Norwalk Bike/Walk Task Force zooming along

The new bike lane on Strawberry Hill Avenue at Nathan Hale Middle School will be tweaked soon, Department of Public Works Director Hal Alvord said.

NORWALK, Conn. – A plan for bike lanes in all of Norwalk is expected by November, Bike/Walk Task Force Co-Chairman Mike Mushak said, just one indicator of the “full steam ahead” approach taken by bicycle advocates.

A wish list has been delivered to Department of Public Works Director Hal Alvord that includes five major areas that the task force would like to have bike lanes or sharrows put in, based on recommendations in studies paid for by Norwalk. A summary of the plans, that includes a priority list, is expected by the end of the year, Mushak said.

One fast result: The Strawberry Hill Avenue bike lanes in the vicinity of Nathan Hale Middle School are going to be tweaked, Alvord said last week, even if it’s not as drastic as the task force was hoping for. Bike lanes are coming to Fitch Street.

“Our plan did have an actual dashed line showing the bike lane through the intersection, but it meant narrowing the lanes and shifting all the center lines around,” Mushak said at last week’s Traffic Authority meeting. “That’s a radical approach. We think that’s the safest solution but we’re willing to compromise if the most egregious, dangerous parts of the bike lanes were fixed for now and then someday we’d have to come back and revisit the whole thing.”

Alvord said some of the turn lanes in the area aren’t needed, allowing for the creation of better bike lanes. That is where bike lanes abruptly become turn lanes; Alvord said a clear transition will be created.

Better signage will be installed to alert motorists to the possible presence of bicyclists, Mushak said. Alvord gave that a tepid endorsement.

“We can have sign pollution in Norwalk if we are not careful, and I am not sure signs help us that much,” Alvord said.

As preparation for bike lanes on the southern end of Strawberry Hill, the Traffic Authority voted to put up “no parking” signs on the east side of the street, between Beacon Street and Fitch Street.

Bike lanes are going to be installed on Fitch Street, Alvord said.

Alvord met with the task force Friday morning and went over the plans for road paving over the next five years. Mushak called the meeting productive.

“I suggested that we could look at roads that aren’t scheduled for repaving to put new stripes down and he was open to that idea,” Mushak said. “We are having a monthly meeting.”

The wish list includes Richards Avenue, where Mushak said there is plenty of room for bike lanes north of Connecticut Avenue

“Paint is cheap. None of this stuff is expensive, it’s just paint on the ground. We’re not asking for any curbs to be moved or anything,” Mushak said, after informing Commissioner Charlie Yost that, “We will be coming to you frequently with many requests.”

France Street and Park Street already have room for bike lanes, he said. Highland Avenue needs bike lanes in the area of the schools, and sharrows further south, he said. Seaview Avenue and Winfield Street have room for bicycles, he said.

Yost asked if there would be any effort to inform cyclists of the rules of the road. He asked if bicyclists could ride two abreast; the answer was that they can do that in a traffic lane but in a bike lane they are expected to ride single file.

“I have seen an awful lot of twos, and that is where the objections come, I think, from motorists,” Yost said.

“The educational component is actually critical now that we are moving ahead with a bike lane program,” Mayor Harry Rilling said, indicating that he meant educating drivers as well as cyclists.

“We intend on addressing that in the next few months, doing a concentrated educational effort,” Mushak said. “The rules of the road do apply to everyone.”

“I am very impressed by the amount of work put forth by the Bike/Walk task force in a short period of time,” Rilling said. “I know that we have been wanting to move forward for a very, very long time in the city of Norwalk with bike lanes that are appropriate for everybody.”

“Most cities can’t put in their bike lanes fast enough. That’s the kind of attitude that we are kind of hoping that Norwalk will be at very soon,” Mushak said, “where it will be so exciting that every time we repave a road we are going to look at all of our plans and we are going to get invited in and we’re going to say yes we are definitely going to do bike lanes here.”


24 responses to “Norwalk Bike/Walk Task Force zooming along”

  1. John Hamlin

    This will be an enormous enhancement to the city — and, as Mr Mushak says, “paint is cheap” (but it ain’t easy — to get the stayputters to allow this effort to move forward, that is), so it’s hard to imagine another improvement so dramatic for the city with so little impact on our tax bills. Go Michael Mushak!!

