Trumbull officials seek pedestrian friendly town center

TRUMBULL — Trumbull Center boasts a Starbucks, a CVS, several eateries, and a church among its amenities. But it also has a heavily traveled state highway running through it that makes it difficult to navigate on foot.

Pedestrians must cross five lanes of traffic on a road where drivers commonly drive at highway speeds. Town officials, hoping to make the area more pedestrian friendly, have been investigating ways to make the area more walkable. Ultimately, the goal is to make the center more attractive to visitors, while at the same time balancing the concerns of residents and motorists.

“What can we do with this roadway and the cross section of roadway to make this a more walkable pedestrian friendly community at the same time not causing gridlock or congestion?” traffic consultant Joseph Balskus asked at a June 23 public hearing on the topic.

The meeting included comments and feedback from town officials and consultants about a planning study for the area.

Balskus, who previously worked in New Haven, spoke about the need to make the streets safer for pedestrians while preventing additional traffic.

Church Hill Road and White Plains Road both have speed limits of 35 mph. But drivers, according to Balskus, routinely drive much faster. Researchers found out in a 2009 paper that drivers tend to speed up on urban roads if the roads have wide shoulders, and buildings are farther away from the road. A lack of sidewalks also tends to encourage drivers to essentially treat the road as if it were a highway, Balskus said.

Almost all of those attributes are applicable to Church Hill Road, which sees about 20,000 vehicles daily, Balskus said.

The planning study includes more sidewalks, a roadway median and “road diets,” which are strategic lane reductions to free up space for other improvements. In this case, the road diet would reduce two lanes of traffic on Church Hill Road into one lane using roadway medians. The road would turn into a multi lane once again for right and left crossing lanes on White Plains Road and Reservoir Avenue and another intersection.

The plan would not only make it easier for pedestrians to access the road, it would also make it more welcoming, said Kate Montgomery, a landscape architect. Montgomery said various items, like bus shelters, benches and bike racks, even trash cans could be installed around Trumbull Center. These installations would help foster a greater sense of community and cut down on isolation.

“You want to be able to have these furnishing and pedestrian-scale elements within the site to really invite people of all types, not just cars, but pedestrians and bicyclists and bus riders into the space and really feel comfortable,” Montgomery said.

Because the area is geared more toward cars, the center isn’t seen as a destination on its own. Rina Bakalar, Trumbull’s economic and community development director, said added walkability would also be good for local businesses and would make the center more of a hot spot.

“Folks want to go to areas that are walkable, that are more village-like, that are attractive, that have a sense of place. That is the reality,” Bakalar said.

But while the plan makes the center easier to navigate on foot, some residents expressed skepticism.

Marshall Marcus, a member of the town’s Economic & Community Development Commission, said he isn’t opposed to the idea, but was concerned that some of the changes to Church Hill Road would block access to a Mobil gas station that sits at the corner of Church Hill and White Plains roads.

“I don’t want to see any of these designs that are bad for business be put in,” he said. “It’s great for the driver, but it’s going to hurt the business.”

Bakalar said feedback from the meeting would be taken into consideration as the project progresses.

“This is about the collective good,” she said. “That’s what we’re looking at and we’ll continue to take input and assess that.”