A paved path running adjacent to and separate from Sport Hill Road would start from the driveway of Helen Keller Middle School and end at the crosswalk at Silverman’s Farm on the east side of Sport Hill Road. It would provide off-road use for pedestrians, cyclists, strollers, wheelchairs, and other non-motorized recreational forms of transportation. The purpose of this proposed pathway is to provide a safe thoroughfare for its users and protection from the high-speed traffic on the roadway.
This short segment interconnects most of our town’s amenities: the middle school, the neighborhoods in lower Easton, the Easton Community Center, New Friend’s community playground, community tennis courts, the dog park, the Sherwood Farm and store, the Shaggy Coos Farm and store, the Silverman’s Farm and store, Silverman’s flower shop, Silverman’s pick-your-own orchard, Silverman’s petting zoo, the Easton Village Store and restaurant, the Easton Volunteer Fire Department, and the Easton Volunteer Medical Service.
The entire pathway would be designated as American with Disability Act (ADA) accessible and would comply with the Department of Justice accessibility standards for those with disabilities. The pathway would be 8-10 feet wide and constructed of asphalt with a 2-4 foot grass shoulder on both sides from the middle school driveway to the Easton Village Store driveway, a distance of over a half-mile.
This allows for safe bi-directional activity. From the Easton Village Store to the crosswalk at Silverman’s Farm, the concrete path would be 6-feet wide. This provides important visual and tactile cues to cyclists that land use has changed from the rural roadside to a local shopping and tourist location, indicating they should either dismount or continue travelling on the roadway to allow primary use of the pathway for pedestrians.
This area, between the Easton Village Store and the crosswalk at Silverman’s Farm, is a popular destination for both residents and visitors to town. Town businesses are present, buildings are close to the road, popular yearly events are held, and parking is available. Pedestrian activity is notably increased in this area, particularly during peak seasons, and it is a popular after-school destination for our students who arrive on foot or bicycle from the middle school as noted here by the principal of Helen Keller Middle School, Susan Kaplan:
“I support the Keller-EVS-Silverman’s walking path,” Kaplan said. “As principal of HKMS I know that many students walk along Sport Hill Road up to the Easton Village Store on a regular basis after school, while many vehicles drive by, some too fast, some too close, some distracted. I worry for our students’ safety.
“There may be other benefits to the building of this path, but the students are what concerns me most. One could argue that they shouldn’t be walking there at all (but they do, and it is good for their growing independence), or that they should take a safer but more roundabout route (but they don’t and won’t). One can imagine that with a safer route, we may find more students taking advantage of this afterschool pattern.”
The location of this path is widely known to be unsafe for those not travelling in a vehicle. The narrow roadway hosts a minimal shoulder width of 1-3 feet with steep embankments on either side along most of its length. This often leads to those walking or bicycling along this stretch of road to weave in and out of the travel lanes with vehicles required to either come to a stop or cross the yellow lines to avoid a collision as they pass. Easton Police Chief, Rich Doyle had the following to say:
“I support the multi-use pathway on Sport Hill Road. I feel it will improve the safety of cyclists and pedestrians walking in the area, especially the students that bike and walk between HKMS and the vicinity of the Easton Village Store.”
The regulatory speed limit for this section of Sport Hill Road is 35 miles per hour (MPH) while speeds measured on this road are documented in excess of 40 MPH. There is a correlation of sharp increase in fatality rates for pedestrian-vehicular collisions once the vehicle is travelling faster than 30 MPH. A researcher, D. C. Richards, as reported in Relationship between Speed and Risk of Fatal Injury: Pedestrians and Car Occupants, found that the risk of a pedestrian fatal injury in his study group with a vehicle speed of 30 MPH is approximately 9% while the risk of a fatal injury at 40 MPH rose to approximately 50%. The graph illustrates his findings.
The right-of-way provides sufficient space to construct the pathway without the need to take people’s personal property. Temporary construction easements or slope rights may be necessary to build to the pathway, but no permanent takings are required. Additionally, if there are some wetlands off the roadway, culverts will be appropriately and minimally extended with minor impacts in order to accommodate the pathway.
While many middle school students travel along this section of Sport Hill Road, some are known to reach the town center from the middle school by traversing through the woods, along Old Oak Road, and through a back accessway to Silverman’s Farm off Old Oak Road. Unfortunately, this path is unsafe as well due to a more reduced shoulder, similar embankment issues, and poor sight lines, as well as crossing water company land without a permit and the extensive use of private property.
