Saying they feared the change could exacerbate safety concerns by pushing motor vehicle traffic near schools, town officials approved the installation of two temporary “no left turn” signs to ease congestion in a residential neighborhood during rush hour.
Traffic on Nursery Road spikes to more than 300 vehicles between 8 and 9 a.m. on weekdays, officials have found—a result of New York City-bound motorists avoiding the congested Merritt Parkway.
One proposed solution has been to prevent motorists traveling toward New Canaan along Marvin Ridge Road from turning left onto the top of Nursery Road in the mornings, as well as from turning left onto White Oak Shade Road from the bottom.
Yet doing so likely would only push cut-through-seeking motorists deeper into New Canaan, including to Old Norwalk and Farm Roads, according to a traffic study from engineer Michael Galante of Frederick P. Clark Associates, a Fairfield-based planning consulting firm.
Even so, members of the Police Commission during their Jan. 16 meeting approved the measure 3-0.
Chairman Sperry DeCew warned that he did so with caution, “because I happen to think the traffic study was a professional job.”
“And I think indeed it will shift the traffic over and it’s going to come down White Oak Shade and Old Norwalk Road and you’re not going to solve anything,” he said at the meeting, held at the New Canaan Police Department.
Commissioners Paul Foley and Jim McLaughlin also voted in favor of installing the signs.
It isn’t clear exactly when the they’ll go in, as the signs need to be ordered up, but Public Works Director Tiger Mann, a guest at the meeting, said he would put out an electronic sign letting motorists know what’s coming. The signs will be in place from 7 to 9 a.m. on weekdays and for no more than six months, at the end of which officials will review whether the solution is working or causing problems elsewhere. If safety problems appear to surface in the meantime, the Commissioners said, the signs will need to be removed even at the risk of seeing traffic surge again on Nursery Road and, closer to the motorists’ re-entry point near Exit 37, on Gerdes Road.
As they have since bringing the problem to the town’s attention in the fall of 2017, leading ultimately to the traffic study, several residents of those roads attended the Commission’s meeting and voiced safety concerns and frustrations with the status quo.
Charlein Megherby of Nursery Road said she and others love new Canaan “do not want to be mean to our neighbors” but that it’s “worth a shot” to try installing the signs and see if commuters find a different way to deal with the morning congestion.
“If it doesn’t work and creates any kind of safety issues for the schools, then we tried it,” she said. “But I think if we try it, we just see what happens. I really doubt go they’re going to go that extra couple of miles to go around.”
That’s not what Galante found. In his Dec. 14 report, the engineer found that a “no left turn” sign “would have the same negative impact to the residential roadways in New Canaan or potentially to the south in Norwalk.”
Referring to an alternative proposal of closing Nursery Road, Galante wrote, “It is our recommendation that neither of these options be considered since it will have a negative impact on other local roads. The Town should not install left turn restrictions or close roads for emergency vehicle access purposes and to maintain traffic circulation throughout the Town.”
Galante did note other options available but not yet considered for Nursery Road—including roadway surface texture changes, channelization, speed humps, raised crosswalks, one-lane slow points, medians, narrow travel lanes and traffic diverters—but said they’re not appropriate.
“It is important to note that a review of the accident data indicated no unsafe conditions on Nursery Road or at the two intersections included in this Study Area,” Galante said. “The identification of two accidents at each intersection over a 3.5 year period does not constitute an unsafe condition.”
He concluded that “the Town maintain full-movement traffic flow on Nursery Road, maintain traffic flow without any closures and maintain traffic flow without any turn restrictions.”
“These roads function as connecting roads along the Merritt Parkway and provide access and connections between interchanges 38 and 37 and from the Merritt Parkway,” he said. “It is recommended that the identified sight restrictions at the Nursery Road/White Oak Shade Road intersection be mitigated with the removal of vegetation or the trimming back of this vegetation, which is located on the east side of White Oak Shade Road south of the Nursery Road intersection. It also would include trimming of vegetation within the median on Nursery Road at the White Oak Shade intersection.”
