City officials are looking into ways of slowing down traffic by Front Street and Grand Avenue after hearing some horror stories from neighbors like Nathalie Bonafé.
They listened to these accounts, and pleas for help, at a community meeting held Wednesday afternoon near the Grand Avenue Bridge drawbridge, by the entrance to Quinnipiac River Park. The meeting was organized by Fair Haven’s Chatham Square Neighborhood Association.
Bonafé (pictured above with officials) recalled waking up one cold night this March to a ruckus outside her Grand Avenue residence. It was 1:30 a.m. She opened her front door to find a car rammed into a tree, parallel to her house.
The car’s drunk driver had sped from the other side of the Grand Avenue drawbridge and swerved into the curb after dashing through the intersection of Front Street, right by where Bonafé lives. Had it not been for a snowbank, she said, her house could very well have been the point of collision.
“So that was the first thing”, explained Bonafé, a scientist from France. Since then, she said, the problem has gotten out of control, and she has become increasingly concerned about the safety of pedestrians and her own home. She decided to contact local authorities to set the wheels in motion toward finding a proper resolution.
Seven neighbors joined her, top Fair Haven cop Lt. Herb Johnson, and city transit chief Doug Hausladen to walk around the area and brainstorm solutions to speeding in the area, as well as back-ups that plague the streets when the bridge opens. While no consensus was reached, Hausladen said he will gather data at the site and turn hard numbers into implementable ideas.
“We did not find a magic bullet today,” he said.
The intersection of Grand Avenue and Front Street is notorious for being an epicenter of reckless driving and loud congestion.
The grievances have grown ever more salient in recent months — dog walkers almost being hit by vehicles running a red light, or drivers cutting in front of each other trying to make a turn at the intersection when the bridge is up. In early May, a building on Front Street went up in flames after a speeding driver smashed into a telephone pole and flipped his car over.
Neighbors at the meeting suggested adding stop signs to changing curb lines and boosting traffic enforcement. Sgt. Johnson suggested placing stop signs at the intersections of Second Street and Front, and of Exchange Street and Front, to slow down speeders zooming down the hill from East Pearl.
Neighbor Fran Morneau (pictured) stressed that the signage near the bridge needs to match up with how motorists behave at the intersection. She said most drivers, for instance, fail to heed the “no turn on red” sign.
“Some of these signs here are stupid,” she said at the meeting. “They have nothing to do with the reality of what the street is.”
Morneau also advocated adding turning lanes at the intersection, an idea that some considered could reduce traffic jams when the bridge is up.
Gerry Wenner, who has lived in the area for over 20 years, argued that maintaining the physical integrity of the drawbridge, and forcing drivers to proceed more slowly down Grand Avenue, should take precedence over matters of congestion.
“If you damage the bridge, then everybody suffers. That’s the key issue for me,” he said. “Other than that, I want people to just slow down. Those ideas of putting lanes in and things like that, you don’t want that.”
Lt. Johnson said police officers generally patrol the intersection, as speeding and other motor vehicle problems are known to afflict both streets. he said that the police recently made numerous arrests during a special traffic details in the area.
Including more obvious signage on the roads would alleviate one of the most pressing traffic needs in the neighborhood, Bonafé said — signs to slow traffic, or signs to inform people about the drawbridge’s status.
Those at the meeting acknowledged, however, that enforcement and engineering can help only so much.
“It’s a bigger problem than police enforcement and traffic enforcement,” Wenner said. “It’s about attitude. Some people don’t feel like obeying the rules.”