Where the Sidewalk Ends
Too often Westport residents are walking their way to a dead end
If you Google “Where the Sidewalk Ends,” you’ll be reminded of a classic Shel Silverstein book, or a song by country legend George Strait, maybe even a movie from 1950…what you should see is Westport, Connecticut. It’s here after all that the sidewalk truly ends, and starts again and then drops back off leading parents (and more than a few cyclists) in this otherwise kid-friendly town with literally nowhere to turn.
It comes as no surprise to this father of three that Boston Post Road is Connecticut’s most dangerous road for pedestrians with seven fatalities (three in Westport alone) from 2008-2010 according to a news release from Tri-State (CT, NY, NJ) Transportation Campaign. Take my house for example; just a stones throw from Post Road. I don’t mean this in a Sarah Palin-esque matter of speaking but I can literally see Barnes & Noble from my house and its proximity for my reading-crazed kids was a strong selling point just a few years ago. After all, Google maps tells me it’s but a 3-minute walk to B&N, and a very tolerable (even w/baby in tow) 7-minute stroll to child-focused art studio Splatterbox. However, I find it’s not worth the risk and generally opt for loading up the SUV because there is no actual sidewalk, let alone crosswalk that guarantee safe passage to a hard earned hour of parental distraction.
Post Road has become “an alternate highway” in recent years says Westport’s State Representative Jonathan Steinberg. If it’s a nice walk you seek, you’ve but one real option in Westport, a fantastic one mind you but you’d better head to Compo Beach and amble oceanside. The question is why was the town designed for childless families? Is it too old to adapt to the exercise obsessed ways of today’s Fairfield County residents or is there resistance from state and local officials or even business owners to update our decrepit infrastructure? Representative Steinberg tells me it’s quite frankly “not a one size fits all solution,” we’ll have to first address dangerous intersections and distracted driving.
To hear Ryan Lynch from the aforementioned Tri-State campaign tell it, sidewalks and crosswalks were largely an afterthought with prioritization given to “designing roads that move cars as fast as possible” and is now an issue of funds. Anyone who reads the local paper or watches a local or even national newscast knows both state and local budgets across the country are stretched to the limit and Westport is no exception. Specifically, the latest Connecticut budget agreement calls for the state to borrow $30 million to cover the entire cost of next fiscal year’s Town Aid Road program, a grant system that helps municipalities pay for infrastructure improvements. Exactly how much of that loan trickles down to Westport and eventually to our pathetic sidewalks and crosswalks is anyone’s guess but you can assume we’re NOT on the path to an upgrade anytime soon. Rep. Steinberg also acknowledged ConnDOT is “not eager to make any drastic changes.” Where exactly does that leave Westport residents and fellow parents itching for a walk? Perhaps there is another avenue that could help alleviate the dangers of hoofing it around town, one regarding safer driving on the cities sidewalk-less streets?
To that end the state passed a Complete Streets law in 2009. Then in 2011, Connecticut's Department of Transportation (ConnDOT) also made progress on three corridor studies that include significant bicycle and pedestrian elements. These studies examine Route 7, Route 1 and Route 10. More needs to be done on a state and local level which is the goal of the Tri-State Campaign which called on the state’s legislature to pass Vulnerable User legislation (RB 111) which would enhance penalties for careless drivers who injure or kill pedestrians, bicyclists, emergency personnel and others (Westport Patch article on said legislation). The Campaign also called on Connecticut elected officials to pass automatic enforcement measures such as red light cameras.
I, for one, would settle for a modest upgrade in crosswalk’s and traffic signals and to once and for all finish the many sidewalks’ that were once started and never completed. Where, after all, should we Westport residents go when the sidewalk ends? I sure as heck am NOT walking my kids along the state’s most dangerous pedestrian road; it’s time that ends.
Share your worst sidewalk photos and stories in the comments section.
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Married to wife, Brandi, father of three; Emerson, William and Logan
Avid sports fan, fitness enthusiast, Westport resident going on 4 years