Westport approves midblock crosswalk on Riverside Avenue following pedestrian death

Matthew Balga, a chef at the Whelk, was hit by a car outside the restaurant in March. Police said Balga was leaving work at the time and wasn't in a nearby crosswalk. The driver wasn't charged, but the crash got people talking.

Marissa Alter

Sep 15, 2023, 9:21 PM

Updated 221 days ago

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Six months after a chef was killed crossing Riverside Avenue, Westport leaders have approved adding a midblock crosswalk to try and make the congested area safer.
Matthew Balga, a chef at the Whelk, was hit by a car outside the restaurant in March. Police said Balga was leaving work at the time and wasn't in a nearby crosswalk. The driver wasn't charged, but the crash got people talking.
“This is a super busy part of town. We have lots of great restaurants. We have the Saugatuck train station right,” said Westport First Selectwoman Jen Tooker. “Discussions with residents, neighbors and businessowners started immediately last spring to make sure we were all on the same page and to figure out how we can make this area of Westport safer for pedestrians.”
The consensus was to add a crosswalk midblock, Tooker said. There's already a crosswalk at the intersection with Ketchum Street by the fire station and one at the stoplight at the other end. But they're not always used.
“This is a nontraditional place to put a crosswalk since we already have two in very close proximity, but we were finding pedestrians were dashing in between this side of the street and the other side of the street where we have lots of restaurants,” Tooker explained.
Riverside Avenue is a state road, Route 136, so the town reached out to the Connecticut Department of Transportation to collaborate on the effort. What they came up with unanimously passed at a Board of Selectwomen meeting Wednesday.
The crosswalk will connect the square between the Whelk and Saugatuck Sweets to the adjacent parking lot and commercial complex.
“The plan is to install rectangular rapid flashing beacons to alert motorists that a person would potentially be using the crosswalk,” said Westport Operations Director Tom Kiely. “Studies have shown that those beacons have actually reduced pedestrian crashes by up to 47%.”
Kiely told News 12 ramps will be added to both sides of the new crosswalk to be compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act. He also said state law prohibits street parking within 25 feet of crosswalks so an estimated four to six spots will be removed from there.
“We don't have an exact timeline, but we're hoping to get started within the next few months. This is a win for everybody, especially the pedestrians utilizing this area of town,” Kiely said.
Kiely also said midblock crosswalks would not be the norm going forward, calling this “more of a one-off.”


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