The Capitol Region Council of Governments (CRCOG) held its final meeting and public discussion on a proposed ‘road diet’ for North Main Street in West Hartford.
By Cassidy Kotyla
Tuesday night’s session at the American School for the Deaf marked the fourth official public meeting in West Hartford regarding a proposed “road diet” for North Main Street, and the Technical Study Committee gave a presentation of the draft report to about 50 people and fielded questions.
Fitzgerald and Halliday consultant Michael Morehouse presented the findings of the study – which was prepared by his company under a contract with CRCOG for the purpose of determining the feasibility of a road diet for North Main Street from Farmington Avenue to Albany Avenue in West Hartford. The study was funded by a grant that State Sen. Beth Bye, an avid cyclist, helped procure. Outreach was conducted to neighborhood residents, through an online survey, and through public information sessions, the last of which was held on Oct. 14 and 15, 2015.
The Road Diet and Safety Study Technical Study Committee members included: Tom Wood, American School for the Deaf; Mary Ellen Thibodeau, West Hartford Bicycle Advisory Committee; Una Barry, Montessori School of Greater Hartford; Tracey Wilson, resident; Robin Rifkin, Blue Back Square general manager; Robert McCue, assistant chief West Hartford Police Department; Gary Allyn, chief of West Hartford Fire Department; Bob Fressola, Bishops Corner Neighborhood Association president; Patrick Zapatka, CT DOT; Duane Martin, P.E., town engineer for West Hartford; and Todd Dumais, West Hartford town planner.
During the hour-long presentation, possible changes to North Main Street were outlined. The road diet – a change from a four-lane street to a three-lane street with two individual lanes and a left-turn lane – was the center of the discussion. Morehouse highlighted that “crash probability increases at higher speeds,” and under the current roadway configuration, the risk that an incident might occur on North Main Street is approximately three times higher than on other roads within the state of Connecticut.
“With the road diet in place, it does tend to calm traffic,” Morehouse commented.
The committee added that there are five major options for a road diet, with other smaller options that could reduce the risk of possible accidents.
The most basic is “Concept 1” (see graphic) in which a standard road diet would be put into place, with two five-foot bike lanes created on either side. This plan, Morehouse reported, would cost only about $90,000, essentially just re-striping the road, and would not require moving of any curbs on North Main Street.
“I feel like there are many of us that think that bikes have a place on the road,” committee member Tracey Wilson said. “People have to change the way we think about the use of roads.”
Other options mentioned making a side pathway on one side of the road that would be 10 feet wide to accommodate bicylces and pedestrians, including a sidewalk on the opposite side, but that proposal would cost nearly $1.5 million and bicyclists might still find uneasy access to the roads, according to data reports.
Other “add-on” options to enhance safety include installing night flashers to enhance visibility at night, an additional pedestrian crossing with a crosswalk, and even the addition of a roundabout in front of the American School for the Deaf.
The entire draft report is available on the CRCOG website, and in PDF form below.
Advantages to the road diet, proponents said, include better driver visibility, slower speeds, fewer and less severe crashes, and buffer time for pedestrians. Disadvantages that were brought up included an increase in travel time as well as longer traffic jams at intersections during peak hours.
During the opportunity for community feedback, several residents who live on North Main Street voiced their concerns, which included that the ability for ambulances, police cars, and other “life-or-death vehicles” would be constricted during a time of crisis due to the road diet.
Trout Brook Drive residents also expressed concern that their road would be even busier due to the diversion of traffic from North Main Street. The same possibility exists for Mountain Road, the town’s other major north-south route.
Assistant Police Chief Bob McCue said that would certainly be an issue to discuss, but a simple solution would be for these vehicles to use the designated left-turn lane for clear access.
“If we reduce car crashes by 30 percent, that reduces private property damage, personal injury, and constant time and resources for the police department and fire department,” Mary Ellen Thibodeau of the West Hartford Bicycle Advisory Committee said during the question and answer period.
McCue said Wednesday that the next step will be submission of the report to Town Manager Ron Van Winkle, and then review by the Town Council. “This is just a limited study of the options,” he said, not a town-ordered study. Much will have to get fleshed out before there is a plan, he said.
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