Letter: Sidewalk advocate recalls decade-long advocacy for pedestrian safety

A pedestrian walks in the roadway on Hoyt Street — Kristen Riolo

To the Editor:
The Darien Times on Thursday, Sept 14 had a front-page story on the Post Road neighbors pushing for traffic controls to increase pedestrian safety.  This read like a flashback to my neighborhood also trying unsuccessfully to have pedestrian safety issues addressed over the last nine years:
During 2009-2015 our North-West Darien neighborhood actively pushed for more safety measures for those walking along Hoyt Street – Rt.106 to our neighborhood train station at Talmadge Hill.  The lack of any defined process for how these issues were reviewed (which remains today) allowed the political and personal interests of our leaders to trump safety concerns.  A handful of neighbors and I engaged the State DOT and the local Police Department, joined the RTM, the associated Public Works and Health & Safety committees, and attended many Board of Selectmen meetings speaking in support of more funding and focus on these issues.  Aligned with these years of activism are the years our First Selectman has been in office; a period when our attempts to get crosswalks and new sidewalks — not just replacement — have been repeatedly blocked, often using the same long-ago debunked claims noted in the Times last week about the State DOT and traffic flow as barriers to progress.
Take a quick drive up to New Canaan (along State Rt. 106, and back down Rt. 124), and you’ll see that they’ve made considerable progress connecting the train, schools, parks and community facilities during this same period with a focus on well-signed crosswalks and sidewalks.  In this time of limited State funding, their Public Works officials have planned connectivity networks, and engaged the state DOT for approvals to proceed with pedestrian improvements so long as the Town took on responsibility for the installation and ongoing maintenance.  Darien has had the same opportunities to address pedestrian safety on our state roads, but our leadership has neglected to act (for example, sitting on a set of State DOT engineered drawings for crosswalks and sidewalks to address the Hoyt Street to Talmadge Hill train issues since 2012, while refusing to so much as paint the planned crosswalks as a first step to improve the dangerous walking conditions).
The RTM Public Works Committee in 2014-2015 was finally successful in pressing the Board of Selectmen (BoS) to form a Pedestrian Infrastructure Advisory Committee (PIAC).  I was part of that non-partisan committee, and our group spent the summer and fall of 2015 researching and documenting solid plans for improving pedestrian safety all over town (including the Post Road — prioritizing areas around schools, train stations and parks).  The committee was dissolved at the end of 2015 by the Board of Selectmen. Since then, very little funding or focus has been provided by Town Hall to support the critical needs identified by the PIAC team.
Everyone who believes pedestrian safety to be a primary component of the success of our town should very seriously consider our lack of progress surrounding this issue, and then get out and vote accordingly this November.  Despite overwhelming public support, our leadership has lacked responsiveness and transparency on pedestrian safety initiatives.  

Holly Schulz

(Registered Independent, Talmadge Hill commuter, architect, mom, bicyclist and pedestrian advocate)