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.”