Where The Sidewalks End

“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.

Bridge Street, where Kayleigh was hit.

Bridge Street, where Kayleigh was hit.

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.

Kayleigh, with a friend.

Kayleigh, with a friend.

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?

27 responses to “Where The Sidewalks End

  1. The sad truth is that even with a crosswalk, even with a SIGN that indicates “Yield to Pedestrians,” drivers blow through anyway. My walking buddy and I were at such a crosswalk on Post Road, corner of Bay Street, and a mature woman drove through, honking her horn, shouting and gesturing at two young girls trying to cross. When I encounter a driver who stops when I’m crossing at a crosswalk, I wave & thank them for following the law. And when you are driving and obey such traffic laws, you get honked at for stopping and fear a fender bender because they were distracted. Every two years, Realtors have mandatory continuing ed before they’re allowed to renew their licenses. Maybe the state should require a similar review of the the basic rules of the road before renewing a driver’s license – Stop signs, red lights, crosswalks, speed limits, etc?

  2. Dan, how about a “grassroots” petition via 06880 to ask our first selectman and police department for a better conversation regarding all of these continuing issues in our town? Speeding, crosswalks, red lights, sidewalks to name a few of the top billings. Similar to the call-to-action meetings that have been working on Compo Beach. Let’s engage this community to appeal, as a group, to our town leaders and law enforcement officers to make this a safer and better place for all.

  3. I so agree, Dan. My heart goes out to Kaeleigh. The sidewalk abruptly ends on North Morningside as well, near Adams Academy, forcing me onto the street itself when I walk from my house on Long Lots to TD Bank or Aux Delices.

  4. Eric William Buchroeder SHS '70

    I hope Kaeleigh, that beautiful young lady, has a complete recovery. The best way to make Westport pedestrian friendly is to make Westport drivers friendly to pedestrians. From a distance (admittedly) it appears the town and its demeanor toward one another is devolving faster than you can write articles about it, Dan. As always, preoccupation with one’s self is often the plague of the well-heeled. Thank God Kaeleigh was not hurt irretrievably.

  5. Oh wow, very sad, very sad for Kaeleigh and her family. Spent most of my childhood years living on Bridge street and looking back, amazed we survived crossing it all of the time and with bicycles. Traffic is much worse and faster now, no doubt. Nab the speeders for starters. Enforcing speed limits saves lives. We live now on a road that’s 30 mph for a reason and I’m grateful the police are out daily enforcing it. I’ve seen too many accidents without their presence on this long strip of road.

  6. Melissa, I think that’s a great idea. It’s mind blowing how unsafe it is to be a pedestrian (and driver) around town these days. We ALL have to share the roads and something needs to be done soon or else….

  7. I agree. Sidewalks and safe crossing areas allow people to exercise. Hope Kaeleigh has a quick and complete recovery!
    Just one example: on North Compo near Cross Highway, after knocking down an old house, a new one is being built with a circular driveway. They cut two openings in the hill there for the driveway, but in between them a pedestrian still has to walk in the street. A contractor won’t leave room for people to walk unless the town requires it.

  8. I know how difficult the crosswalks at the Bridge St/Compo and Bridge St/Riverside intersections in particular can be for pedestrians. Has there ever been any exploration of putting in the WALK/DON’T WALK devices common in NYC and having red lights bringing all vehicular traffic to a stop.

  9. Dan, I think the State removed that crosswalk quite a while ago (months? year?). I’m guessing they opted make the South Compo/Greens Farms/Bridge Street intersection the designated crossing as their are lights there and the control push buttons for pedestrians to use. I always thought that the crosswalk close to the Saugatuck School/senior housing was in a not so logical location, but probably a remnant from when it was a real school. It’s horrific Kaeleigh has been hurt. I’m thinking it falls to the State’s responsibility since it is on Route 136

  10. Jennifer Johnson’s heartfelt and articulate blog hits a responsive chord, one that resonates with most of us on a regular basis, though of course without physical tragedy. All of us, drivers, cell phone users and bikers, even pedestrians walking as groups down a narrow sidewalk, need always to be civil and considerate. Technical changes can be effected and should be addressed,, but civility and attentiveness are good starting points.
    Don Bergmann

  11. This is horrible news. My heart goes out to Kayleigh and her family with the hope and expectation of a full recovery. The matter of pedestrian safety, traffic volume and velocity on this State controlled road has long been a concern.This regrettable incident only serves to underscore the matter.

  12. Deb Rosenfield

    What a horrible accident. Wishing Kaeleigh a full and speedy recovery. We shouldn’t have to petition the town to create safe walking environments. Perhaps we can spend less time/money straightening curbs on Main Street and attend to installing proper sidewalks on well-travelled roads. And while we’re at it, nab those speeders and impose mandatory safe driving classes plus community service as punishment rather than speeding tickets. If speeders have to give 20 hours of their time for a speeding infraction, maybe they will think twice about cutting 20 seconds out of their drive.

    • True, Deb. But I am constantly amazed at how — in places where sidewalks do exist, like North Avenue and Long Lots — so many people (runners as well as walkers) persist in using the shoulder of the road instead.

  13. Or pedestrians can cross where they are supposed to and look both ways before doing so

  14. Agree, would love to see this include Imperial, the most used road the joggers and walkers to get to town, Levitt, Library, everything in between!

