Making East Lyme roads safer the grassroots way

In East Lyme they have a pretty good idea of what does not work to calm traffic — random stop signs, speed bumps — but also a notion of what might make all the difference: empaneling representatives from various neighborhoods to develop a public safety awareness campaign.

The first principle of grassroots problem solving applies: The more concerned citizens involved in resolving an issue, the more buy-in the solutions will get.

Many residents have reacted with distress to an accident in early July in which a 78-year-old man was struck and seriously injured while walking near the vehicle exit road of his condominium complex. First Selectman Mark Nickerson, after hearing their concerns at an informal meeting, announced a consensus that a safe driving campaign overseen by a special advisory panel could help town officials and police.

Help is definitely needed. A sprawling town of neighborhood clusters linked by so-called "collector roads," East Lyme has many examples of the get-from-here-to-there dynamic in which drivers on a mission behave as though on a launchpad. On residential streets and inside condo developments and beach communities, that's an entirely different mindset than the pedestrians and cyclists are expecting. Neighborhoods in town tend to have no sidewalks and narrow streets. It's a poor and risky combination.

Nickerson is right to say that every town struggles with speeders, stop sign ignorers and impatient drivers, but East Lyme is bringing a genuinely New England, grassroots attitude to tackling the problem within its boundaries. That is wise and welcome. That said, officials know, and panel members will have to work with, the layers of government that affect traffic control. The town has many miles of state roadway — routes 1, 156 and 161 form the basic grid of crosstown connections — where state highway department rules will prevail, and there are federal highway standards as well.

An energetic and organized group of citizens can do much to reduce the dangers and, if that's what it takes, embarrass drivers into driving the way they had to in order to pass the operator's license test. Public awareness is the part of the mission that they can do best. The job will include trying to reach the thousands of seasonal residents and visitors who drive on town roads for just a few weeks each year, and showing them how it's done in East Lyme. We wish the panel great success, because even one avoidable accident is too many.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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