Friday, April 30, 2010

Connectivity Charrette results & National Train Day


Next week, there are two events of interest to lovers of livability.

Wednesday, May 5th, 4:45pm to 7:45pm @ City Hall Community Room, we learn the planners' take on the Norwalk Connectivity Charrette. (Update: this event has been postponed. In the meantime, check out the interim progress report (pdf).)

Saturday, May 8th, 12:30pm to 4:30pm @ New Haven Union Station, it's National Train Day!

The celebration will kick off with live music performed by Michael Greenberg. Gubernatorial candidate Ned Lamont is one of the speakers. There will also be panel discussions on various topics: one will be transit-oriented development. Bicycle-train integration will also be discussed...all very relevant to the Livable Norwalk we're building. Come by train if you can. More details can be found on the event page.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Norwalk's missing crosswalks


Why does a pedestrian have to cross the street to cross the street? In most of the country, intersections have crosswalks on all four sides. In Norwalk, almost no intersections do.

A pedestrian at the intersection above, West Ave & Orchard St, might have to pass through three crosswalks just to cross the street. Can you imagine waiting for a walk sign, crossing the road, pushing the walk button, crossing again, pushing the walk button a third time and finally reaching your destination? Neither can I. In reality, this configuration just encourages jaywalking.

In traffic engineering, an intersection that delays cars more than 80 seconds delivers a Level of Service (LOS) F. This intersection is LOS F for pedestrians.


View Intersections with partial crosswalks in a larger map

How big is this problem? It affects almost every intersection in Norwalk, on city roads and state roads. When I asked about this issue for the N Main St & Ann St intersection, I was told that the traffic consultant had advised that a crosswalk on all sides would be too many crosswalks.

I am not sure how we wound up with this unusual idea of what an intersection should look like, or why we adhere to it even in our most pedestrian-oriented neighborhoods. However, this is a policy that is long overdue for an update.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Forward progress: the walkway along I-95 across the Norwalk River

Have you ridden or walked the walkway that crosses the Norwalk River along I-95? It's in woeful shape. The pavement is uneven and covered in dirt and broken glass. Branches from vines reach across the path. One gave me a good thwap in the face the other day.

I had submitted a request to ConnDOT Customer Service to sweep and repair the walkway. Today (with an assist from Bob Duff) I received a response:

Unfortunately, as it currently stands, we do not immediately have the ability to address this issue.  We are aware that the walkway needs to be swept, and we do plan on making that happen as soon as resources and priorities allow. 
As much as I would like to, I cannot give you a specific time when we will be able to sweep the walkway, or potentially address any maintenance issues with the surface.
That said, I think I can safely tell you that as the spring-rush begins to slow down, perhaps in a month or so, we will do everything we can to allocate and prioritize resources to address this area
Hopefully this summer the path will be returned to decent shape. I'll follow up in a month. (Update: the work is done and it looks good.)

Livable Norwalk's *updated* guide to making things happen

A few days ago, I wrote about my attempts to request improvements through different channels:
My conclusion was, in short, Norwalk DPW is responsive. ConnDOT employees are responsive, but customer service is a black hole.

I'm happy to say that Bob Duff's office saw that post and got the ball rolling with ConnDOT. I have received responses on every request today, letting me know that either the Traffic Division or SWRPA is looking into it. Senator Duff's office also asked ConnDOT to alter their procedure so they respond to requests soon after they are received.

Kudos are in order for Bob Duff and his legislative aide, Dan O'Brien, for being a force against government inertia.

The updated advice on making things happen at ConnDOT is
  • Email the responsible person at ConnDOT
  • If you can't find that person, submit a customer service request.
  • Count to ten days. If you haven't heard back, let Bob Duff's office know.
Plus, be sure to mention any action you're taking on the Livable Norwalk facebook group.

Norwalk's key places

Paul Zullo, on the bike shadows post, commented:
You make a good point here. But I would focus our attention on getting bike lanes from norwalk proper to Sono to Calf Pasture Beach. It would seem to be easier to execute and makes sense to link the city with the public park.
I agree. This is the core of where people bike and where people want to bike.

It also got me thinking about the question, what are the key nodes in Norwalk? What are the most important parts of town that a cyclist might want to ride between?


View Norwalk's key places to connect in a larger map

My list is
  • Wall St
  • SoNo
  • South Norwalk RR Station
  • Calf Pasture Beach
  • Merritt 7
  • East Norwalk
  • Norwalk Community College
When Norwalk puts together its new bicycle/pedestrian master plan--happening soon--the priority should be to develop links between these centers.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Livable Norwalk's guide to making things happen

How do you get something done in Norwalk, like a bike lane added to a road or a crosswalk to an intersection? I've tested a few different channels:
The best responsiveness I've seen, both at the city and state levels, has been from emailing the person responsible.