  2. Bruce Kimmel

    Excellent story.
    Today’s NY Times carried an article about the growing pains of NYC’s bike share program, which will probably double in size by 2017. I found the perspectives of both former Mayor Bloomberg and current Mayor de Blasio interesting:
    Bloomberg believed that in order to become a world class city, NYC needed to implement what experts call a complete streets program, which includes bike lanes and of course thousands of people on bikes.
    De Blasio, while agreeing with his predecessor, stresses how the bike share program, with the lanes, etc., will reduce auto accidents and calm traffic, both of which are major goals for his administration.
    Last week, the Times carried a great article about the Mayor of Fort Worth, Texas, who is an avid bike rider. She loves to ride around different areas of the city, along with city officials, to talk with residents. She calls these “rolling town meetings.” I’ve been told that cities in Texas are really expanding their bike lane programs.
    I am certainly glad we are finally fixing the fiasco on Strawberry Hill. It created a dangerous situation. How and why it was ever allowed to happen is beyond me.
    One final point: Norwalk has been trying to reduce speeding for years, but with little success. The experiences of other towns indicate that having a bike friendly town is one of the best ways to achieve this goal.

  3. Velodrama

    NYC is about 10 x denser population wise and has very wide avenues that are straight. Fort Worth is as big as Fairfield County crisscrossed with 100 plus foot wide streets laid out in a grid, mostly built within the last few decades.
    The councilman has within his power to redirect police resources to do traffic enforcement (as opposed to 18 officers on overtime shaking down a local business). Unfortunately he can not undo a 100 years of urban planning to accomodate the few who want to risk life and limb playing in traffic.

  4. Velodrama

    powers of the council from the charter….
    to maintain an efficient police force in the Fourth Taxing District at the expense of said district; to regulate and prescribe the duties of the police force in respect to criminal matters within said district;

  5. Dennis DiManis

    This is ridiculous. Rilling’s going to ride around on a bicycle, holding impromptu town meetings? The mayor of Fort Worth…I can’t believe this time-wasting nonsense spouted by irresponsible public officials who are unable to do anything about the myriad of serious problems confronting Norwalk. Vote every incumbent out of office.

  6. peter parker

    This is excellent. Bravo Mr. Mushak! Finally someone who can get something done.

  7. Mike Mushak

    Speeding is a serious problem in Norwalk, as well as the dangerous streets for pedestrians and cyclists. Bruce Kimmel and John Hamilin are offering well-informed observations. Commenters like Dennis who throw out insults while hiding behind aliases are not offering any valid viewpoint here about sincere attempts to improve public safety for everyone , except nasty generalizations. Can we keep the discourse to a higher level here, please?
    To add to Bruce Kimmel’s comment above, the mayor of Fort Worth who has advocated for bike lane expansion in that city (now with miles of lanes and more on the way) is a conservative Republican. And so is the mayor of Indianapolis who has turned that city around economically with over 200 miles of bike lanes that have helped make that city a vibrant destination for new businesses and residents. Plenty of research backs these claims up. Any business friendly politician should by behind these initiatives 200%, and it makes the streets safer, all for limited investment in just paint! What’s not to love?
    Meanwhile, Norwalk struggles to get our million dollars worth of taxpayer funded plans (by nationally recognized consultants) implemented as we have fallen years behind other cities across the country. But that is changing now, rapidly. Stay tuned!

  8. LWitherspoon

    Kudos to the task force. Will Beach Road be reduced to one lane, or receive a dedicated bike lane?

  9. Oyster

    Apparently, even when the signs are free, Mr. Alvord is “agin’ ’em”.


    Westport seems to have no problem with it’s share the road program and has plenty of signs.

    Mr. Kimmel, the bike-share program is a completely different thing from implementing bike lanes. NYC’s marriage of a corporate sponsor turned what should have been a simple program that numerous tourist cities around the country handle without problems into an administrative nightmare that is both user-un-friendly and excludes the folks who need it the most.

