Police chief convinces council to impose intersection-blocking fines
By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Glastonbury - posted Thu., Jul. 14, 2011
After a short discussion and testimony from Glastonbury Police Chief Thomas Sweeney, the Town Council recently approved the enforcement of the “Don't Block the Box” ordinance with a $93 fine per infraction.
Signs asking drivers to avoid blocking certain intersections in town have existed for some time, but, in accordance with state statutes, that was not enforceable unless there was a specific ordinance for each intersection.
“Absent this ordinance, if someone is blocking this intersection, we can't take enforcement action,” said Town Manager Richard Johnson.
The approval of the ordinance will now allow police to issue a fine for violators at the intersections of Griswold Street and Bantle Road, Hebron Avenue and House Street, and Hebron Avenue and Concord Street.
Sweeney said there has been discussion about placing signals at the intersections (especially House and Hebron) for several years, but there are too many potential difficulties with traffic flow.
“There are down-stream conflicts with the flow of traffic at New London Turnpike, and back-up conflicts with the state ramp [from Route 2] a block away,” Sweeney said, adding that lunchtime and afternoon rush hour traffic are the most troublesome for drivers wishing to exit House Street and turn left onto Hebron Avenue.
“Turns out of House Street are very difficult, on any basis, because of line-of-sight issues,” Sweeney said. “We believe [the ordinance] would reduce the number of accidents at that location.”
Sweeney said the problem is similar at Concord Street, but the Bantle-Griswold intersection presents a different problem.
“The ramp traffic blocks the west-bound traffic on Griswold Street,” he said. “As two or three cars back up, it blocks the left-hand turn from Griswold Street onto the on-ramp. Then, the effective gridlock just gets worse. All the way around, it's a dysfunctional intersection during certain periods of the day.”
The turning point may have been when Councilman Chip Beckett asked if the enforcement could remain “advisory only.”
“I'm not sure if we should make boorish behavior illegal,” Beckett said, asking if the police have the manpower to enforce the new ordinance.
“I don't think you should put regulatory signage on the street, without full authorization,” Sweeney said, adding that if a driver were to stop at the sign - without the ordinance in place - and be rear-ended by another driver, that could have potential liability issues for the town.
Beckett said that argument changed his mind.
“I don't believe this is boorish behavior,” said Councilwoman Michele Jacklin. “I believe this is dangerous driving conduct, which causes tempers to flare.”
Sweeney said that the police would “use good judgment” in enforcing the law, with an emphasis on educating the public, and likely beginning with the issuance of several warnings to drivers.
Sweeney added that enforcement could actually be difficult, especially at heavy-traffic times, since there is less room for officers to pull over vehicles. Officers may note the license plates of violators, who will then receive their tickets in the mail.
“It's some advantage to doing it right there, so other people see it,” Sweeney said, “but there's also the hazard that you create when you turn the lights on. At Griswold and Bantle, there is very little room to maneuver at all.”
For the ordinance to be enforceable, the intersections must be marked with signs as well as pavement markings. Plans call for the intersections to have diagonally-crossing stripes, in order to be more noticeable to drivers. Those markings, as well as more signs, are scheduled to be in place over the next few weeks.
“The diagonal lines are the best way of getting drivers' attention,” Sweeney said. “You want people to stop. You want people to know that it's there.”
“I think it's a very reasonable solution,” said Council Chair Susan Karp. “It also makes our drivers more aware of the hazards.”