The town on Wednesday temporarily closed a heavily trafficked cut-through road near Exit 37 of the Merritt Parkway, as officials try to figure out how to control motor vehicle volume and speeds there.
The Police Commission discussed the possibility during its Oct. 18 meeting of closing Conrad Road so that motorists cannot use it to quickly access South Avenue and the Merritt. The appointed body did not vote on the measure.
Nevertheless, the town has put up barricades on Conrad where it juts west toward South Avenue (before Whiffle Tree Lane), and they will remain in place for five weeks, according to Public Works Director Tiger Mann.
“The NCPD and DPW, after multiple discussions with neighbors, the Police Commission and our traffic engineers, noted that some measures were needed for the safety of the residents on Conrad Road,” Mann said in an email. “We are hoping this measure will be temporary in nature until we can change the behavior of the commuting public.”
Thousands of southbound commuters using navigation apps such as Waze get off of the Merritt Parkway at Exit 38 on weekday mornings and cut through New Canaan, using roads such as Gerdes and Conrad to get back on at 37. Cars end up speeding through the residential, pedestrian-heavy “South of the Y” neighborhood, including along Conrad where there are no sidewalks. The matter entered the public sphere this past summer, when neighbors voiced concerns about traffic and safety. In September, the town contracted with a traffic engineer to design a “mini-roundabout” for the intersection.
Yet while that plan is being drawn up, the town is pursuing a plan that was broached at the most recent meeting of New Canaan’s state-designated “local traffic authority,” the Police Commission.
There, Conrad Road resident Michael Nurzia said that he’s seen traffic and speeds increase in the area in the past 11 years.
“I think I’m pretty in tune with what a safe street is for pedestrians, just because of a lifetime of being out there, and it definitely feels unsafe,” he said at the meeting, held at police headquarters.
Nurzia added: “Just as an individual, my vote is to cut off access to Gerdes with Conrad. It would solve it as a cut-through street. It would solve the speed issues. It would solve the volume issues. Obviously that’s not going to be a solution for everybody. That is a complex system. To make a change there’s going to be unanticipated consequences to that. Not everybody is going to be on board. But it’s something you could test: cheap, quick. You could just temporarily blockade that road and then study it. See what happens. And if it’s a solution that works for everybody, you have your solution.”
Officials noted at the meeting that such a solution could push the problem elsewhere.
“Yes, it would solve problem for 15 or so residents on Conrad but that traffic is going to go somewhere,” Police Chief John DiFederico said in response to Nurzia.
He continued, “So we have to consider that, as well. That traffic may stay on Gerdes or may go up Shagbark or may go up Brookside. It’s not going to go back on the Merritt Parkway, so we have to consider that and what is going to be the negative effect of that. It’s something we are considering and it does seem like a viable solution and it would certainly solve the issue on Conrad. But it would create issues elsewhere, so we are looking at it. It’s definitely not off the table.”
During the meeting, town officials talked about other possible solutions—such as speed bumps or a designated “no-thru traffic” zone—but those have problems, too. DiFederico and Mann noted at the meeting that speed bumps create more noise and that motorists tend to speed up between them in order to make up time, and that there’s no way to enforce a “no-thru traffic” zone, because it’s not a formally approved traffic designation.
The new plan calls for signs at Conrad’s intersections with South Avenue and Gerdes Road to alert motorists to the change.
The town’s emergency services agencies and the school district, with its buses, both have been notified “and are aware of the changes in the road system,” Mann said.