“Streets for everyone and streets about the people.” That was how Garrett Bolella, the assistant director of Norwalk’s Transportation, Mobility, and Parking department defined the Complete Streets work taking place in the city at the Economic and Community Development Committee meeting on February 1.
There are four main parts that will help the city in “achieving Complete Streets,” according to Michael Morehouse, the vice president of transportation and design at FHI Studio, the city’s consultant on this project.
Those are: adopting a Complete Streets policy that “sets the purpose and legal foundation,” creating a guide that outlines how streets should be designed across the city, developing an integration plan that details the process and procedures needed to plan and develop these types of streets, and gathering public engagement that helps provide priorities and direction.
What are Complete Streets?
Complete Streets is an approach to planning, according to Bolella, that aims to “enable safe, convenient, comfortable access for all people of all ages and all abilities,” including pedestrians, cyclists, drivers, and those who use public transit.
“[Complete Streets] are really a means to an end for us to achieve several of the ambitious goals we have,” he said. “Whether that’s safety and reducing fatalities and serious injuries on our roads, whether it’s achieving our environmental and sustainability goals that we set out, whether it’s supporting economic development—I think all of this in the end is going to result in a more livable city.”
Morehouse said that over the past few decades the streets have become “primarily optimized for automobiles,” which resulted in issues such as narrower sidewalks for pedestrians and unsafe spots for those using public transit to get on and off.
“The streets really have to recognize that all these people and users exist and the design has to be equitable to make sure that they’re accommodated and often they’re not,” he said.
What work around Complete Streets is happening in Norwalk?
FHI is working on developing “what we think is going to be an award-winning implementation and design guide,” Bolella said. While they’ll be presenting the “full package” for approval later to the council this year, Bolella said that they wanted to provide members with an update of the ongoing work. Morehouse said that they’re “aggressively trying to get to the finish line by the summer.”
Morehouse said that they are working to draft an ordinance that will go before the Ordinance Committee of the Common Council that “makes Complete Streets a priority.” By adopting a policy around Complete Streets, this will allow this type of street design and accompanying planning efforts to become part of the city’s workflow. It will also create a way to measure accountability around the goals of Complete Streets, such as those related to safety or those around providing different options of transportation.
Morehouse said that they looked at what other communities in Connecticut were doing—such as Fairfield which has had a policy since 2018 and Stamford—as well as communities across the country. They’re working to take some of the best ideas from these communities and integrate them into the draft ordinance and design manual.
Still, Morehouse and Bolella said that the work in Norwalk is unique.
“You don’t often see this level of resources going into something like this,” Morehouse said. “It sets you all apart.”
Bolella added, “we’re creating something really uniquely norwalk and a really unique approach to getting this done successfully.”
They’re also working to develop a design manual that takes into account “the context of each street,” such as is a local road, does it connect residents to a larger interstate system, does the road change over time.
The design guideline will help establish a vision for street planning, such as how wide should the lanes for traffic be, what types of sidewalk should be included, should there be street trees, etc.
How can residents get involved?
Bolella and Morehouse said that they’re planning an “active engagement” over a few weeks in the spring at Ann Street and North Main Street that will include temporary measures, such as paint to indicate different paths for different users, removable bollards to separate roadway users, and more.
The goal is to show residents what Complete Streets could look like in action and gather their feedback.