Norwalk’s walkers and cyclists the focus of developing plan

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This vision of Norwalk’s South Main Street is laid out in a plan being developed by the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency.

NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk’s South Main Street is priority No. 1 in a plan being devised to make the city more pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly, with a raised intersection in front of police headquarters, and, further south, painted markings to indicate that motorists must share the road with bicycles, even giving cyclists priority in places.

The idea is to slow drivers down, said David Sousa of the New Haven firm CDM Smith, as he helped unveil a “Complete Streets” design being developed for South Norwalk and the Wall Street area by the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency to about 20 Norwalk citizens Wednesday at the Stepping Stones Museum for Children.

“If you can make streets conducive to walking and biking, automatically those streets become more attractive places for people to work and invest in,” Souza said.

Souza and representatives from two other firms say that, while West Avenue is challenging, there is a potential for a bike network to connect the areas, which would be phased in with an incremental approach as finances allow.

“They’ve come up with some concepts, they’re floating them back out to the community and they’re taking that feedback back in,” RDA Executive Director Tim Sheehan said. “They’re doing that at various points within the planning process, and this was one of the first issues to say, ‘here are some concepts we’re putting forward, what are the response to the concepts, what are the issues,’ and then they’re basically going to distill that, put that back in to the plan again.”

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The plan for Martin Luther King Drive, as shown out in a plan being developed by the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency.

Cyclists are already bypassing West Avenue, Francisco Gomes of Fitzgerald and Halliday said as he recommended pathways, bicycle boulevards and shared road (sharrows) access along the lesser-used roads that parallel the busy street. But Martin Luther King Drive has the potential to be an expressway for bikes between the South Norwalk Transit Oriented Development area, which surrounds the South Norwalk train station, and Rowayton, by narrowing the travel lanes for cars to make room for permanent – yet relatively cheap – bicycle lanes painted onto the road.

Cyclists would eventually pass the rebuilt staircases at Clay Street and Hamilton Street — or go up them — if the plan is implemented.

Those staircases as they exist now are vital, but they are not welcoming, Souza said. The redesign includes making the staircases curvy, adding lighting and flat portions with seating. There would be troughs for bicycle wheels to allow cyclists to move the bicycles up easily.

The firm did a pedestrian count on the staircases about two months ago, he said.

“We were surprised with the number of pedestrians actually using the staircases, mostly, of course, during the morning rush hour or during the afternoon rush hour, people heading to the train station,” he said. “But even people that have children that are walking down to Washington for shopping or go to the libraries, it’s a pretty popular shortcut to go from point A to point B.”

The problem with on-street parking on South Main Street would be dealt with by making cars share the street with those using two wheels.

“In some areas it will be necessary for cyclists to actually move in and take over the lane for a short period of time, in which case we’ll have signage to say bikes may use full lane,” Gomes said. “So this is as much an educational program to motorists as it is a facility for bikes. Along with this type of facility there would need to be enforcement.”

Side roads are generally used by Norwalk drivers as shortcuts because of the volume of vehicles out there, but drivers could adjust to not using them all, David Truesdale of Sasaki Associates said.

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Check out the new version of Henry Street, in planning stages with the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency.

One road eyed for a transformation is Henry Street between South Main and Chestnut streets. The “simple intervention” of painting the street in a colorful pattern and adding “bump outs” to slow cars down and provide sheltered areas for pedestrians would be relatively cheap and provide a space for public events, he said.

Water Street could also get a permanent bike lane. Gomes said the Washington Street railroad bridge is an “awesome structure” that ought to be lit up, not only for improved pedestrian safety at night but also for the aesthetics. The Monroe Street underpasses could be dressed up with lighting and murals, and room could be made for bike lanes by narrowing the travel lanes.

Souza said moving pedestrians closer to the road can actually make the road safer and help retail establishments. He was referring to “parklets,” decks built in parking spaces, which can be removed, he said. They allow restaurants to serve people on the sidewalk, which causes drivers to automatically slow down out of a desire to see who is out there, he said.

The trio spoke of “quick wins” — basically, improvements accomplished with paint and temporary barricades to give the community the idea of what can be done.

Some of the work to bring the plans to fruition will be funded by state grants, Sheehan said. The pedestrian access portion deadline is in January, while the Complete Streets and bike lane plans need to be done by late spring, he said.

Expect quick wins soon.

“I would say, realistically, implementation aspects would be closer to summer,” he said. “It goes out to bid and everything else, to do it.”

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Further down the road is this vision for Washington Street.



