By Thane Grauel
WESTPORT — The Traffic and Pedestrian Safety Task Force met Thursday night to update people on its efforts and hear about concerns.
Traffic is one of the top problems in town, and everyone knows about the backups at rush hour, especially on routes crossing the Saugatuck River.
Most of the input from the evening was from people very concerned about speeding and other dangerous behavior in their neighborhoods. The task force had issued a detailed report on residents’ concerns about traffic safety and related issues, collected from the nine Representative Town Meeting districts, early this year.
Deputy Police Chief Ryan Paulsson gave an update on the group’s work so far, and recent enforcement and crash statistics. Public works officials discussed traffic improvement projects that have been completed, and what is in the works.
“The information we get from here tonight, the information we get from you from online, from calls and concerns, we compile all that data,” Paulsson said. “It doesn’t just go to an empty round file somewhere it actually goes to a spot where we actually discuss it, look at it, and come up with a plan on how to hit it from a bunch of different ways. All within our respective disciplines.”
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William Gross of Kings Highway North had an urgent plea.
“I live on a road that is not a part of a study, but is an emergency,” he said. “We’ve had four accidents, two downed telephone poles, one of which crashed on teenagers in the middle of the night who tried to remove it.”
“Luckily, we have not had a fatality as yet,” he said.
“People come as fast as 50 and 60 miles an hour,” Gross said, despite speed humps, speed signs and stop signs. “We have nearly been taken four or five times. We’ve had liquor bottles thrown on our front lawn, we’ve had tire tracks up the front. It has to stop.”
Alex Blishteyn of Bayberry Lane had similar concerns.
“Since COVID hit it’s become one of the most dangerous streets to walk on,” he said. “Certain days, leaving the driveway is almost impossible.
“I have a teenager who’s driving now,” Blishteyn said. “Watching him pulling out of the driveway in the morning trying to get to school — it breaks my heart, I’m afraid for his life.”
He said it’s not just speeding cars, but dump trucks, school buses and even the train station shuttles.
“Nobody is following the speed limit,” he said.
He said his dog was hit at the skirt of his driveway last year by a woman who was speeding and talking on her phone.
“I urge you to do something about this because, as was said before, there’s going to be a fatality,” Blishteyn said.
Jon Polayes of Over Rock Lane asked what citizens could do to help.
“I know we’re dealing with the state,” he said of state roads not under the town’s jurisdiction. “My question to you is, what can we do to push it along, what can you do to push it along?”
“It’s chokepoints,” he said. “It’s very nice what’s going on up near McDonald’s and Sakura, everything you’re doing is great.”
“But we still have those chokepoints,” he said. “It shouldn’t take me, depending on which direction I’m going, four to five lights to get across the bridge after Main Street, coming around Jesup Green, because of cars blocking on both sides, they don’t stop where they’re assigned, they pull into the intersection.”
“Don’t block the box,” he said. “Why can’t we paint the box and put up a camera and if you block the box you’re getting a ticket?”
He also said the intersection of Compo Road South, Greens Farms and Bridge Street was a problem. He would like to see left-turn arrows for Bridge Street and Greens Farms off Compo Road.
Public Works Director Peter Ratkiewich said he’d spoken recently to the traffic division at the state Department of Transportation about that issue.
“They felt that it was doable and that they were going to do it with their own forces,” he said. “In DOT time, that’s actually light speed. That’s actually been three years since we asked for that turn.”
He said his department tries to talk to the state DOT at least every three months to get updates on such projects.
The task force will have another meeting for public input in about six months.
Thane Grauel grew up in Westport and has been a journalist in Fairfield County and beyond for 35 years. Reach him at email@example.com. Learn more about us here.