  10. Bruce Kimmel

    Oyster: But bike lanes are all over Manhattan; that what makes the bike share program successful, and safe. I used to occasionally run on the bike lane along eighth avenue from the mid-fifties all the way down to Times Square, it was great. And during the last transit strike, I was able to run north in a bike lane from Saint Nicholas Ave. and 125th St. well into Washington Heights.

  11. Dennis DiManis

    My use of a pseudonym doesn’t invalidate my opinion that public safety in Norwalk won’t be improved to any appreciable extent. This endeavor is nice for the tiny minority who ride bikes on Norwalk’s main thoroughfares, but to the population at large, it’s a meaningless PR stunt. Fort Worth’s mayor on a bicycle (how cute!) looks great in the Times and might mean something to Fort Worth but has nothing to do with Norwalk. I hope that’s a high enough level of discourse for you.

  12. Suzanne

    Oyster, I am not sure who needs the bikeshare program the most in NYC and it has had some financial and managerial setbacks but that was without any subsidies whatsoever for its operation unlike every other major transportation system in New York:
    The statistics in terms of users, miles ridden and number of rides is astonishing. So is the universal feeling that it has had a traffic calming affect with no fatalities suffered during its year long stint.
    In fact, other cities mentioned, including Washington, DC, the universal improvement in traffic safety with bikeshare programs. In NYC, it is hardly a disaster and, as described in the articles above, so much a part of the culture, New Yorkers can’t imagine a transportation system without them.

  13. michael foley

    Its Great That we are trying to move forward with new things in Norwalk !! Bike lanes that work and pose no danger to vehicles or bikes would be great !! Let Fix the traffic problem first, and the dangerous intersections we have in Our town, we have intersections in east norwalk the need stop signs. Lets make the roadway safe for everyone !! My 2 cents.

  14. Colin G

    Seems like the naysayers just went into the archives of the NY Post and are regurgitating everything that was said in the late 90’s about the bike lanes in NYC. The positive data surrounding bicycle lanes and complete streets has been growing for decades now. The data backs up the facts that bicycle friendly, walkable neighborhoods are more desirable, have higher real estate values and actually draw population and on top of that they are usually cheaper to maintain.

    Speeding is a problem of design not enforcement. If you get put on a drag strip/ Race track where all obstacles have been removed and get told to do 25mph and all that’s there for enforcement is a few speed limit signs its going to be very hard to drive 25mph. Conversely if you get put in a downtown with narrow vehicle lanes, bike lanes, people walking around, street trees, sidewalk cafes etc. and told to drive 75mph you would have just as hard a time doing that (because you might kill someone) the more a driver has to be aware of their surroundings the safer it is for everyone.

    Bike lanes are the impetus that gets more people riding. For awhile it will be those seen as daring or only “serious cyclists”, then there will be more and more, and before long you will see parents riding to the beach with kids and beach chairs in a trailer. This is not a pipe dream or far from normal its happening on both coasts, North and South, auto orientated Texas and crunchy Oregon. Cities smaller than 20,000 are adopting bike lanes and having success.

    So given the choice between more over-designed roads that cost a fortune and edging towards being a more bike/walk friendly community that will raise real estate values, increase everyone’s quality of life and generally make this a nicer town and make people look at Norwalk, that might not have done so before, as a place to live. I’m all for the bike lanes.

    My one gripe as a cycle commuter is that it would be appreciated if the Bike/Walk Task Force could focus on actually connecting a destination or two for those on bikes that want to get around, and not just dropping seemingly arbitrary routes around town. As much as I am happy to see infrastructure go in on Belden, Strawberry Hill, Richards or elsewhere. It would be much better in my opinion if you focused on one main corridor and built the network off of that. IE East ave from Route 1 to the Beach, or Belden/West Ave all the way to SoNo. 136 from Westport to Darien. 123 From New Canaan to Wall St. Much like cars people moving around on bikes actually have places to go; and people recreating on bikes don’t travel distances to ride a trail for a quarter mile. Just my $.02

  15. Oyster

    you misunderstand. NYC bike lanes are by and large successful (though people in the boroughs may have reservations).
    The bike-share program is not. It excludes far too many of the people who need it most.

