Bank Street lane change continues to generate discussion

Afternoon traffic negotiates the one-lane traffic pattern on Bank Street in New London Thursday, July 27, 2017.  (Tim Cook/The Day)
Afternoon traffic negotiates the one-lane traffic pattern on Bank Street in New London Thursday, July 27, 2017. (Tim Cook/The Day)

New London -- It appears to be permanent change but it doesn’t mean a single lane Bank Street has stopped generating both criticism and praise.

Few would argue that the change from two lanes to one lane has enhanced safety on Bank Street, allowing room to park and open a vehicle door without fear of being hit.

The questions that remain for some is how the change is impacting traffic on side streets across the city, whether it’s causing traffic backups at rush hour and how other changes recommended in a comprehensive parking and traffic study completed in June will be implemented.

Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman Barry Levine compared the change on Bank Street and the flow of traffic to other parts of the city to a water balloon, squeezing traffic from one area and into other areas.

Mayor Michael Passero called the increased traffic backups at certain parts of the day something that had been happening for the past several years and a welcome sign of increased activity in the city.

“The thing that’s creating the problem is the economic growth,” Passero said.

Mark Christiansen, whose family runs Jan Electronic Supplies, near the intersection of Bank and Truman streets, questioned the phasing aspect of the plan and the lack of study of offsite impacts.

The intersection, “always a challenge,” is worse than ever, he said.

He said Truman and Blinman streets are a few of the side streets now being used by people leaving the city during rush hour. Christiansen suggested a nonbiased survey of traffic on side streets.

“If the answer is, ‘it will get better when the other phases are implemented,’ then maybe we need to rethink this plan,” Christiansen said.

The study of the city's parking and traffic needs, completed by the engineering and consulting firm Milone & MacBroom in anticipation of the future National Coast Guard Museum, recommended a host of changes that included a one-lane Bank Street and a two-way Eugene O’Neill Drive along with various crosswalk, traffic signal and intersection improvements. It is unclear when the changes would be implemented. The city has applied for grants to fund the work. 

Both Christiansen and Levine spoke during Monday’s City Council Economic Development Committee meeting. The Bank Street plan apparently did not require a city council vote but was on the agenda for discussion.

Committee Chairman Don Venditto said he wanted to continue the discussion to ensure that the recommended changes were not being implemented piecemeal with unexpected consequences.

The Planning and Zoning Commission, which considered the Bank Street change only after it was implemented by the city, took the plan up twice before narrowly passing and forwarding a positive referral, or 8-24 referral, to the council.

Venditto said the city administration now plans to send the entire traffic study for review by the Planning and Zoning Commission early next year.

“I think that’s good and I’m glad the administration has decided to take that approach,” Venditto said. “But what I’m really concerned about is we don’t have the funds, the $8.8 to $9 million in anticipated costs to make the entire study work. We don’t have that kind of money.”

“So if we’re going to take little pieces and parts of the study…I don’t think we’re doing any justice to the study. I don’t think we’re doing any justice to the remainder of the residents and the businesses that are feeling the negative effects of the small changes," he said.

Passero said the change to a two-way Eugene O’Neill will help to relieve the traffic issue during rush hour, when employees are leaving the city. He also said there is also a detailed plan on how the city intends to use grants to cover the remainder of the overall plan.



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