Report addresses Watertown traffic issues on Main Street

July 30, 2018

Report addresses Watertown traffic issues on Main Street

By Aaron Johnson

Waterbury Republican American
WATERTOWN – It has been less than a year since two people were struck and killed by cars on Main Street in separate incidents.

On Wednesday, a Road Safety Audit Commission approved its draft report that outlines a number of recommendations to make downtown a more pedestrian-friendly place.

“The effort of this particular RSA is to hope that there will never, ever be a third fatality,” said Richard Antonetti, a police commissioner who also serves on the Road Safety Audit Commission.

In January, 74-year old Miratip “Mike” Ajro, the owner of the Country Cinema, was struck and killed in front of the movie theater.. In September 2016, Ruby Prieto died after sher was hit by a car in the crosswalk at 459 Main St.

According to the draft document, between 2015 and 2017 there were 73 crashes in the downtown section of Watertown from French Street to Warren Way, with 25 percent of those crashes resulting in an injury, including the two fatal accidents. Although none of those incidents involved bicyclists, both fatal accidents and one other crash involved pedestrians.

The next step before implementing any changes outlined in the draft is a review by the state Department of Transportation.

Then, it will be sent back to Watertown for final approval from the Police Commission, which also is the town’s Local Traffic Authority.

The RSA Commission, made up of town officials, residents, and merchants from Main Street, compiled the draft.

The group – headed by Director of Public Works Roy E. Cavanaugh – held several meetings and took a walk through of the area, documenting items and locations that could be looked at for possible changes or improvements.

“We took a look at everything we could think of and everything we couldn’t think of,” Cavanaugh said.

The improvements or recommended changes are classified into short, medium, and long term goals.

Several short term goals – including painting areas where street parking is not allowed and repainting faded lines striping – could happen sometime next month, Cavanaugh said.

The state is responsible for that work because it is a state road.

“Short term are things we can do in a year or less that cost relatively low sums of money,” he said. “Medium term are things that can work in 2 to 3 years and we can start looking at some of the bigger problems. Long term solutions are the problems or the solutions that we came up with that are going to require a lot of money or a lot of time.”

The 11 mid-level changes listed in the draft included upgrades to pedestrian signals to have pushbuttons that are tactile, audible and directional at all signalized intersections and signal heads with countdown timers.

Some long term goals for downtown included installing bump-outs at the midblock crosswalk and at intersection corners to define parking and reduce the crossing distance from one side of the street to the other.

A proposed off-street parking garage at the current Greenberg building was a major long term goal also discussed in the draft. The parking garage would hold about 75 cars and cost anywhere between $250,000 and $300,000 to build. Metered parking is being considered as a way to afford the costs, but the town will also request state assistance, according to the draft.

Parking was a hot-button issue for many months following the fatal accidents as Watertown police began to heavily ticket the area and strictly implemented a 30-minute parking rule. The rule has since been removed, but the impact it had on the businesses on Main Street had taken its toll.

James Michael Murphy, co-owner of Onyx Fine Jewelers, represented the Main Street merchants on the RSA Commission. He said the town has done a lot to fix the previous issues in the area.

“When we raised our concerns and issues they stopped, listened and put the immediate plan in motion,” Murphy said. “For myself, seeing the crosswalks and some of the issues, I’m well aware, spending my life here on this street, it was great for other people to get out there and see what our issues are and what we’re talking about separate accidents . It’s great to have confirmation that the issues we were having on Main Street are real.”

Although the Police Commission voted to approve the draft, Antonetti, who was also on the RSA Commission, said he wants to make sure people understand there is still plenty of work to be done to make sure the downtown area can be as pedestrian safe as possible.

“We are working very hard with our limited resources with the help of members of the boards and commissions and the public to come up with a good plan for the town which will address the issue of safety on Main Street,” he said. “I hope in the future we will never have tragedies like we had in those past two fatalities.”

Town officials will continue to work on the issue so residents will know that progress is being made, Murphy said.

“It’s so important,” he said. “We, as businesses, have been in close proximity to everyone and we’ve had conversations. But I think for us at this point now, the public knows too that the town is working to get something done. Now people see that there is a plan of action and things are getting done. It’s great for us as business owners, but it’s also really excellent for the public to see that the town is taking it seriously and being active about it as well.”