  16. Bruce Kimmel

    Oyster: Good point about who benefits from the bike share program and who needs it the most.

  17. Joe

    The bike lanes by Norwalk High School are menacing and they are stupid. That’s coming to Richards Avenue?

    Bikes are for 12-year-olds.

    Bikes in traffic remind me of some movie scene in downtown Dehli at lunchtime. Yeah, let’s make Norwalk like that!

  18. Very Concerned

    Lets first eliminate those Mega Buses that have been riding around residential Norwalk for 35 years with nobody in them.

  19. LWitherspoon

    @Colin G
    Excellent points, especially regarding main corridors and networks that extend from them. I agree regarding Belden Ave; 1000 feet of a bike lane to nowhere doesn’t add much value. I believe the rationale is that the Task Force needed to take advantage of the road being re-striped, and there are plans to extend the bike lane onto West Avenue.
    Looking forward to hearing more on the plans for corridors from Mike “Master Plan” Mushak.

  20. sofaman

    Joe, are you not concerned with the safety of a 12 year old?

  21. Mike Mushak

    The Belden Ave bike lanes will continue on West Ave, and connect to lanes or sharrows on Wall, Butler/Harbor, and the Norwalk River Valley Trail in Mathews Park. Long-term, there will be bike lanes further down West to SoNo but the city failed miserably by allowing the state to widen West Ave in front of 95/7 and under the 7 overpass without bike lanes, which will be a costly mistake in the future to fix.
    DPW has a theory at this time that there will be very few on street bike lanes in Norwalk, without any connecting network, and they then use that theory to fight tooth and nail that no segments should be installed because they won’t connect to anything. It is a self fulfilling prophesy.
    They also believe that the NRVT will be off road most of its length on Norwalk especially through East Norwalk, including flying over Mill Pond in a multi-million dollar structure behind all give buildings on Mill Pond. That will never happen but that ‘s the reason now we are hearing there should be no improvements in East Norwalk at all! You see how this works. We are working on changing this approach and it will happen.

    It is a shame that we live in a city where we have to work so hard to get what other cities can’t install fast enough, but unfortunately that is the situation we are stuck with right now. It makes our mission much harder but the truth is Norwalk is not going to be left behind, and we are not going to become an economic backwater because of a couple of engineer’s stubborn refusal to accept that bike lanes and safer streets with slower traffic are coming, just as they are being installed in cities across the country that have figured out that this urban transformation that is happening includes Norwalk.
    Norwalk has suburban areas but we are definitely not a suburb. We are a city, and we should start looking and acting like one if we are going to remain competitive and vibrant. Or we risk being overlooked by businesses and residents who want to live in a place with safe streets for their families and a biking infrastructure so they don’t have to use their car to go a few blocks just to get anywhere. That’s what all the professionals who we hired to do our numerous plans and studies costing taxpayers millions are telling us, and I happen to agree with them, as do many others. We ignore the professional planners at our peril. Why?

  22. Debora

    Perhaps the bike-walk task force and the members of the public works committee can dig up the existing conditions report done by Fitzgerald & Halliday in 2011 in connection with the Norwalk Pedestrian & Bikeway Transportation Plan (Jan 2012).
    That conditions report may be sufficient to act as a baseline for the sidewalk discussions so the city doesn’t have to spend the $20k they just authorized to inventory and study the condition of the city’s sidewalks and footpaths (again).
    Realistically, other than the work done by DPW or by permit, how much could have changed in 3 years that this couldn’t get DPW started?

  23. Velodrama

    Deborah, better than that, they can use Google Earth to save even more money and just look at sidewalks from their taxpayer funded IPADs that they aren’t even using. That will save a lot of money. But don’t confuse saving money here with the need to [throw] away $3.1 million on a middle school ball field. We have our priorities. Bruce can use his IPAD to google a way to make free concrete too, because that’s where we need to save money so we can spend it on professional athlete grade athletic facilities for 12 year olds.

    This comment was edited for language.

  24. Dennis DiManis

    I drive on Strawberry Hill Ave 3 or 4 afternoons each week. There’s never anyone in the bike lanes.

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