Potential SoNo onstreet parking, cyclist safety to be debated

Seven on-street parking spaces would go into this North Water Street location if a plan proposed by the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency is approved by the Norwalk Zoning Commission Wednesday.

NORWALK, Conn. – A proposal to put seven on-street parking spaces across from the Maritime Aquarium, just north of a busy SoNo intersection, will be debated at this week’s Norwalk Zoning Commission meeting.

Some commissioners said last week that the proposed road changes to North Water Street will make it more difficult for bicyclists, in direct opposition to the goal of the plan. Another protested the narrowing of the proposed sidewalk to be installed in front of the development under construction there. One said putting more parked vehicles there would, by necessity, mean more pedestrians on the street, which is the intention of the improvements.

Andrew White, an engineer with Tighe and Bond, said at Thursday’s Plan Review Committee meeting that North Water Street travel lanes north of the Metro North bridge would be narrowed from 11 feet wide to 10 feet wide, under the plan approved by the Department of Public Works. The proposed sidewalk in front of the development, now called SoNo Ironworks, would be reduced from the approved 16-foot width to a 13-foot width. Travel lanes in that area would then be 11 feet wide, with one row of on-street parking. Pedestrian bump-outs across from the aquarium parking lot’s driveways would prevent parking there.

SoNo Ironworks is being built in the location of what was the Norwalk Company building. Local activists tried to save the facade of that building, but it was demolished to make room for a wider sidewalk.

Norwalk Senior Planner Dorothy Wilson said that a 13-foot-wide sidewalk would still be wider than what was there before. She called the three-foot difference a “slight” reduction.

“When you placed that new building there it was to have that wider sidewalk,” Commissioner Nate Sumpter said. “It seems to me if you had a problem with it at that time. That would have been the time to have brought that forward, when we talked about the building and the size of the street. To do it now I don’t agree.”

Norwalk Zoning 105
Pasta Nostra is planning to move from Washington Street into the Sono Ironworks development now under construction (formerly called 20 North Water St.). The restaurant has an application in front of the Zoning Commission for a tenant fit-up.

Other planned improvements to the road include sidewalks under the MetroNorth bridge that would be flush with the road, to provide wider sidewalks but still allow trucks to go into a MetroNorth loading dock driveway there. Textured pavers, like the ones at the Marshall Street intersection just up the street, would be installed under the bridge to slow traffic down.

The entire idea, White said, is to make the roadway between Washington Street and Marshal street more pedestrian friendly in a Norwalk Redevelopment Agency project.

Sumpter wondered how making the travel lanes smaller north of the bridge could improve safety for cyclists.

White said it would slow drivers down.

“Personally, as a bicyclist, I would rather have a vehicle going slower through that 22-foot stretch now, as a 20-foot stretch, than having it go faster with a perceived wider lane,” he said.

“What does that have to do with the amount of space that you have?” Sumpter said. “…   It sounds like it’s going to be a little more difficult for someone on a bicycle to have to share that same area with a car. Don’t you agree?”

“I would have to form an opinion,” White said. “I’m sorry I don’t have one at the moment.”

Commissioner Jim White agreed with Sumpter.

“I’m on that road quite a bit,” he said. “I don’t see anybody speeding. To me, that seems like that’s a tight space already.”

He went on to challenge the idea of the parking spaces just north of the intersection of North Water and Washington Street.

“Now you’re going to have motorists exiting vehicles,” he said. “I see that as a conflict with what you’re trying to achieve. … That’s a really busy stretch of road, now you’ll have seven cars stopping, backing up, and people getting out. I see that as a problem.”

That inspired RDA Executive Director Tim Sheehan to join the fray.

National studies and urban planners from across America say that pedestrians feel safer when there are parked cars between them and motorists, he said. There’s also an economic issue with a perceived lack of on street parking in SoNo, he said. DPW staff have been working with P&Z on the project and have signed off on it, he said. The last iteration of the plan called for a smaller roadway but DPW Director Hal Alvord added two feet to it, he said.

“The DPW staff, with all due respect, are the professionals with this as well as the engineers that we have hired to ultimately make the determination to what’s feasible with the roadway,” he said.

“I respectfully disagree with those findings,” White said. “Plus you’ve got the in and out of the cars. There’s a lot of queuing at that intersection right now and you’ve got seven additional cars that you have to deal with. You can get additional pedestrian protection by putting bollards on that sidewalk.”

Sumpter backed that up, but Commissioner Emily Wilson said she disagreed to an extent.

Washington Street has on-street parking, she said, and it works fine. It might be wider than the proposed version of North Water Street, but not that much wider, she said.

The goal is increasing foot traffic on North Water. “You’ll have pedestrians just because there are people parking there,” she said.

Sumpter and Jim White said there should be a public hearing on the matter, but they are not members of the Zoning Committee. The matter will therefore be discussed by the commissioners only at Wednesday’s Zoning Commission meeting, at 7:30 p.m. in the council chambers.


