Letter: Pedestrian infrastructure report to be unveiled
To the editor,
The Board of Selectmen of the Town of Darien will be presented with the Pedestrian Infrastructure Advisory Committee’s (PIAC) findings and recommendations for safe passage for Darien pedestrians and cyclists, in a public meeting on Monday, Dec. 14, at 7 p.m. at Town Hall. The event marks another step in highlighting the importance of safe walking and biking on the streets of Darien. The committee will present a detailed report of its work since June of this year.
The work of the Pedestrian Infrastructure Advisory Committee is intended to involve the community in discussions regarding potential high-value improvements to Darien’s existing pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure. The group consists of nine members appointed by the Board of Selectmen and has met weekly since June of this year. The nine members represent the six Voting Districts and the various and diverse neighborhoods of our town. Recommendations made by the PIAC, if adopted by the selectmen, will be considered by the RTM during the 2016/2017 budget process and potentially incorporated in the 2016 update to the long-term Plan of Conservation and Development of the Town of Darien.
The rapidly growing individual awareness and public discourse on issues of safety and opportunities for walking or for riding a bike are not only a local issue but shared by almost all urban and suburban communities. In these cities and towns, the conversations are no longer dominated by the demands of vehicular traffic. Increasingly, this singular approach is replaced by the concept of what urban planners call “Complete Streets.” The members of Darien’s PIAC are keenly aware and supportive of these cultural changes. It is important, however, to remember that long-term improvements need to start with many immediate and practical matters, provided they are cost-effective. The PIAC’s Committee Report will address a large number of these issues, accompanied with the introduction of recommended repairs and appropriate improvements. These ideas are based on interviews with town officials and other community leaders, valuable input from concerned citizens attending PIAC’s public meetings, suggestions from our town-wide survey, and on our own research. Some of the research is based on maps and documents, but a lot of the work has also been done, of course, on foot.
To establish a coherent approach, the work of the group, and the resulting committee report, was organized into 10 areas of interest or “hot spots.” They represent a circle of one-half-mile around an important center of civic activity: the five elementary schools, Middlesex Middle School, Darien High School, the train stations, as well as the downtown business district. Within each circle, we found a number of necessary improvements, including new or repaired sidewalks and crosswalks, better street lights, means of slowing vehicular traffic or opportunities for increasing awareness of risks for drivers, bikers or pedestrians, all under the objective of “Complete Streets.” In order to have a rational standard for comparing proposed improvements and demonstrate the impact on the respective neighborhood, each proposal is measured in terms of the number of homes/families it impacts. In this way, values within an area of study, and between all of the areas of study, can be valued and compared. An aggregate value for the entire area of the “hot spot” may be helpful in setting priorities but needs to be accompanied by a separate value judgment. For example, the safety of students on their way to and from school may have priority over concerns for adults commuting by foot or bicycle.
Interestingly, there are overriding themes across all ten areas of interest. For example, in many instances the observed pattern of pedestrian travel is not reflected in the available crosswalks. This leads to frequent jay walking. The Darien Police have estimated that more than 90 percent of accidents involving both pedestrian and vehicle are attributable to the person on foot. Another theme is the lack of an arterial system of pedestrian travel providing a congruent arrangement of sidewalks and crosswalks at side streets.
We recognize that “Complete Streets” are a long-term proposition and that any infrastructure improvements need to be financed over time. We are very grateful for the excellent leadership at the Darien Public Works Department and the hard work of its staff. Patience is needed: projects will be undertaken with a multi-year perspective and with the pace of these projects, there will be a determining factor in how costs can be shared with the State or the private sector. Adjustments can then be made over time in accordance with the pace of realization of other projects, for example, if and when parts of the Southwestern Region Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan (SWRPA) or some of the ideas in the Route 1 Corridor Study become reality.
The members of the Darien Infrastructure Advisory Committee appreciate the clear charge that the selectmen have formulated for the group and the opportunity to present its findings to the Board of Selectmen. The meeting at Town Hall on Monday, Dec. 14, is open to the public and we encourage all interested Darien residents to attend. The many challenges to improve pedestrian and bicycle traffic are important subjects to all Darien families as we move toward “Complete Streets”’ — and become a “Complete Community.”