Study Calls for Total Redesign of Hillside Road, Additional GHS Egress

A comprehensive traffic and parking study of Greenwich High School and Hillside Road by consultants Fuss & O’Neill, is an update of a 2009 study that predicted the MISA expansion would not have significant impact on traffic and parking.

P&Z required the follow up study as a condition of MISA approval.

The new Performing Arts Center opened in 2015, but the study didn’t happen until 2018.

“The increase in seating at the MISA auditorium did not have a significant impact on traffic conditions in the vicinity of GHS.” – Fuss & O’Neill

While the report concluded the new performing arts center was not the culprit, they said parking is insufficient at the high school, and there are decreased levels of service at area intersections.

Neighbors have been saying this for years, only in more blunt terms.

At numerous public meetings neighbors have warned of potential liability to the town should an accident occur.

While consultants let MISA off the hook for traffic and parking woes, they pointed to the change in school bell times, traffic growth overall, and an increasing number of students wanting to drive to school.

Fuss & O’Neill urged “a sense of order” on Hillside Road and the GHS campus. Suggestions included:

• Add an egress onto Route 1 with Cardinal Stadium project.

• Redesign and reconstruct Hillside Road to add sidewalks and other enhancements.

• Create 11-foot wide northbound lane on Hillside Road.

• Change bus service eligibility from 2 miles to 0.25 miles to encourage students to take the bus.

GHS performing arts center - Greenwich Free Press

GHS performing arts center. MISA received a variance for FAR from the Zoning Board of Appeals, and today the school cannot expand another single square foot.

What triggered all the attention to Hillside Road?

When Parking Services, under Captain Mark Kordick proposed to codify student parking on Hillside Road, neighbors reacted immediately.

At a Jan 11, 2018 Selectmen meeting, Hillside Rd neighbors described how twice daily they simply could not get in or out of their driveways, and that parents constantly pull into their driveways to pick up children.

At the Feb 8, 2018 Selectmen meeting, Former Selectmen John Toner and Sandy Litvack sided with residential neighbors.

Neighbors opposed the student parking on Hillside Rd saying the road did not belong to Greenwich High School.

Students started a petition on Change.org titled “Save Student On-Street Parking,” which said, “Parking is more than a privilege enjoyed by GHS seniors; it is a resource that helps us excel in all of the amazing things we do in and outside of the classroom.”

GHS Compass yearbook 1970 shows the bike racks overflowing.

GHS Compass yearbook 1970 shows the bike racks overflowing.

It was amid this controversy in 2018, that then First Selectman Peter Tesei proposed working committee.

That’s when it came to light that a follow up traffic study had been a P&Z condition and had never been done.

That committee included Town Administrator Ben Branyan, Police Chief Chief Heavey, GHS Head of Security Tom Bobkowski, DPW’s Jim Michel, residential neighbors Ashley Cole, Steven Miller and Elizabeth Dempsey, as well as Patrick Smyth from Greenwich Police, and P&Z director Katie DeLuca.

Neighbors’ tempers again flared after the Town re-striped Hillside Rd over the long Martin Luther King weekend in 2018, pushing the double yellow line several feet to the east so that northbound lane is the minimum width required by the state.

Again, neighbors erupted when then Superintendent Dr. Jill Gildea held a meeting billed as a “What If” meeting for feedback on plans for Cardinal stadium and other GHS fields the context of new school start times, and the drafting of a master facilities plan.

When consultant Ryan Chmielewski, a landscape architect from Milone & MacBroom recommended lighting fields 6 and 7, he barely finished his sentence before neighbors started listing all the ways GHS has been a lousy neighbor.

They described the blasting to create field 7 in 2005 as a nightmare and that no notice was given to neighbors, who now have cracked foundations.

“We think you are bullies,” said Diana Delano of Old Church Rd. “You are thoughtless. You try to steamroll the neighbors. We’re sick of it. It’s been going on 2o years.”

Fast forward to 2020.

Not only are many well known issues enumerated in Fuss & O’Neill’s report, but there are now new factors adding to traffic headaches.

For one, Greenwich Country Day School, which recently added a high school campus on Stanwich Rd, is proposing to build a stadium on their fields at the end of Cardinal Rd.

