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Article Published November 25, 2020

Safe Streets Task Force Asking for Guilford Community Input

By Jesse Williams/Zip06.com

The first step of a potential large-scale makeover of how Guilford approaches transportation and pedestrian safety is underway, as a contractor hired by the Safe Streets Task Force is in the process of evaluating every sidewalk and road in the town, according to First Selectman Matt Hoey, with residents invited to bring their own thoughts and concerns to the table.

With a contract approved early this month by the Board of Selectmen (BOS), the representatives of Schmidt Design Group will start by delivering comprehensive data and assessments, right down to individual potholes or cracked curbs. The town is paying an initial $210,000 for the work with money previously budgeted for the Safe Streets Task Force, and Hoey said the town has earmarked additional money for related projects and needs.

One of the driving forces behind the investment is a desire to avoid confusion and conflict that marred previous attempts at improving pedestrian or cyclist safety and access in Guilford. Safe Streets Task Force Chair Sam Gerritz said that while Schmidt will shortly begin soliciting feedback directly, he is hoping to hear from residents right now with any issues or ideas they have.

“The most important thing for us is to have as many people involved as possible,” Gerritz said.

Various controversies centering on pedestrian safety and access spanned at least a two-year period, coalescing around the proposed Nut Plains Pathway that would have connected Adams Middle School and Guilford Lakes Elementary School. These often-contentious discussions led to the creation of the task force in 2019.

Hoey and Gerritz said one of the main goals of hiring the consultant is to bring all the separate stakeholders together, all with disparate concerns that range from environmental impact to cycling routes, and finding a solution that the town can support as a whole.

“[Schmidt] may have to lead the town through some difficult conversations about where they see the needs,” Gerritz said. “They’re also going to listen to us.”

The report upcoming report, as well as other services from Schmidt will be used by other town departments, from the police to engineering, according to Hoey. The town has also identified what it sees as some individual priorities, Hoey said, using as an example the crosswalk that spans Whitfield Street just south of Boston Street.

“That is a walkway that is in the middle of an intersection,” Hoey said. “It was quaint when they did it back in the 1600s or 1700s...in my mind that’s one of the more dangerous intersections in town.”

Because that particular intersection involves state roads, that process will definitely be more complicated, Hoey said, but streamlining issues like this and helping navigate bureaucracy and inter-agency interactions is something Schmidt will also help facilitate, according to Gerritz.

Gerritz cited the need for Adams’ students to be able to walk just north to the racket and swim club, a trip of less than half-mile, one that he claimed parents often will drive their children due to the lack of pedestrian pathways.

While Schmidt will identify more areas in need of addressing, Gerritz emphasized that the idea is to have the whole town come together to collaborate on these issues, which will certainly transcend simple sidewalk additions or repairs, as Guilford moves toward a more pedestrian-friendly philosophy for the entire town.

“We’re going to wind up with an opportunity for immediate impact of projects, intermediate term projects, and long term projects, and we will more than likely need to put in place a funding mechanism that supports the completion of those plans and those initiatives,” Hoey said.

That might look like an addition to the capital portion of the operating budget, or potentially issuing bonds, which currently have historically low interest rates, he said. Hoey cited a land acquisition bond package that voters approved more than a decade ago that still has money available for the town to purchase and preserve open space parcels.

Gerritz said that to help involve and inform the town about these new initiatives, the task force is currently building a website, www.guilfordsafestreets.org. Any resident who has questions, concerns, or suggestions is asked to email the task force at safestreets@ci.guilford.ct.us.