A car hitting a tree was the 'final straw.' Now this Fairfield neighborhood is a little safer.

FAIRFIELD — Wilson Street has been a serious issue for Fairfield residents for some time.

There have been more than 25 car crashes there since 2015, but an accident on Jan. 5, 2020 really stands out for the neighborhood. A car was speeding on Wilson Street, ran over a resident’s yard and crashed into a tree, totaling the front of the car, residents said.

“When that car crashed into the tree on Jan. 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 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.”

Residents on Wilson Street and neighbors joined together to demand safety and road design improvements to make it safe and comfortable for all users, including the dozens of pedestrians, cyclists, families, and school-age children who use the street daily, said Roy, who also serves on the Fairfield Bike and Pedestrian Committee.

That work has started to pay off with the recent addition of 200 feet of sidewalks along Wilson, as well as curb bump outs on the Buena Vista and Wilson intersection, which narrows the street crossing for pedestrians and encourages drivers to turn slower. It was paid for using a $9,000 public health grant.

“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, a Stratfield resident. “It feels so great to be able to walk that stretch of Wilson Street safely with my kids.”

The town and neighborhood have been actively working on improving the area for more than a year.

The Stratfield Village Association — a nonprofit organization that aims to facilitate community inclusiveness, sustainability, awareness, investment, and involvement to promote a safe neighborhood — hosted a public meeting with the police department about pedestrian and traffic safety on Jan. 16, 2020. Roy hand delivered more than 70 flyers about safety issues on the street and to try to get as many people to attend as possible.

More than 50 residents came out and shared their experiences with car crashes on their property, speeding cars disobeying stop signs and traffic lights, and other traffic safety issues.

Several town leaders were also there, including First Selectwoman Brenda Kupchick, Selectwoman Nancy Lefkowitz, Police Chief Chris Lyddy, state Rep. Cristin McCarthy Vahey, state Sen. Tony Hwang and several Representative Town Meeting members. They listened to concerns and then agreed to take action to improve the safety of Stratfield Village’s streets for anyone who uses them.

“The Wilson Street project is a perfect example of the Complete Streets Policy in action,” Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee Chair Keith Gallinelli said. “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.”

Roy explained that the policy is making roads comfortable and safe for all users.

“Oftentimes in our modern era, priority has been given to automobiles in designing our roads.” she said. “It’s re-examining the way our roads are designed to create a better balance by making sure that both pedestrians are prioritized, cyclists are prioritized. I would add to that, people with disabilities, both physical and intellectual, who might have difficulty navigating the streets, small children, mothers or parents with strollers.”

She added, “Nothing will make you rethink your roads than trying to walk it from the perspective of a five year old.”

Stratfield residents plan to continue to work with the Bicycle & Pedestrian Committee to make additional safety improvements to Wilson Street as funding becomes available.

It also comes as the Stratfield Village Association works to make the area more of a community gathering spot.

Roy said another goal is to redesign the Rockland entrance onto Wilson Street where there is a yield sign that few people seem to follow.

“I just heard this awesome quote, the other day: ‘There will be peace on the road when everyone has a piece of the road,’” Roy said.