Bike/Walk task force drawing up a plan for Norwalk

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Norwalk Bike/Walk Task Force Co-Chairman Mike Mushak shows task force members the draft comprehensive plan for bike routes in Norwalk.

NORWALK, Conn. – A comprehensive plan for bike routes in Norwalk is being prepared for the November Traffic Authority meeting.

“This is $200,000 worth of work that the task force has done for free,” Bike/Walk Task Force Co-Chairman Mike Mushak said at last week’s meeting. “… This plan is something that is meant for public feedback and not meant to be ‘this is the bike plan.’”

It connects all the schools, all the parks, and incorporates suggestions from numerous consultants, including the Merritt Parkway Trail, the Norwalk River Valley Trail and the East Coast Greenway, he said. While there was talk about $500,000 of striping there was also a suggestion that much could be done with grants.

“This is the plan that we wanted Planning and Zoning to do three years ago,” Mushak said. “We were told in a meeting that that wasn’t their responsibility, to have a bike plan for the whole city, that it was OK to have three different departments to do three different bike plans at the time because Mike Greene said we should just give the Common Council as much information as possible and they will figure out what is the best plan. … The task force has devoted itself to do the comprehensive bike plan for Norwalk that we were told, in 2012, that Hal Alvord requested $200,000 to have a consultant do this plan.”

Mushak spent hours drawing the routes onto an old P&Z map. Norwalk Director of Health Tim Callahan suggested that he had an intern who could use technology to upload the information onto Department of Public Works maps. Callahan also suggested that the makers of an app called “Map my Ride” probably have a lot of information about what Norwalk bike riders do, that maybe the company would share that information to help develop bike routes.

“We were hoping to get this into a Google maps mode, hopefully with a city employee,” Mushak said, explaining the result would be available for interactive public input.

“I think that the plan should be made with the idea that it’s provisional and a work in progress,” Co-Chairman Peter Libre said.

Mushak’s map was developed with discussions from previous meetings as well as input from task force members that live in Cranbury, about the routes they like to take.

“I used a bike lane route which was not in any study but this is just roads that can handle bike lanes for their widths,” Mushak said, mentioning Nursery Street and Fox Run Road. “Sometimes you don’t even need sharrows (shared lanes). You could just have a designated bike route which would just be on a map and on a plan, and somebody would know that street is being swept regularly to keep the shoulders clean. They know that those drains are going to have bike friendly drains in them so their tires don’t go down into the drains. We don’t have to have necessarily all bike lanes and sharrows to have a bike route.”

“It would be cool. Because you know you can be on any old street but you know it connects you to bike friendly roads,” said Councilman Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large), a task force member.

Mushak said he had created a grid. “You’re never very far in any neighborhood from a bike route,” he said.

Department of Public Works Director Hal Alvord has pushed to coordinate bike lanes with the paving schedule, Mushak said, because that is the only budgetary allowance for striping.

“What we need is a striping budget that is independent of paving,” Mushak said.

There are 18 miles of bike paths in the plan, he said. The average cost per mile for striping, including signage and symbols, is $27,000, he said.

“What we want to do is really push for grants for bike lanes and for sidewalk improvements,” Mushak said. “I think it’s been neglected, that’s all we need to say. I think we’ve been doing a lot of things that other cities seem to be doing with grant money, we’ve been doing with our own funds. I think we can blow it open this need for improvements with other funding sources.”


16 responses to “Bike/Walk task force drawing up a plan for Norwalk”

  1. John Hamlin

    This is wonderful. What a great contribution for a huge step forward for Norwalk! This will be an enormous enhancement — and it will serve to bring the City in line with other towns and cities that are trying to become or have already succeeded in becoming more livable. Of course it’s too bad our own City staff was not capable of doing or willing to do this work. But kudos to the volunteers who have contributed their time to this!

  2. sofaman

    This is a big step forward. I hope the city will tackle the other major issue with cycle, and for that matter, automotive safety: In-town speeding. I grew up cycling all around Norwalk, and today, the roads are far more dangerous because of the speed of surrounding cars. There are several factors of why this is, but one certain contributing factor is that drivers rarely expect to see walkers/runners/cyclists on the road with them.

