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Bike lane installed on Norwalk’s Belden Avenue

Belden Avenue
Traffic passes on the freshly painted Belden Avenue Monday.

NORWALK, Conn. – Bike lanes have been installed on Belden Avenue in a plan agreed to by the Norwalk Traffic Authority in July over the objection of Department of Public Works Director Hal Alvord.

The proposal was sent to the Connecticut Department of Transportation and the Office of State Traffic Administration (OSTA). OSTA needed to look at the plan because DPW got federal funding for Belden Avenue, Alvord said.

In July, Alvord said, “They have told us that they want to see any changes in the striping plan because the signal plan for that signal was approved with the striping plan. We don’t know what their plan is going to be, it could be a range from an administrative OK to ‘we don’t think you should do that given the volume and nature of the traffic.’”

Traffic passes on the freshly painted Belden Avenue Monday.
A freshly painted bike lane near the Belden Avenue Post Office.

“The state wasn’t going to approve or disapprove. They didn’t ask them for approval,” Alvord said Friday. “The state wanted to review what was going be done based on how it would connect with State Route 1, up at Cross and Van Buren, and how it was going impact the signal that was just installed at Burnell and Belden. So the state looked at it. They came back with a couple of inane comments and the Traffic Authority said do it.”

Bike/Walk Task Force Co-Chairman Mike Mushak said he thought the striping must have been done Sunday night. The idea was to put in bike lanes at no cost to the city, as part of the striping to be done on the newly resurfaced Belden Avenue.

In July, Alvord protested the plan, saying that city engineers, who he described as bike-friendly and knowledgeable, did not feel it was safe and opens the city up to potential liability.

“The minutes of this meeting will reflect that we were not in support of the program, so if anybody tries to come back after our licenses or after us financially, we have some protection,” Alvord said. “That doesn’t protect the city, of course. It puts us in a very uncomfortable position of potentially being called to testify against our employer, which we don’t cherish.”

Norwalk Transit District Administrator Louis Schulman, in a July letter to Mayor Harry Rilling, said, “From research I have done since the meeting I understand that a 10-foot width for an urban roadway can be acceptable under certain circumstances and that it may have a ‘calming effect’ on traffic. However, a bike lane that runs for only two blocks or so may, I feel, just be confusing and may not offer the desired benefit. I understand that there is a view toward having bike lanes on all of West Avenue. If that is not going to happen in the near future then striping Belden Avenue as a narrower roadway, to me, doesn’t make a lot of sense and may become a hazard.”

Mushak said at last week’s task force meeting that he was working on West Avenue plans, from Wall Street to Mathews Park.

“We know bike lanes will fit. I have asked for a 40-scale survey of the street from DPW. I was told I will be getting that soon,” Mushak said. “It’s going to be basically like Belden, 7-foot parking lanes, 2- to 3-foot door buffers depending on where the width is, and 5- to 6-foot bike lanes.”

Task force Co-chairman Peter Libre protested that a 3-foot door buffer was better and Mushak said they’d work it out.

Mushak talked about restaurants expecting to open in Waypointe, on West Avenue between Butler and Orchard Streets.

“I was standing out there for an hour, at rush hour, and seeing dozens of bicyclists on the sidewalk. This was before all the restaurants open in Waypointe. I told the developer at Waypointe this is going to be a nightmare when your businesses open,” Mushak said. “The city’s plan was to put sharrows (shared lanes), which was a nightmare. We have consultants who have said absolutely not. … That’s where we were left, at with consultants saying sharrows are not a good idea and then West Avenue was in limbo. Now we are coming along and saying West Avenue is a priority because we have the Belden end getting done.”

A Connecticut Transit bus
A Connecticut Transit bus passes the new bike lane after pulling out of Burnell Boulevard.

Comments

20 responses to “Bike lane installed on Norwalk’s Belden Avenue”

  1. M murray

    Is there any system in place now to see how many bicycles use this per day?

