Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The long, winding path to a safer Beach Road

The council discusses Beach Road Safety

A year ago, none of us would have imagined it...a Norwalk council meeting where one councilperson after another spoke eloquently about making streets safer for kids, walkers, joggers and cyclists. The council chewed on issues of complete streets, lane widths, traffic calming and road diets. It was a pivotal moment for Norwalk, demonstrating publicly what we've all been feeling, that the town is starting to take seriously the goal of being friendly to walking and biking.

The subject was a motion from Matt Miklave, Bruce Kimmel, Anna Duleep, David Watts, Warren Pena and John Igneri to "Test and Learn" the Beach Road Safety plan this summer. Every public comment addressing Beach Road Safety spoke in favor.

Following the public comment, much of the discussion against the resolution was more about the form of the resolution than Beach Road Safety itself. Did the Democrats who sponsored the resolution give Republicans a chance to contribute? Is the council a proper place to discuss Beach Road Safety?

Ultimately, there was a vote to send the resolution to the public works committee for more review. Here was how the vote broke down.

Wanting to move the Test and Learn forward this summer
  • Matt Miklave (D)
  • Bruce Kimmel (D)
  • Anna Duleep (D)
  • David Watts (D)
  • Warren Pena (D)
  • John Igneri (D)
For sending the resolution to committee, but with qualified support for the resolution
  • Michael Geake (I) ... who unequivocally stated that he supports the Beach Road Safety plan
  • Michelle Maggio (R) ... a disappointing vote from one of our allies, but hopefully one that will lead to a more bipartisan resolution with her support
  • David McCarthy (R) ... in addition to concerns he expressed about the way the resolution was handled, McCarthy appears to favor a more ambitious project for the road, but one with unclear costs, timing and prospects
  • Doug Hempstead (R) ... Hempstead favors a Test and Learn during the school year
Voted for sending the resolution to committee and spoke against Beach Road Safety.
  • Nick Kydes (R) ... Are you paying attention, East Norwalk voters?
Voted to send the resolution to committee, without comment
  • Fred Bondi (R) ... said to be implacably opposed to the plan
  • Jerry Petrini (R)
  • Joanne Romano (R)
  • Carvin Hilliard (D)

So, first off, we have to give kudos to the council supporters who spoke passionately for Beach Road Safety and gave it their votes. We also have to acknowledge that we have supporters who nonetheless voted to table the "Test and Learn" motion. It's clearly more difficult to be a council Republican for Beach Road Safety, enduring vocal opposition within the caucus from the mayor, Nick Kydes and Fred Bondi.

That said, ultimately Beach Road Safety requires votes and we'll look to the public works committee for leadership. The committee should craft a plan for a broadly acceptable Test and Learn study.

We have a few traps ahead to avoid. The greatest one, I think, is an over-ambitious plan. Yes, it would be great to spend one or two million dollars on bike paths through Taylor Farm and much wider sidewalks, but ultimately a plan like that is doomed. In an era where Norwalk is firing its teachers, expensive proposals simply do not survive the budget process. The engineering process alone would require more money than the Beach Road Safety plan and could drag the project out for years.

The genius of the Beach Road Safety plan is

  • it's already been examined by professional consultants...no new, expensive studies required
  • it only takes a few buckets of paint...costing next-to-nothing to implement, and
  • it simultaneously addresses issues of dangerous crossings, speeding cars, narrow sidewalks and difficult cycling conditions

Let's keep our eye on the ball as our efforts shift to the public works committee. One step at a time, we're getting closer to a safer Beach Road.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Beach Road: can one lane do the job?

A one lane road can carry up to 1800 cars per hour at speeds around 30 mph (http://www.unb.ca/transpo/mynet/mty79.htm). But let's be conservative and assume 1600 cars per hour. Now, I counted the parking spaces at the Beach using satellite photos. There are 600 at Calf Pasture, another 100 at Taylor and Shady, and perhaps 100 at Cove Marina: total 800. So, one lane can bring enough cars to the beach to put a new car into every parking space every 30 minutes. Clearly, one lane is sufficient. Congestion will depend not on how many lanes Beach Road has, but on how many attendants and lanes are available to check cars for beach stickers and accept payments. Of course, we already knew one lane could handle the volume because Gregory Boulevard, carrying nearly all of the beach traffic, does fine with one lane. And after Gregory and Fifth Street merge at Ludlow Circle to feed Marvin Street into Beach Road, back ups still don't develop, not even during car and boat shows.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

A teenager dies every seven years on Beach Road: your chance to fix this problem.

