“06880” reader Jennifer Johnson writes:
On a Friday in late August, Kaeleigh, a Staples High School sophomore did what many Westporters do on a perfect summer day: She headed out for a jog to Compo Beach.
Before leaving, Kaeleigh and her mom agreed on her route. Kaeleigh would use the crosswalk on Bridge Street in front of the old Saugatuck Elementary School (now senior housing), instead of crossing further east at the busy intersection with South Compo Road.
Kaeleigh’s run was cut frighteningly short. As she crossed Bridge Street, Kaeleigh was hit by a car traveling eastbound. Evidently the driver never saw her. The impact propelled Kaeleigh onto the hood of the car. Her head smashed the windshield. She is still recuperating.
We don’t know why the driver didn’t see Kaeleigh, or why she didn’t see the car. It’s a flat, open stretch of road with long sight lines. Kaeleigh thought it would be fine to use the crosswalk. However, she was mistaken. The decades-old crosswalk she relied upon has been removed.
Kaeleigh could be forgiven for her mistake. The fact that the crosswalk was supposedly discontinued is not obvious. On the north side there are curb cut marks in the sidewalk, while on the south side the sidewalk ends at the crosswalk. In any event, if she didn’t cross there she would have had to navigate past cars turning in various directions at the Compo intersection.
We all face similar obstacles when we try to walk or jog around Westport: sidewalks come to an end, shoulders are too narrow for road-sharing, temporary signs block sidewalks, people are forced to walk behind parked cars, etc. But unlike Kaeleigh most of us don’t have to live with the consequences of being hit by a car….yet.
We have failed to make Westport safe for pedestrians. Despite our stated goals in multiple town plans, and the strong desire across all demographics for improved pedestrian safety and access, we’re not making progress. Road congestion is increasing, new developments are cropping up everywhere, and more people have been injured or killed on our streets. We force people to stand in the road to wait for a bus, lead people down sidewalks that abruptly end, and force families to walk in roads that are designed and maintained solely for cars. Westport can and must do better.
Across the country, and throughout our region (including Norwalk), towns are embracing the goal of making their streets “complete.” That means planning and maintaining streets to allow safe and convenient access for users of all ages and abilities regardless of their mode of transportation, whether walking, bicycling, driving and riding public transportation.
In the case of Bridge Street, there are many options to make it more “complete”: adding better signage, road markings and plantings to help alert drivers; adding road cameras or other tools to help enforce speed limits; creating wider shoulders and/or sidewalks on both sides of the road.
Westport needs a “Complete Street” plan for Bridge Street, and town-wide leadership and funding to make it happen — there, and on all of our 120 miles of public roadways.
How many more Kaeleighs will it take?