Saturday, March 7, 2020

Public Meeting on Main Street Changes Planned by CT's DOT

A common graphic which illustrates one of the dangers of the work planned for the corner of Washington & Main.

The Department of Transportation is about to start work on a project which affects Main Street, and North End businesses and residents in particular.

There's a public meeting on Tuesday, March 10th at 6:30 pm at Macdonough School where the public can learn more about it and comment both to our Middletown officials and the CT DOT representatives.

The work has come as a surprise to most of the people that live and work here.  Apparently it was verbally ok'd by our previous Mayor, without regard to the strong public comment against the plan when it was presented back in March 2018.

The current project has a few elements which add danger and inconvenience for people who live, work and walk downtown.

Work planned for Washington & Main

First, the intersection of Washington & Main gets the boneheaded step of removing 8 metered parking spaces in front of Luce's to add a turn lane.  If you've ever crossed at this corner, you know that trucks start their turn from close to the center of Main Street, and so this turn lane (which trucks couldn't possibly use) will be right in the blind spot of those turning trucks.  Not to mention the added stress for pedestrians of having a turn lane next to the sidewalk, instead of a barrier of parked cars.

Word is that they'd like to get rid of the diagonal pedestrian crossing too  - though they haven't spelled that out yet.  With the tremendous volume of cars at this intersection,  it takes constant vigilance to stay safe while crossing.  The diagonal pattern -- where all cars come to a stop at the same time -- is the safest one for walkers.  It's also an announcement to all who travel this way that this is a walkable downtown.

They plan to add bumpouts to the other three corners of Washington & Main - and will undoubtedly shorten the walk light cycles to make it easier for more cars to get through.  In a well-documented process known as "induced demand", this kind of "improvement" leads to more cars using an intersection instead of less time spent sitting in traffic.

The height of irony is that they say this project is to improve pedestrian safety.  If that was their real goal, they'd just add a red "no turn" arrow during the walk cycle, so cars couldn't go "right on red" while pedestrians have the right of way.   Or, they could simply replace the "cross on demand" crosswalk they removed in front of Public Market.  Or they could deal with all the cut-through traffic that threatens North End streets, like Pearl, High, Grand, Liberty, Prospect and, most urgently, Spring Street in front of Macdonough School.

But the needs of pedestrians and our local community are not their agenda.  They've been clear that the eventual removal of the lights on Route 9 is what this project is about - although that work, and even an acceptable plan, are not yet on the horizon.  They just know that they plan to bring significantly more pass-through traffic to Main Street in the future - though they don't yet know how - so this work will supposedly make room for all those extra cars.

Another aspect of this plan makes Rapallo Avenue a one-way street, just like in their last rejected Route 9 plan which made Rapallo an off-ramp from the highway.

Work planned for Rapallo/Grand/Main & St. John's Square

In this plan, Rapallo would head one-way West, entering on to Main Street.  For those who currently head East down Rapallo, they would likely shift to driving down Green and Ferry, which are both narrow residential streets which can only face decline and no benefit from this new cut-through traffic.  For residents of Rapallo, it means endless trips round the block to get home, as well as impacts on parking.

There are other aspects to the plan as well - some work on the Spring Street access from the bridge, and altering the parking (dropping one space) in front of the Krust-NoRA-O'Rourke's Diner block.  There may even be some good things for us in this plan - but that should be for us to decide, not just the people at CT DOT.

Yes, the Route 66 portion of Main Street is a state road, and we are host to tens of thousands of commuters each day.  But that doesn't mean that our decades of work to revitalize Main Street should take second place to the needs of people passing through.  And much of this work affects local roads, and even local portions of Main Street.

It is possibly - but not definitely  - too late to stop this work from being done.  The DOT is required to get official agreement before doing this kind of work that affects local roads.   An official agreement should have input from the Common Council, the police, the fire department, the planning department and, ultimately, the Mayor.   Do they have that?

We'll find out on Tuesday, 6:30 pm at Macdonough School.


Brian Stewart said...

Jen, thank you very much for this public service. How were most of us to find out about this "public" hearing? I am going to write everyone I know, urging them to attend. I hope everyone else who reads this does the same.

Tree Fanatic said...

This article addressed some of the issues:

Stephen H. Devoto said...

This article was even better:

Catherine said...

As Jennifer says, these proposed changes will work counter to our goals of reinforcing Main Street as a place of commerce, socializing and regional identity. But the state engineers only see it as pavement - pavement where people get in the way. They have no training in designing for Main Streets nor understand what damage shoe-horning in a third lane will do to local merchants. They do what they want because they’re under no obligation to the city to protect this fragile but important intersection. Thank goodness the mayor has made this meeting possible.

The only way we protect what we have is to have our own engineer speak for US and OUR wants. We need an engineer who is skilled at working on Main Streets and can show the DOT a better solution. It likely is an out-of-state traffic engineer, one not endeared to them for their bread & butter. I would be happy to recommend 3 New England engineers who have enormous insight into these kinds of challenges.

We need to change the way these decisions are made once and for all. We are exhausted having to suit up for battle every few years to once beat back these knuckle-dragging proposals. WE need to plan and design our own streets. We know them best and can best determine how they should be improved. Just because the state made RT 66 an East/West highway by first widening Washington Street (early 1990's) then eliminating access and tighter radii through the reservoir (late 1990's), doesn't mean they should be entitled to treat its entire length to RT 9 as a highway. Downtown Middletown was there first (1650’s) and should be respected as the top priority in every decision.

Main Street is too important to us to leave to people who don’t understand it’s the economic engine of a region, the highest real estate in the city, the genius loci of the lower CT River Valley. We want someone to handle it with care.