    The attitude has been voiced here in NoN before with the belief that cars alone “own the road”. And speeds of 50 m.p.h are very common on small suburban Norwalk roads. I’m not sure why, but this has become a very low priority for police to change this.

    Bike lanes are a great start. But drivers, who for years, have been used to having the roads to themselves, need to adjust their habits. Comments here, in other bike use stories, and even comments on the Danbury Times after a fatal hit and run bicycle accident, amount to “it’s our road, cyclists are an unnecessary hazard.” Well, in a way, who can blame them. Norwalk’s road planning mentality for years has been “If you are not a car, you don’t exist.”

  3. Mike Mushak

    John Hamlin, thank you. You are right. The good news is that Norwalk is catching up to other parts of the country pretty quickly now with a commitment by Mayor Rilling, the Health Department, DPW, Redevelopment, the Transit District, major developers, and members of the Common Council especially Bruce Kimmel to making our city more bike and pedestrian friendly. This is not rocket science nor is it expensive, relative to the benefits received. Studies have shown that for every $1 spent on bike lanes, for instance , you will see up to $4 in economic gains. That is why so many smart fiscally conservative Republicans around the country have jumped on board and can’t install bike lanes and trails fast enough in cities and states across the country. It is good for business and for attracting and retaining residents of all ages and abilities.

    A recent long car/bike trip (bikes on the back of the car that we popped off frequently to ride) that I took to the Rust Belt and Upper South in August was quite revealing. In cities large and small, in PA, OH, IN, and KY, we were surprised to find bike lanes and complete streets principles were quite common and being rapidly expanded. I took thousands of pictures and spoke with random local businesses and residents we ran into to hear their opinions, which were mostly positive. It was a great trip and energized us even more to see Norwalk leapfrog ahead to catch up.

    What was most remarkable was to see once struggling downtowns in post-industrial cities being reborn with activity including extensive bike lanes and thousands of new residents and businesses. Our major city stops where this was most evident were Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Cincinnatti, Indianapolis, Louisville KY, Lexington KY, and Pittsburgh, all cities experiencing an urban renaissance with established bike lane systems and trails that are expanding every year.

    Norwalk is well positioned for this same kind of resurgence, but it is not just infrastructure we need. We also need public education to teach rules of the road to ALL users of our roads, including cyclists, pedestrians, and cars. There will be a learning curve for everyone here which is typical of cities that are in transition to becoming bike and pedestrian friendly. New Haven is furthest along of cities in CT, but that city as well as Stamford, Bridgeport, and Hartford are all implementing improvements and going through the same process Norwalk is beginning to, so we have a lot to learn from each other.

  4. John Hamlin

    Michael — great work! The city owes you a debt if gratitude!

  5. Mike Mushak

    Sofaman, you are right about speeding. Studies show average speeds are reduced by 8 mph when travel lanes are reduced in size from interstate width of 12 to 14 feet to 10 feet , which is a new standard for urban and suburban lower speed arterials and collectors in the latest AASHTO and NACTO national standards that traffic engineers use as a guide.

    A pedestrian has an 85% chance of being killed if hit by a car at 40 mph, but that drops dramatically to 40% at 30 mph, and only 5% chance of dying if hit by a car at 20 mph. Speed kills, and too many of Norwalk’s roads are now dangerous speedways.

    Simple changes like narrower lanes and bike lanes will reduce speeds as all the national standards and studies indicate, and we have seen that happen on Strawberry Hill where average speeds are much lower than they were before the bike lanes were installed ( on that note, there are improvements planned to the SH bike lanes north of 95 to correct the awkward transitions between bike and travel lanes that were part of the learning curve of our dedicated city engineers, who are all on board with our efforts now in a truly cooperative and collaborative spirit with the Task Force).

    The state is also committed to these safety improvements, as we just recently saw that CT DOT has just reduced lane widths on Routes 123 and 124 in New Canaan, (Smith Ridge and Oenoke Roads). You can see the shadows of the old wider stripes where they were ground out on both sides of the road. This not only slows traffic but creates a wider shoulder for bikes and pedestrians in areas without sidewalks, which is so important as these users are there regardless of the infrastructure.