At the Jan 20, 2020 P&Z hearing, commissioners balked at the GCDS proposed turf fields and stadium, asking them to “migrate” the stadium to Stanwich Rd instead.

At that meeting, neighbors on Cardinal Rd complained that GHS students park at the Greenwich Skating Club.

To make matters worse, the Dept of Public Works recently learned that the CT State Dept of Transportation is planning in 2022 to replace the bridge at Hillside Rd and Putnam Ave over Greenwich Creek.

The project will raise the road three feet, create improvements to sidewalks, and require fairly extensive reconstruction.

The project will result in reduction of lanes to just one in each direction on East Putnam Ave for an estimated two years.

So what exactly did Fuss & O’Neill discover?

• Private vehicles parking closest to a destination even when prohibited.

• Vehicles allowed to idle without enforcement by school security.

• Two hour parking limit on Hillside Road not enforced.

• Drivers discharging and picking up students where signage prohibits, especially dangerous on northbound side where there is no crosswalk, and no sidewalk.

• School security reported excess staff parking and insufficient student parking. They said when student parking is limited, students  park in spaces designated for staff.

• Entrance queues to the high school overflowing onto Hillside Rd, and blocking southbound traffic.

School security staff reported that they observe excess staff parking and insufficient student parking. Security staff indicated when student parking availability is limited, students are observed to park in unoccupied parking spaces that are designated for the staff. Photo: Fuss & O’Neill

• Double Parking. Vehicles continue to double park on southbound side of Hillside Road in front of GHS unless police are present. Because the security staff does not have any control over traffic
operations off site, double parking persists even in their presence.

• Excess staff parking and insufficient student parking.

• Student cars parked in driveways of Hillside Rd neighbors and crossing without the aid of a painted crosswalk.

• Northbound vehicles on Hillside Road, including school buses, were observed crossing the double yellow center line.

• Double parking on Hillside Road, including blocking the bus loop.

• Near Misses: During drop-off, while police were managing buses, cars were frequently observed doing U-turns along Hillside Road to drop students on the sidewalk on the east side of Hillside Road

• Uber or Lyft drivers were observed picking-up and dropping-off students throughout the day.

• Parents blocking buses in the bus loop at pick up time, preventing buses from staging properly and causing queuing on Hillside Rd. Some private vehicles were observed traveling in the wrong direction through the one way bus loop to avoid staged buses.

• Available staff parking spaces near the building were observed to become occupied on occasion by vehicles with student permits.

• Students vehicles relocated over the course of the day in an attempt to avoid ticketing by security.

The report did note some improvements since the 2009 study.

School buses no longer double park on Hillside, but rather queue in the bus loop.

Also, back in 2009 Greenwich Police were not controlling the traffic for buses at drop off and dismissal as they do now.

Southbound cars no longer queue all the way back to Fairfield Rd to enter campus, but they do queue onto Hillside.

There is less double-parking overall and after school events are coordinated so the use of fields and auditorium don’t overlap.

Fuss & O’Neill said event scheduling requires major events be requested and approved for the following school year prior to June 15, but this deadline is not regularly enforced and events are occasionally scheduled later.

The study noted that the school tries to coordinate activities so they don’t overlap.

But sometimes there have been mistakes.

GHS is an election polling place, and during the Nov 8, 2018 election, Greenwich Schools scheduled professional development for the entire district. The result was voters couldn’t find parking.

Stay tuned…

At about 3:15pm, cars double park on Hillside Rd waiting for dismissal. Jan 11, 2018 Photo: Leslie Yager

At about 3:15pm, cars double park on Hillside Rd waiting for dismissal. Jan 11, 2018 Photo: Leslie Yager

Two cars pull into the driveway at 21 Hillside Rd to pick up students at dismissal. Jan 11, 2018 Photo: Leslie Yager

Two cars pull into the driveway at 21 Hillside Rd to pick up students at dismissal. Jan 11, 2018 Photo: Leslie Yager

See also:

Selectmen Weigh Quality of Life of GHS Neighbors on Hillside vs Privilege of Student Parking