  2. John Hamlin

    Bike lanes are an investment in our future.

  3. Bruce Kimmel

    Great article. We are slowly but surely (I hope) breaking through the mindset that we can’t have bike lanes where there is dense traffic and speeding. The research shows that one of the best ways to slow traffic down is to narrow the car lanes, add bike lanes, and eventually attract lots of people on bikes; people who feel safe in designated bike lanes and who do not have to compete with cars for road space.

  4. Mike Mushak

    Thanks for the article Nancy. The lanes are not finished yet, as parking stripes and a striped door zone buffer similar to the newer southern half of Strawberry Hill still needs to be done. I drove on Belden yesterday and saw an immediate reduction in average speeds which was our goal along with the separated bike lanes, on that dangerous stretch of road where speeding was common.

    I have to say that since the meeting in July which you quote from, we have seen a big shift in the collaborative efforts of DPW staff. Belden was a big jump as it is an urban setting and I think it just basically frightened the engineers at first, who are overly cautious which I don’t fault them for. The truth is this plan follows the national safety standards of AASHTO ( American Assoc. of State and Highway Transportation Engineers), and NACTO ( Nat’l Assoc. Of City Transportation Officials), and responds to recommendations in almost a million dollars of taxpayer-funded studies, including the Transp. Management Plan commissioned by DPW, that listed lane width reductions here as well as Complete Streets solutions for bikes and pedestrians, which is what this new layout does.

    Murray, great question. The city or the Task Force have no plans I am aware of to count bikes or pedestrians at this time, but we should. But as frequently happens in Norwalk these days, the glitch is the stubborn P and Z Department where changing anything or updating anything including our codes and regulations is extremely difficult. In this case, there was a specific recommendation in the 2012 $500k Norwalk Transportation Management Plan to have new standards enacted by P and Z for traffic studies for new developments that included doing bicycle and pedestrian counts, following best practices around the country. This would have developers help establish official baseline counts that we need. I pushed for the P and Z to adopt those changes over the last year against the predictable opposition when I served on the ZC. Hopefully the commissioners Adam Blank and Nora King can get those changes moving along again on the commission, since they were recommended in a $500k taxpayer-funded study that looked at improving the city’s ability to analyze impacts of large projects on traffic, a most important aspect of the ZC’s responsibility to protect public safety and quality of life. I will remain cautiously optimistic at this point that this will happen.

    I will also consider asking volunteers to do peak hour counts of pedestrians on sidewalks and of bikes in the new bike lanes around town, again to establish baselines we will need in the future. Many studies around the country show a large increase in users when facilities like this are installed, and as more infrastructure gets connected and biking to work or the train or to shop becomes easier and safer, especially for the thousands of new residents expected in our downtown corridor over the next few years, we expect a larger number of users which will naturally decrease car traffic at the same time.

  5. TLaw

    When will the bicyclers start obeying the basic traffic laws that are in place? Like stopping at red lights, stop signs and such.

  6. Taxpayer Fatigue

    @TLaw – when will the motorists start obeying the basic traffic laws that are in place? Like stopping at red lights, stop sign and such.

  7. Don’t Panic

    @TLaw and @TP,
    When will the NPD start enforcement of traffic laws that are in place?

  8. TLaw

    @Taxpayer – A better point raised would be the texting & driving issue. When you pull up to a stop light (and stop like 99.9% of us undeniably do) you can readily identify those using hand held devices. Bicyclers on the other hand slow down for the red light and then peddle right through as if they have a special right of way. Both extremely dangerous.

  9. John Hamlin

    Obeying the traffic laws is an important BUT ENTIRELY SEPARATE issue from bike lanes. Don’t confuse them.

  10. TLaw

    @John Hamlin – IT IS RELEVANT as Norwalk moves forward with introducing mainstream bike lanes because you are now sharing the road with cyclists who often times don’t obey the most basic traffic laws.

