Planning commission backs permanent one-lane Bank Street plan
New London — There are differing opinions among residents and business owners about the city’s decision this summer to make Bank Street a one-lane road.
Many agree that the wide buffer zones created as part of the pilot project have created a much safer area to park and shop, and “more relaxing,” as one resident said on Thursday.
Others have complained about the bottlenecks in other areas of the city, especially in the area where Bank Street meets Ocean and Jefferson avenues, created by Electric Boat employees seeking other ways of out the city.
The Planning and Zoning Commission was just as conflicted Thursday, when members voted 4-3 to provide a positive referral to the City Council on making the change permanent.
Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman Barry Levine agreed with commissioners Paul Reid and Richard Humphreville that there had not been enough citywide planning or a traffic study completed before the city decided in July to erase one lane. They all voted against the positive referral to the council.
“The pilot program by the way should have never been in place without coming to this commission first,” Levine said.
The change on Bank Street is the first of three phases the city is planning, once grant funding is available, as recommended by a traffic and parking study completed by Milone & MacBroom. The city eventually plans to convert Eugene O’Neill Drive and Masonic Street to two-way traffic, among other changes designed to ease the flow of traffic in and out of the city.
The permanent Bank Street improvements, which are already funded, include not only the single lane of traffic and shared bike lane but American With Disabilities-compliant curb cuts, better marked crosswalks, traffic light improvements and repaving.
Residents and business owners who attended the Planning and Zoning meeting Thursday were nearly unanimously in favor of the change — mostly because of the increased safety.
“I think the ability to take my son out of a car seat on Bank Street is a wonderful new experience,” said Jeffrey Hart, the chairman of the pedestrian advisory committee.
Sara Munro, the owner of Studio 33 Art & Frame Gallery at 140 Bank St., said the two-lane Bank Street was a dangerous place for customers because, “cars flew down Bank Street like they were on a race track.”
“It was pretty scary for my customers to cross the street. I’d have to go out into the street, hold my hands up in the air and help them get across the street to get their framed artwork to the car,” Monroe said.
New London Police Officer Ryan Soccio, the department’s traffic officer, said accidents have been reduced by 50 percent on Bank Street from the same period last year. He could not say, however, whether accidents had increased elsewhere.
Brian Stradczuk, the owner of the Social Bar + Kitchen and Oasis Pub, said the change has led to a loss of business, as much as 70 percent, during the hours that EB employees are driving home. He said he thought EB employees were “annoyed and just want to get out,” of the city.
Public Works Director Brian Sear, responding to questions about traffic flow, said the traffic light had been adjusted recently at Bank and State streets so there is a longer green light coming out of Bank Street.
The City Council will vote on the plan later. A negative referral by the planning commission would have required a supermajority vote by the council for the plan to be approved.
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