Letter: Norwalk politicians should heed professional advice

By Mike Mushak

Zoning commissioner

To the Editor:

NORWALK, Conn. – I was happy to read the excellent letter by Jud Aley in The Hour on Aug. 6th, which addressed the need for bike lanes on Strawberry Hill Avenue as it is being re-paved, and the importance of modern bike- and pedestrian-friendly street improvements in general to the economic future of Norwalk.

Norwalk needs to catch up to other surrounding cities that are installing miles of safe, separated bike lanes on their streets to attract and keep both younger and older residents who are now looking for these types of amenities, and to stimulate business activity which studies show increases on “livable” streets, meaning streets that are safe for everyone, including pedestrians, bicyclists, and cars.

We can be sure that almost every garage, shed, and condo storage unit in Norwalk has a bicycle or two stored there (and many more if there are kids around), often gathering dust because our streets are so dangerous to ride on with excessive speeding and no proper bike lanes as most other cities around the country now have. Imagine a bike-friendly Norwalk where kids can safely ride their bikes to school, where working folks can commute to work or to transit hubs to make their connections,  and older retired folks can enjoy all of the offerings of Norwalk, all while improving their health and reducing car traffic. This is happening almost everywhere else in the country except here. Why?

Federal safety studies prove that installing bike lanes and slightly narrowing car travel lanes on local roads from interstate width (designed for 65 mph speeds, not local streets),  slows traffic automatically without enforcement.  Mayor Moccia has stated many times that the number one complaint from Norwalk residents to his office is speeding traffic. You would think he would see the simple and very effective solution here, which is really just inexpensive paint on the street. What’s the holdup?

Norwalk taxpayers have paid millions of dollars for professional plans and studies over the years calling for bike lanes and other safety improvements on our notoriously dangerous streets. These plans mean nothing if they are not implemented correctly, and unfortunately we have seen a dangerous and disturbing tendency for the Moccia Administration to reject or “compromise” these plans and ignore the experts’ recommendations, as we have seen most recently on Beach Road, Seaview Avenue, and West Avenue, where safe separated bike lanes were rejected on all three roads for dubious political reasons.

The 2011 Pedestrian and Bikeway Plan, which can be seen on the city website, calls for safe separated bike lanes on most of Strawberry Hill Avenue (between Westport Avenue and Norden Place with “sharrows”, or shared road, below that to Fitch Street) passing three schools, as well as on the upper half of Highland Avenue in Rowayton (between Flax Hill and Highland Court, with sharrows below that to Wilson Avenue), also passing three schools. Expert advice must not be ignored or “compromised”  this time on these two newly re-paved streets, especially where children’s lives would be risked near the 6 schools.

We must demand that our politicians begin to start implementing the professional plans we have all paid for with our taxes to help bring Norwalk into the 21st century.  Otherwise, every Norwalk resident who walks, rides a bike, or drives a car should vote in November for folks who actually will take the issue of speeding and safer streets seriously. In Norwalk, as elsewhere, public safety must never be ignored or compromised.

Thank you,

Mike Mushak, ASLA


9 responses to “Letter: Norwalk politicians should heed professional advice”

  1. Joe Espo

    Nancy Mark: After seeing this morning’s editorial content, and especially the attack video on Dunne, I wholeheartedly regret that I sent you a check. You’re the MSNBC of Norwalk: rabidly and blindly ignorant of why you might suffer a dwindling audience. You guys indeed are left wing charlatans with an agenda. God, it’s almost as if you’re afflicted with a kind of turrets syndrome when it comes to opprtunities to trash the mayor and everyone that doesn’t have an affinity for Ward B democrats. Go ahead, moderate my comments. No more money from me.

    (Editor’s note: Apparently we should allow you to trash people, including their appearance and hygiene, but we should not report on attack videos posted in the public domain or run people’s letters to the editor. We are neither MSNBC, nor Fox News. Most people see that. You are entitled to your opinion.)