  11. Kathleen Montgomery

    So many articles and comments refer to costly studies that have been done for P&Z, and ignored. Does anyone have information on how much taxpayer money has gone down the drain due to studies that were not used for implementation purposes? These studies seem to be $400,000 (on average) each.

  12. John Hamlin

    TLaw — automobile drivers don’t obey the traffic laws. According to your logic we should remove cars from the road. The fact is, progressive, livable cities that are attracting new residents are bike friendly and have useable bike lanes. Only backward cities have resisted — and lost out to more livable towns. Time for Norwalk to embrace the future.

  13. One and Done

    God bless anyone dumb enough to ride their bike out their as opposed to the sidewalks that are wide enough in that spot.

  14. Ergo

    Wonderful, more money spent on bike lanes to nowhere. There is nowhere you are biking to over there. You aren’t heading up to the hospital, there aren’t any business or shops (unless you count AutoZone and McDonalds). Just like the Strawberry Hill mess, a bike lane to nowhere.

    This could be a great thing for Norwalk, instead it’s something of a joke. The lanes pop up in random spots and suddenly disappear. There are no traffic signs for the bikers, such as a stop sign or such. They just bike right through intersections, red lights and all. There is nothing to protect the bikers from being hit by a moving car or by someone getting into their car if it is parked.

  15. TLaw

    @John Hamlin – ” According to your logic we should remove cars from the road…….” I have no clue what you are talking about? Do you? Delusional.

  16. Mike Mushak

    Ergo, you are wrong on almost every single point except one, sorry. Perhaps this comment will change your mind, or not. Lets take your statement point by point.

    The bike lanes on Belden and Strawberry Hill are NOT bike lanes to nowhere. Quite the contrary. We need to start somewhere and can’t install the entire system at once, which is a ridiculous notion since we don’t have unlimited funds or staff. Read on.

    There IS a plan to connect Belden with the following routes: West Avenue bike lanes, Wall Street bike lanes/sharrows, Burnell bike lane (in two directions on the renovated bridge but only one direction along the left curb behind the buses as that is a one way street between River and Belden), Spring Hill bike route at the end of Belden, Riverside bike lanes that continue up to New Canaan Ave, the 3 mile Harbor Loop Trail, and the future 26-mile NRVT that will be making an at grade crossing either at the intersection of Belden and Cross or just beyond. This last piece is in the planning stages at DPW with a recent grant.

    Strawberry Hill connects 3 schools to the new bike lane on Fitch, and proposed bike routes to the north on Wolfpit, to the south to East Ave to the train station and Vets Park (and connecting with the NRVT to Calf Pasture), and spurs on Norden to connect over to Winfield/Route 136 (which is the current route of the 2,900 mile East Coast Greenway from Key West to Canada), on Beacon to get to City Hall and the Harbor Loop Trail across East Ave, County Street, and on William St. to connect surrounding neighborhoods.

    Bikes do not need their own traffic signs as they are required by state law to follow the same signs and most rules of the road (obviously with exceptions) as cars. There will be education and enforcement required to get better compliance to traffic rules, but the fact that so many cars break the rules doesn’t help either, nor does the fact that so many cyclists are driving defensively on roads that have no dedicated infrastructure at this point and often are forced to ride along making their own rules in the chaos of Norwalk’s current road system. Having bike lanes and sharrows and bike routes all over town makes order out of that chaos, and helps define

    You are right on one point however-there is nothing to protect bikers from being hit by a moving car, except of course the law that requires cars to be at least 3 feet away from bikes at all times. Your statement that drivers getting into their parked cars will “hit” bikers is also absurd, as drivers need to watch out for bikes just as they watch out for cars now before they step into traffic. We also are installing striped door zone buffers where they fit (they will be installed on Belden soon-its not finished yet) as we did on lower Strawberry Hill, that are designed to allow a safe zone for drivers opening their car doors and walking around their car outside the bike lane.

    Therefore, Ergo, you may see that your statement was not accurate.

