Undecided on which side of Main Street sidewalks should be built, the Town Council voted July 27 to move forward with final design studies on both sides of the street with Cabezas DeAngelis Engineers and Surveyors.

While $25,000 has been set aside for the engineering project, this decision could cost an additional $7,500. The Board of Selectmen approved the extended contract with the firm Tuesday morning.

The sidewalk debate has invoked serious public discussion and the public hearing July 27 was no different. Council members and residents argued the merits of installing sidewalks on either side of Main Street in relation to safety and cost.

The firm recommended that sidewalks on the east side of the road would be the best option. Assistant Director of Public Works Tiger Mann also revealed cost estimates for sidewalk installation on the west or east side, with granite or concrete curbing.

Sidewalks with granite curbing along the east side would cost $680,000 compared to $780,000 on the west side.

Substitute concrete curbing, and the cost drops to $440,000 on the east side and $550,000 on the west. Mann also estimated an option where there would only be curbing in the necessary areas where no grass shelves exist.

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In that case, granite curbing on the east side would cost $550,000 as opposed to $685,000 on the west. With concrete curbing, the estimate again drops to $415,000 on the east and $530,000 on the west. Mann said that all cost estimates include a 15 percent contingency for tree removal.

Resident Cobie Graber urged the Town Council to look at the big picture as opposed to just the current fiscal environment because she believes the sidewalks will be a long-term addition.

"Please don't just look at the numbers. I hear what you're saying. We're now talking about spending more money to just exclusively look at the numbers," Graber said. "Please just look also the quality of life, getting our seniors out, getting people to be social. There is an economic, a social, a health impact of the sidewalk that's going to last a lot longer than the short-sighted dollar signs that we are looking at right now."

Some residents, like Graber, felt that sidewalks should be installed on the west side even though it is more expensive because of safety concerns regarding a more walkable community in New Canaan. Putting a sidewalk on the east side would force residents on the west side to use a crosswalk to stay on a sidewalk.

"A pedestrian is most at risk when they are crossing the street," Diane Hobbs said. "The safety concern that I have for the east side sidewalk is that when we look at the flow of existing sidewalks and the density of the population on the west side, is it safer to force all those pedestrians to cross Main Street two times when they can reach the town, schools, playing fields, etcetera, without crossing Main at all."

On the other hand, some residents were against the presented costs and argued against installing sidewalks.

"New Canaan is already a walkable community," resident Fred Chang said. "We have Waveny Park. We have Irwin Park with really nice walking trails. Ninety-eight percent of New Canaan residents own one or more automotive vehicles. It doesn't take a lot of effort for them to get into their cars and drive to a location in town where they could walk safely without having to inhale noxious automotive exhaust fumes. I don't think these cost estimates are what I call fully loaded costs. They only address the issue of sidewalks on either the east or the west side or both. There is additional costs, as someone earlier mentioned, for snow removal. All we have to do is look at how snow removal was done on Elm Street and Main Street this past winter. The snow was not removed entirely, it was pushed to the side and it took several days for that snow to be carted off somewhere."

The difficult factors of cost versus safety weighed heavily on Town Council members. Many of them discussed and deliberated but ultimately could not decide which direction was the best way to go.

"I'm still struggling with the decision myself," Council member Tucker Murphy said. "I mean what has been my goal in all of this is to make sure that safety is absolutely the best that it could possibly be. I do believe in sidewalks. I have driven that section over and over again since this started and I have seen people walking there. ... So I guess the cost is pretty important to me as well. I'm hoping there is some way we can come to some resolution here in getting our safety as well as having it, you know, be as inexpensive as it can be."

Council member and selectman candidate Beth Jones expressed her desire to take care of Main Street as soon as possible and also cited safety issues.

"It's scary walking down Main Street now," she said. "I mean I live on Harrison Avenue and even though the hill is steep, I walk up the hill to take the sidewalk so I don't have to take Main Street without the sidewalks. And I think potentially, we'll have a huge number of people that will use (new sidewalks). But what I think we haven't talked about yet is that the east side, I think, will get a lot of use too. I would hope that people would use it to walk to the nursery school on Old Norwalk Road, to walk to Kiwanis Park and the playground there and use Kiwanis through the summer and use the white property and so you're connecting all of Lakeview, Millport and you've got the new project on Millport, we've got Avalon on Lakeview and all those people would use that side of the road. If you did it on the west side, all of those people would have to cross the street to get to the sidewalk. So I'm not convinced a whole lot more people are going to have to cross the street from the west side as the east side and I think it makes sense to make those crossings as safe as possible."

With the decision to move forward with final design on both sides, The Department of Public Works will also request bids for both sides of the road to get even more precise cost estimations to allow Town Council to make a decision. The process is expected to take between four to six weeks.