Letter: Some thoughts on the Sidewalk Vote on Tuesday

To the Editor:

On Tuesday we vote on “advising” the Town to build an 8-to-10-foot wide, two-lane sidewalk on the east side of Sport Hill Road running from Helen Keller Middle School to Silverman’s Farm. It will narrow to a 6-foot wide walkway at the Easton Village Store.
The elected Board of Finance has voted not to approve this project and the appointed Planning and Zoning Commission has approved it. I salute Planning and Zoning for their hard work in coming up with a  solution to the problem of pedestrian safety on Sport Hill R0ad.
If the citizen’s advise the town they want the sidewalk, the Board of Finance would most likely vote on it again. The project has received a State Grant which (in round numbers) would pay $1,000,000 of estimated initial cost of $1,259,000. Easton would pay about $250,000.
The State owns 16 feet of land  in from the edge of Sport Hill Road. The sidewalk would be built on State land. There would be no seizure of private property.
Proponents of the sidewalk are concerned that children leave Helen Keller and walk up Sport Hill Road to the Village Store at the risk of being hit by cars. When I was at Keller, back in the 1970s, students were not permitted to leave school grounds. Back then, when we broke the rule, we walked up to Halzack’s (now the Village Store) using the path through the woods which is still there.
The accident data in the power point slides promoting the project was difficult to understand, so I called the Police Department. They referred me to University of Connecticut’s Transportation Safety Research Center.
The Center sent me data that showed between 2015 to 2020 there were 78 crashes on Sport Hill Road between Helen Keller and Silverman’s. No pedestrians or bicyclists were involved in these crashes.
From 1995 to 2014, across the entire town of Easton, there were 2,732 car crashes involving 3,937 cars. Of those 2,733 crashes only 17 involved pedestrians. That is slightly more than 1/2 of 1% (.62%) of all the crashes over 19 years across the whole town.
I believe that even one accident is unacceptable, but I was surprised that the pedestrian accident rate was so low given we have no sidewalks.
I believe that building a two -ane sidewalk that funnels bicyclists, skateboarders, in-line skaters, and pedestrians into 5-foot-wide and 3 foot wide lanes, with part of the sidewalk on a downhill grade could increase the risk of collisions and accidents for pedestrians.
I think we should pursue improving the existing path through the woods as suggested by Andy Kachele, Board of Finance Member. Aquarian is looking at giving the town an official right of way to cross their land.
If we improved the path, perhaps covering it with crushed asphalt, we could create a safe and convenient route for families and kids using the Community Center and attending Keller to walk to the Town Center.
The path could be made wheelchair accessible. And parking already exists there for “farm tourists” visiting in the fall who want to park and walk to the Town Center. Appropriate signage at the entrance to Keller could be installed.
In the interim, I think that parents, the school and the town should encourage children not to leave school grounds. Contracting to have a food truck at Keller in the afternoons until 6 p.m. could alleviate the need to walk to the store.
Including the grant money, Kachele said at the recent “Special Town Hall Meeting” that the sidewalk on a per mile basis ($1,259,000 divided by 1/3 of a mile of sidewalk=$3,815,151 per mile) is more significantly more expensive than cost of building a regular road (roughly 1 million per mile). I don’t understand why.
When asked at the Special Town Hall meeting, Planning and Zoning said the there has been no engineering plan, design study or feasibility study done yet. That will be paid for by the State grant at a later stage in the process. To me this means we don’t know the true cost or the engineering feasibility.
The safety of our citizens and children must always be our highest priority, but the resources of our town are not unlimited. The Emergency Medical Service says it needs $1,000,000 to replace its 95-year-old building.
I suggest you vote no against “advising” the town to build the sidewalk and instead advocate to the Town that they improve the path and the E.M.S. building.

Dana Benson

Easton

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