  2. Norwalk lifer

    Dear Mr. Mushak:

    I agree with you, Norwalk would benefit of a multi transportational study, there are too many cars on roads not designed for such heavy traffic, Strawberry Hill is one of them, even with Norden’s on a side road and it’s subsequent closing, the traffic flow still remains clogged. The additional of traffic lights and stop signs doesn’t seem to help the situation. Bike lanes would go a long way to help ease the traffic situation, and many people I know do pedal to work on Route 7, I fear for their wellbeing as I watch cars speeding by them at break neck speed. The people I work with that bike do not smell, they are fit, and they seem to enjoy their ride to and from work. If you travel to Europe, many cities, especially the Nederlands, utilize bikes as a main form of transportation. Of course, the cost of petrol helps them in making this choice, but it’s also a cultural thing. You are right on this, and it would be interesting to see the outcome of a study.

    Norwalk Lifer

  3. Norwalk lifer

    Dear Mr. Espo:

    In fact, you are wrong about your assessment, the audience I see here is both vibrant and diverse, not one sided, both sides argue equally to their sensibilities, that’s called debate. But when the personal penetrates the discussion, that’s called attack, and attack in my view, is a sub-standard, and low intellect way of arguing a point. By the way, humor, when injected into sardonic prose, must be precise and timed well; for if it isn’t, it falls flat.

    Humor is sublime, and there is indeed truth in jest, and then there’s just ranting, a monumental waste of time, with only one benefit, to leave the writer sated in their quest to evacuate some frustration. But to the reader? it’s just noise mixed in with the signal.

    Norwalk Lifer

  4. L boogie

    @joe espo dont get upset over a little comedy video. Mr.Dunne has written a lot about democrats and we decided to turn the tables on him. You know people who live in glass houses should not toss rocks. I wonder if RUN DMC met BIll DUNNE.

  5. Mike Mushak

    Thanks for posting my letter, Nancy on Norwalk. I am sorry Mr. Espo is so upset by it. I like Mr. Espo, as he adds a perspective that represents many folks in Norwalk.

    I am surprised Mr. Espo is so disturbed by criticism of Bill Dunne, Mayor Moccia’s nominee for the Planning Commission who is up for a vote on Tuesday. However, I happen to agree with Mr. Espo on this matter, when he recently complained on this site about how no one would want to serve on volunteer commissions because of the personal attacks they are subjected to.
    In that same thread, Mr. Espo repeatedly criticized me, a zoning commissioner,by calling me among other things a “lawn mower not qualified to comment on urban planning”, which insulted my long 31-year professional career as a licensed landscape architect (with a BS from Rutgers, 1982, and licenses in 3 states, CT,NY, and NJ)and my profession itself (landscape architecture, a well-respected multi-disciplinary profession which includes a wide knowledge of urban planning issues and natural systems, one of the four design professions including architecture, engineering, and urban planning.) I do mow my own lawn, so he is partially correct I guess, but to ridicule my career and the many contributions I have made to Norwalk public spaces and parks, all free of charge as a donation, is a really low blow.
    Mr. Espo clearly has a double standard: one for folks who he disagrees with like me, who can be called names and have their career and civic contributions and name dragged through the mud so to speak, and one for folks he adores, like Mr. Dunne, who are subjected in his mind to unfair criticism.

    However, I forgive Mr. Espo, for when he is not personally attacking others like me, he does offer a point of view supporting NO progressive change in Norwalk that is worth debating.

    Which brings me to my point about his poor opinion about bicyclists and their right to ride on our streets. It baffles me how so many GOP folks like Mr. Espo in Norwalk who are supposedly fiscal conservatives just don’t get it! Let’s see, bike lanes are a minimal investment (just cheap paint on the roads, that’s all), and great economic rewards as many studies show, including increased business activity. Seems to me any GOP politician and resident worth their salt should be begging for bike lanes, as they are in other parts of the country because they “get it”.

    Check this out, about the conservative GOP mayor of Indianapolis who is a STRONG supporter of bike lanes, who has increased that city’s bike lanes from 1 mile when he took office to 75 miles now, and up to 200 miles within a couple of years, transforming the city’s economy in the process:

    Here’s a short Q and A passage quoted from the article:

    “When did the idea to create bike lanes crystallize for you?
    As the mayor of a big city, it’s about talent attraction and business attraction, and you need to know the trends that are coming forward now. So when you look at what young people are looking for, when you look at businesses who want to hire those people, you have to create that kind of city, and that’s really what we’re trying to do. I like to ride bikes—it’s not a secret in the city—but I didn’t do this because [of that]. It was really about creating the culture within the city.”

