Monday, May 9, 2011

Getting the most out of the Norwalk River Valley Trail

Tonight (Monday, May 9, 2011) from 6:30p-8:30p, there will be a public meeting at the Norwalk Library about the Norwalk River Valley Trail. This is the first, exciting opportunity to shape plans for the biking and walking trail that, when complete, will stretch all the way from Norwalk to Danbury. You should make it if you can.

The proposed NRVT route through Norwalk. It promises to create a vital path through the core of urban Norwalk.

This trail is transformative, not only from a regional perspective, but for what it will mean for Norwalk. It will create a route from Calf Pasture Beach to SoNo--easily the most-desired piece of bike infrastructure for Norwalk. It will also create a route north from the Wall Street area, a region currently served only by the dangerous Main Ave.

However, there are areas of weakness in the current plan, predominantly because the trail often leaves the flat terrain along the river for hilly terrain nearby. We want this trail to be useful to riders of all abilities, especially the casual riders for whom a ride along a river is preferred to a climb over a hill.

Here are suggestions forimproving the routing:

Between Calf Pasture Beach and SoNo

  • Follow the desire lines--the shortest path
  • Bypass the hill by the golf course
  • Seek streets with space for on-street bike facilities

A direct route from the beach to SoNo would be flatter and easier-to-ride than the current proposal.

The current proposal between the beach and SoNo has two weaknesses: it is indirect and hilly. Many cyclists will choose the easier and faster on-street route, which will take riders away from the trail.

A better alignment would be to follow the roads that cyclists currently travel: Calf Pasture Beach Road, 5th St, Cove Ave and Seaview Ave. These roads generally have ample space for bike facilities. Seaview Ave already has a cycletrack proposed. 5th St and Cove Ave could host cycletracks or bike lanes by eliminating parking on one side of the street. Calf Pasture Beach Road is a top candidate for a road diet, as it is far overbuilt for its traffic volume--or alternatively, a path could be built alongside the road through Taylor Farm Park.

The current proposal of running on-street on Old Saugatuck Rd and on East Ave would leave no room for protected space for the trail.

Crossing New Canaan Ave
  • Cross under the bridge, not over the road
  • Make the crossing direct
  • Avoid having the trail become a narrow sidewalk
Crossing under New Canaan Ave will be safer and more direct than the current proposal.
The current proposal for New Canaan Ave involves a long-distance crosswalk, riding on a narrow sidewalk across the bridge, then doubling back to rejoin the river. Crossing under New Canaan Ave would save a few minutes in time, plus improve the safety of the trail.

From Broad St to Kent Rd
  • Follow the river; avoid the hills
  • Provide access to Main Ave businesses, including the Merritt 7 office park
North of Broad St, the current NRVT plan climbs high above the river before dropping back down. Following the river will be flatter and provide much-needed access to Main Ave.
As the NRVT trail heads north from Broad St, it makes what I consider to be its most significant wrong turn. Leaving the river behind, it follows the powerlines up towards the Merritt Parkway. It then stays in the powerline corridor on the west side of US-7 before dropping back down to the river near the Wilton town line.

There are reasons why this route was chosen...the powerline right-of-way has ample space while there is a lot of development near the Norwalk River. However, the benefits of a flat, riverside bike trail are worth the extra effort. I believe there is still ample space in the Norwalk River right-of-way to build a bike trail.

Moreover, if we give up on the possibility of following the river, we also miss our once-in-a-generation chance to have a safe way to bike to Main Ave businesses. We won't be able to advertise to Merritt 7 office workers that they can live in Norwalk and bike to work. We won't be able to bike to LA Fitness, Starbucks or Stop & Shop. In short, we'll miss one of the biggest opportunities that the Norwalk River Valley Trail is providing.

When you come to the meeting tonight, please speak up for the best possible alignment. Remember: follow the river, avoid the hills.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Seaview Ave Cycletrack Proposal

With repavings and restripings underway across Norwalk this summer, we have our annual opportunity to make a few roads more inviting to pedestrians and cyclists. This year, we're pushing the white paint to the limit, hoping to seize an opportunity to re-imagine Seaview Avenue as an attractive cycling corridor between SoNo and the beach.

The preferred option creates a buffered cycletrack along the south side of Seaview Ave. Such cycletracks have been used to great effect on Manhattan streets recently, and in many European cities for decades. As opposed to bike lanes, where many casual cyclists do not feel comfortable riding, buffered cycletracks provide a space safe enough to appeal to riders of all ages and confidence levels.

Seaview Avenue businesses like Mister Frosty's already cater to an outdoor crowd and would benefit from the increased foot and bike traffic generated in this plan.

The widest part of the cycletrack would be at the eastern end of Seaview Avenue, where the buffered corridor would increase the foot and bike traffic around harbor-area restaurants like Mister Frosty's and Overton's. The cycletrack would narrow along Veteran's Park, squeezed in by the on-street parking, however it would still have enough space for cyclists to pass comfortably in the combined 8 feet of cycletrack and buffer space.

I and a fellow Livable Norwalker, Peter Libre, presented this plan in April to Mike Yeosock from DPW, who is overseeing the restriping plans for Seaview Ave. It is still under consideration. Keep your fingers crossed...Norwalk waits with baited breath.