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Strawberry Hill bike lanes ‘very dangerous,’ Rilling says

NORWALK, Conn. – The new bicycle lanes on Strawberry Hill Avenue are confusing and dangerous, according to former Norwalk Police Chief Harry Rilling, who is trying to unseat 8-year Republican incumbent Mayor Richard Moccia in next month’s election.

Department of Public Works Director Hal Alvord said the bike lanes are “fine.”

The lanes, as shown in the video above, exist on both sides of the street. On the western side, there is more or less a continual narrow path against the curb. On the other side, the bike lanes are between a parking lane and the travel lanes in some spots, before abruptly ending where a turn lane is needed. The lanes also disappear at intersections.

“They’re very dangerous,” Rilling said at a Wednesday afternoon press conference. “On one part of the road you’ve got a bike lane right up against the sidewalk. On another part of the road you’ve got parking and the bike lane is to the left of the parking. Any skilled cyclist will tell you most bicycle injuries occur as they’re driving past a car and somebody opens a car door. Now skilled cyclists, they’re aware of that. They take precautions. If you have young kids 12, 13 years old and they’re riding their bikes to school, or home from school, and they drive past a car, they’re not going to be aware of that. All of a sudden not only do the lanes end but you find yourself in a traffic lane.”

Alvord defended the decisions made when creating the lanes.

“I know, a lot of people don’t understand, but that’s a very wide street and we wanted to provide on street parking on one side of it,” he said.

That would be the eastern side, where people were parking already, he said. In addition, parents dropping off and picking up their children at Nathan Hale Middle School stack up on the eastern side, he said. It wouldn’t have made sense to put a continuous path along the curb on that side, he said.

Plus, the project isn’t finished yet.

“There’s a traffic signal going in up there,” he said. “There’s more pedestrian signals and crosswalks for students. There’s going to be some signage that goes up there. You have to have a break in the bike lanes every time there’s an intersection, you can’t have a bike lane going through an intersection because bicyclists are supposed to live by the same rules as motor vehicles. Now some of them don’t know what those rules are, so there’s a challenge there.”

What about the 12- and 13-year-olds Rilling mentioned?

“Their parents should be teaching them,” he said.

Rilling said that if he is elected mayor he will probably have those lanes on the eastern side completely redone.

“They’re dangerous and very confusing,” he said. “They’re really an accident waiting to happen.”

Who would decide how to reconfigure them?

“There are people in Norwalk with a great deal of expertise on a good, solid bicycle lane plan,” he said. “They’ve worked together to put the plan in place. They have met with city officials. I would look to them, the experts, the users, the people who know what exactly bicycle lanes should be, what bike lanes are in other communities. I would work with them to make sure that we do a comprehensive review of where bike lanes can be and how they should be properly installed.”

Harry Rilling infrastructure 100213 021
A Strawberry Hill Avenue bike lane abruptly disappears in front of Nathan Hale Middle School in Norwalk.

Comments

13 responses to “Strawberry Hill bike lanes ‘very dangerous,’ Rilling says”

  1. Ergo

    Can we stop with the riciculous bike lanes already? People have been riding bikes for decades. It’s a courtesy issue. Bikers need to respect the rules and drivers need to respect the rules. These bike lanes are not the solution. They are little more than a break down lane and do nothing but lead to confusion and dangerous riding conditions.

    Instead, lets focus on putting in place a real bike trail. Not that 100 foot long bike trail near the former YMCA, but a real bike TRAIL. Maybe something that connects to other towns. A safe place for bikers, runners, and walkers to use. Something that brings people together to Norwalk for the purpose of our great bike trail.

    Just my two cents.

  2. Don’t Panic

    I would like to see Mr. Alvord get on a bicycle at Calf Pasture Beach and ride all the way to City Hall and see how many times he is endangered. He will also see how utterly contemptuous many drvers are for those rules of the road when he is cursed at, menaced with a car or told that the roads are for cars.

  3. ScopeonNorwalk

    The lanes are dangerous because they just end all of sudden in some places and become a car lane at the points where cars have to immediately get over because the lane they’re in suddenly becomes a turn lane only…Can’t describe it any clearer because that’s how chaotic the lanes are.

  4. EveT

    When is the last time Mr. Alvord rode a bicycle from the post road to the beach via Strawberry Hill?

  5. Suzanne

    Ergo, I agree with you but with a few “but’s.” I ride in Norwalk fairly frequently and have had the menacing experiences of other riders on this thread. I used to be a distance rider and I am very strict and cautious about the rules of the road. What I see is this: Drivers don’t know how to share. Bicyclists don’t know how to share either. And, whether those who object to it or not, the roadway is a byway for every kind of moving “traffic” including automobiles, bicycles and pedestrians. There are rules: very few seem to know them and fewer still follow them. I am banking on more accidents in the future unfortunately.

    Next, Mr. Alvord’s attitude is very cavalier and shows a lack of education on bikeway engineering. This is the head of our Public Works. So, we have the very dangerous situation on Strawberry Hill, countless other roads that use the same approach upon which I have ridden and an untold number of large intersections that don’t accommodate anything but automobiles. While Mr. Alvord is stuck in the 50’s, the rest of us are trying to navigate without a bit of help but rather hindrance from Public Works’ ignorance.

