Norwalk Bike/Walk Task Force planning ahead

Norwalk Bike/Walk Task Force Chairman Mike Mushak goes over elements of the tentative city-wide bike route map, as a GIS version is projected on the screen behind him at last week’s task force meeting.

NORWALK, Conn. – The focus turned to walking at a recent meeting of the Norwalk Bike/Walk Task Force, where progress was made on digitizing a city-wide map of potential bike routes and plans were begun to be made to educate the public.

Progress included the unveiling of a page on the city’s website, which task force members said they hoped would soon feature a link for emailed comments. Task force members talked of organizing or co-sponsoring a bike rodeo for children, and maybe organizing groups to encourage people to walk.

Kaitlin Latham of the Health Department had done rudimentary work in digitizing the city-wide map of potential bike routes recently created by Task Force Co-Chairman Mike Mushak by integrating the studies paid for by the city onto one document. Latham said she used the city’s GIS (Geographic Information System) to overlay the various routes in an ongoing project, to be completed in time for the November Traffic Authority meeting.

The hope is to then post it on the web page for public comment.

“We consider this a work in progress and it will always be a work in progress,” Mushak said. “This is a wish list of bike routes and we realize this is going to be a multiyear plan It’s not going to happen next year, or the year after. But we need to start somewhere.”

Judd Aley did the work to create the webpage, which includes links to the Norwalk Bike/Walk Task Force’s Summary of Connecticut Bike and Pedestrian Laws, the Norwalk Connectivity Master Plan and the Norwalk Pedestrian and Bikeway Transportation Plan. There’s also a link to the Sound Cyclist Bicycle Club web page and the National Center for Safe Routes to School web page.

It was initially suggested that a link to the city’s Customer Service complaint line be included on the web page.

The group decided to put a link on the task force’s web page to submit emails to the task force rather than direct people to customer service, after hearing complaints about customer service from task force member Deborah Lewis.

Councilman Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large) agreed there are issues with customer service.

“It’s effective but it’s hard to track problems. The tracking part of it which was originally part of the whole goal never really worked,” he said.

And, “Some of the folks, their attitude is wrong. … When it gets a little bit complicated they end up lecturing the people who call.”

If you get to customer service manager Connie Blair you’re OK, he said.

The talk turned to walkers. Latham said the Health Department has been auditing the walking routes packaged to the public about 10 years ago as the “Become a NorWALKER program.” She said the goal is to redo the maps and edit the parts that “are a little shady.”

Lewis said the NorWALKER program never took off.

“It never became anything more than just the routes and it really needed to have people behind it to get other people out there walking,” she said.

“That sounds like a goal for us,” Mushak said.

“There are people out all over the place, all over Northeastern Norwalk walking every morning,” Kimmel said. “It’s great. It’s great if you could build on that.”

Nancy Rosett said the Sound Cyclist Bicycle Club could help to organize bike rodeos, where children will learn about bicycle safety. Norwalk Police Sgt. Terry Blake has a lot of experience organizing them, she said. She said she thought that could be done early next spring.

Aley said adults need education – and maybe tickets.

He said he had been at the intersection of Wall Street and West Avenue recently, as a driver. “Some guy came weaving through traffic, went right through the red light, then into the new bike lanes and disappeared on Belden and irritated the hell out of me – and I ride a lot,” Aley said.

The task force had discussed signs at a recent meeting with the Department of Public Works, he said. The signs would tell bike riders that they should stop at intersections, he said, but they had been ruled out.

Mushak said a police officer had been there and recommended against posting the rules of the road because people will call the police department and complain.

Plus, “Sometimes you can have so many signs that you just start ignoring the signs,” Mushak said.

Aley said REI, an outdoor gear and clothing store on Connecticut Avenue, does a lot to educate people and he hoped to put a link to the company on the task force’s webpage. He said he’d spoken to the manager at REI, who he quoted as saying, “I’m sorry, I hope I don’t offend you but Norwalk is the most bike-unfriendly place I have ever been.”

He had also been given contact information for REI headquarters. “He said they are very big on promoting walking and bicycling and he thinks we we’ll get a lot of help from them,” Aley said.

Lewis said REI “was sort of promised stuff by the city that they didn’t get” when the company built its new Connecticut Avenue store several years ago.

That prompted a Mushak story, about a Connecticut Department of Transportation meeting he almost missed. It was about the work now underway on Interstate 95 and the replacement of the bridges on Taylor Avenue, Fairfield Avenue and Cedar Street.

There was talk of putting in sidewalks on Connecticut Avenue from Taylor Avenue to the new firehouse,” he said. “I said, ‘What about from firehouse past REI? If you’re going to have everything dug up it makes sense.’”

Two months later he got an email saying they were including the sidewalks, he said. “You go to these meetings and you may feel insignificant or that they’re not listening to you but my experience is the DOT actually does a very good job of listening,” he said.


6 responses to “Norwalk Bike/Walk Task Force planning ahead”

  1. John Hamlin

    Great work on the task force — a true contribution to the future of the city.

  2. Mike Mushak

    Thank you John Hamlin for the kind words, and Nancy on Norwalk for the good coverage. Norwalk is heading in the right direction, and we are having great cooperation with the Health Department, Police Department, Redevelopment Agency, and DPW. On a list of bike-friendly cities in CT done last year, Norwalk ranked 109 out of 126. We are trying real hard to change that, and rank in the top ten in the next couple of years. We can do it, and everyone will benefit, including our local businesses and new development projects, as well as all of our neighborhoods.

    If anyone has any ideas or feedback, feel free to contact the Task Force through me at 203-943-9535, or at [email protected]. Or just come to our meetings which are always the first Monday of the month, at the Health Department Conference Room, 7 pm. The next meeting will be December 1st.

  3. I can neither Bike Nor Walk

    one possible photo caption: “pass the Zoloft please”

  4. Guardrail

    Who will use the bike lanes? Commuters? Shoppers? Delivery people? Students? Faculty? Parents shuttling kids to school & activities? Police? Church-goers? Trades-people? Movie/restaurant/bar patrons? Realtors & their clients? Any of the above?

  5. Mike Mushak

    Guardrail, to answer your question, all of the above! Lol.

  6. Guardrail

    Almost no one having a destination and a deadline (and maybe a cargo and/or passengers) will trade car travel for the time-consuming problematic inconvenient absurd nuisance of riding a bicycle.

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