Deaths on Beach Road: A Councilman told me of two deaths on Beach Road in recent decades: a softball player in a car with 3 other girls who survived, and a son of a former Corporation Counsel. A senior member of a prominent local family told me of two more fatalities: a young man who drove into the entrance gate, and another young man on a motorcycle. And archives of The Hour report two teenagers died in 1973. The total of six may be an incomplete figure, but it averages to a death every seven years on a stretch of road only a half mile long. Something is wrong -- the highway configuration of the road is a mortal threat to Norwalk's teenagers. Improving the sidewalks will not solve this problem. The Common Council will vote Tuesday on a resolution for a cone and barricade trial of the one lane configuration. Unfortunately, no Republicans cosponsored the resolution. You can influence this. Email the entire council in one minute by a addressing a very brief message to: CommonCouncil3@norwalkct.org. Ask them to test a one lane configuration for Beach Road. And come to Tuesday night's meeting at City Hall!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Goodbye Norwalk

January 2010 is when I made my conversion from your standard neighborhood kvetcher to advocate. I had moved to Norwalk five years earlier, following my wife's job, and I remember my impressions on arriving in town, pulling off 95 onto the Post Road, driving past crumbling and overgrown sidewalks. I wasn't very impressed.

Then I started discovering things...the awesomeness of Norwalk's working harbor, the beach, the restaurants in SoNo. It took me awhile to notice the Norwalk River, hidden as it is behind the loading docks of strip malls, but I took a raft trip and was blown away.

There aren't many towns in America that have the advantages that Norwalk has and yet nobody in Norwalk seemed to notice...or so I thought. I would complain to my wife, "Why aren't there cafes and parks along the river? Why is it so hard to walk around town? Why does it feel like I'm risking my life riding my bike?" Having kids here made these questions even more pertinent.

Finally, I decided to join whatever organization was advocating for a more beautiful, pedestrian and bicycle friendly Norwalk...and discovered that there was none. So Livable Norwalk was born.

My first blog post was a vision for a redesigned intersection in front of Lockwood Mathews. Later posts fantasized about a Norwalk streetcar or even a Norwalk gondola and re-imagined East Norwalk's Cemetery Loop. I gathered data on pedestrian and bicycle accidents in Norwalk, showing both that there is a lot more walking and biking than most people realize and that vulnerable users are getting hit all the time.

It turned out I wasn't the only person thinking about these things. In fact, there were individuals all over Norwalk who cared deeply about these issues, but nobody knew anybody else. Livable Norwalk's greatest accomplishment has been bringing people together...nearly 200 people so far.

The Beach Road Safety group has been the culmination of this process, as several Norwalkers who had never been involved with advocacy have come together to form one of this city's most formidable advocacy groups. Good luck to any aspiring political leader who doesn't think Marvin Elementary kids need a safe walk to school.

Strong winds are blowing at our back. Nationally, the Livable Streets movement has taken off, with nearly every major city reorienting itself towards calming traffic and becoming pedestrian and bicycle friendly. Generation Y drives less than the generations before it, and ultimately every town is learning that the path to future growth runs not through wider roads and bigger parking lots, but through attractive, walkable downtowns. True, not everybody in our current generation of civic leaders gets it, but there's no question that their replacements will.

Change takes time and all this progress can't come soon enough. My oldest daughter is four and she's growing up quickly. So, when the opportunity came to move to San Francisco, one of the most walkable cities in the country, my family and I took it. We've found a great place next to Golden Gate Park.  I have visions of walking my daughters to school and biking to work...simple pleasures that I've been dreaming about for a long time.

It's tough to take my leave just as real change is starting to come to Norwalk. However, I'm heartened to see how little this movement relies upon me. It seems safe streets have entered the civic conversation, the young families of Norwalk are demanding it and the council is starting to listen. There are plenty of capable people who are pushing this movement forward. Join Livable Norwalk on Facebook to get to know them.

For eight years I've been happy to call Norwalk my home. Some days, when I ride with my daughter to the beach then grab a Mr. Frosty's ice cream on the way back, I feel like I'm living in paradise. I still see the harbor, the beach, SoNo, Wall Street, Stew Leonard's and the river and imagine the possibilities. Someday soon, a visionary leader is going to take the helm and put it all together into an amazing city. I trust that you will have a role to play in this revolution.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The vision thing

The before picture.

The heart of the livable streets movement is seeing the long-overlooked possibilities of our streets. Rather than serving a purely functional purpose of moving cars around, streets are valuable public space and can enhance their surroundings. A great street is the sort of place we all want to live near.

The street pictured above, from California, wouldn't be too bad by Norwalk standards. It has sidewalks and crosswalks. But is it doing the best possible job of serving its neighborhood?

On Dan Burden's (a consultant on Norwalk's Transportation Master Plan) Walkable and Livable Communities Facebook page, he shares his vision for how the street could be transformed.

Step 1: Add crosswalks


Step 2: Right-size the road, narrowing crossing distances, calming traffic and providing a buffer between pedestrians and traffic.


