in 4 days, getting moving after a 500 year storm. Every few years we are impacted by much smaller, less damaging storms, and it can take weeks to get the power back on.

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