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    Tuesday, November 28, 2023

    Downtown Norwich streets, traffic, pedestrian safety to get close look

    Main Street-Franklin Street roundabout, Friday, Sept. 29, 2023, in downtown Norwich. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    A pedestrian crosses Courthouse Square at intersection of Main Street Friday, Sept. 29, 2023, in downtown Norwich. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Traffic at the intersection of Broadway, Main Street and Courthouse Square Friday, Sept. 29, 2023, in downtown Norwich. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    A woman boards a SEAT bus at the Franklin Street bus stop Friday, Sept. 29, 2023, in downtown Norwich. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Market Street parking garage and Thames Plaza office building on Market Street Friday, Sept. 29, 2023, in downtown Norwich. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Norwich ― In the early 1980s, downtown traffic studies said it would be a great idea to create one-way streets to make traffic flow better.

    Norwich created one-way portions of Main, Franklin and other streets. Years later, the section of Main Street from Franklin to Broadway was reverted to two-way. Franklin Street followed years after that. But Norwich has remained a myriad of confusing one-way streets, requiring S-turns or loops to get to specific destinations. A new roundabout at Main and Franklin streets opened in September 2021.

    All streets, traffic patterns, sidewalks, downtown parks, the Norwich Harbor area and major gateways into downtown now are on the table to be studied again for traffic and sidewalk improvements, pedestrian and bicycle safety, aesthetics and greenspace attractions.

    The Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments has received a $212,500 grant from the state Department of Transportation, with the City of Norwich adding $37,500 to conduct a transportation corridor study of downtown Norwich, the waterfront area and entrances to downtown from West Main-Route 82 and East Main-Route 2.

    SCCOG has hired transportation consultant VHB of Wethersfield, which designed the Main Street roundabout, and VN Engineers for a study designed to improve travel through downtown and make the area more walkable and inviting.

    The project website, https://www.downtownnorwichmobilitystudy.com, provides a corridor map, descriptions of the study and a link to an online survey. Project officials hope downtown residents, business owners, visitors and motorists who just pass through the area will answer the 12-question survey about their impressions of downtown and improvements needed.

    The survey asks both multiple choice and open-ended questions, asking reasons respondents go to downtown as a driver, bicyclist or pedestrian; how safe and comfortable they feel; what specific areas need improvements; and how they like the new roundabout.

    “Please feel free to leave additional thoughts about how to improve downtown,” the survey’s final question asks, allowing for answers up to 100 words.

    The survey opened in late August, and more than 200 people have submitted responses to date, said James Butler, retired former SCCOG executive director who now works part time as a senior adviser and is coordinating work on the study.

    Project officials will hold a public informational meeting on the study from 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 25 at Otis Library, 261 Main St., to hear public input on what needs to be improved in downtown Norwich. Pizza and refreshments will be served.

    “We’re really hoping to make it all more pedestrian and bicycle friendly, more walkable, safer, easier to cross the streets,” Norwich City Planner Dan Daniska said. “Untangle the network of one-way streets.”

    Daniska and Butler said all ideas are on the table, including a concept recommended several years ago to close Chelsea Harbor Drive at Norwich Harbor to expand the Howard T. Brown Memorial Park. Currently, Chelsea Harbor Drive is a three-lane, one-way thoroughfare heading downtown to Courthouse Square and Main Street. Water Street, which runs parallel to it, has three lanes of one-way traffic in the opposite direction. The plan would convert Water Street to two-way traffic.

    “There’s been a number of studies done on downtown Norwich,” Butler said. “I’ve collected them all.”

    Butler said in the early 1980s, the federal government offered money to address traffic issues. Urban centers used the money to redesign downtowns, with one-way streets considered “more efficient,” Butler said.

    “So, one thing the consultants definitely are looking at is how people enter and circulate through downtown,” Butler said.

    He credited Norwich Public Works Director Patrick McLaughlin and city planning staff for stressing that the study find ways to improve pedestrian, bicycle and scooter traffic downtown. Daniska said that will include examining crosswalks, walk buttons, ramps for wheelchairs and scooters and sidewalk conditions.

    The study will run through next summer. The consultants will hold another public forum when a draft is ready and will present its report to the City Council in late summer or fall of 2024.


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