17 responses to “Norwalk’s walkers and cyclists the focus of developing plan”

  1. Don’t Panic

    Slowing traffic down is only half the story unless you are also increasing throughput. No mention of throughput in these plans is troubling. This city also keeps insisting on the use of sharrows. These are not viable in Norwalk due to the hostility of drivers towards bikers. With through traffic from other towns on West, this is not going to improve without enforcement.
    And enforcement is almost non-existent.

  2. M Allen

    @Panic – So has there been a study showing Norwalk’s drivers are more hostile to cyclists than in other areas? And nothing improves without enforcement along with a healthy dose of education. I’m not against bike lanes and revamping some areas to make it friendlier, just against the hyperbole that is oftentimes used to sell them.

  3. Mike Mushak

    I applaud the NRA’s efforts here. I missed the meeting as I was driving to Boston last night for the annual ASLA (landscape architects) convention, where about 6,000 landscape architects will spend a few days discussing planning issues just like this. I wonder why our Planning Commission is not involved in decisions like this. Seems like this would be a natural responsibility of the PC, just like in other cities where the Planning Commission is involved in important transportation decisions. Odd that Norwalk doesn’t follow typical patterns of established planning procedures.
    Interesting that the consultant said Water Street would be good for bike lanes, which I agree, but tonight the Zoning Commission will discuss the addition of on-street parking in front of 20 North Water St. in front of the new building. I support additional on street parking there but wonder if this consultant was aware if that plan that may make it harder to add bike lanes later. It may indicate a typical “silo” approach to decisions that Morwalk often takes-separate silos (departments) not talking to each other and making decisions on their own.
    I strongly support that the consultant look at the feasibility of narrowing the West Ave travel lanes in front of 95/7 from the interstate size 11.5 feet to 10 feet, following new federal standards to slow traffic in urban areas, freeing up enough room on that 4 to 6 lane portion to get bike lanes along the sides. Whatever the solution, anything that helps integrate bikes and cars in Norwalk, including education, is a good thing.

  4. nwkprobate

    Have you seen the current members of the Norwalk Planning Commission? That should answer your question Mike … they are Neaderthals!

  5. Suzanne

    What difference does it make if Norwalk drivers are more hostile or not?


    Why wouldn’t it be better that, as a City, we take a leadership position and ensure bicyclists are not hurt at all? This is part of the infrastructure required if we are to have a more livable City accessible to all. Anyone who thinks cars should have the priority are living in a bankrupt Detroit.

  6. M Allen

    Not hurt at all? Is that the goal? Is it possible? Exactly how many bicycle versus car incidents have we had in Norwalk? Higher than the average for a city our size? I imagine someone has a study that the city paid thousands of dollars for and some commissioner somewhere has hidden the results. Seriously, I’m not arguing against the concept of sittable, walkable, rideable, driveable, liveable cities. Just the hyperbole by which it is sold. You’d think the death and mayhem resulted in the streets running red with blood.

  7. Suzanne

    Hyperbole would be unnecessary, M Allen, if these plans were actually implemented and traffic patterns were shared. That is, cars, bicycles and pedestrians could comfortably walk along thoroughfares especially where businesses exist. That currently is not the case in most of Norwalk (unless you count downtown where it is so dead walking across the street is a fairly easy passage.) A uniform system of wayfinding for everyone does not require hyperbole, just implementation. Because no one that could actually get this to happen has been listening, the tenor of the arguments and comments have been heightened to, perhaps, a high degree. But, our neighboring towns, New Canaan, Wilton and Darien, have had blood on their streets because of this conflict between hard metal objects and human flesh. I would like to see, for once, Norwalk, just DO SOMETHING ALREADY and prevent any bloodshed from such an accident from happening at all.

  8. Independent Voter

    “Implementation aspects” by summer (corporate speak word salad, if ever I’ve heard it), in South Norwalk, instead of West Avenue, where the real issues are? I’ll believe it when I see it, especially if the RDA is involved.

  9. Independent Voter

    Suzanne – the NYTImes recently printed an article that speaks to your point and the recent anti-bicyclist attitude experienced by bike lane advocates from the Moccia administration. Norwalk has much catching up to do, but unfortunately, bikers will probably continue to be blamed in cases of accidents involving vehicles: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/10/opinion/sunday/is-it-ok-to-kill-cyclists.html?_r=0

  10. Tim T

    We have bike lanes on Strawberry Hill and Beach Road that are unused and now these simpletons want to put bike lanes on South Main aka Sniper Ally. Well at least it will make for quick escape for the crack dealers.