  17. Ergo

    My statements are accurate in that they are my opinion.
    The bike lanes go to nowhere, in that they just end…like that. There is no point to them. Create a trail and then connect the city streets to the bike trail. Make it selling point for Norwalk.

    If you are installing official bike lanes on public roads there should be traffic signs for them, for example, paint a stop sign symbol on the road where they should stop. Mark my words, the first time a car hits a bike rider this will be a bone of contention.

    The bike lane to the beach is a great idea (hated by many because all they really did was turn a vehicle lane into a “you can use it as a bike lane when no cars want to use it” lane). But as a Norwalk Citizen I would have rather seen a real bike trail. Off the side of main road, running parallel to the road, with a curb at the very least to protect bikers. Where parents can let their children ride bikes. Where couples who love to bike ride can ride and enjoy the day.

    Those types of things would be more welcome and a selling point for Norwalk. These lanes to nowhere are useless for the community as a whole. Maybe some bikers would find them useful, but I doubt a serious biker (maybe even training) would find any benefit in our bike lanes. They are crappy sidewalks for bikers.

  18. Mike Mushak

    Ergo, It appears you didn’t even bother reading my response! I clearly described how our current bike lanes will be part of a much wider system that is planned and do NOT just “go nowhere”. Its like arguing with a child when you refuse to accept indisputable facts that are presented in this forum.

    Your idea of a separate bike trail to the beach is pie in the sky territory, as it will cost millions we don’t have. It is ridiculous and wasteful to spend money on a new trail (with separate maintenance required) when we have an existing paved trail right on the underused right lane of Beach Road already, that can easily be maintained along with the 2 travel lanes that would be part of a proposed “road diet” to slow traffic and create separation from the narrow sidewalks and a generous bike lane. Also, your idea of a bike trail ignores the obvious fact you missed: how will folks get to your proposed trails from their homes and businesses? Will they walk their bikes along the sidewalks?

    Seriously, finally we are accepting the reality here in Norwalk that people on bikes go EXACTLY where people in cars want and need to go: to their homes, to work, to shop, to school, run errands, etc. Pretending that Norwalk residents including children will only use bikes for recreational purposes, say to go the beach only, is absurd and ignores decades of studies and demographic changes.

    My experience touring the Rust Belt and upper South this summer to study urban design was eye-opening, with once-empty post-industrial downtowns experiencing huge resurgences of population and economic activity, in places like Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Dayton, Louisville KY, Indianapolis, and Pittsburgh, along with dozens of smaller cities I visited. All with on street bike lanes and sharrows and bike racks everywhere. As well as separate trails that were regional in nature connecting whole states together (I rode 20 miles of the amazing and very popular 350-mile Great Allegheny Passage trail that connects Washington to Pittsburgh, just to get a sense of what that was all about.)

    Norwalk needs to stop being satisfied with second-class status and mediocrity when it comes to urban design, and enter the 21st century with smart bike lanes, better sidewalks, more safety education, and traffic calming, which is what the task force is devoted to as well as Mayor Rilling, DPW, Redevelopment, the Health Department, and other elected and appointed officials. Ergo, you represent an obsolete mindset about street design, which is changing rapidly all over the country, including right here in Norwalk and among our leaders and officials. Have a nice day!

  19. Kevin Di Mauro

    I went to the Belden Ave. Post Office today for the first time since the new stripes were painted, and things were not as orderly as shown in the picture that accompanies this article. Maybe Nancy can tell us what time of day that picture was taken.

    At 11:30 am there were cars double parked in front of the post office and on the bike lanes. There were cars trying to exit the parking lot of Peoples’ Bank and stopped on the bike lanes until traffic passed. There were also pedestrians jay walking across the street to the post office which always seems to be very busy.

    1. Mark Chapman

      @ Kevin Di Mauro

      The photo with the story was taken at 5 p.m. or a bit later on a Monday. The Post Office was closed.

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