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Norwalk committee gets first look at proposed Complete Streets ordinance

A diagram showing Complete Streets
An example of Complete Streets (Courtesy of Norwalk)

The Norwalk Ordinance Committee reviewed the first draft of a new Complete Streets ordinance at its meeting Tuesday that aims to design safer streets that better serve all users.  

Council member Josh Goldstein reworked a draft that the city’s consultant FHI Studio put together in an effort to make it more focused on the City. 

“This ordinance as you can see really does a couple things,” Goldstein said. “One, it establishes the policy of the City in terms of transportation infrastructure—i.e., the Complete Streets policy of Norwalk. The second is it establishes [the creation of] a design guide, which is the actual nuts and bolts and the technical engineering details of how to do Complete Streets. It sets who is responsible for actually implementing Complete Streets, dealing with exemptions and exceptions, and then, lastly, accountability—how we are going to keep track of how well we are doing and making our streets complete.”

Jim Travers, the City’s director of Transportation, Mobility, and Parking, said this type of policy is needed particularly in light of the rise in crashes taking place across the state and country. Garrett Bolella, the assistant director of Transportation, Mobility, and Parking noted that from 2015 to 2019, there were 14 fatalities on Norwalk city streets and more than 26,000 crashes, of which about 10% resulted in injury.

“Since 2009 we have had an 83% increase in fatalities nationwide,” Travers said. “In 2022, we surpassed 2021. And we surpassed 2020—those years we had the least vehicle miles traveled because we had a pandemic, but we still had the highest amount of pedestrian fatalities. It has risen every single year. And I think why Complete Streets are important is because doing the same thing over and over again doesn’t get you a different result.” 

Bolella said the Complete Streets policy includes not just the roads themselves but also the sidewalks and areas around the roads. 

“[The ordinance] will better help us design and plan and integrate the road side with that be future developments or adjacent land uses,” he said. 

Bolella said the policies will also allow them to design roads and streets that fit the neighborhoods and surrounding area, instead of a “one size fits all.”

“It will just allow a lot of flexibility for designers and engineers to be really context-sensitive in their approach, and to make sure that we’re meeting the needs of, of everyone on our streets,” he said.

Both Bolella and Travers said having Complete Streets legislation on the books will also help with applying for grants, as in 2021, Bolella said, “Congress directed the federal government and federal highways to adopt Complete Streets design while recognizing its contributions to safety.” 

“The state hasn’t reached its targets for reducing vulnerable road-users crashes, whether that’s pedestrians and bicyclists, over the past couple of years,” Bolella said. “So the federal government’s made a requirement that the state invest more money into addressing these issues and these crashes on our roadways. So it does position our City well to be competitive for grant funding.”

Goldstein said one of the things they want to more clearly define in the next draft is the Complete Streets Coordinator who is the “director of TMP or his or her designee.”

“That person is responsible for not only ensuring compliance with the Complete Streets policy and design guide, but also making sure that they are going to establish benchmarks … for reporting on the City’s compliance with this ordinance.” 

The committee will also work on establishing a process for exceptions that involves multiple stakeholders, although Goldstein emphasized that this “isn’t designed to be an invitation for there to be a lot of exceptions.” But when someone—such as a developer building a project—requests one, there is a ”group of qualified experts,” who will work with the Complete Streets coordinator to  consider their requests. 

Council member Melissa Murray also asked that the ordinance and policies include communications and information to residents, including potentially reporting some of the data around Complete Streets on the Mayor’s Dashboard.

“I would like to see some of this on the Mayor’s Dashboard or on our website, because if you’re new to town and you’re trying to learn this new system —you might not know where to look,” she said. 

Tanner Thompson, the chair of the Norwalk Bike/Walk Commission and the only member of the public who spoke at the meeting, asked that as the draft ordinance advances, more language around public transportation be added. 

“From my perspective, the holistic picture needs to include not only walking and biking, but also public transit,” he said. “Given the way the City is structured, with the Norwalk Transit District running the service but not really being part of the City per se, this ordinance isn’t really about the service that is run but it is about the facilities that exist—I’m talking about shelters and bus lanes and maybe pull-out pockets for buses.” 

Council member Lisa Shanahan, who chairs the committee, said this was just the first draft of the ordinance, which would be worked on over the next few months before moving to the public hearing phase. The next draft could be in front of the committee as early as next month, Goldstein said. 

In the meantime, the City is hosting a Complete Streets demonstration project at North Main Street and Ann Street on Sunday, June 23, from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Attendees can help paint the road and implement pedestrian improvements and amenities to show what Complete Streets can look like.

Comments

One response to “Norwalk committee gets first look at proposed Complete Streets ordinance”

  1. David Muccigrosso

    This is nice and all, but my main fear with this program is that it mistakes the trees for a forest. Or, more specifically, it mistakes a manual on how to get a few different tree species to grow alongside each other, for a recipe to create an entire forest ecology.

    Turning Wall Street into a “Complete Street” won’t remove the shiv in its side that is West Ave.

    Turning East Ave into a Complete Street won’t move the Dunkin to the other side of East Ave where it $%&!ing belongs.

    Ripping up Washington to make it match some cookie-cutter design won’t add anything to it — in fact, it’d be the single stupidest thing we could do to it.

    The real question is, are we REPLACING any existing processes with this one, or are we simply adding just ONE MORE process for stakeholders to wade through? Are we making it easier to build a street in the first place, or harder? And how is this supposed to mesh with our updated zoning code? Is anyone looking at that?

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