13 responses to “Potential SoNo onstreet parking, cyclist safety to be debated”

  1. jlightfield

    Last fall, noted urban planner Jeff Speck, specifically recommended on street parking on North Water street to support the proposed retail on the ground floor of 20 North Water Street. The goal of improving that pedestrian corridor was to encourage pedestrians to walk from the Maritime Garage to Washington Street. Streetscapes are important and parked cars do instill a perception of safety to pedestrians.

  2. Taxpayer Outrage

    Once again taxpayers are being manipulated through the dishonesty of the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency. Both the architect Bruce Beinfield and the Redevelopment Agency insisted that the sidewalks needed to be at least 15 feet wide – one of the key reasons the old Norwalk Company building had to be demolished. Suddenly, after construction is started, it’s okay to have narrow sidewalks again.
    North Water street is already narrow and congested with cars and hundreds of pedestrians who visit the aquarium each day. Adding cars trying to park and pull out of the spaces could be a threat to public safety.
    This is just another example of the Redevelopment Agency acting against the interests of Norwalk Citizens. If they wanted to do this, they should have been honest about it from the beginning. I hope Mayor Rilling does an in-depth review of the Redevelopment Agency sooner rather than later.

  3. EveT

    How many of the zoning commissioners make it their business to physically go to the site of the proposed change and observe the flow of pedestrian, bicycle, and car traffic? You can sit in a room and watch an engineer’s presentation and look at diagrams, but that is not as informative as actually spending half an hour at the site observing what actually goes on.

  4. Casey Smith

    Are there really that many cyclists in South Norwalk?

  5. Oldtimer

    To have parked cars between the bikes and the moving car traffic will require bikes on the sidewalk. Is that a good idea ? Anything that makes the road look narrower generally slows down traffic, even if it is only lines on the pavement.

    1. Mark Chapman

      @ Oldtimer.

      The story refers to pedestrians having parked cars between them and the moving traffic. The bikes would stay on the road.

  6. Tim T

    Casey Smith
    No there are not that many cyclists in South Norwalk or Norwalk overall. This bike lane nonsense is a complete and total waste of tax dollars. When we had Moccia he controlled this group of nuts that think people are actually going to ride a bike to work in the snow.. The problem is now we have tax and spend, promise everything to everyone Rilling. HOLD ONTO YOUR WALLETS

  7. The Cluetrain Manifesto

    What about skateboarders, segways, golf carts, and rickshaws? Why must the bikers always get more than their fare share?
    Seriously. Make North Water One way going north. Make North Main one way going south.
    Or stay with the 19th century traffic pattern.

  8. M Allen

    One way streets? Blasphemer! But seriously, why not make North and South Main and Water one way all the way through? Why not get ingenious with Connecticut Ave and drop a Jersey barrier down the center and make it no left turn? Why? Because nobody wants to look out 20 years in the future and see more and more cars and congestion are the future. They just want to focus on crying over box stores and bike lanes. Bikes are nice, but cars are the issue. Making it harder for cars will only heighten the increases in road rage and aggressive driving we see.

  9. Suzanne

    This is what happens when the full scope of a traffic plan is not examined. I mean, really, arguing over the presence or absence of seven parking spaces? What is the scope of the impact of these seven spots? How much traffic would be caused/or not? How many pedestrians do seven car spaces yield on Water Street that makes these seven spaces so important? How much more safe do seven car spaces make pedestrians feel on a narrowed sidewalk? Looking at this kind of information on such a limited basis is the height of bureaucracy gone wrong. It is a waste of time and, therefore, taxpayer dollars that are supporting the processes of governance. Why doesn’t Norwalk step up and look at the full picture, get a real plan and implement? Make the seven car spaces phase one of a developed traffic plan that considers the entirety of the area. Otherwise, it is a waste of time and money.

  10. Don’t Panic

    Again, the question of throughput is not being addressed. If done right, you can increase traffic through the area, but have them move at a slower, safer, but steadier rate of speed. Good for everyone.
    Also, the width of the sidewalks appears to have played into the decision to demolish the facade of the previous building. If that is the case, then narrowing them again does appear to be a shell game of the type we must stop permitting developers to play.

  11. jlightfield

    For the record, the sidewalk on North Water Street was previously 4 feet. The current approved site plan called for 16 foot sidewalks. In order to add cars the sidewalk would be 13 feet.
    Regardless of the ultimate width of the sidewalk, the zoning commission should ensure that no public infrastructure such as light poles or the traffic signal boxes should be placed on the sidewalks. Other DPW departments comply with the concept that such infrastructure should not impede pedestrians.
    Many of the pedestrians that walk along North Water Street are young families with strollers. North Water Street is also very popular with skateboarders.

  12. Don’t Panic

    Does that mean the facade would have been destroyed either way?
    On a separate note, why is it so hard to get these plans to final or near final BEFORE demolishing a structure?

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