A drive to ban traffic on part of Edwards Street through Veterans Park turned out to be a road to nowhere.
When Edwards Street resident Chad Czalpa's application to the Police Commission came up during Wednesday's meeting, none of the commissioners moved the motion for a vote. That effectively meant the proposal was denied.
Czalpa had proposed the road closure first to the Parks and Recreation Commission and then to the Police Commission in June. He presented to the panels petitions signed by more than 100 residents and park users supporting the idea of closing off the street in the area from the Veterans Park bocce courts to the tennis courts.
But the Police Commission in June was willing only to adopt recommendations made by a traffic survey. Those included installing signs to alert motorists to drive with caution because of pedestrians; installing fencing or barriers to define the park's playground, bocce courts and baseball field, and conducting a traffic study over the course of the summer. The traffic study was done in August and September.
According to police Lt. James Perez, that study showed that about 250 vehicles, on average, travel on the street during a 24-hour period, with highest speeds at 28 mph and the average speed at 22 mph. Since 2010, there have been 16 accidents in the area, but none on the stretch of Edwards Street inside Veterans Park, Perez said. "Most were on Reef Road," he said.
Police Chief Gary MacNamara said he could support removable gates for that stretch of the road, but not turning that area into parkland.
Czalpa said he does not want the paved road transformed into a grassy area, but would like gates put up that would allow access through that section of the road for emergency vehicles and snowplows.
"I don't know that that street needs to be open 24 hours a day," he told the commission. "I think taking vehicle access out of there is the number-one priority."
Closing off the road, Czalpa said, would go a long way to "safening" the neighborhood for cyclists and children playing basketball and street hockey on nearby roads. Perez pointed out to Czalpa that basketball hoops are not allowed to be placed in the street.
Officials should at least try closing the road as a test, Czalpa said. "You'll get valuable information," he said, adding the gates could always be removed if they create gridlock on other streets.
Commissioners were concerned about response time for emergency vehicles if the road were closed. Czalpa said he was told by Fire Chief Richard Felner it would have no effect on response time for his department.
"What if there was a code one domestic violence call with weapons involved in that area?" Commissioner Arthur Hersh said. Even with a breakaway gate, he said, response time could be hampered.
MacNamara agreed that anything done on Edwards Street to close off traffic will cause a delay, but it is difficult to say how significant that delay would be.
If Edwards Street were closed, to access some adjacent roads would require driving to the Old Post Road and then going down Rowland or Penfield, or driving to Fairfield Beach Road and then heading back up to the desired location.
None of the recommendations previously approved by the Police Commission for Edwards Street in Veterans Park have been put in effect yet, Perez said, because neither the Department of Public Works nor the Parks and Recreation Department want to spend $10,000 to $40,000 on the improvements if the road were going to be closed.
Perez said in researching the history of the park and the street, he learned that the road has been there from the beginning, it just had a different name. Personally, he added, he thinks that closing the street would "turn into a nightmare," particularly if park users get used to there being no traffic in the roadway.
"Picture a day with everybody out there playing and an emergency vehicle deems it needs to get through," Perez said. "The reality is it's not a park, it's an actual, legal town road."
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