Increased vehicle speeds, more accidents, and loss of mature trees are among the concerns of Gulf Street residents about an ongoing road realignment and paving project.
Public Works Director Christopher Saley fielded many questions from Gulf Street area residents during a June 10 community meeting at the Parsons Government Center, attended by about 50 people.
The $3 million federally funded project includes milling and repaving a mile-long section of Gulf Street from Cherry Street to Dock Road, which is just before the sharp curve and the bridge over Gulf Pond. Also included in the project is repaving a 0.2 mile section of Cherry Street from Sunnyside Court to Gulf Street.
Residents’ concerns focused on the realignment plans for Gulf Street, which involves widening the road up to 18 inches in some locations.
Those who spoke were not in favor of plans to install sidewalks on the harbor side of Gulf Street, in part because that process involves the removal of mature trees. Sidewalks on that side currently extend from Cherry Street to about Carrington Avenue. With the new construction, sidewalks would extend to Dock Road. There are sidewalks on the Gulf Pond side the entire length of Gulf Street.
The plans show painted crosswalks on Gulf Street at Cherry Street, Bedford Avenue, and Adams Avenue/Driftwood Lane.
Fifth District Aldermen were all present at the meeting: Bryan Anderson, Karen Fortunati, and Raymond G. Vitali, along with Fourth District Alderman Daniel J. German, who is running for mayor. Fortunati was circulating a sign-up sheet, encouraging people to write down their names and email addresses so the aldermen could keep in contact regarding the plans.
The meeting started at 6 p.m. and Vitali arrived at 7 p.m. complaining about the start time, saying he had just come from the Foran High School graduation, and said the meeting should not have been scheduled opposite the graduation ceremony.
Anderson said both he and Fortunati serve on the board’s Public Works Committee, and said they met with the police department and the Board of Police Commissioners. Anderson said the two wanted to have a community meeting before construction started to allow residents to have input. The city did host a public information meeting on Feb. 8, 2018.
Fotunati said she lives at 161 Gulf St., describing this area as a “treacherous place” to walk, jog or bicycle.
One resident suggested installing a tear drop like median to slow traffic down. Saley said a rotary at both ends of Gulf Street was considered. Either design would require taking private property, said Saley. Instead, he said, the road will be striped with a 5-foot wide bicycle lane on one side, and shared arrow markings like those on Naugatuck Avenue in the other direction.
“When you stripe a road, it slows people down,” said Saley.
Saley said this project started three years ago and as part of the plans he wanted to put a pedestrian walkway “out in the water” by Gulf Pond. After a year and a half review, he said the state DOT did not approve the idea, which put the project funding on hold. He said the money was released eight months ago.
Discussing the sidewalks, Saley said the Board of Education has asked for years to have sidewalks on both sides of Gulf Street for children walking to their bus stops. He said the sidewalks are being installed in the public right of way and are not encroaching on private property.
Barry Bonessi of 157 Gulf St. protested the removal of five “beautiful, mature trees” along Gulf Street with plans to remove five more. Bonessi said, “I am a huge tree hugger” and said trees provide oxygen and a place for birds to nest. He said replanting is not a satisfactory response, saying, “I won’t be here in 75 years when they are mature.”
Responding to concerns about tree removal, Saley said a 65-inch diameter tree fell on Harborside Drive and almost hit a man. He said, “I love trees,” but said public safety is more important. “A lot of the trees there are not suitable for the area they are on.” He said the city has agreed to plant trees on private property behind the sidewalks to replace those being removed.
One resident expressed concern about having to shovel a 128-foot long sidewalk being installed on his property. In response, Saley said, “I wish we could shovel every sidewalk. Sidewalks were always planned for that side of the street.”
Saley said the widening is from a few inches to 18 inches, and is required to make the street meet DOT standards and qualify for the federal funding.
Carl Charles of 7 Snug Harbor Road, on the corner of Gulf Street, said, “We have a very bad speeding problem on Gulf Street. Since the last meeting, nothing has been done.” Charles said on April 30, he had a truck go through his backyard, taking down four sections of fence, and he said the driver was drinking and vaping.
“You have to do something to slow people down,” said Charles.
One resident suggested using speed bumps or a speed camera.
Traffic Division Officer Daniel Hemperley said there are more negatives than positives to speed bumps, adding, “Speed cameras aren’t legal in the state.”
Another resident suggested adding stop signs along Gulf Street to slow down motorists. Police Lt. David Chila, Traffic Division Supervisor, said the department has to follow federal guidelines, which does not allow stop signs to be used for speed control. He said, “They are more of a problem than a solution.” He said it creates noise as people stop and start, people will speed up after a stop sign, and he said it also increases the number of collisions.
Commenting on speeds along Gulf Street, Bonessi said he contacted three friends who work in the police department and he said they told him, “I find it hard to believe this will slow down traffic.” Bonessi further said, “I agree the curve is dangerous, but it’s the only part we are not going to touch.”
Hemperley said the division conducted traffic counts on Gulf Street which showed an average of 5,000 cars per day. He said the 85th percentile speed was 33 to 37 miles per hour, with the other 15 percent of vehicles going faster than that. Agreeing with Saley, he said stripes will slow people down.
With the painting of the bike lane, on street parking will be banned along Gulf Street, said Hemperley, but said there is adequate parking along side streets.
Some residents complained about a lack of communication from city officials, including information about plan changes. Saley said the plans are available for review in the Engineering Department. He said one reason for changes is because the city is responding to requests from residents.
Chila said the police department was not part of the design process and was presented with the plans after they were approved. He said the department was asked how they could be modified.
Chila said the police commission was scheduled to discuss the speed control sign, bike lane, and edge lines at its meeting later that night.
At the police commission meeting, the commission listened to a presentation from Sgt. John Kranyak Jr. from the Traffic Division in which Kranyak said the edge lines and bike lanes would narrow the road and cause people to slow down. He said the speed feedback sign would slow traffic 2 to 7 mph. The commission did not take any vote on the matter, but thanked the division and Kranyak for their work.