New safety measures are being added at Veterans Park after a request last year to shut down the street that runs through the park was denied by the Police Commission, but that didn't stop Edward Street resident Chad Czapla from continuing to press for the street's closure.
Czapla, who lives at 350 Edward St., began his quest to close the road to traffic last June. Edward Street runs from Reef Road to Fairfield Beach Road. At the Reef Road end of the street, a playground and tennis courts are located on one side of the roadway and a ballfield and bocce courts are on the other.
The commission didn't support the closure then, and instead adopted recommendations to install new signs, fencing and a crosswalk. On Wednesday, when Czapla again made his request to close the road, the commission voted unanimously to table it. Commissioners said they want to see the effect of the recent safety measures and asked for police officials to provide updated research on any accidents at the park.
The split-rail fencing in front of the playground and alongside the ballfield was installed over the weekend, and signs were installed Tuesday.
At the meeting Wednesday, Czapla said he views his proposal to install gates closing off the street at the park's borders as "a safening of the street and the neighborhood." He said the area has changed, with families moving into 4,000-square-foot homes on quarter-acre lots with very small yards, meaning more people use the park and children play hockey and basketball in the street.
Czapla said he has met with town officials and suggested closing the run through the park for the summer months as a pilot.
"If there's a serious call, a code one call for the police or fire departments, minutes count," Commissioner Arthur Hersh said of the potential impact of closing the road.
But Czapla said his proposal is for gates that would not go completely across the road, to allow passage for emergency vehicles for the "rare occasion" that a minute would mean the difference between life and death. He said they did measurements at normal driving speed, and having to go around to Fairfield Beach Road took one extra minute. "But it's an obstacle course," Hersh said.
David Boback, who lives at 312 Edward St., told the commission he was once stopped by a police officer when he turned left onto Edward Street and was told that many people who had been drinking and driving use Edward Street as a cut-through. Deputy Police Chief Chris Lyddy said records would be checked to see if there have been drunk-driving incidents or arrests in the area.
Boback also complained to the commission about public works trucks using Edward Street. "We've asked (Public Works Superintendent) Scott Bartlett not to have his crews driving through the park," he said, claiming they speed, drive distracted and have unsecured loads in the vehicles. He claimed Bartlett told him to call the police if crews break the law, but when he has, was told by police there is nothing they can do.
"Chief (Gary) MacNamara said he's asked (public works crews) not to go through there," Boback said. "Does the town have to have its trucks go through there?"
MacNamara, however, said he does not recall ever asking Bartlett to keep DPW trucks off Edward Street.
Town Engineer William Hurley said similar no-through-truck requests have come from the Old Post Road and Fairfield Beach Road associations, as well as from residents on Reef Road.
The DPW garage is located on One Rod Highway, off Reef Road.
As for Edward Street, "We've done a traffic study," said Lt. James Perez. "There's not a large volume of traffic on a daily basis" through the park. And history, he said, does not record any accidents on the stretch of Edward Street inside the park.
"There will be new speed-limit signs," Perez said, with the limit reduced from 25 mph to 15 mph. "Certain areas will be posted `no parking,' and there will be signs similar to `children at play.' "
A new crosswalk from the playground to the field has also been marked out on the road.
"After all these improvements are done, we will monitor the area," Perez said.
The work is being done with the permission and cooperation of the Parks & Recreation and Public Works departments. A total of $4,300 from the public works budget is being used to pay for the improvements. Czapla said he has applied for a $25,000 grant from State Farm Insurance to help pay for the cost of the road-closure measures.
"The fences and signage are a good first step, but the fundamental issue remains that car traffic which cuts through the middle of a neighborhood park presents a significant safety risk, especially in such a densely populated and growing area," Czapla said prior to Wednesday's meeting. He said he's been "getting support" from officials to try closing the street for three months during the summer. "The landscape of the neighborhood is changing and the need for a safe, cohesive park is only going to grow in the future."
According to longtime residents, housing for war veterans once stood where the park is now, hence its name. The park was developed on either side of Edward Street when that housing was torn down.
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