Selectmen OK school zone speed limits

The Board of Selectmen’s summer vacation is over and on last week’s agenda were a pair of requests from the Department of Public Works to adjust school zone speed limits.

The selectmen unanimously approved the 20 mph limits near the New Lebanon School and Byram Archibald Neighborhood Center as well as Central Middle School, part of an ongoing effort in town that could see similar limits placed near all schools. Jim Michal, chief engineer of the town Department of Public Work’s engineering division, presented both requests to the board and said he expected to be making several similar appearances throughout the season.

The school zone speed limit will be in effect on school days between 7:30 and 9 a.m. and 2:30 and 4 p.m. The request for Central Middle School included the portion of Stanwich Road between Fairfield Road and Orchard Street, the portion of Orchard Street between Indian Rock Lane and Stanwich Road, and finally the strip of Indian Rock Lane between Stanwich Road and Orchard Street.

While both items were approved, the majority of the debate was about the New Lebanon School zone. The school is in an area that has long been a concern for pedestrians, and the town has made several efforts in the past to slow drivers and adjust traffic patterns. This year the issue grew due to ongoing issues inside the school that have meant moving students out during the day.

Due to overcrowding at New Lebanon School, kindergarten classes are being held this year nearby at the Byram Archibald Neighborhood Center (BANC), which is in walking distance of the school. Because of the extra walking the students do each day, there is concern about safety because the area is heavily used by drivers. So the request also looked to extend the school zone considerations for New Lebanon School to include the area along Delavan Avenue/Mill Street from Tingue Street to Henry Street, and the portion of Mead Avenue between Delavan Avenue/Mill Street to James Street East.

Byram Neighborhood Association President Mike Bocchino, a former president of the New Lebanon School PTA, lobbied for further safety measures for students and their parents in the area, describing the busy traffic the area sees in the hours after school. The BANC website states that 70 children participate in the center’s after-school program every day from 2 to 5:30.

Mr. Bocchino said that parents picking up their children during rush hour were “risking their lives” due to the after-hours traffic in the school zone, particularly from motorists cutting through towards Port Chester and local highways. That board discussed some potential measures to ensure that the speed limit is obeyed in the area, including crosswalk signs or speed bumps to slow traffic. However, Mr. Michal mentioned that further investigation into the neighborhood traffic patterns would need to happen before there was a commitment to those installations.

“It’s imperative in a walking community such as Byram that we get some sort of safety measures in place,” Mr. Bocchino said. “I know there’s limitations and restrictions, but at the end of the day the town should be acting in the best interest of its residents and pushing forward for something of these lines as far as safety goes.”

Town resident Rich Jackson, who has instructed after-school chess programs at the nearby Byram-Schubert Library, inquired as to whether the school zone speed limit hours could be extended as late as 6 p.m. However, Mr. Michal said the need for state approval would make the extension unlikely.

“These go through the Office of the State Traffic Administration (OSTA) for review. Their direction has been school-specific time frames, so they’re going to first look at what are the posted hours of the school, what are the hours they’re supposed to be at school,” Mr. Michal said, specifying that the state could allow a bit of time before and after the posted times.

“School zones are not intended for other locations, such as Boys & Girls Clubs, after-school programs, sports facilities — they’re intended for the school zones themselves,” he added.

The board mirrored the concerns of Mr. Jackson and Mr. Bocchino, questioning whether the traffic administration would grant an exception in the case of the community center, which is directly adjacent to the school.

Mr. Michal put forth the state’s concern, pointing towards a potential slippery slope should neighborhood centers be granted school zone consideration. While the BANC is currently housing classes, being approved as a part of an extended school zone with special hours could lead to similar institutions for children such as the YMCA or Boys & Girls Club pushing for school zone speed limits.

While both requests were uncontested during the meeting, the greater questions revolving around the enforcement and overall safety in the zones may persist. Mr. Michal stated that the penalties for speeding in a school zone can be more easily enforced. Speeding tickets issued within a school zone carry twice the fine in Connecticut. The next Board of Selectman’s meeting will be Sept. 18.

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