Municipal officials at a recent meeting voted in favor of a proposal to widen parts of the sidewalk along the one-way stretch of Elm Street downtown.
The Police Commission at May 19 meeting reviewed a proposal to widen sidewalks at Elm and South Avenue, as well as along the north side of Elm Street between South and The Playhouse.
Plans also call for a sidewalk “bump-out” at the crosswalk in front of the Bank of America building and converting six parking spaces on Elm into 15-minute spots, officials have said.
Public Works Director Tiger Mann said the widened sidewalks would help restaurants accommodate outdoor dining and allow for expanded retail space.
“In this day and age, the majority of people want to come downtown, that’s one of the reasons why New Canaan is so successful, we have a vibrant downtown,” he told members of the Commission at their regular meeting, held via videoconference.
He continued, “It’s the walkability thereof that brought to the forefront. That’s really where we’re at.”
The Police Commission voted 2-1 in favor of the proposal. Chair Paul Foley and member Shekaiba Bennett voted in favor and Commission Secretary Jim McLaughlin voted against.
McLaughlin voiced concerns that the bump-outs would make for a tight squeeze for cars in the traveling lanes.
He recommended that the sidewalk widening be reduced by two feet.
“Giving those extra two feet would give drivers a little bit more room to navigate around parked trucks and additional space to back out from the angled spots when a truck is behind them making a delivery,” he said.
Yet his fellow commissioners and a traffic consultant said the wide sidewalks will provide for increased pedestrian safety and it’s not necessary to reduce the proposed width.
Bennett said that the intersection at Elm and South could become a “little narrow” if a westbound vehicle is turning left from Elm onto South Avenue.
Michael Galante, director of traffic at Norwalk-based Hardesty & Hanover LLC, said that the bump-outs have numerous benefits, such as tightening up the layout of current parking.
He also said the extra two feet could cause “a car that may not be parked up against the curb to be sticking out a little bit.”
According to Galante, the proposed 8-foot bump-outs prioritize pedestrian safety by giving walkers more visibility.
McLaughlin also said that the proposal could be changed to retain five parking spots on the north side of Elm that would be lost under the plan.
Though the proposal has a total net zero loss of parking spaces, McLaughlin said that the spots are more valuable than the bump out space.
“Drive down Elm Street any day of the week, seven days a week, it is very difficult to find a parking spot,” he said.
“Why is that? It’s because people prefer to park on Elm Street,” he continued.
Galante said that his impression was that people would be OK with a net zero loss of parking spots.
“The main concern here was trying to create a safer environment for pedestrians to cross,” he said.
Mann said, “I feel that that is a downtown improvement and enhancement to the pedestrian experience. It also sends a message that the pedestrian is important to us here and to travel slowly through our village.”
He said DPW plans to chalk up the road and place cones or barriers to give motorists an idea of how the bump outs will work and test that cars and trucks can safely turn.
“If we’re running into a problem with that we most certainly will make amendments, absolutely,” Mann said.
The proposal was made public in April.
Under the plan, two 15-minute spaces will be created on Elm just east of the intersection with South Avenue, in front of Dunkin Donuts and midblock between the Playhouse crosswalk and Park Street, according to Mann.