New crosswalk signals on Post Road East near the Shake Shack restaurant have been installed at least a year ahead of schedule by the state Department of Transportation, spurred in part by four pedestrian deaths in the last five years.
The crosswalk -- at Post Road East's intersection with Bulkley Avenue -- links a gas station at the southeast corner of the junction to an office complex at the northeast corner. Shake Shack is located just east of the office complex.
Restaurant customers have been known to park in the lot near Home Goods on the south side of the Post Road and to dash across the heavily traveled road to Shake Shack, where parking is sometimes scarce. Officials hope the new crosswalk will curb that practice.
"The crosswalk is only part of it; people need to use it," DOT spokesman Kevin Nursick said.
In addition to the new crosswalk, there is a nearby pedestrian crossing with signal heads linking the south- and northwest corners of the Post Road East-Bulkley Avenue intersection.
Fairfield lawyer Bruce Tabackman, 68, was struck and killed by a car in March while attempting to cross Post Road East near Shake Shack. Tabackman was not in a crosswalk when he was struck by a car driven by a Westport 16-year-old, according to Westport police.
In May his estate filed a lawsuit against the town and the state Department of Transportation, claiming both are liable because of the lack of a pedestrian crosswalk.
In the aftermath of the Tabackman fatality, state officials moved forward plans to add the second crosswalk. It includes two countdown-signal heads.
It's unusual for the DOT to expedite the construction of a crosswalk in this manner, but state Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-136, and First Selectman Gordon Joseloff were among the officials who successfully petitioned the DOT to fast track this project.
"We did put a lot of attention on it," said Steinberg, a member of the state legislature's Transportation Committee. "It is unusual for them to change their schedule so dramatically without making the town pick up some of their expense."
Installing the crosswalk cost approximately $50,000, according to state officials.
Signs are now posted at Shake Shack exhorting customers to use the crosswalk.
Dave Yearwood, general manager of the restaurant, said in a statement, "The new crosswalk is an important addition to Post Road. We are happy to see that the town of Westport and DOT were able to complete this project."
Dick Lowenstein, a member of the Public Protection Committee of the Representative Town Meeting, said he hopes the new crosswalk will improve safety. But he also said one additional measure could be taken, and that's to erect signs in the Home Goods parking lot that directs people to the new crosswalk.
"They should be encouraged after they park to walk to the crosswalk and then cross. Right now, all the signs are for when you're leaving (the Shake Shack area), not when entering."