    I hope Mr. Rilling gets his way and is elected our mayor to resolve this issue (then those impatient with the topic will not have to read about it anymore. It will just be a fact of life.) It is important because we are a community and accommodating all types of “traffic” is good for the common good and the environment. We are in a day when this is not true with those big metal things, which I drive as well, are competing with soft tissue. The latter always loses in a conflict.

  6. Oldtimer

    Parking lanes on any part if Strawberry Hill are a mistake, in my opinion. Residents should be required to park off the street. If they did not have parking lanes, the bike lanes could be close to the curb on both sides.

  7. LWitherspoon

    The sort of reaction we have seen to the installation of bike lanes on Strawberry Hill is one of the key reasons that progress is so difficult, particularly when it comes to the installation of bike lanes. Change anything and people will react negatively. Drivers who feel bicycles do not belong on the road hate the new lanes, which have narrowed the road in a way that forces motorists to slow down. Many cyclists feel the bike lanes shouldn’t end at intersections that have turning lanes, but what’s the alternative? I don’t believe the road is wide enough to accommodate the necessary turning lanes for cars along with bike lanes.
    .
    The challenge is to add bike lanes to roads that weren’t originally designed for them, while still accommodating the far greater number of motorists who use Strawberry Hill Avenue. Nobody is completely satisfied with the current arrangement, but in the real world of limited resources, it may well be the best we can do.
    .
    Mr. Rilling’s answer to the question of how these lanes would be redone is incomplete and unconvincing. It’s not enough to declare the lanes dangerous – he needs to present an alternate plan that’s demonstrably safer and more palatable to cyclists, drivers, and homeowners who live on that street. Therefore I conclude that Rilling’s criticism is aimed more at scoring political points with change-o-phobes than at increasing safety.

  8. Mike

    Mr. Rilling,

    If you recall, you did review and support these bike lanes when you were police chief.

    1. Mark Chapman

      @@Mike
      We checked with Mr. Rilling to see if he approved the bike lanes in questions, and he said the Strawberry Hill lanes never came before him and he would have rejected them as proposed if they had.

  9. Mike Mushak

    LWitherspoon, did you expect Harry Rilling to give a full engineering report on how to fix the bike lanes on Strawberry Hill in a press conference? Your criticism seems unfair, since this is what Rilling actually said from the article:
    .
    “There are people in Norwalk with a great deal of expertise on a good, solid bicycle lane plan,” he said. “They’ve worked together to put the plan in place. They have met with city officials. I would look to them, the experts, the users, the people who know what exactly bicycle lanes should be, what bike lanes are in other communities. I would work with them to make sure that we do a comprehensive review of where bike lanes can be and how they should be properly installed.”
    .
    That sounds like a perfectly reasonable approach to me. Look at the video above, and see how many cars are parked in the “parking lane” that DPW insisted remain: ONE VAN, IN A FULL MILE! I have done my own study by driving down Strawberry hIll at night, figuring there must be more cars parked there them for the city to sacrifice safety for a mile long parking lane. On average, TWO cars are parked there at night (including that same pesky van you see in the video near the corner of William that blocks sight lines at the intersection).

    Here’s how the city could fix the bike lanes on Strawberry Hill:
    .
    1) Remove the unused parking lane (but still allow standing vehicles for school pickups in it with signage, which is done in other cities),
    .
    2) move the dangerous “floating” bike lane on the north side to curbside just as the south side now is,
    .
    3) take the 8 feet of extra space from the parking lane and split it into two 4 foot wide striped safety buffers, following NACTO bike lane standards,and install these safety buffers between the curbside bike lanes and the travel lanes in both directions, which will be accomplished by shifting the center line of the road over 4 feet
    .
    4) add dashed lines for the bike lane through intersections without turn lanes, again, to NACTO standards and following what is commonly seen in other cities
    .
    5) Where turn lanes exist and there is no room for even a dashed line bike lane, use sharrows indicating a clear path for bikes in the travel lane to teh far side of teh intersection where the bike lane picks up again, indicating to car drivers that bikes are expected here and the lane is shared.

    There, problem solved. So, why was public safety compromised in the first place, on a street that runs in front of 3 major schools, just for a parking lane no one uses? Why was there no public meeting to get feedback BEFORE the design was implemented, and when a “tryout” period using temporary water-based paint and/or traffic cones could have been installed over a weekend to be tested by safety advocates, city engineers, and the public, just as other cities do it?
    .
    All we are asking for is an intelligent and context-based approach to our street and road design, with all stakeholders involved, just as Harry Rilling mentioned, including the bikers and children themselves! This is what other cities are doing. Harry Rilling gets it. Moccia does not. Plain and simple.

  10. Tim T

    Rilling’s Priorities
    BIKE LANES
    SIDEWALKS
    AND
    CRAB GRASS

    AMAZING

  11. Mike Mushak

    Tim T, there is a long list of Mayor Rilling’s, excuse me, Harry Rilling’s priorities way beyond your simplistic list, on his website, and on these pages of NON if you cared to look for it. So, no need to list them all here but you will be hearing about them a lot in the next few weeks. Stay tuned. (Hint: Crabgrass is not one of them.)

  12. Don’t Panic

    A little light reading…plans the city paid for that outline recommendations for bike paths, road diets and all the things that make a livable city.

    http://www.norwalkct.org/documentcenter/view/1385

    http://www.norwalkct.org/documentcenter/view/2115

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