LETTER: The BET’s Shortsighted Penny-Pinching Risks Traffic and Pedestrian Safety in Byram

Submitted by Brian O’Connor, Chair, Traffic Committee, Byram Neighborhood Association

The BET Budget Committee went through the town’s proposed 2022-2023 budget last week, looking for ways to spend wisely throughout our town. Lost in the desire to slash spending was funding for an urgent series of traffic projects in Byram already in the planning stages that would future-proof the neighborhood for decades to come. All to save the small sum of $300,000 from the proposed $464 million budget.

The Town’s budget is a direct reflection of the Town’s priorities. By any measure, traffic and pedestrian safety must be one of our top priorities. Safety is about quality of life. It’s also about life and death.

Members of the BET who have voted for this budget cut are missing the big picture. Byram is the most densely populated part of town, as well as the most pedestrian-oriented. Yet Byram is also home to some of the most frequent accidents in town—some of which have been fatal. This is not only morally unacceptable, it also leaves the town legally liable for million-dollar lawsuits.

All just to save $300,000 in funds.

Byram’s Unique Traffic Nightmare
Byram’s streets and sidewalks are crowded and dangerous. Traffic from I-95 crosses through the heart of the neighborhood while blocks-long traffic jams crawl their way over the bridge from Port Chester. This has created an increasingly unsafe situation for pedestrians and drivers alike.

The numbers tell the story. Byram is 1.3% of the Town’s area, but accounts for 5.3% of total crashes in Town and 10.7% of the total pedestrians injured or possibly injured. Byram is also home to the top ten worst routes in Greenwich, according to the UCONN Crash Data Repository (UCDR).

Over 24 hours on two Fridays in July 2020, 3,758 vehicles passed by East Elm Street on Greenwich Avenue in Central Greenwich and 15,144 passed by Veterans Way on Delavan Avenue in Byram, according to CT DOT data.

According to the UCDR, Byram has experienced:

• 4 fatal car accidents since 2013
• 10 pedestrian injuries since 2015 (at least two of which with serious injuries)
• 2 injuries involving children
• 65 car accidents with property damage since 2015
• 95 accidents at intersections since 2015

Mid-Country, home the two BET Budget committee members who voted to slash funding, saw far fewer accidents in the same timeframe according to UCDR figures:

• 1 fatal car accident
• 2 pedestrian injury since 2015 (classified as minor)
• 22 car accidents with property damage since 2015

The traffic safety issues that plague Byram are substantially greater than other parts of town, making $300,000 go a long way toward fostering a safer community where improvements are in desperate need. Many of these safety issues are in and around Byram’s school zones. They are not new. The Selectman’s Pedestrian Safety Committee, an advisory committee to the Board of Selectmen, raised these same issues in great detail in 2006—16 years ago.

“I’m often afraid of being run over”
The Byram Neighborhood Association sponsored a petition to the First Selectman’s office following a high-speed traffic accident on Mead Avenue in June 2021. The petition received 229 signatures along with dozens of personal anecdotes and fears from residents.

“I’m often afraid of being run over while walking my dog,” read one comment. “North Water Street has turned into a super-speedway […]. It is only a matter of time before someone is seriously hurt or killed if nothing is done,” read another.

Byram residents are afraid. Massive construction projects loom just across the river in Port Chester, all but certain to compound existing traffic issues that spill across the border and onto Byram’s streets.

Since Byram’s school children do not receive buses for New Lebanon Elementary or Western Middle School, most opt to walk.

Mill Street and Delavan Avenue, two major thoroughfares (and accident sites) are directly along the path many students take to get to school. They are, not coincidentally, the primary targets for safety improvement in the budget request. The same amount of money in the proposed budget cut went to Greenwich Avenue’s traffic calming initiatives, even though Mill and Delavan are far busier… and more lethal.

Tripping Over Dollars to Pick Up Pennies
Legally, Greenwich is liable for pedestrian accidents. The sheer number of accidents waiting to happen in Byram could pose a major final threat that far exceeds the miniscule amount of money earmarked for safety improvements.

The two committee members who voted to slash this budget item may have done so in a respectable attempt to lower the town’s spending. To do so at the expense of traffic and pedestrian safety and, in all likelihood, expensive liability issues, is financially unwise.

The town risks shortsightedness by slashing money for this multi-year project that aims to improve life for our bustling part of our town. Failure to act now means destroying the quality of life that’s already threatened by Port Chester’s aggressive expansion. BET members looking to cut costs should look elsewhere: the money our neighborhood needs for this project could save lives—all at a fraction of the cost of other, less vital town projects.

We ask that the full BET reconsider the vitality of Byram’s traffic study budget request. And we ask that those who want to see a safer Byram email the BET at [email protected] and join the BET’s public hearing on March 28th. The next car accident in Byram could be lethal.

We’ve already seen it happen before.

Brian O’Connor
Chair, Traffic Committee
Byram Neighborhood Association