By Michelle Maggio
Common Councilwoman, District C
NORWALK, Conn. – A recent story in the news noted that crosswalks have been added to the area around Shake Shack in Westport after only three pedestrians had been killed. Well, it’s about time. While I am aware that crosswalks put in place without additional safety measures (traffic lights or a stop sign) are actually more dangerous to pedestrians, the time has come for the state to stop playing chicken with our lives.
The Post Road, Connecticut Avenue more appropriately, has been the scene of many horrific accidents involving pedestrians. Yet, there are only a few crosswalks, and all of them at the widely dispersed intersections. Keeler Avenue has three crosswalks. Rampart Road has two, the other side is a driveway. Richards Avenue has only one of four possible routes covered. Taylor, Cedar and Stuart have one. Scribner, Price and Fairfield have none. The Exit 14 off ramp area also has none.
More surprisingly, the areas in between, where pedestrians are likely to want to cross are left naked, even where there are traffic lights. Most noticeably and dangerously is the main entry of Walmart, followed closely by the vast expanse between Keeler and the entrance to the Darinor Plaza. This entire stretch of the Post Road is heavily traveled by pedestrians and bicyclists and is dotted with bus stops. The thought of someone hurrying to catch a bus that they can see on the opposite side of the street, while dragging a small child behind is frightening when I consider how people now drive in this area.
In February 2012 a pedestrian was killed in the Darinor Plaza area. There have been two other pedestrian deaths in the Keeler Avenue area in the just slightly more distant past. In fact, the number of pedestrian and bicyclists involved in accidents is staggering. You can see all the accidents here. I’m sure many different things happened and we can’t jump to conclusions based on just this sort of data, but the volume of accidents suggests that the state of Connecticut needs to focus on this part of Norwalk now.
The rest of the story is something we all probably realize, but maybe don’t understand completely. While the city of Norwalk has converted most of its traffic signals to ones using sensors that can detect travelers and adjust times and synchronization, the state of Connecticut feels that every intersection for which it is responsible has a need for a fixed timed cycle, regardless of the time of day or traffic volumes. That is unfair and wasteful. The light on a main thoroughfare should never turn red, unless there is an active line of cars waiting on the side street. Once those cars clear, the light should immediately switch back.
The technology for this exists, and is most likely already there in the control boxes. Detectors are necessary (not underground loops, but equipment that can actually sense whether or not a car is present, like Norwalk has) and should be prioritized along with the cross walks. This sort of safety and traffic flow is of much greater importance to me than a fancy new rest stop on Route 95, but it just doesn’t get the political bang, I suppose.
These sort of “unfair” traffic controls encourage reckless driving such as speeding to beat lights and making ill-advised turns. That is what causes pedestrian accidents. Step one is the immediate need to boost pedestrian safety, but immediately behind that should be a comprehensive program to upgrade traffic signals. We all must work together to make the state prioritize these reasonable changes.