Main Street: Sidewalking the issue
Published 6:45 pm, Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Most people may not think of New Canaan as a town with much traffic, but Mary Flaherty, a strong proponent of new sidewalks on Main Street, sees it everyday in front of her house. She described the traffic last Friday in the early afternoon as mild.
"For a Friday in the middle of the afternoon, this is not that bad for us," she said as three or four cars drove by every minute. "It certainly becomes a problem during rush hour in the mornings and evenings."
For Flaherty, who lives on 309 Main St., getting to the nearest sidewalk is easier said than done.
"Walking on the slanted grassy area can work for adults," she said. "But it becomes difficult for little kids and moms with strollers."
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Installing new sidewalks on Main Street in the area stretching from Oak Street to Farm Road is something many residents like Mary Flaherty strongly support. In fact, these supporters have started a petition that currently has more than 425 signatures, including many non-Main Street residents. With the recently approved $25,000 engineering and design study on sidewalks underway, Flaherty is very optimistic.
"I think we have a lot of support," Flaherty said. "I am very happy that this study is getting done bringing us closer to the end of this project."
The recent arguments being made for and against sidewalks, all involve cost and safety. When it comes to cost, Flaherty believes it is worth it if it makes pedestrians safer.
"We don't know exactly how much this would cost right now. We just have a ballpark figure but I believe it would be a worthwhile investment," she said. "And the costs could very well be less than we anticipate once the project goes to bids."
While Tiger Mann, assistant director of Public Works, expects the sidewalks to cost somewhere in the area of $600,000, it will all become clearer once the study is complete in five weeks and Town Council takes another vote on the issue.
Going back to the issue of safety, many residents argued that Main Street, as it stands now, is too dangerous for pedestrians.
"I think, as a town, we are very fortunate that someone has not been injured or even killed by slipping or being hit by a car," Hazel Hobbs said at the March 3 hearing. "It is an accident waiting to happen."
Teri Reed, of Harrison Avenue, echoed Hobbs' points.
"It is very dangerous. It is too fast and it does not work. If there are people already walking it, then it presents a danger," she said.
Reed also explained that if there was a sidewalk then she believes more people would be walking, which would in turn decrease traffic, a point reiterated in the supporters' official petition.
"Our current pedestrians should be protected, and future pedestrians should be encouraged. Every person who walks to town reduces traffic and the need for parking," the petition states. "It will also permit all of us who live in the neighborhood to visit friends and neighbors safely without packing up the car for a two block trip."
Another point from the last public hearing was the concern of usage. Would the sidewalks be adequately used by residents around town?
"If we think we will build it, they will come, they are already there," Katherine Ong, co-president of the South Elementary School PTC, said about usage at the public hearing on March 3. "The mothers with strollers, the children walking to and from school or going to town, the joggers, the walkers. We are on Main Street and we are asking and pleading that you please continue the sidewalks down Main Street so that we have a safe community for our children to walk to school and for us to continue a healthy environment."
With all the public hearings and votes on the matter already, its is unclear what is on the horizon. Opponents of the $4 million bond that would fund the sidewalks have filed a notice of intent for a referendum while Public Works has begun a the design study, making supporters of the initiative cautiously optimistic.
"We hope it gets done," Alison Minter, of 314 Main St. said. "We just want our neighborhood safer for everyone."