Galante said his firm’s field investigations “indicated that motorist care not observing and stopping at the STOP signs on Marvin Ridge Road and Nursery Road.”
“This was also found at the Nursery Street [in Norwalk], which is located immediately south of the Merritt Parkway overpass. Additional police presence for traffic control and speed control is recommended. Obviously, this will not reduce traffic volume, but will mitigate any potential safety concerns and may deter commuters from using these roads if there is a significant police presence, when possible.”
Yet members of NCPD command staff at the meeting, describing the high traffic volume as a “quality of life” issue primarily, said the department’s ability to patrol the intersection was staffing-dependent. Chief Leon Krolikowski, added that motorists facing the “No Left Turn” sign at Nursery and White Oak Shade Roads were likely to simply make a right and then try immediately to turn around, whether in Horton Lane or somewhere else, so that they could approach the intersection from the other side and continue straight on (toward Gerdes).
Mike Mauro, a resident of Gerdes Road for 2.5 years who has voiced concerns about the safety of neighborhood residents as well as motorists given the aggression of some morning commuters passing through, said the traffic problem near the Merritt coincided with the use of Waze navigation app, and that the problem has gotten far worse even since he moved to the area.
Mauro asserted that the sheer volume of cars coming through the area at rush hour indicated that it was non-local motorists.
Addressing the idea that motor vehicle traffic if it’s pushed north of Nursery Road will just create a problem elsewhere, Mauro said, “Respectfully, I don’t know if anybody on that alleged other route is here tonight to object to it. And that is an important thing to consider here, because these are publicly noticed meetings, this issue has been before the Commission since at least last spring, probably much earlier than that. There is no opposition that I am hearing. I am not seeing any proof that any route north of that Nursery corridor is going to save anybody time. So, I think that it is just important that this limited remedy is precisely what is called for.”
Commissioner Paul Foley spoke in favor of trying the “No Left Turn” signs, saying that though he appreciated the traffic study, “doing nothing as this report suggests is not an option to me.”
One Nursery Road resident, Anna Holbrook, said she appreciated that First Selectman Kevin Moynihan had investigated the matter weighed in, pushing for the “No Left Turn” signs.
She referred to a Jan. 8 email from Moynihan to the Police Commission on which police and public works officials were copied—as was Mauro, who is an affected resident as well as a member of the Town Council.
Referring to the traffic study, Moynihan said in the email that he didn’t understand why “we would defer to their proposed solutions or lack of solutions without using our own local intuition and common sense judgment about the problem.”
“The issue here in my opinion is one of Merritt Parkway commuters jumping off the Parkway at exit 38 to travel local roads simply to try to save some commuting time,” he said. “These are overwhelmingly not New Canaan residents or even Norwalk residents, but rather residents from towns up the line who have a frustratingly long commute due to Parkway congestion at 7:30 am to 9:00 am. I suspect that they don’t even save that much time on their commutes in taking the diversion through New Canaan, but they probably feel better. Meanwhile, they are demonstrably destroying the peace and tranquility of New Canaan residents on Nursery and Gerdes Roads on these residential roads.”
Moynihan said he questioned the conclusion that motorists would turn to other New Canaan roads because “these other potential local road options would be very undesirable and impracticable alternatives and would take much longer than staying on the Parkway.”
“Moreover, Waze would not identify these alternative local road options as viable time savers,” he said in the email. “I support the Nursery Road and Gerdes Road neighbors in trying to find real solutions to this very real problem.”
Mauro during the Town Council meeting held later that the same night at Town Hall said that a “local group was successful in having the Police Commission vote to implement some traffic controls to alleviate a pretty severe traffic problem happening in the morning down on Nursery Road, White Oak Shade and Gerdes.”
“So we are actually very happy we had that outcome and the first selectman had given his full-throated support for the implementation so we are very grateful for his help,” Mauro said.