Step 3: Introduce a roundabout, further calming traffic and dramatically improving the safety of the intersection. Note that the utilities are also underground, attractive lighting is added and sharrows have been introduced to make the street more bike-friendly.


Step 4: Landscape!


Step 5: My favorite bit...well-designed streets are self-explanatory, so you don't need all that ugly signage.


VoilĂ , that is one great-looking street...the sort of place that feels like the heart of a neighborhood.

So remember, Norwalk, our streets don't have to look the way they do. A little vision goes a long way.

Before
After


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Beach Road Safety is about more than cyclists

Cars driving next to this sidewalk regularly hit 50 mph.
Safety is a widely-acknowledged concern on Calf Pasture Beach Road. Neighbors along the street have complained about speeding for years. Livable Norwalk's study confirmed that cars regularly travel more than double the 25 mph limit.

For a street that fronts an elementary school and people's homes and that is popular with joggers and cyclists, its design is simply crazy. It is an orphan highway, a four-lane road connecting the two lanes to and from Calf Pasture Beach with the two lanes at Gregory Boulevard. But this stretch of orphan highway needlessly terrifies school kids, walkers, joggers and cyclists every day.

The city has hired two different consultants who have looked at the Beach road. Both have recommended calming traffic using bike lanes.

The passing lane could be eliminated, an 8 foot bike lane added and a 4 foot buffer painted between the bike lane and the car lane. This would calm traffic by mitigating the highway-like feel of the road. It would make it safer for kids crossing the street to get to school. It would protect cyclists. And, for sidewalk users like the girl pictured, they would have 12 feet more space protecting them from traffic.

This is not just a project for cyclists. This is a project for everybody and that is why it has won such widespread community support. Now, if we could only convince the mayor...

It helps if he hears why beach road safety is important to you. Please email Mayor Moccia at RMoccia@norwalkct.org.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Speeding commonplace on Calf Pasture Beach Road

Vehicles on the beach road have been found traveling at 52 mph, more than double the 25 mph speed limit.

Some cars on Calf Pasture Beach Road are driving more than double the speed limit. That was one of the findings of a recent Livable Norwalk study of the popular jogging and cycling route.

Residents who live near the road have long complained about speeding and dangerous driving. We wanted to see if the data supported their concerns. It does. Speeding is especially bad on Calf Pasture Beach Road.

With a radar gun on loan from Transportation Alternatives (h/t to Ryan Lynch from Tri-State Transportation Campaign for organizing), we spent a recent Sunday clocking cars. It was sunny and 75 degrees...a great beach day...and there were a ton of folks out jogging and riding bikes. Coming on the heels of a well-publicized speed enforcement campaign, and with so many people on the road, we might expect traffic to be going a little slower than usual, but there was nothing slow about the beach road traffic.

In an hour of observation, 367 cars drove down Calf Pasture Beach Road and all but one was speeding. The speed limit on the road is 25 mph. The average car is going ten miles per hour over that limit. One in ten cars is traveling 40 mph or faster. The fastest cars we clocked were traveling at a whopping 52 mph, more than twice the legal speed limit.*

The neighborhood has voiced concerns about kids walking to Marvin Elementary on the road's narrow sidewalks contending with that high-speed traffic. It appears these concerns are well-founded.

However, it isn't fair to just point fingers at drivers. Not everybody is a reckless driver, but on the beach road everybody is speeding. That is a sign of a design issue with the road, a situation known as "dangerous by design". When a road looks like it is meant to be driven at 40 or 50, a 25 mph speed limit sign won't do much. We even clocked a police car doing 44.

Many people have asked why the same traffic that only needs two lanes on Gregory Boulevard needs a four-lane highway for the last half-mile to the beach. This is a good question.

A proposal to calm traffic on the beach road by making the right lanes vehicle-free zones for joggers and cyclists has gained widespread and universal community support. This is no overstatement. Endorsements have come from

  • The Principal of Marvin Elementary
  • The Marvin Elementary PTO executive committee
  • The Cove Marina General Manager
  • 22 of 23 residents along Calf Pasture Beach Road
  • 235 people (and counting) who have signed an online petition

The mayor is aware of the neighborhood's concerns about Calf Pasture Beach Road. However, he has not supported any plan to address the safety issues. Please call Mayor Moccia at (203) 854-7701 or email rmoccia@norwalkct.org and ask him to take street safety on the beach road seriously.

* For the nitty-gritty of the analysis, here are the raw speed counts.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

How to build a bike-friendly country

Many people assume that great cycling countries like the Netherlands just happened--that a preference for cycling is a cultural trait we could never copy. In fact, the Netherlands used to be just as car-obsessed as the rest of us. Then, in the 1970s, they decided to invest in cycling.

Streetfilms tells the story.