    This is a great step to improve public safety for all users, including cars, since lower speeds means less crashes with less injuries and deaths. We hope to see this happen next year on Newtown and Chestnut Hill (state Route 53) when this road is repaved and restriped by the state after the gas mains are all installed, and we need this desperately on Rt 123 (New Canaan Ave) in Norwalk where a jogger was killed a few years ago and where the lanes are all interstate width designed for 65 mph speeds instead of the 35 and 40 mph speed limits we have there and are ignored by almost everyone, even the careful drivers who respond to lane widths without even thinking about it.

    We call that “dangerous by design” and it is a huge shift for traffic engineers in recent years to see how important it is. Police enforcement is also important, but can only make a dent in speeding when the road design actually encourages speeding.

  6. I am not sure the bike path on Strawberry Hill is safe. It looks scary to me. The lane is pushed out because of car parking (I think)

    Perhaps the car parking needs to be removed from that major road?
    I am not sure what the solution is…

    but that lane for bikes does not look very safe to me.

  7. Joe

    I can think of two much more serious traffic safety concerns other than a handful of adults who want to play in traffic on their bicycles.

    First of all, we have thousands of illegal drivers crowding our streets and parking areas already. They don’t have valid drivers licenses nor insurance and, most importantly, they haven’t been properly taught and tested to drive like legal citizens are required.

    Secondly, Norwalk allows thousands of drivers to flaunt the distracted driver law-texting and cell phones. I see it happen every day within a minute after leaving my home. They’re either holding a phone or continually looking at their laps.

  8. Local Ed

    Would love to see a bike lane put on West Rocks Road I feel it’s already wide enough at some points, around All Saints School.

  9. Kathleen Montgomery

    Kudos to everyone who participated in this Task Force. It is a wonderful example of how collaboration can promote change. As my grandmother always said, “Where there’s a will there is a way!”.

  10. Lisa Thomson

    Thank you!

  11. One and Done

    After we build the bike lane on the Merritt, let’s build one on the rail road tracks, I95, and one across the Sound too. Stop fixing all roads for cars immediately to pay for these.

    Always make certain when performing public service or acts of charity to never forget self interest and self promotion. That’s what Jesus would want.

  12. Jim

    Hopefully these plans will encourage or force folks to stop riding bikes on the sidewalks of South Norwalk. I have almost been hit several times as I turn to see something. One guy touched me with his handle bars which swerved him into oncoming traffic on Water St.
    I think the work done so far is great and as it gets implemented will only make Norwalk a better city

  13. LWitherspoon

    Three cheers for the task force!
    Mike Mushak, how is it that one mile of striping costs $27,000? During the controversy over reducing Beach Road to one lane we were told that the cost of re-striping is very low, amounting to little more than the cost of paint. I know that paint for road striping is expensive but $27,000 per mile sounds very high.

  14. Ms Ruby McPherson

    Thank you Joe, do not forget about all these dirt trucks and these wide,big trucks that these illegals are driving. You can barely see how to get out your driveway.

  15. Mike Mushak

    Great comments from almost everyone.

    Local Ed, West Rocks is on the plan and was included in the 2012 Ped/Bike Plan, but in that study it wasn’t connected to anything else. We envision the WR bike route of bike lanes and sharrows (where width is restricted) to connect to an at-grade crossing with the the Meritt Parkway Trail (MPT), and continue up to Route 7 where it will cross to I Park and connect with the Norwalk River valley Trail (NRVT) to Wilton and Danbury. We also see it connecting to an Aiken St bike route passing all the condos down to Ward, then crossing Main Ave to Broad and over to Silvermine. Towards the east, WR would connect to a “Cranbury” network along St. Mary’s/East Rocks/Allen/Toilsome/Grumman/Partrick/Wolfpit. At the southern end of WR the bike route would continue along France to Park to Wall St and connect up with the Harbor Loop Trail and SoNo, or to the NRVT to Calf Pasture, and also to the East Coast Greenway (ECG) along Route 136 to connect with Westport or Rowayton/Darien.

