Ideal roadway engineering would not need speed limits or traffic signals. While that’s rather unlikely in the real world, such a utopian point of view is nevertheless probably not a bad way of measuring a project’s success. And in that regard, what’s been happening at Meriden’s Pratt Street has earned a pretty high grade.
There, what was once a free-wheeling landing-strip like stretch of city street has been replaced by a roadway with a single lane in each direction, with turning lanes and landscaped medians in between. It looks nice, and makes sense.
“We’re very happy with it,” said Howard Weissberg, the city’s public works director. “We essentially gauge it based on the types of comments we get and, for the most part, the comments we’ve gotten upon completion have been positive.”
Of course, looking nice is not on the top of the list when it comes to the project’s goals, but it’s nice that it looks nice, certainly. More important was traffic safety and reducing vehicle accidents along the route. Now that Pratt Street is no longer a four-lane road and there’s just a single “through” lane in each direction, the average vehicle speed should slow. “The speed reduction is amazing,” noted Weissberg. “It no longer feels like a road where you’re taking your life into your hands crossing or driving on. Human nature is to just drive faster than the guy in front of you … here there’s no ability to race because it’s a single file.”
Thus, the speed limit of 25 miles per hour stays the same. What’s new are medians that should help pedestrian safety, a primary concern, but also provide aesthetic opportunities. They are, as Weissberg observed, “a much more attractive solution.”
Pratt Street is important to the city because it’s envisioned that the route will serve as a gateway for travelers who exit from Interstate 691 and head into the downtown area. State funding took care of the $3.2 million project cost.
There may be no satisfying the doubters when it comes to Meriden’s efforts to improve its image and accessibility, but the Pratt Street remodeling can now serve as an example of what can be done. It’s a significant step forward.