Sidewalks on Main Street: A want or a need?
Cost and safety. Those were the two main points both opponents and supporters of installing new sidewalks on Main Street in the area stretching from Oak Street to Farm Road constantly cited at last night's public hearing.
The hearing was scheduled after the Town Council recently approved $4 million in bonded money to improve town roads. An amendment was added to the vote prohibiting the money from being spent on new sidewalks on Main Street until after a public hearing. The Town Council's Public Work Subcommittee moderated the event.
The sidewalk proposal has been in place for some time. In 2007, Public Works did a safety survey with South School parents. In that survey, Assistant Director of Public Works Tiger Mann said, 85 percent of respondents noted high-speed vehicles, 85 percent noted a high volume of traffic, 58 percent noted sidewalk deficiencies and 70 percent said that if there were new continuous sidewalks then they would most likely allow their children walk to school.
"The number one concern they came up with was a lack of continuous sidewalks in their area," Mann explained.
The same respondents identified four main roads that needed to be addressed in terms of sidewalks: Main Street, Old Norwalk Road, Farm Road and South Avenue.
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In 2008, Public Works went to Planning and Zoning to make sure the proposal fit with the 2003 Plan of Conservation and Development. Residential concerns, liability issues and ordinance matters continued to delay the issue. As of now, the proposal for upgrading and fixing the sidewalks is estimated to be $600,000 according to Mann. That estimate reflects adding sidewalks in conjunction with paving Main Street; however, the $600,000 does not fund the paving of the road.
"We are ambivalent towards sidewalks, all we care about is the safe passage of our fire apparatus," Horner said. "Please keep that in mind"
He stated the department is mainly concerned with narrowing roads that would potentially "have a negative impact on safe passage" of fire trucks.
"This is for the safe travel of fire department emergency vehicles and the safety of other drivers," Horner said based on the Fire Commission's own study on the roads and how it would affect their job in emergency situations.
Eloise Killeffer, of Oak Street, agreed with Horner citing concerns with cars pulling over during emergencies.
"Mr. Horner has already made my points about fire vehicles," she said. "Now I am concerned about where southbound drivers would pull over to allow emergency vehicles to pass if any of this road is taken over by sidewalks."
Roy Abramowitz also agreed that safe passage for the Fire Department takes priority over spending.
"If you're losing 30 seconds to one minute when somebody had a heart attack, a house is burning or you're responding to a hazmat situation," Abramowitz said. "That could mean the difference between life and death."
Others stressed concerns that it is not fiscally responsible to spend money on sidewalks when Main Street itself needs paving.
"The real question is do you want to agree to divert the money from badly needed road repairs to luxurious million-dollar sidewalks," Andre Van Parys told the Town Council. "I think that is the real issue that is facing you."
Wendy Van Parys agreed that Main Street itself needed to be tackled before the sidewalks.
"The condition of Main Street has gone from poor to disgraceful," she said.
While some residents cited safety in their case against installing sidewalks, there were others who believe safety is the main reason for installing sidewalks.
"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 regarding the conditions of walking with no sidewalk on Main Street. "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.
"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 regarding the people she sees on Main Street where she resides. "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."
The Public Works Subcommittee of Town Council will meet at 7:30 p.m. March 8 to discuss the matter further before making an official recommendation to the full Town Council.