Zoners talk traffic, paving and bike lanes at third listening session

How can the town’s planners make Ridgefield more accessible to bikers?

Traffic, paving, bike lanes, a new police and fire station, and parking — always more parking — dominated a discussion on town infrastructure before the Planning and Zoning Commission Tuesday, May 7.

The meeting was the third in a series of listening sessions hosted by the commission to hear input from town officials ahead of its 10-year rewrite of the town plan of conservation and development, a roadmap for how the town wants to expand and preserve its character and resources over the next decade.

“Everyone knows there’s a traffic issue here in the town of Ridgefield,” said Police Chief Jeff Kreitz, who spoke first.

He said that when the main arteries around and through town back up, navigation apps on drivers’ cell phones will reroute them through residential streets, leading to safety concerns on some the town’s narrow roads.

Police Commissioner Joe Savino said Beaver Brook Road in particular sees about 300 to 350 cars go by “each way everyday,” mostly due to cut-through traffic. “We had residents saying basically they can’t walk their kids on the street,” he said.

School Superintendent William Collins indicated that the schools have had traffic problems of their own.

“We have a constant problem of getting our children to school on time,” he told the commission, noting that the bus company hired by the district has to “use smaller buses to get down some certain roads.”

Kreitz suggested the town should focus on getting traffic on major roads flowing, so that drivers won’t try to cut through residential streets. Syncing the traffic lights on Main Street is one part of that plan.

“If you get the main arteries flowing as best you can, the secondaries will follow,” said Kreitz.

First Selectman Rudy Marconi noted the town is currently working on categorizing the work that needs to be done on its roads. He noted that the asphalt the town has been receiving from its contractors contains a certain percentage of recycled milling, and doesn’t seem to hold up as long to wear and tear.

Also up for discussion were ways to make the town more accessible to cyclists.

“We’re the best biking town in Connecticut,” said Savino. “When you get into the really small roads, people just have to be respectful.”

Marconi said the town could also ask Eversource to allow cyclists to use the rail trail. “They would probably yield to us, the neighbors were just adamantly opposed to it,” he said.

He also raised the issue of the need for new fire and police stations.

“We’re looking at two buildings that are really well over a hundred years old,” Marconi said.

The town essentially has three options, he explained — renovate the existing buildings, build both a new police station and a new fire station, or combine the two into one “public safety building,” which could be located on the former Schlumberger property now owned by the town.

“Financially, we’re carrying about 20 million for the project, I don’t think it’s going to be enough,” said Marconi. He said most communities have spent anywhere from $13 million to $15 for a new police station, meaning both stations together will cost the town around $26 million.

As for parking, Marconi reiterated the town plans to expand the Governor Street public parking lot.

He noted that the Branchville train station lot is now mostly empty since the town introduced parking fees — likely because businesses in the Branchville section of town were having their employees park in the lot all day, he said. Many residents may also be driving to the Wilton station to avoid the fee, he added.

Phil Kearns, Chairman of the Parks and Recreation Commission, said they have plans to expand parking by around 120 spots, with the increased demand for the the department’s facilities.

The commission will hold a fourth listening session — open to public comment on all topics — on June 18.

Marconi noted that in 1949, a study found that there were two issues facing the town in the future — “traffic, and parking,” he said.

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