  11. M Allen

    Suzanne (or anyone else) – serious question: what do you think should be done first: Improved conditions for cyclists or create sidewalks where (literally) none exist? I ask because there are many parts of this city with no sidewalks or crumbling sidewalks and I’m just wondering which should take precedence. And that was a serious question, not an attempt to make a comment against bike lanes and user-friendly roadways. I’m for all that (in general terms). I’m just trying to understand where on the agenda the mile and miles of non-existant sidewalks rank when we’re looking at the walkable city that is so focused on SoNo, Wall Street, West Ave, etc.

  12. Suzanne

    M Allen, I don’t think one type of development precludes the other. In other words, if you are going to implement “wayfinding” that accommodates all of the “finders”, then every aspect should be developed simultaneously, in an orderly fashion and with a plan. Roadways are not built without curbs and lines down the middle, generally, and I believe to have a true transport strategy, all aspects, bike lanes, auto lanes and sidewalks should be addressed as a complete package where it is appropriate. The “appropriate” part is the “plan” part: not all roadways need bike lanes, not all roadways should accommodate pedestrians (like thruways, for example.) Automobiles need to be slowed in some cases and ameliorating buffers, like trees, grasses, shrubs, plants, etc., need to be installed to complete an overall picture in areas where that is necessary (as explained by Sasaki Associates above.) BTW, Sasaki Associates has an excellent reputation in urban development with its principal founder receiving highest honors in landscape architecture and urban planning. They are well-versed in planning holistic approaches to traffic and land use planning and are a good choice for Norwalk.

  13. M Allen

    Suzanne, you’re right, one type doesn’t preclude the other. Of course, cost does, but let’s not let that get in the way. And I’m sure Sasaki is a great firm, but their focus seems a tad bit narrow. Here is a plan for South Main Street and Wall Street. Yet where is the plan for installing sidewalks in other parts of the city? I know other parts of the city don’t matter as much as the continued gentrification of Historic SoNo, but do you know how many roads (not side streets) in Norwalk have no sidewalks or just intermittent sidewalks or goat paths? Should we not care about the children and adults walking down Broad Street or Newtown Avenue, Silvermine Avenue, or so many places like them? These aren’t main thoroughfares. They are where people live. For some it seems, walkability (and bikeability) begins and ends in certain areas. Let’s see the study that takes Norwalk as a whole. Then we can talk costs and then we can begin to prioritize. I’ll bet more people walk than ride bikes. Perhaps we should focus on safe walking throughout the city before drawing up plans for cycling down South Main Street.

  14. Don’t Panic

    The plan of conservation and development covers the whole city. Each project must for into that “master plan” but no project is ever going to have the whole city within its scope. Norwalk is required to meet is complete streets targets over time.

  15. Suzanne

    Firms do to make up the program to which they address the solutions: the client does. If Sasaki Associates’ plan is too narrow, that is because the City of Norwalk has not requested a comprehensive approach to the issue. This strikes me as the norm rather than the exception to land use planning issues in this town.

  16. Mike

    Norwalk did do 2 master plans for the entire City. One was the Transportation Master Plan and the other a Comprehensive Pedestrian and Bike Plan. The Pedestrian and Bike Plan looked at various gaps in the sidewalk network on several roads around town as well as developing a City wide bicycle network. These recommendations will still have to be turned into construction drawings and built as the funding is secured. The Transportation Master Plan was a complimentary study that looked at the road network and developed some concept plans and budget numbers to improve certain roadways and intersections. I believe that both of these study’s are available on the City’s web site.

    This TOD project is a little different as most of the funding received for this project restrict the study area to within 1/2 mile of the SoNo Train Station. The bicycle study area was expanded outside this area because of the need to look in context at a larger area to ensure bicycle connectivity to the train station is achieved. Another difference in this project is that actual bid ready detailed construction drawings will be developed and ready for immediate construction as construction funds are identified.

  17. Suzanne

    Recommendations, complimentary studies, concepts, identifying construction funding: when is there going to be a resulting implementation? It is a fools errand to continue to talk about and push for these improvements to our transportation infrastructure if nothing actually gets done. I would love to know when all of these plans were begun and how many years this town has been waiting, waiting, waiting. No more pretty pictures, no more concepts. Just build already. Norwalk is stuck in a cycle of studying, reporting “progress” and getting no where. Perhaps some of the transportation taxes going into the State’s general fund could make its way back to this town so funding could be “identified”?

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