  15. Kristin Hantler

    Any town should prioritize this work, but Westport in particular considering the family-oriented status and all the deep pockets that would likely agree to help fund the work.

    • Given most Westporter’s reaction to taxes, I think you overestimate how deep pockets are, how many deep pockets there are and/or how willing folks are to take their hands out of their pockets.

  16. Nancy Hunter Wilson

    So unfortunate that the State controls so many of the roads and bridges with so little communication.
    Perhaps bring the subject to the Selectman’s Office.
    Isn’t it his/her job to fix these problems through communication with the State?
    It seems that beautifying Compo, etc. could wait until proper traffic safety measures, town- wide, are taken. Anything less would be negligent.

  17. Nancy Hunter Wilson

    p.s. If only the adults could find where the sidewalk ends.

  18. I too wish the solution were simple. Sadly, the newly added and painted crosswalks on compo south between the 95 underpass and Longshore have offered little respite from the cars racing by. I find the only way to cross at one is to start walking with a watchful eye on the approaching cars. Then, and only then, they usually stop. I’m saddened and unsurprised that a young woman was not so lucky. I’d be willing to bet the driver had a phone in hand.

  19. My heart goes out to Kayleigh and her family. That’s a terrifying story— her quick and strong recovery is in my prayers.
    I live off of Myrtle Avenue, and crossing the street is surely one of the trickiest and most challenging parts of my day: Cars come zooming past CHT church in great hopes of making a green light!
    Imperial Avenue, which is so lovely, and a wee park to boot! is SO scary for walking or riding a bike— I often change sides when I know I’m approaching a curve with a ‘blind’ spot, as cars definitely generously use the shoulder in their turns.
    I love this town… I know that something is going to wake up the masses to just slow down a bit!!!!
    And hopefully just intelligence, not another Kayleigh.

  20. YES!! We absolutely need better sidewalks and safer streets. Hope Kayleigh is going to be ok. This is a public health issue!

  21. Michele Harding

    Let me just say that I love our town. There are many many wonderful and kind people who live here. However, our town is filled with even more rude, speeding drivers. We are a family of runners. My husband, a well known distance runner has been hit multiple times by drivers. Usually, it’s a side view mirror. He has ended up on the hood of a car more than once. Only his quick reflexes have saved him. To make matters worse, drivers don’t always stop. If they do (with the exception of a couple of times) they stop to yell at him , swear or give him the finger as if it’s his fault that he was hit. Just a few weeks ago, he ended up dashing into a front lawn on Roseville in the early morning hours. The sun was up. It was not dark. A woman who was texting didn’t see him. She also swerved when she finally saw him and left skid marks on the homeowners lawn. She swore and yelled at my husband through her windshield. My son, a sophomore on the cross country team, was hit last year while practicing with a group. He jumped and braced himself on the hood the car. His hand left a dent on the hood. The driver left. Just two weeks ago, I had to jump into someone’s front lawn on South Compo Road because a driver swerved well into the bike lane and nearly hit me. She was texting and did not stop. This has happened before. Not to make light of the situation, but I am ready to outfit everyone with a dash cam or go pro before every run so we can go after these drivers. We are safe runners who use sidewalks and are well inside the bike lanes. We look before crossing. It still doesn’t matter. All the sidewalks and cross walks and bike lanes in the world will not help unless everyone slows down, gets off their phones, and pays better attention. We are all guilty of going too fast at times. We are all guilty of getting distracted. It has to stop. My heart goes out to that beautiful girl. I hope she makes a full and speedy recovery.

  22. Jaime Bairaktaris

    During the seasons that I run, I travel south on Greens Farms, then have to cross Compo Road South, then cross Bridge Street in order to end up on the right side of the road to head to Compo. This entire process takes about 5 minutes if you hit the lights at the right (eh, wrong) time. The pedestrian crossing light is only a traffic light (made for vehicle traffic, retrofitted for pedestrians) and is only usable for crossing Bridge street, and even when lit green has no control over vehicles making a legal right on red onto Bridge Street. While crossing Compo Road South, there is no pedestrian light – you have to gauge the traffic, hope nobody plans on making a right on red, and continue. Where Kaeleigh was struck is just 20 yards south of this intersection. Seeing as that Compo is a huge attraction in our town, I still cannot fathom why that intersection – one of the busiest for running in town – is still so dangerous. In front of JR’s, they placed several crossing signs and post a patrolman often to make sure people stop for pedestrians. The Compo intersection is far more used, and is far more dangerous because of turning traffic from Compo Road south onto Bridge street. In reality, it would be nearly impossible to avoid hitting somebody crossing Bridge street at the cross walk when turning from Compo Road South because of the speed and limited visibility around the corner. Eventually we need to make it a more apparent pedestrian crossing point, and do away with right on reds there. I hope she gets well soon, she’s one of the most sweet and genuine people out there. It’s unfortunate that her being struck is what it took to get these much needed comments flowing.

  23. Sheryl Sherman

    Well said, Dan.
    On another matter – the sign on Imperial Ave. indicating the location of ‘The Senior Center’ is green with light gold lettering and quite low. These factors, combined with the green plants surrounding the small sign, all make the sign difficult to see and read. Seniors, and everyone else, need a more legible sign for this terrific center.