    So, Mr. Espo, smart Republicans do get it when it comes to bike lanes. To quote Mayor Ballard, “it’s about talent attraction and business attraction.” Duh. How much do we pay Economic Development Director Tad Diesel to “attract talent and business”, and where is the evidence he is actually doing this somehow? Where are the smart Republicans in Norwalk? Where are the bike lanes our millions of dollars of professional studies call for but which Mayor Moccia and his staunch GOP supporters like Councilman Dave McCarthy ignore with impunity?

    Norwalk really is like the Twilight Zone at this point, a time-warp stuck in the car-oriented 1970’s governed by leisure-suited good old boys where bikes and pedestrians are considered nuisances, and safe crosswalks, sidewalks, and bike lanes are “left-wing” wacko ideas, not smart solutions to real safety problems as ALL other well-managed cities around the state and the country have figured out by now.
    In fact, Norwalk under Moccia is a tragedy about lost potential and scary authoritarian government, where Dick Moccia controls every important decision on the land-use boards through secret meetings, as has recently been reported on, even though he is ill-equipped with any professional experience to plan and manage a city with real urban problems and serious safety issues.
    How sad for all of us watching our taxes go through the roof as Norwalk falls decades behind on most urban planning benchmarks. I hope and pray that Mr. Dunne, if appointed, will NOT support Mayor Moccia’s right-wing reactionary anti-progress agenda which is allowing Norwalk to fall so far behind other cities, and makes us a case study in the planning profession around the state on how NOT to plan a city, with our intentional ignorance of our own professionally prepared Master Plan and our continuing Moccia-era worship of car-oriented sprawl as our once-thriving downtown areas continue to suffer.

  6. Don’t Panic

    Perhaps we should trade in the car the City pays for issued for the Mayor’s use and make him ride around to various ribbon cuttings on a bicycle. You cannot know how unbelievably dangerous riding a bike here is until you’ve tried it. The catcalls from drivers who tell you to “get off the road” who truly believe that the roads are for their use only, even though we all pay our taxes to maintain them is disrespectful in the extreme.
    This “me first” attitude prevents this city from reaching its potential.

  7. Piberman

    Why would anyone expect that that a P&Z that bestowed “Big Box Alley” on Route 1 and appears to be replicating that mistake on Rt 7 would favor bike lanes ? Why would anyone expect a new appointment of a dependable activist change the orientation of the P&Z ? Before the P&Z can enter the “modern age” Norwalk requires two viable political parties. Rather than criticizing Mayor Moccia who is only following the standard practice of consolidating City governance along decades rule why not reserve criticism for Norwalk’s Democratic Party leadership widely regarded as an embarrassment ? Even in the midst of a 4 man primary neither the Party leadership nor the candidates themselves have offered anything resembling a thoughtful discussion on how to improve City governance. If Democrats are so determined to replace Mayor Moccia might they first extend the civic courtesy of explaining just how they plan to improve matters. Simply critizing the Mayor for the City’s decades long deficiencies as the state’s high cost producer of municipal services doesn’t bring change. Thoughtful ideas and discussion does. If Democrats can do better then let’s hear their plans. Hint: “Moving Norwalk forward isn’t a plan.” It’s just a sloppy slogan.

  8. Don’t Panic

    It isn’t often I find myself agreeing with Piberman, but the point is sound. It isn’t enough to just criticize. However, suggesting that no Democratic candidate has put forth a plan is just plain wrong. Mr. Miklave has put forth far more than a slogan. His detailed proposals have been in the news for months, and are available online at http://www.miklave.com.

    Quite frankly, this incessant insistance that “none of the candidates” has a plan is getting old. Endlessly repeating it doesn’t make it true.

  9. Suzanne

    If you think, piberman, that none of the candidates for the Democratic nomination for mayor have been saying nothing more than slogans rather than solutions, you have not been reading. In addition to the WEB site cited above by “Don’t Panic”, many questionnaires have been presented and answered by the candidates through Nancy on Norwalk. Saying there is no substance among them is GOP disinformation in support of a Mayor that is truly damaging our town.

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