The water company has long held strong opposition to bicycle traffic on their property due to erosion and sediment contamination. Additionally, the path is impassable for those with a stroller or wheelchair. It also passes directly through wetlands on the water company property as well as the back accessway to Silverman’s Farm. Creating an ADA accessible pathway on this alternate route would be highly invasive into the water company land, require extensive construction through our untouched wetlands and watercourses within the public watershed, and require permanent takings of private property.
On November 15 and 16, 2019, the Town of Easton, in coordination with the Metropolitan Council of Governments (METROCOG), led by consultant engineers and planners from Fitzgerald & Halliday and Toole Design Group, held a design charette focused on bicycle and pedestrian safety along this route on Sport Hill Road. The charette was preceded by an online survey to help gauge interest and provide advanced input for the two-day workshop. Fliers advertising the survey and event were widely publicized around town, through Facebook and other online communications, disseminated through email, and noticed on the town website with multiple e-alerts. The survey garnered 378 responses and residents packed the second floor of the EMS building.
The Town, METROCOG, and consultants began the first day with a full site walk to conduct a preliminary assessment of the walkability and bike-ability of Sport Hill Road as well as the path through the woods and along Old Oak Road to the back accessway of Silverman’s Farm. The remainder of the day was spent discussing pedestrian and bicyclist safety issues with many focus groups. These groups included members of the Board of Selectmen, Planning & Zoning Commission, Zoning Board of Appeals, Conservation Commission, Agricultural Commission, Senior Center, Historical Society, Community Center, Police, Fire Department, Emergency Medical Service, Public Works Department, farmers, business and property owners, Citizens for Responsible Government, Citizens for Easton, Easton Public Library, Parks and Recreation, local bicycle advocates, Chamber of Commerce, Parent Teacher Organization, local engineers, surveyors, and architects, and school administrators.
The second day began with the consultants distilling the information from the day before and preparing for the public open house portion where all members of the community were invited to voice their concerns about the safety issues and provide feedback on possible alternatives to address them. After the open house, the consultants finalized the presentation that outlined the issues and possible alternative solutions derived from the focus groups and open house feedback. The majority of those in attendance on both days, and of the survey respondents (over 70%), felt the safety issues need to be addressed by the town and agreed a separate pathway for pedestrians and bicyclists would best address the safety issues.
Through the design charette process, we found that the pathway along Sport Hill Road from the middle school driveway to the center would be the most direct route with the greatest ability for implementation due to environmental, construction, and right-of-way concerns and should be the primary focus of effort when the town can address the safety issue. They also identified that the second route through the woods may make a good alternate route for possible future development that would be more recreational than functional. All the design charette information from the event can be found on the Town website. The following renderings illustrate an aesthetic path and safer crossing once implemented.
In August 2019, the Town applied for a competitive grant from the State, through the Transportation Alternatives Program, to find funding for the design and construction of this pathway should the Town move forward with the project. The application was ranked first among those applicants in the Bridgeport-Stamford Transportation Management Area, consisting of 17 towns from Stamford to Seymour, and would receive the funding. Through this grant, federal transportation appropriations are set-aside to fund 80% of the projected cost of the design and construction of this pathway with the remaining 20% the responsibility of the Town. The total projected cost for this pathway is $1,247,000. Additionally, the town would be responsible for the long-term maintenance of the pathway. Supporting this pathway, First Selectman David Bindelglass, has the following to say:
“I think there are a number of reasons why this pathway is a good idea. First and foremost, it is a safety issue. Kids will walk along the side of the road. Two police chiefs and the principal of the middle school are clear that they do and that this constitutes a safety issue. After design and engineering help from experts in both fields, the state deemed this a valuable and necessary project for our town. The price tag to the town is significant at $249,400, and there will be some maintenance costs, but the town will receive $997,600 from the state. This is a tremendous return on our investment and in my opinion well worth it.”
The Town currently holds a large undesignated funds balance that the Board of Finance is actively looking for capital improvement projects in which to appropriate those funds. This project is a capital improvement and the expenditure of those funds on this project would not impact the general fund.
For more information about the pathway, you can visit the Easton website here.