New Norwalk task force will work to make city safer for cyclists, pedestrians

Norwalk Bicycle task force
From left, former Town Clerk Andy Garfunkel and Mayor Harry Rilling join Norwalk Bike/Walk Task Force members Jud Aley and Mike Mushak early Thursday near the East Norwalk train station.

NORWALK, Conn. – Hold onto your helmets – in this, Bike to Work Week, Mayor Harry Rilling has unveiled his latest task force.

Mike Mushak and Peter Libre will lead a committee to make Norwalk’s streets more bicycle and pedestrian friendly, Rilling said Thursday.

“Norwalk is a town that is poised for development in South Norwalk, in Norwalk Center and there is going to be a tremendous need for effective, efficient and safe connectivity, Rilling said.

The Norwalk Bike/Walk Task Force will look at educating both children and adults about safe biking, as well as safe management of city streets on foot, he said. It will work on getting handicapped-accessible ramps on sidewalks and getting parking spaces that are designated for handicapped people in the right places.

More than $1 million has been spent on studies that outlined plans to improve Norwalk for pedestrians and bicyclists, but, “As far as I know, nothing has been done,” Rilling said. “We need to look at those and find a logical place to start so we can start improve the infrastructure we have and then building into any planned development the bike lanes and other things.”

Mushak and Libre are very aware of the needs of bicyclists and what is in those plans, he said.

“We want to focus on the positive,” Mushak said. “We want to involve the public in the planning process because the city staff is overworked, just basically occupied with dealing with current projects, just don’t seem to have the time to do a thorough planning process. So what we hope to do is be a liaison between the public and the city decision makers.”

He listed the 2012 Norwalk Pedestrian and Bikeway Transportation Plan (which cost $90,000), the Norwalk Transportation Management Plan (which cost $500,000) and the Norwalk Connectivity Master Plan (which cost $200,000) as reference material for the task force.

The task force members are Deborah Lewis, Jud Aley, Gunnar Waldman, Nate Sumpter and “various Norwalk business owners,” Mushak said.

“I’m hoping to see Norwalk be a more bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly city,” Libre said. “I’m hoping that five years from now there won’t be so many pedestrian fatalities that there have been in the last five years. If I am not mistaken there have been more pedestrian fatalities than there have been motor vehicle fatalities in the last five years. Often times the kinds of measures that make a city better for bicycling make a city better for pedestrians. … I think it can be done in such a way that actually won’t make it worse in any way for drivers.”

The biggest news in the country in the last two weeks was Stanford University’s decision to divest itself of $18.7 billion in coal-mining company stock as part of a nationwide campaign to purge endowments and pension funds of fossil fuel investments, he said.

“That is the beginning of what I think is going to be a total change in the social climate regarding the acceptability of fossil fuel consumption,” he said. “… Divestment campaigns with respect to apartheid in the ’80’s or tobacco in the ’90’s led to big changes. The bike ties into that because you cannot solve the carbon problem without solving the transportation problem.”

This is Rilling’s fifth task force.

“Nobody can do everything,” he said. “I mean, I could never dedicate enough time to do the things these task forces are doing. So my way of thinking is that you find people with various degrees of expertise and interest and you ask them to be part of something to help improve our community, and I have been overwhelmed by the number of people who are just waiting for somebody to ask. I have not had anybody say no. They are looking for a cause, they are looking for a purpose.”

Former Mayor Bill Collins is spending a lot of time looking around SoNo, now that he is chairman of the SoNo Task Force, Rilling said.

“All the people I have asked were thrilled to be on the task force,” he said. “My way of thinking is you take people with common areas of interest, a good degree of expertise in a certain area and you put them together on a common mission to help improve Norwalk. To me that’s smart government. It’s all free help, costing the city not one penny. Maybe now and then I’ll take them out to lunch — but that’s on my dollar.”


12 responses to “New Norwalk task force will work to make city safer for cyclists, pedestrians”

  1. Don’t Panic

    This is terrific. Many of those interested in the safety of biking and walkability of our neighborhoods will be ready to stand and assist!

  2. One and Done

    “It’s all free help, costing the city not one penny.”
    How is outsourcing your responsibilities to unelected citizens not costing the city a penny? Weren’t you hired to do the job? You’ve lived here and worked here your whole life and don’t know what the issues are and what needs to be done and how to get it done?
    Sorry, some of us didn’t know we were going to pay for your on the job training.
    Also, when these task force people are engaging our city workers for information and taking their time away from what they are supposed to be working on….how is that not costing the city money?
    One and Done.