    The point is we envision the entire city being connected with a network of safe bike routes, some being bike lanes and sharrows, others just designated routes with wider shoulders, scheduled sweepings to keep the shoulders clean, and bike-friendly catch basins which the DPW is already installing in places around the city.

    Joe, Ct was the 11th state last year to allow drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants, so there should be no excuse for anyone on the roads not to have a license. I also agree that distracted driving is a serious menace, enough to cause me to trade in my Harley for a Subaru with a bike rack 2 years ago after 35 years of motorcycle riding. I nearly got killed several times n the last few years on my Harley, watching as drivers on their phones swerved into my lane on winding roads where I liked to ride. Luckily I was paying attention and swerved to avoid being hit and killed, but my heart nearly burst each time. Bicycling is also dangerous combined with distracted driving, but not quite as bad as being on a motorcycle at a higher speed and closer to oncoming traffic. I always wore my helmet on the Harley, and always wear one on my bicycle. Traumatic brain injuries or even death just aren’t worth the cheap thrill of having your hair blow in the wind, I think.

    LWitherspoon, the actual cost per mile of bike lanes has been estimated around the country to have a range as low as $5,000 and up to $500,000, depending on conditions and scale of improvements and geographic area. Here in CT in general, the cost per linear foot of a single stripe is roughly $1 if done by a contractor (it could be much less if done in-house but there is a huge initial capital investment in equipment, and a large labor outlay, a discussion we already started with DPW but will likely end up as being always contracted out considering all the factors involved.)

    It is important to remember that when you repave a road, you already have a cost involved of restriping, and that usually but not always includes a shoulder stripe depending on the area of the city, the type of road (local, collector, arterial) and the width. If you want a bike lane along an existing curb where you needed a shoulder stripe anyway, and you had the room to add it, the total cost of adding a new bike lane relative to the original street design is effectively zero. That does not include bike symbols and signage however, which would run about 20 symbols per mile at $165 each, or $3,300/mile, and 16 signs per mile at $250 each, or $4,000, for a total cost of $7,300 per mile in that scenario where you were going to do a shoulder stripe already.

    In the meeting, I estimated a linear mile cost as $27,700 with a parking lane included as we have on Strawberry Hill.. Without a parking lane but with one extra new stripe in each direction ($10,560) and the 20 painted symbols on the street and 16 signs, the total cost is $17,860/mile. Parking lanes need a door zone buffer with diagonal hatching, and two extra stripes from the first scenario I explained, so you have an added cost from these extra stripes obviously. This is from a national study done last year and are not DPW’s numbers. Don’t crucify me if my math is off a bit here as I am doing this form memory using my calculator on my phone!

    Jim, we need to educate bike riders about the rules of the road (and not riding on sidewalks in urban areas) as much as anything else we do, as well as educate pedestrians and car drivers too. I ride in NYC all the time and can’t tell you how many times I have almost hit a pedestrian who stepped into the bike lane without looking, and we all see cyclists breaking the rules all the time, just as we see car drivers every day speeding and going through stop signs also. We don’t say no one should drive cars because a certain number break the rules all the time, just as we shouldn’t say bikes don’t belong on the roads because a certain number do the same thing. We all need to improve our habits, some more than others, and education and enforcement will be key as time moves on just as it is now an issue in NYC and other cities, as our entire culture changes and more folks choose to walk and bike more as an alternative to driving everywhere.

  16. Don’t Panic

    One of the things the state can do to help with this, if it is truly “committed” to safe streets improvements, which would address almost all of these items together, would be to share the proceeds from traffic enforcement fines. If the City got, say 15% of the take from a speeding ticket, it would help subsidize the cost of enforcement and improvements.

    This would cause an overall improvement in driving, riding and pedestrian habits (so the bike haters can stop complaining) and provide funds to help cover the cost of putting in the safety improvements (which would decrease to maintenance costs after phasing all the bike lanes in over time).

    State legislators who are running for office, are you listening?

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