West Hartford to Make North Main Street Road Diet Permanent

The North Main Street road diet, which changes the configuration to one lane in each direction with a left turn lane in the center, will become permanent. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

Acting Town Manager Rick Ledwith shared the results of the final report by consultant VHB at a meeting of the Town Council’s Community Planning and Economic Development Committee Wednesday morning.

By Ronni Newton

At a meeting of the West Hartford Town Council’s Community Planning and Economic Development Committee (CPED) on Wednesday morning, Acting Town Manager Rick Ledwith shared final recommendations made by the town’s consultant, Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc. (VHB), regarding the North Main Street Road Diet trial, and he told We-Ha.com that in his official role as the town’s traffic authority, the reconfiguration of North Main Street that is currently in place will be implemented on a permanent basis.

The road diet  began in August 2021, and there have been several public information sessions held since then – the last of which was April 28 – as well as surveys of the community.

“We’ve had significant public input along the way,” Ledwith said during the CPED meeting. “Based on the results … the trial has achieved all of our objectives,” he said, which were reduction of crash frequency, reduction in operating speed along the stretch of roadway, and improvement of accessibility for pedestrians and bicyclists.

The overall public response has been favorable, Ledwith said.

Many of the recommendations made by the consultant will be made permanent over the next several years, Ledwith said. Those include:

  • North Main Street south of Fern Street to Loomis will be widened to 42 feet to accommodate 5-foot bike lanes. The construction will take place on the east side of North Main Street, at an estimated cost of $300,000. This recommendation was anticipated if the road diet was going to be made permanent, Ledwith said, and the work will be planned for the 2023-2024 fiscal year.
  • Bike lanes will be delineated with 6-inch wide white lines rather than the existing 4 inches, and bike symbols and signage along the entire road diet route will be installed.
  • Modification will be made to the signal phasing at the intersection of North Main and Fern Street to add an eastbound protected left-turn phase. The existing traffic signal will be replaced to include the left turn arrows in 2023.
  • North Main Street between Asylum Avenue and Mountain View Drive will be re-striped during 2022 so that there will be 215 feet of a southbound left turn lane.
  • A pedestrian crossing will be installed on North Main Street at Wyndwood Road and Linbrook Road with a “rectangular rapid flashing beacon.” The need for a crossing was mentioned by many of those who provided input at the April 28 public information session.
  • A recommendation to modify the traffic signal at Trout Brook Drive and Fern Street to add left-turn phasing for eastbound and westbound traffic will be implemented, with the new traffic signals installed in 2023.

Other recommendations made by the consultant will continue to be studied.

“The consultants also recommended we further study speed data,” which appears to indicate that 35 miles per hour is appropriate for that stretch of North Main Street, Ledwith said.

“With regards to the speed limit the intent is to make it a little more consistent throughout the corridor,” Town Engineer Greg Sommer told CPED members on Wednesday. In some places the limit is 30 and in others it’s 35 – and this is an arterial not a neighborhood street. “I don’t think it’s overall going to change how fast people are driving on the street.”

“The 85th percentile speed … is generally the rule of thumb” that most drivers feel is a reasonable speed to drive, Sommer said, with most drivers tending to travel at 5 to 10 miles above the speed limit. The northern section of the road diet is already posted at 35 mph, Sommer said, but there is no difference in the physical characteristics of the roadway.

Changing the speed limit is a topic of heightened sensitivity amid safety concerns surrounding the recent pedestrian fatality at the intersection of North and South Main streets and Farmington Avenue, which is just south of the road diet area. Sommer said the Engineering Division is awaiting the report on the crash from the police.

A speed study will be conducted over the next year before any changes are made, Ledwith told We-Ha.com.

Members of the public had also asked for a dedicated left turn lane and/or left-turn signal phasing for eastbound Asylum Avenue at North Main Street. The change to the traffic signal was not recommended by the consultant due to the delays it would create at the intersection, but Ledwith said the town may incorporate an exclusive left turn lane in 2023.

“It’s going to be more of a phased approach,” added Town Engineer Greg Sommer. Some of the signal changes require approval of the state.

Mark Zydanowicz, a member of CPED, notified the committee that Waze doesn’t route traffic down North Main, but Sommer said that’s not within the town’s control. The level of diversion to other roadways has not been significant, he said.

Leon Davidoff, chair of CPED, said the recommendations of the consultant all seem to make sense, and people seem to consider the speed limit just a “suggestion.” Perhaps signage indicating that the speed limit will be strictly enforced could help, he said, noting that there needs to be a sensitivity since one of the goals of the road diet was decreasing speed for safety reasons.

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