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Central Avenue in Greeneville gets a pedestrian-friendly facelift

Norwich — A neighborhood brainstorming session in September 2019 started with a concept to improve pedestrian safety on Central Avenue in Greeneville and ended with an art project with an international flair.

The meeting participants suggested using a $25,000 traffic safety grant to create pedestrian “bump-outs” at four key intersections with Central Avenue — Fourth, Seventh, Eighth and Eleventh streets — painted with the colors and motifs from flags of 16 countries or regions of significance to Greeneville.

The wide, painted strips will allow pedestrians to step out to see traffic from around parked cars that frequently line the street. Drivers will be able to see pedestrians better, and planners hope, will see the brightly painted crossings and naturally slow down, said Mike Lydon, principal at the project design consulting firm Street Plans of Brooklyn, N.Y.

“We’re trying to make the streets feel safe and welcoming,” he said. “Physical safety through visual safety.”

COVID-19 delayed the plan but this week, volunteers from Greeneville neighborhoods, city Public Works and Planning and Neighborhood Services employees and staff from Street Plans hit the street with paint, rollers, measuring tapes and plan drawings.

At Fourth Street will be images from flags of Ireland, England, Poland and Italy.

At Seventh Street, images from the flags of Canada, the Province of Quebec, Greece and Scotland.

At Eighth Street, images from flags of the United States, Puerto Rico, France and Russia.

And at Eleventh Street, images from flags of the Mohegan tribe, Cape Verde, Dominican Republic and Haiti.

Suki Lagrito, liaison for Global City Norwich, suggested flag motifs at the 2019 meeting at the nearby Greeneville fire station. The discussion had focused on Greeneville’s diversity, she recalled, and the flags chosen represent some of the many national origins, starting with the region’s first residents, the Mohegans.

“Just to pay homage to those who started, built and grew Norwich,” Lagrito said, resting her long-handled paint roller. “There’s more room for expansion of this citywide.”

Assistant City Planner Dan Daniska, who submitted the grant application and is coordinating the project, said organizers would like to expand the project to every intersection along Central Avenue and maybe to other neighborhoods.

Zechariah Stover, president of the Greeneville Neighborhood Revitalization Zone Committee, which hosted that 2019 planning meeting, said the committee will keep an eye on the paintings and do “touch-ups” when and where needed.

Lydon of Street Plans said the paint will be coated with a protective sealant. The city Public Works Department will paint the faded white-striped crosswalks that connect the corner paintings.

“It’s pretty awesome,” Stover said, “getting more artwork in Greeneville, more color on the streets.”

Shiela Hayes, president of the Norwich branch of the NAACP, has long been advocate of public art in Norwich. She was part of a group that ran a contest to paint fire hydrants in Greeneville several years ago. “Anytime we can do some public art and painting, I support it,” she said, while waiting for more white paint for her segment at Fourth Street.

“We’re hoping the city will continue to invest and support public art throughout the city," Hayes said.

Fifth Street resident Sofia Potter, 31, brought her 8-month-old son, Fin, with her as she helped paint. She saw a post about the project on the Greeneville NRZ Facebook page and immediately emailed Daniska to volunteer.

“We walk every day,” Potter said, adding an aside that well-maintained city sidewalks are needed in Norwich. “We should have pride in our neighborhood.”

Potter wants to get more involved with Greeneville and the city. She and her husband, William, had rented an apartment in downtown and bought a house in Greeneville in 2018. She had worked as a bartender and got pregnant shortly before the pandemic hit, so she stayed home with Fin when bars shut down.

Sami Ahmed, owner of Sunshine Farms convenience store at 231 Central Ave., could see glimpses of the work outside his store Wednesday. He said he gets more pedestrian customers than drive-ups, so he hopes the painting get drivers to slow down and more people walking through the neighborhood.

“I hope it will help the people cross the street,” Ahmed said, “and the drivers will understand and will slow down.”

c.bessette@theday.com

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