Town leaders, residents weigh in on pedestrian safety

A toy illustration of crosswalks and people crossing them. — Darien ToyBox photo

Darien town officials and residents have reacted to the recent incidents last month involving a pedestrian being hit by a motor vehicle while using a crosswalk. They have all offered ways to address pedestrian safety to prevent further accidents.

Within the month of March, there was a motor vehicle accident involving a pedestrian at the intersection of Post Road and Center Street, and another one at the intersection of Middlesex Road and Hollow Tree Ridge Road. Both pedestrians were using a crosswalk and both sustained minor injuries.

First Selectman Jayme Stevenson spoke highly of the dynamic speed signs that have been put up in town. They’ve been installed along the Post Road in the area between the library and Town Hall, and also near the YMCA on the Post Road.

Stevenson said their purpose is to make motorists aware of their speed and to slow down.

“We believe collectively that the dynamic speed signs have a notable impact on drivers,” she said.

In addition, because of the dynamic speed sign’s effect on Hoyt Street near Holmes Elementary School, Stevenson she said she hopes to potentially install more on another town or state road, such as at Royle or Tokeneke schools, and maybe Hindley.

She added that currently, there’s funding to install several more of them townwide, “so I would believe within the next six months, you will see those installations. They have to be installed with approval by the Connecticut Department of Transportation because most of these locations are on state roads.”

The town’s public works department and local traffic authority are the liaison with CT DOT.

When speaking about traffic safety, Planning & Zoning Commission Chairman John Sini made reference to the Corbin District, a mixed-use redevelopment that will soon be built, which spans from Corbin Drive to the Bank of America building on Post Road.

“Pedestrian access and safety were very important aspects of the Corbin Area’s site plan approval by the commission,” Sini said. “I am hopeful that the State DOT recognizes the importance of adding crosswalks on Post Road to make downtown Darien a more walkable and vibrant community.”

Sini added that CT DOT is currently reviewing a proposal for a mid-block crosswalk with flashing beacons near the Darien movie theater. He said town leadership is hopeful that the new crosswalk will prove to be successful, so that the town may seek another crosswalk in the vicinity of the Sugar Bowl.

Darien police Chief Ray Osborne said police are always concerned with pedestrian safety.

“Downtown can be congested at times,” he said. “It’s definitely a concern. One accident is too many.”

“People get distracted, they don’t realize how fast they are going,” Osborne said. “We encourage people to drive carefully.”

He added that the dynamic speed signs have “helped with the amount of speeding complaints we get.”

Liz Mao, a Darien resident since 1991 and former chairman of the Board of Finance, also commented that there is no crosswalk by the Sugar Bowl.

“There is a lot of traffic and the drivers are insane. It’s a safety issue,” she said, adding “I would like a designated crosswalk or a light.”

She said another road where people speed is Noroton Avenue by the high school and around the oval.

“This is an area used by walkers and bicyclists, and the speeding literally takes one’s breath away. Please leave five minutes early when you are going to sports or classes at the school so you can slow down and observe the low speed limits,” she wrote on a recent Facebook post.

Town resident Will Lewis, also said he thinks cars should drive slower in town.

Lewis, who is a runner, said he walks to the train station each day and is “getting frustrated with the general standard of driving I see about town.”

He added that he is thinking about how he can “channel” this frustration.

Lewis’ running route includes Long Neck through Delafield Island and Goodwives River Road.

According to Lewis, there are times on these roads where people don’t see a pedestrian, cyclist, runner, or walker until it’s very late.

“These are all small roads in very residential areas. There are a lot of children who live there and people walking, and a lot of people using the roads for different purposes,” he said.

“These roads in town are shared spaces. Car drivers should have more respect for everyone who is trying to use that space on these roads,” Lewis said. “There is no reason for people to drive very fast.”

He added that, on small roads, it might seem like cars are going faster than they actually are. He said, however, that even if a driver is going 25 miles per hour, which may be the speed limit for that area, they “should be wary of their environment and perhaps go a little slower because of that.”

Lewis praised the Drop It And Drive Campaign, a Traffic Injury Research Foundation (TIRF) education program designed to increase public awareness of the dangers of distracted driving. He said town government needs to initiate “a separate campaign about speed awareness road safety and having respect for all road users.”

Lewis spoke about a traffic safety issue he had last year with the town. In 2018, the walk sign outside Tokeneke Elementary School was hit by a car, which took out the crosswalk light system, he said.

“Nobody repaired it for six months. The light pole just sat and lay on the ground. I got really upset about it and took a photograph and posted it on Twitter and tagged the First Selectman, and she got the whole issue sorted within four days,” he said. “Because it’s a state maintained road, the town didn’t have any jurisdiction over it.”

“I believe town government is very responsive in dealing with these issues when they arrive, and my point is they should take the same approach to consider the introduction of a speed awareness campaign,” Lewis said. “If I need to be the flag bearer for that, then I would happily do that.”

sfox@darientimes.com