  3. rburnett

    @ One and Done: Too bad it took eight years of doing nothing to get rid of Moccia. Too bad you have no idea about putting people to work in order to improve upon the quality of life in our community. Too bad you have an agenda against the Mayor for your own purposes. You’re fooling no one with that pseudonym. Just sit back and watch things happen in spite of your negativity.

  4. Same old Same old

    Another useless task force… How many is Rilling up to?

  5. LWitherspoon

    Good luck to the task force. Norwalk needs to work harder to accommodate pedestrians and cyclists. I don’t care whether Mayor Rilling uses task forces or does everything himself – in the end what matters are results.

  6. Kathleen Montgomery

    @one and done and same old same old…. Really? How on earth can anyone be negative about Norwalkers wanting to help our city get better? There simply is no rational explanation for your sentiments. People volunteer in successful cities all across our country. Now that there is a leader who welcomes the help of citizens, be grateful. Maybe consider volunteering yourselves.

    Another thing: why not use your real names? I was raised to cautiously regard the motives of people who do not sign the names on what they write.

  7. Suzanne

    Greatest suggestion ever, Kathleen Montgomery: if you are going to complain about something, DO something about it. I appreciate the savvy of Mayor Rilling on this one: no one person can address every issue (that is why the President has a Cabinet) and using ready and willing volunteers with expertise who want the opportunity to help their town is golden. I hope each group has a program and sticks with it. Pragmatism would count for a lot resulting in solid data and enactment of plans. Mayor Rilling has a good formula and is using it – Hurrah!

  8. spanner

    Hope the security is better in East Norwalk with the bikes,has anyone checked the bike crime at South Norwalk train station lately?

    Some of the new Task forces seem not to be able to embrace facts or common sense,money for another police officer would be better spent at this point.


    Some of us have no clue on putting people to work not like some that were involved in NEON.Your right we all need to step back and let the experts thru.

  9. One and Done

    Kathleen Montgomery must not be paying attention to the retribution that many have suffered for daring to be vocal to this group of moon-bats.
    Suzanne. Legally appointed cabinet secretaries has nothing to do with working with the common council and department heads to do the job the Mayor was elected to do. These task forces are nothing more than the extra-constitutional Czars that the President has selected without any legal authority. They work outside the law and mostly get absolutely nothing done. Obama’s jobs task force ring a bell?
    One and Done.

  10. Suzanne

    Dear One and Done, I used the cabinet as a metaphor to illustrate how a leader gets things done. With a big job, help is always needed. The Mayor is appointing people with expertise to assist a staff, Common Council and other Committees and Commissions to follow through on studies that have cost the City hundreds of thousands. I say it is a good strategy.

    I also say that what gets things done is not only expertise: you can be really smart about something and sit around and think about it for a long, long time. No. It takes a great deal of optimism, a lot of planning and pragmatic follow through peppered with a lot of hope and conscious service to the community.

    It is a shame you don’t seem to have much of any of the above, One and Done. It might make your comments more useful and, perhaps, you a candidate for being of service instead of in servitude to a negative attitude.

    Partisanship should never blind progress.

  11. One and Done

    Wasting time and city resources is going to be the only by product of the task forces. There is already evidence of this. An effective executive would simply have directed the resources that work for him to put energy efficient light bulbs in place where they are not. That person comes up with a budget request to do so, showing the offsetting benefits in electrical consumption savings. It goes to council from there and approved and gets done. Creating a task force to do the jobs that people are already being paid to do is a waste. We need a mayor of action and instead he has created extra layers of bureaucracy. Very disappointing. And I did vote for him.

    One and Done.

  12. Suzanne

    “An effective executive would simply have directed the resources that work for him to put energy efficient light bulbs in place where they are not.” This is the same “resources” who are not effectively connected to computer resources, who often deal in paper transactions with reluctance, whose accountability is often suspect because there has been none for at least eight years under the previous administration.

    If you want to run an effective office, I would think it would be wise to go to allies who are ready to “jump to” to get things done on a volunteer basis, if necessary, without distracting the “resources” who already feel overtaxed (despite being, some have pointed out, way over paid.)

    What do or have the task forces cost us? How will they be effective? I, too, have that concern in that I do not want them to become part of the wheels that turn that don’t go anywhere. How will they determine to become not part of that, outside an antiquated and ineffective system, to get things done?

    “Wasting time and city resources is going to be the only by product of the task forces.” Perhaps this comment is part of what will keep the task forces on track and accountable. Certainly this has not been done with City government for many, many years.

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