July 11 Representative Town Meeting.
July 11 Representative Town Meeting.

By Thane Grauel

WESTPORT — The Representative Town Meeting had a long meeting Tuesday night, at times with the different branches of government pushing and prodding over who controlled what.

But the largest appropriation of the night, $562,500, requested by the Public Works Director Peter Ratkiewich to create a town-wide Safe Streets and Roads for All action plan, passed easily.

It would utilize the funding from a federal grant announced by town officials earlier this year. The appropriation would be 80 percent reimbursed by the federal government, Ratkiewich said

Public Works Director Peter Ratkiewich addressing the RTM.

“This is an exciting request,” Ratkiewich told the RTM. “This is comprehensive,” he said. “It’s for all users, all roads, except for private roads.”

“All users,” he said, “means bicycles, pedestrians and vehicles. All roads means state roads, town roads, intersections, problem areas.”

Ratkiewich said the town is working on a timeline.

“We have about a year to put this plan together and submit it to U.S. DOT and have it accepted,” he said of the U.S. Department of Transportation, “before we can actually apply for implementation projects.”

“Do we need routes for the train stations? For bicycles? For pedestrians? Do we need more sidewalks in certain areas?” Ratkiewich said.

Traffic and accident info will also be crunched, he said.      

“The ultimate goal is to prevent fatalities,” Ratkiewich said, in line with the U.S. DOT’s National Roadways Safety Strategy.

“Basically, it says fatalities are unacceptable, accidents are unacceptable,” Ratkiewich said. “And we can do better, and we need to do better.”

Adam Ganser, who addressed the meeting, said he splits his time between Westport and New York City, running a nonprofit focused on public space advocacy issues.

“One of the things you brought up, it’s not going to solve the traffic problems for which Westport is now famous, or infamous, it is an opportunity to focus on bike networks, to focus on pedestrian networks, which will get people out of their cars so that don’t have to wait 40 minutes,” he said.

“If you’re not focusing and targeting those other modes of transportation, you end with solutions that are car-focused,” he said. “And it’s a real mistake.”

“I would really, really hope that the study focusses on other modes of transportation than just cars,” Ganser said.

Art Schoeller of the Greens Farms Association said his group supports the study. “We do encourage the multi-modal concept,” he said.

Jimmy Izzo, a District 3 RTM member, said he supported the study, but took a poke at those on spokes.

“For the gentleman who was here beforehand, it’s a very safe town to cycle in,” he said. “It’s not a safe town to sometimes ride your car in. The cyclists tend to go through stop signs.”

“Share the road,” Izzo said. “Share the law.”

The appropriation passed 31-0.

Thane Grauel grew up in Westport and has been a journalist in Fairfield County and beyond for 35 years. Reach him at editor@westportjournal.com. Learn more about us here.