The state Department of Transportation plans next year to install a new crosswalk at the Post Road East-Bulkley Avenue intersection, as town and state officials press to improve pedestrian safety after a Fairfield man was killed by a car near the busy junction Saturday.
A plan for a new pedestrian crossing at the Post-Bulkley intersection has been floated for more than a year, with both town officials and neighboring businesses such as Shake Shack expressing support for the proposal. Those calls for the project to move forward intensified since Bruce Tabackman, a 68-year-old lawyer from Fairfield, died Saturday evening when he was hit while crossing Post Road East, just yards from Shake Shack.
Tabackman's death was the fourth pedestrian fatality on Post Road East in Westport during the last five years.
"This dangerous stretch of road has sadly been the scene of a number of deadly accidents," state Sen. Toni Boucher, R-26, whose district includes most of Westport, said in a statement this week. "I'm heartbroken to hear that yet another pedestrian has been struck and killed trying to cross at this intersection. The need to fix this crossing issue is urgent." Boucher is a member of the General Assembly's Transportation Committee.
The new pedestrian crosswalk would link a Mercury gas station at the southeast corner of the intersection to an office complex at the northeast corner. It would include two countdown-signal heads. Installing the crosswalk will cost approximately $50,000, according to Department of Transportation spokesman Kevin Nursick.
A pedestrian crossing with signal heads already connects the south- and northwest corners of the Post Road East-Bulkley Avenue intersection.
First Selectman Gordon Joseloff, a vocal proponent of the new crosswalk, has called for DOT officials to "speed up" traffic improvements in the area where Tabackman was killed.
"This project adding an additional crosswalk in the area has been in the works for some time now and obviously takes on added urgency with this weekend's tragic death," he said in a statement Monday.
But work on the new crosswalk is unlikely to start before 2014. The proposed crossing is among a package of 25 traffic-signal projects planned next year by the DOT in Fairfield County. That bundle of improvements is set to go out to bid by the end of March. Bids for the projects will be received by the DOT during the following one to two months. A contract for work on the projects will be signed one to two months after the bids come in. The selected contractor will then have 150 to 180 days to procure the materials needed to complete the Fairfield County traffic-signal projects. Under that scenario, construction of the second Post Road East-Bulkley Avenue pedestrian is expected to be completed in 2014.
The DOT bundles those traffic-signal projects together, as opposed to bidding them out individually, to save money.
"If you bid on that alone, it would probably be double in price or more or you might not get anyone who would want to do it," Nursick said of the second Post-Bulkley pedestrian crossing.
While the DOT will ask the traffic-signal contractor to prioritize the installation of the new Westport crosswalk, it cannot mandate that prioritization, according to Nursick.
Shake Shack, which worked with Westport police last year to put together a proposal for the new crossing, has offered to contribute at least $18,000 to the project -- a number based on the original estimated cost of the new crosswalk.
Ahead of the construction of the new crosswalk, town and state officials are looking to take other measures to improve pedestrian safety in the section of Post Road East from Bulkley Avenue to the Westport-Fairfield town line.
Shake Shack at 1849 Post Road East is located along that troubled stretch. Joseloff has recommended that Shake Shack explore with adjoining property owners the use of additional parking spaces on the north side of Post Road East, which includes the 4,300-square-foot restaurant.
"In terms of the parking, we're open to finding any additional solutions," Shake Shack spokesman Edwin Bragg said Wednesday, when asked for comment on Joseloff's parking proposal.
In January 2011, the Zoning Board of Appeals approved a waiver for Shake Shack, which allowed the restaurant to operate with only 48 parking spaces, compared to the previous allotment of 54 spots for its property at 1849 Post Road East.
Town and state officials also agree that roadway rules on Post Road East are commonly flouted by both motorists and pedestrians. Tabackman was not in a crosswalk when he was struck, according to Westport police. In November 2011, a Shake Shack employee was seriously injured when she was hit in the same section of Post Road East. She was cited by police for not using a pedestrian crossing.
"There's equal blame between pedestrians and motorists," Nursick added. "Both are failing to obey fundamental rules."
Since its July 2011 opening, signs have been posted inside Shake Shack's Westport restaurant advising patrons to use a pedestrian walkway to cross Post Road East, according to Bragg. More of those signs have been put up in the restaurant since Tabackman's death, according to Bragg.
In addition, Shake Shack last year erected l a sign in its parking lot telling patrons to use a crosswalk while crossing Post Road East. That marker "disappeared" during last month's snow storm, but a replacement sign will be installed soon, Bragg said.
Even with the installation of the new crosswalk, town and state officials acknowledge that improving pedestrian safety on Post Road East will continue to be an ongoing challenge.
"You can never get everybody to follow every rule," said Representative Town Meeting member Steve Rubin, whose district borders the Post Road East-Bulkley Avenue intersection. "That's impossible to legislate. You can just do the best humanly possibly to protect the most people most of the time."
firstname.lastname@example.org; 203-255-4561, ext. 118; twitter.com/paulschott