NORWALK, Conn. – Support for Norwalk as a “livable” city was voiced by three Democratic mayoral candidates Monday after a coordinated bike ride on roads that Mayor Richard Moccia has changed at the insistence of cycling advocates who are not pleased with the results.
Harry Rilling, Vinny Mangiacopra and Matt Miklave joined activists Peter Libre and Mike Mushak and about 20 other people, some of them children, for a ride from the Maritime Aquarium to Calf Pasture Beach. The route took the group down Seaview Avenue, referred to by Mushak as a “fiasco” after alterations were made by the Moccia administration, and over to Calf Pasture Beach Road, where sharrows were painted at the behest of the Traffic Commission, against the urging of Libre and other activists.
Sharrows are symbols painted on the road surface to let drivers know that they are expected to share the lane with bike riders.
The group, which also included Common Councilman David Watts (D-District A), stopped at key points so Mushak could illustrate the dangers. That included Mill Pond, across from the East Norwalk Yacht Club on Seaview Avenue, where Mushak said cyclists must ride into the path of traffic to go around parked cars. He contrasted the changes made by the city to those recommended in the Norwalk Pedestrian and Bikeway Transportation Plan.
Some people turned back because of the threat of inclement weather. Those who made it to the beach listened to the three mayoral candidates give brief speeches.
“I think this is just another example of the current administration not listening to the will of the public,” Rilling said, referring to the sharrows on Beach Road.
Libre pushed him to give specific examples of what he would do if elected mayor. Rilling said the Norwalk Pedestrian and Bikeway Transportation Plan spoke for itself.
A paved path along Seaview Avenue – in addition to the cement sidewalks for walkers – would be “a no-brainer,” he said, calling it a simple solution that wouldn’t cost a lot of money and make it safe.
“Nobody pays attention to what really is done by the experts and everybody does what they want to do,” he said. “That’s got to change. … I think they feel the only people who ride bicycles are children and they don’t vote. That’s not true anymore because (more) people are starting to ride bikes. This is a fitness thing and this just is an enjoyment thing. The bike lanes are absolutely essential.”
Mangiacopra also spoke of the style of the Moccia administration.
“We all have to understand that there’s an antiquated way of thinking here in this town — it’s not by accident, it’s by design,” he said.
A perfect example is the Sept. 10 primary, the first challenge to the status quo in 38 years, he said. Ideas have become stale and people have become frustrated, he said, but hope is on the way.
“I’m going to have the kind of administration that’s going to modernize our government, accept the fact that we need to be a more livable and walkable city, that every project that presents itself to our city, whether it’s zoning or anywhere else, it’s going to be set from the top,” he said. “That’s something that’s lacking now, there’s no agenda set from the top. You have somebody that has their own individual fiefdom, whatever department. They’re allowed to do whatever they want because the guy at the top has no clue.”
Miklave said safety is personal to him – as an 18-year-old he was riding a bicycle without a helmet and lost three days of consciousness as a result. Later, he got a road rash when he was hit by a car while riding a bicycle down East Avenue, when he was new to town.
But bike paths are about economic development, he said.
“When you build a cityscape that invites young entrepreneurs who want to live and work and develop and grow jobs, you grow the economy,” he said.
He and his wife just dropped off their two sons at Roger Williams University in Bristol, R.I., where there is a 15-mile bike trail. Shops have popped up along the trail, far from motor vehicle access, he said.
The economic benefits of bike trails were the reason he led the unsuccessful Common Council fight to narrow Beach Road to one lane, he said.
“It’s about the future of our community,” he said. “Anywhere you go in America, communities that embrace livability, that embrace bikability, that embrace the alternative energies of human foot power and human ingenuity, those are the communities that will lead the nation in the 21st century. That’s what I want to build in Norwalk.”
Dede Farnsworth said she was thrilled by the ride with the candidates and encouraged to hear they are interested in making Norwalk more bike friendly.
Moccia is never going to listen, she said.
“He’s not a healthy guy,” she said. “He’s not a fitness guy and he doesn’t really care. … I think he kind of finagles things so that it works his way and he does a lot of yessing.”
David McGoldrick said he attended to “support the concept of safe fun biking in Norwalk.”
The Beach Road sharrows are meaningless, he said, because “bikes have the right to be on any road.”
He said he appreciates the bike lane now painted onto Strawberry Hill Road. “They are establishing the fact that bikes are there and have a right to be there,” he said. “A bike doesn’t need all that much space.”
Former Town Clerk Andy Garfunkel, a candidate for mayor, was not on the bike ride due to a prior commitment, organizers said.