Fairfield, CT -- On January 5, 2020, a car traveling west on Wilson Street at excessive speeds ran over a resident’s yard, tore up the lawn and crushed a small tree, then crossed the street and crashed into a tree trunk in front of 419 Wilson, totaling the front of the car. This was not the first car crash on Wilson (there have been more than 25 known crashes on this street since 2015), but it became a catalyst for Wilson Street residents and neighbors who live nearby to come together and demand safety and road design improvements for Wilson that would make it safe and comfortable for all users, including the dozens of pedestrians, cyclists, families, and school-age children who use the street daily.
“When that car crashed into the tree on January 5, it was a final straw for our community in terms of tolerating the dangerous conditions of Wilson,” said Sarah Roy, who has lived on the corner of Wilson Street and Buena Vista Road since 2016. “But more importantly, it was an opportunity for us to turn our outrage into something positive, to come together and raise our voices collectively to demand a safer street for ourselves and our kids.”
It just so happened that the Stratfield Village Association, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to facilitate community inclusiveness, sustainability, awareness, investment, and involvement to promote a safe, vibrant neighborhood, was planning to host a Pedestrian & Traffic Safety public meeting with the Fairfield Police Department on January 16. In an effort to get as many Wilson Street residents to attend as possible, Roy hand-delivered over 70 homemade flyers about the safety issues on the street and the upcoming meeting to houses on and adjacent to Wilson.
The night of the meeting marked a turning point for the community -- more than 50 residents showed up and shared their experiences with car crashes on their property, speeding cars disobeying stop signs and traffic lights, and other traffic safety issues. Town leaders in attendance, including First Selectwoman Brenda Kupchik, Selectwoman Nancy Lefkowitz, Police Chief Chris Lyddy, Representative Cristin McCarthy Vahey, Senator Tony Hwang, and several Representative Town Meeting members, listened to residents’ concerns and promised to take action to improve the safety and comfort of Stratfield Village’s streets for all users.
Since that time, Roy and William Pollack, a landscape architect, Stratfield resident, and former member of the Fairfield Bike and Pedestrian Committee, have been working closely with the Town’s Public Health Department and Bicycle & Pedestrian Committee to keep the momentum going regarding Complete Street improvements for Wilson Street. The Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee authored the Town of Fairfield's Complete Streets Policy, which was approved by the Board of Selectman in 2018. This policy aims to accommodate all users of the road and is designed to prioritize safety, comfort, and access to destinations for all people who use the street.
In fall of 2020, utilizing a $9000 Public Health Grant approved by the Bicycle & Pedestrian Committee, the Town of Fairfield installed approximately 200 feet of new concrete sidewalk along Wilson, between Buena Vista Road and Valley and also added curb bump outs to the Buena Vista/Wilson intersection, which narrows the street crossing for pedestrians and encourages drivers to turn more slowly onto and out of Buena Vista, greatly improving safety along this stretch of Wilson.
"The Wilson Street project is a perfect example of the Complete Streets Policy in action," according to Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee Chair Keith Gallinelli. "When residents come together, gather support, and present their concerns to town authorities, positive changes like this can be accomplished. We are hoping to take a similar approach to future projects in Fairfield."
“The new sidewalk on Wilson is a game changer,” said Joan McBennett, a Stratfield resident. "It feels so much safer to round that corner and not be walking on the street. It looks great, too."
“Before the new sidewalk connection on Wilson was installed, I used to just turn around at the end of Valley or Buena Vista, especially if I had my children with me,” said Rob Johnson, also a Stratfield resident. “It feels so great to be able to walk that stretch of Wilson Street safely with my kids.”
“I enjoy walking our dog in our neighborhood,” said Jennifer Fogarty of Stratfield. “Prior to having the sidewalk on Wilson, I always felt unsafe walking through that area. I would run with my dog to get away from the fast moving cars and safely to the other side. Now, it’s so nice to walk safely on the sidewalk and it has improved the appearance of that section of Wilson.”
Stratfield residents plan to continue to work with the Bicycle & Pedestrian Committee in 2021 to make additional safety improvements to Wilson Street as funding opportunities become available.
Photo 1: View of the Wilson Street/Valley Road intersection, heading east, during installation of brand new sidewalk. Image credit: Karen Secrist
Photo 2: View of Wilson Street/Buena Vista Road intersection, mid-construction of a traffic calming curb bulb out that will decrease drivers speed and shorten the road crossing distance for pedestrians. Image credit: Sarah Roy
Photo 3: View of Wilson Street heading west, with a Stratfield resident enjoying a walk down the brand new completed sidewalk. Image credit: Sarah Roy