Thursday, March 29, 2012

Support grows for a safer Calf Pasture Beach Road

The proposal for Calf Pasture Beach Road will create car-free lanes along both sides of the road. This would not only create a safe space for cyclists, but also improve pedestrian safety, especially for the kids walking to Marvin Elementary.

The Calf Pasture Beach bike lanes have been gathering some serious support. The General Manager of the Cove Marina, the Principal at Marvin Elementary and residents of the neighborhood along Calf Pasture Beach Road have all signed their approval. The ball is now in City Hall's court, to hear the community's concerns, review Livable Norwalk's plan, amend if necessary and take action. The future for Calf Pasture Beach Road must address the four big safety issues identified on this road.
  1. Narrow sidewalks squeeze pedestrians close to fast-moving traffic.
  2. Marvin Elementary children are at risk from both the narrow sidewalks and having to cross four lanes of traffic.
  3. The current road design encourages high speeds and even drag racing, a long-standing neighborhood complaint.
  4. The road is unsafe for cyclists, despite the beach being a popular recreational destination.
Here's a complete run-down of all the support the initiative has received.

Dozens of families rallied for the bike lanes last October.

Last October, the Mayor, Councilman Nick Kydes and State Rep Gail Lavielle joined dozens of Norwalk families at a rally for a safer Calf Pasture Beach Road. Since then momentum has built for the project, with support coming from every direction.

After a post on the Calf Pasture project from this blog in January, an online petition quickly gathered 225 signatures along with inspiring messages on why Norwalkers are supporting the bike lanes.

and on..and on...and on... You can read them all here.
The plan was further clarified with a pick-up and drop-off plan for Marvin Elementary and improved access for the Cove Marina.

The General Manager of the Cove Marina, Steve Babbitz, signed his support.

The Principal of Marvin Elementary, Myra Tortorello, held a meeting with Marvin parents then sent a letter to the Mayor on March 21...
Having heard about the plan, I thought that it was important for me, as principal of the school, to understand how Marvin parents felt about such a possibility. At Marvin’s February PTO Executive Board meeting the plan was reviewed and discussed. The support was overwhelming! As a result, the topic was placed on the agenda for the March School-wide PTO meeting.
I sent out a flyer just before the meeting so that all of our parents would know that the topic would be discussed at the meeting. Not only did we get our usual parent attendees, but new parents, who rarely, if ever, attend such meetings, came to the March meeting and shared that they were there specifically to lend their support to the project. 
Parents at the meeting shared the following reasons for supporting a bicycle path:
  • Bicycle paths have been shown to slow down adjacent traffic and that would be safer for all Marvin’s walkers.
  • A bicycle path would provide a wider buffer between children and others walking on the sidewalk and the cars on the road. Again, this is a safety benefit.
  • A bicycle path would encourage bicycle riding – a good form of exercise for children and adults. For children, it would be a life-long exercise outlet.
  • A bicycle path would add a strong neighborhood component that would bring residents out together and a neighborly atmosphere is desirable.
I could go on, but I think this gives you a synopsis of the Marvin School community’s positive response to the proposed bicycle path....I think that the important point is that this community – the Marvin community – wants the bicycle path.
Finally Paul Zullo, a Spar Road resident, polled 23 of his neighbors on Spar Road, Island Drive and Calf Pasture Beach Road. 22 of the 23 signed their support, eager for the safety and recreational opportunities this project will offer.

Many civic projects run up against a natural resistance to change, but not this one. The way all sides have come together is dramatic and overwhelming. There is not another project in Norwalk with this level of support.

Hopefully the city will respond to these entreaties by putting paint to pavement this spring. Marvin Elementary families, neighborhood residents and Norwalk's cyclists have waited long enough!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Livable Norwalk's proposal for Seaview Ave adds bike lanes and on-street parking

There has been some discussion in the press today on how best to configure Seaview Avenue. Unfortunately, the issue has been misunderstood as bike lanes vs parking. (In fairness, that was my initial take too.) However, Seaview is plenty wide enough for both parking and bike lanes. We can build both.

In a meeting last week the Traffic Authority allowed one additional parking spot near the Mill Pond. We say make it six additional spots and build bike lanes too!

Below is Livable Norwalk's proposal. We hope it can be a blueprint for a Seaview Avenue will work better for businesses, residents and cyclists.


Seaview Avenue in front of the East Norwalk Yacht Club
Currently Yacht Club and Overton's customers park their cars front-first. If the Yacht Club instead had parallel parking, there would be space to have bike lanes plus six new parking spaces across the street
The owner of Mr Frostys has generously agreed to give up some curbside spaces. New spaces would be created in front of Sign Smarts and Harbor Lights.
This unattractive and dangerous field of asphalt will be better used as parking and bike lanes
So, on behalf of the many Norwalkers who enjoy riding our bikes to the great restaurants on Seaview, let's put down the war drums and smoke the peace pipe.