Jul 26, 2014

Letter: Holly Schulz on Darien Sidewalk Policy

Holly Schulz, a member of the Representative Town Meeting, praises the Board of Selectmen and First Selectman Jayme Stevenson on creating a policy for deciding where and whether the town should create sidewalks, and she has a few suggestions on improvin

Letter: Holly Schulz on Darien Sidewalk Policy

To the Editor:

I’d like to extend a huge thank-you to Darien’s selectmen; as of September 2012, we now have a sidewalk policy to be used in evaluating new sidewalk projects. 

The selectmen are also currently in the process of evaluating a list of seven sidewalk project proposals put forth by Jayme Stevenson, our first selectman, which she has requested to be ranked in order of importance by our Department of Public Works (DPW). 

Mr. Steeger of the DPW presented a ranking chart to the selectmen on Jan. 14, which is a solid first attempt to incorporate all of the evaluation criteria outlined in the new sidewalk policy and apply them against these seven proposed projects. 

These are welcome developments in Darien, and I applaud our leadership for taking these first steps toward addressing pedestrian safety issues.  There are, however, three areas of concern amidst this process that I am hopeful will be addressed:

First, it is imperative in my opinion that safety factors take top priority when evaluating new sidewalks.  The initial ranking chart (whose results were published following the January Board of Selectmen meeting) smartly broke the evaluation criteria down into three main categories, each to be weighted as noted here:  Safety x3, Connectivity x2, and Construction x1. 

However, upon closer inspection, it is clear that the weighting was undercut by the number of criteria in each category not adding up to the same maximum point count. 

This can easily be changed by breaking down the criteria in the under-represented categories to use more specific data, thus ensuring less subjective rankings, and avoiding a situation where construction considerations outweigh safety factors.

Second, understanding that the new process for evaluating sidewalk requests will take time, I believe we need to have a plan in place for immediately alleviating any serious safety issues with temporary measures. 

For example, the proposed Hoyt Street to Talmadge Hill project has been in limbo for the past 3.5 years despite sustained effort to find solutions along a very dangerous section of road. 

Too many people come into our neighborhood train station and are left to their own defenses to proceed to their destinations.  Our interim efforts to request better designed signage, lighting, and the addition of crosswalks have stagnated, and nothing yet has changed. 

We’ve tried everything we can to ensure that something is done before someone is severely injured.

Finally, I believe we need a group designated to help coordinate the efforts of our Police, DPW and P&Z to design a comprehensive plan for pedestrian safety. 

The idea of a Sidewalk Advisory Committee was noted in the Sept. 10, 2012 Board of Selectmen meeting minutes to be imminent, and it is mentioned as well in the new Sidewalk Policy.  

Ms. Stevenson recently noted however that this group will not be formed.  Unfortunately all sidewalk requests received by the town to date have not yet been addressed in a consistent way (many are not in the published list of seven, and most lack the detailed survey and neighborhood information necessary to rank them accurately). 

An advisory committee could help to gather resident requests (as New Canaan did back in 2008), and then chart those proposals against the ranking system DPW is developing. 

We have a brand new Advisory Committee for those passionate about recycling and the town dump;  I’m hoping that the first selectman will reconsider and let those who are equally passionate about pedestrian safety also serve.

Thank you, again, to the Board of Selectmen for their leadership in addressing this very important issue.

Holly Schulz

RTM District 3

543 Hoyt Street

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