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Touring Stamford's downtown with an eye for safety

Craig LeMoult

Stamford is the fastest developing city in Connecticut, but some are concerned its becoming too dangerous for pedestrians. Three pedestrians have been killed by cars in recent months. City planners and advocates were out on Wednesday to gather ideas on how to make the city’s streets safer.

Emily Provonsha is a public space planner for a non-profit group called Stamford Downtown, which manages and promotes the city’s busy downtown area. She handed out clipboards with a map and a place to take notes on a few questions, as they began a short walking tour at the city’s train station.

“How is the overall experience. How is the safety? How is the accessibility getting from the train station to downtown and back?” asked Provonsha.

Here at the train station, where pedestrians cross a busy street right off I-95, cars drop off commuters and buses come and go, there’s plenty to talk about. Jackie Lightfield is Executive Director of the community group the Stamford Partnership.

“Why do we have 95% percent of the people that get off the train at the higher level walk down the stairs to cross the street here, and have this be the off-ramp to I-95?" asked Lightfield. "I mean, what are we thinking here?”

Some in the group suggest a foot bridge to help people get between downtown and the train station. To others, it’s better to find ways to help pedestrians interact more safely with traffic. Ryan Lynch is with the advocacy group the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. He points to a button for a cross walk and says that actually makes things less safe.

“You have to push a button in order to get a cue to cross the street." said Lynch. "It means you’re not supposed to be here. You’re here as an afterthought. You’re secondary.”

John Ruttolo of Stamford Downtown doesn’t see it that way.

“But if we don’t have a button, then we’re going to be stopping traffic on a regular basis," said Ruttolo.

"That’s the challenge, is trying to find that balance,” replied Lynch.

As the group walks, they stop along the way to make suggestions, like ways to bring the city’s many unused plazas to life and good locations for bike lanes. As of 2010, a Connecticut law requires new state transportation projects to take all users into account, including bikes and pedestrians. A similar law is expected to be introduced for city projects in Stamford shortly.

Alex Karman of the Southwestern Regional Planning Agency says development in Stamford means there are several thousand  more people walking to work in downtown Stamford.

“With the three fatalities recently and a lot more activity, we need these kind of improvements to facilitate the movement of people and also to make it done safely,” said Karman.

As the walking tour wraps up near the middle of the city, Provonsha sums up what they’ve seen.

“I think there’s a lot of traffic, a lot of lanes, high speeds," said Provonsha. "And as Ryan Lynch said earlier, sometimes it feels like pedestrians weren’t supposed to be here.”

The Downtown Special Services District, which pulled this group together, will use feedback from this and similar walking tours to develop an action plan. At the same time, Stamford is finalizing its master plan, which is a 30 year vision for development in the city. A draft of that plan is now online, and a public hearing on it will be held in November.

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