Valley Street Ready To “Connect”
by Melinda Tuhus & Thomas MacMillan | Jan 21, 2011 12:00 pm
Posted to: Transportation, West Hills, Westville
Valley Street from Blake Street to Parkside Drive —that’s three-quarters of a mile—has no marked crosswalks. Neighbors call it a perfect candidate for the city’s first “complete street.”
Chris Heitmann made that suggestion at a Westville/West Hills Management Team meeting Wednesday night. He explained that there’s a big curve in the road where cars speed along, making it hard for the seniors who live at Mountain Valley Place to cross the street when they get off the bus after it leaves Westville Village. “Some of them stay on the B bus and go a mile to the end of the line, then ride back and get off on their side of the street. I’ve heard that sometimes the drivers charge them for a second ride,” which, technically, it is, he said.
Another problem is that there’s no sidewalk on the south side of Valley between Blake Street and the end of Harrison Street. So in December Heitmann, who heads the Westville Village Renaissance Alliance, and management team chairman Paul Chambers met with Valley Street neighbors and came up with three ideas for making it a “complete street”—that is, one that is safe for motorists, cyclists and pedestrians, including children and the elderly.
One idea: Complete the sidewalk all the way into Westville Village. Two: Make a safe pedestrian crossing at Emerson Street. Three: Slow down the drivers at the curve by narrowing the street with a neck down or other traffic-calming measure.
Since the Board of Aldermen passed Complete Streets legislation in 2010, any resident is welcome to put in a proposal. Heitmann (pictured) reported at the meeting that Jim Travers, acting city transportation chief, said no one has done so yet. He would like West Hills to be the first, and he said his committee will make that happen soon.
In an email message, Travers wrote, “All applications will be reviewed and determinations made on the feasibility of projects. Some requests may have short term solutions, while other may require more in-depth work and be placed on longer term planning—but we welcome a voice from everyone! Click here for the application.
A Thursday visit to Valley Street found several neighbors who are anxious for change on their street. Emily Diffenderffer, who’s lived at the curve on Valley Street since 2003 with her husband and three kids, said last summer saw three collisions near her house.
People “fly around the curve,” she said. “They’re flooring it past here.”
She said she and her husband have heard the “booms” of cars colliding. “People smash into each other, basically.”
Diffenderffer’s driveway is hidden by the curve. She said it’s risky to back out of her driveway, not knowing if someone will come zipping around the bend. She doesn’t allow her three kids anywhere near the road, she said.
“Speed bumps would be good,” she said.
“It’s ridiculous,” said her neighbor, Jason King. He said he saw a car go off the road just the day before. The car was going too fast headed away from Westville center, smashed through a snowbank and up onto the sidewalk.
Tom Ciancia, who’s lived near the curve since 1981, said the lack of sidewalk on the south side of Valley Street is also a problem. “It isolates everybody here,” he said.
Then there’s the lack of crosswalks, Ciancia said. That’s a problem for the senior citizens who live at Mountain Valley Place, down the street.
Moments later, a bus dropped off Geneva Raye across from her home at Mountain Valley. She waited for some time watching the traffic zip by, until she saw an opening and hustled across the street.
“It’s like they ride up and down here like they’re on a through-way,” she said, when she was safely across. “Every year there are accidents here.”
Raye said she has been working since 1996 with her alderman to try to control traffic speeds on Valley Street.
The issue of street safety and connectivity came to the fore in another part of Wednesday night’s meeting: a discussion of a quality-of-life survey that Doug Hausladen (pictured) and Mark Abraham devised.
The online survey yielded 1,247 total responses (191 from Westville). Hausladen, chairman of the Downtown/Wooster Square Management Team, and Abraham, from Data Haven, have been reviewing the results with management teams around the city. (This was their fifth meeting.) Click here to see the surveys.
The 16 people present Wednesday broke into three groups to review sections of the Westville respondents’ answers to see what topped their lists of neighborhood strengths, major problems, suggestions for improvement, and willingness to volunteer to improve things.
The main strengths neigbhors reported: a sense of community and the beauty of the homes and tree-lined streets. The main problems fell into three categories: lack of a grocery store; lack of communication with police; and several concerns that together amounted to lack of complete streets. Those concerns include speeding cars, inadequate bus service, no bike paths (like the Farmington Canal Greenway through Newhallville and Dixwell), dangerous intersections and lack of sidewalks—i.e. lack of connectivity.
After listing all their concerns, which Hausladen duly noted on several big sheets of paper, participants were each given eight red dots and asked to place them according to how strongly they felt about the issues. Based on the plethora of dots stuck on those very issues, they obviously agreed with the survey takers on what the problems are.
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Valley Street suffers from “Shortcut Syndrome.” Drivers attempting to shave a few minutes off their trip will use it to bypass the more densely traveled Whalley Avenue. The same is true of streets like George St., Orchard, Willow, and many other secondary routes through the city. Drivers - who often think they’re smarter than they really are - use these routes to prove to other drivers that they know the fastest way to get through the city. It’s kind of a race to the bottom amongst dung-heaving simians - considering all those negative externalities drivers smear into our communities. Complete Streets is a remedy for such primordial social behavior. Tame the apes!