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.”