(Update: Senator Duff's office responded to this post by helping to move things forward at ConnDOT. The details are at the updated guide to making things happen.)

Read on for a fuller assessment:
  • SeeClickFix: Most SeeClickFix posts do not generate a response from the city, but every now and then one does. Part of the challenge may be that we don't have a critical mass of SeeClickFix users. In New Haven, for example, the city can't afford to ignore the issues posted.
  • Norwalk Customer Service: Submitting to the website, I received a database error. However, emailing customer service (customerservice@norwalkct.org) or calling 203-854-3200 has been effective at getting a response. In a request for pedestrian improvements at N Main St intersections, I received a call back from the city traffic engineer.
  • ConnDOT Customer Service: This appears to be a black hole. One request submitted a few weeks ago and a separate request a few days ago have generated no response.
  • Emailing the responsible person in Norwalk DPW: The DPW team has shown great responsiveness and appear to take public suggestions seriously.
  • Emailing the responsible person in ConnDOT: So far, I've only emailed for information, but ConnDOT employees have been very responsive.
  • Sending an issue to Bob Duff to pass on to ConnDOT: Bob Duff, our state senator, is also Vice Chair of the Transportation Committee. This seems like it should be a promising channel. Bob Duff himself responded very quickly to a request and passed it on to ConnDOT. That was 11 days ago. So far, no response from ConnDOT.
So, if you want something done, the key is to ask the right person. If you don't know who that person is and you're dealing with the city, use Customer Service. If you're dealing with ConnDOT, forget Customer Service. Keep searching for the right person.

Friday, April 23, 2010

A big victory for SoNo businesses

Congratulations to the Zoning Commission and Jackie Lightfield, its chair, for making a great move for SoNo. New businesses in SoNo will no longer have to pay fee-in-lieu-of-parking penalties. Jackie describes the details on her blog.

Basically, if a new business wanted to open in SoNo, the city would calculate the minimum off-street parking required. Since the business would not be able to build off-street parking because, for one, it would totally destroy the character of SoNo, they were assessed a fee: $20k per spot. This means a new restaurant might easily have to pay $100k or more just to open its doors, on top of all other expenses.

Hopefully now, with that fee gone, some of the vacant storefronts can start to be occupied. Why we've been charging this "Welcome to SoNo" fee all this time is anybody's guess.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Intersection upgrades planned for Norwalk

Fifteen Norwalk intersections are slated for upgrade soon. Thanks to City Traffic Engineer Fred Eshraghi for sharing the list.


View Intersection upgrades planned for Norwalk in a larger map

The good news: Two intersections, N Main St @ Ann St and N Main St @ Marshall St, are due to get pedestrian signals where now there is only an unsignalized crosswalk. This will be a big safety improvement.

The bad news: A request for crosswalks for all sides of these intersections was turned down, based on insufficient pedestrian volume. This is a decision the city should reconsider. It does not make sense to design SoNo as a pedestrian zone and then require pedestrians to wait through two light cycles to cross the street.

I am trying to track down details of the other intersection upgrades planned. Please share in the comments if you have any thoughts on those intersections.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Norwalk repaving important roads for cyclists

According to The Hour,
Last month, the council approved a $1,847,000 contract with Deering Construction, Inc., to pave an estimated 25 streets this summer. If dollars and time permit, an additional 11 city streets stand ready on the department's alternate list... 

Paving should start in May. Under the contract, Deering Construction will have until Nov. 1 to complete the work, Berndlmaier said. 

"There isn't a priority order. There's just a list that we know will get done and an alternate list, he said.

The main list includes Bartlett Avenue, from Ponus Avenue to Silvermine Avenue; Gregory Boulevard, from Fenwick Place to Dorlon Street; and Wilson Avenue, from Rowayton Avenue to Highland Avenue.


View Norwalk's repaving plans in a larger map

The three priority streets include two, Gregory Blvd and Wilson Ave, which are important bicycle routes. Gregory Blvd includes the primary access route to Calf Pasture Beach. Wilson Ave lies along the principal route between Darien and SoNo and is part of the 3000-mile-long East Coast Greenway.

This would be a great opportunity for the DPW to improve bicycle accommodations on these routes. Specifically, when the pavement is restriped, we would hope for lanes of reasonable width (~10 feet) and stripes along the outside of the lanes, establishing a shoulder for bicyclists.

I have a request in to DPW for information on the lane widths planned and whether there will be a striped shoulder. I will update more when I hear back.

Update: The request has been passed on by Drew Berndlmaier, Senior Civil Engineer, to the city traffic engineers. Drew says, "If they can accommodate your request in any way, they should incorporate such changes in what they provide me for a pavement marking plan." Thanks Drew. I'll continue to update this post as I hear back.

Update 2: Awaiting the results of a consultant's Traffic Management Plan

Friday, April 16, 2010

Photos of the West Ave corridor

Mike Morehouse from Fitzgerald & Halliday, one of the planners behind the Norwalk Connectivity study, shared his site photos with me. Until Google Streetview does a more thorough survey, this is our single best resource for on-the-ground photos of the area. Thanks to Mike for sharing them. I've loaded them into a Google Map for your use.

Browse below, or see them on a bigger map.


View Norwalk Connectivity photos in a larger map

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Connectivity charrette recap

Wednesday afternoon, 60 residents and planners met to discuss better pedestrian and bicycle connections along the West Avenue corridor. That included eight Livable Norwalk members. Way to go, team.

Nearly as exciting as the results of the meeting was the energy of the room itself. Nearly everybody was on the same page: the future of this corridor is as a walkable and bikeable urban center.


The mayor himself kicked us off, emphasizing the importance of livability for Norwalk's future. (Sorry for the grainy iPhone photo.) It seems we have buy-in on these priorities from the city and we have buy-in from the US Secretary of Transportation. Now we need to translate this support and these ideas into real streetscape improvements.

I'll try to explore the different issues brought up in later posts, but here's a summary of the key take-aways:

  • West Ave through the I-95 / US-7 interchange is a huge barrier in need of pedestrian amenities.
  • We need to reduce the $200 million in planned parking, ideally with a bus or streetcar circulator.
  • The route from South Norwalk station into SoNo needs sidewalk improvements and heritage-oriented visuals to draw visitors to Washington Street.
  • MLK is a boulevard and a major access route to the station. It should be made walkable.
  • The Norwalk River Valley Trail under I-95 feels unsafe. It needs enhancements to remedy this.
  • Academy Street should be extended and made into a bike boulevard.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Connect Norwalk to JFK?

Here's an idea for making Norwalk a transportation hub and a more attractive business center: provide affordable express bus service to Jamaica station and JFK airport.


View Norwalk -> JFK shuttle proposal in a larger map

A direct bus to Jamaica station would connect Norwalk to the JFK airtrain, the LIRR and the E and J trains serving Queens and Brooklyn. It would be a huge differentiator for Norwalk.

Currently, the cheapest direct airport connection is through CTLimo at $66 each way, with stops in towns along the way. A $10 service would be a game changer.



Some ballpark business planning:

The route is 1 to 1.5 hours each way, so it would take 3 buses to provide hourly departures. High-class limo buses start at $79/hour to charter. So, for $10/passenger, we would need 12 passengers per hour in each direction to break even.*

This seems like a manageable number, especially as a South Norwalk station connection would attract riders from beyond Norwalk.

So...anybody know anything about starting a bus line?

* Math check: $79 per bus per hour * 3 buses / ($10 per passenger * 2 directions [to and from JFK]) = 12 passengers per hour each way

West Ave corridor's connectivity challenges

A dozen people turned out for the Norwalk Connectivity Study walkthrough, mostly local residents interested in a more walkable city. The three hour trek from South Norwalk RR station up to Wall Street and back highlighted the corridor's many issues, nothing more so than the challenge of the walk itself. The group made its way up West Ave, buffeted by noise and dust from passing cars, dashing across intersections without crosswalks. The most heartening thing was to see the city taking these issues seriously and moving in the right direction.

I've done my best to highlight all the issues that came up along the walk. Hopefully others can contribute any I missed. The map is editable by anybody.


View Connectivity Challenges along West Ave in a larger map

Monday, April 12, 2010

Charrette fever comes to Norwalk

Come and shape the future of walkable, bikeable Norwalk.

The Norwalk Connectivity Study's charrette is this Wednesday (April 14, 2010) from 3pm to 8pm in the City Hall Community Room.  This charrette is the big opportunity for the public to have input into pedestrian and bike-friendly changes to the West Avenue corridor.

There is also a site walkthrough on Tuesday, April 13, leaving from the New Haven-bound side of South Norwalk station at 11am.

Make it to both if you can, but especially, make it to the charrette.  Even if you can only come after work, that's still very useful.

Please also take the charrette survey if you haven't already.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Your blogger returns

Your blogger has just gotten back from a Florida vacation. It's good to be home in Norwalk, especially since our weather at the moment is positively Floridian.

Florida's a great state with plenty to offer. However, it's also a cautionary lesson in what happens when space is completely handed over to cars.

Take Orlando, where a typical arterial is six lanes and intersections are giant canyons of traffic.


View Larger Map
The resulting streetscape is dangerous. Orlando was ranked the most-dangerous city in the country for pedestrians by Transportation for America. Similarly-designed Tampa, Miami, and Jacksonville are ranked 2nd, 3rd and 4th most dangerous.

Even more perplexingly, despite having all this roadway capacity, the streets are still clogged and the roads lock up at rush hour. It's a lesson for Norwalk...we could widen all of our roads and the best we could hope for would be Orlando...unwalkable, unbikeable and still choking on traffic. There's a better way.