Monday, October 31, 2011

McCarthy and King, election opponents, agree on livable streets

David McCarthy (R) (from Elect Dave McCarthy)

Nora King (D) (courtesy of Nora King)
Livable Norwalk has sent all council and mayoral candidates a six-question survey on livability issues. We'll be sharing their answers as they come in.

First, from District E (West Norwalk, HarborView, Village Creek, Rowayton & Brookside), Republican David McCarthy is challenging Democrat Nora King for her seat. In their responses, both advocate strongly for better pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, incorporating walking and biking into both our roadways and our development plans. It is a challenge to find much daylight between their positions (although I welcome you to add your thoughts in the comments). Perhaps the biggest distinction will be a question of execution. Who can be the most effective at seeing these priorities through?

Here are their survey answers. Don't forget to vote November 8th!

(1) safe streets - Should Norwalk have a program for installing traffic calming devices? (For example: pedestrian islands, curb bump outs, speed bumps, neck-downs or similar technology) How should widespread resident concerns about speeding and pedestrian safety be addressed?

DM: Absolutely, I have been advocating for actions like this over “speed bumps” for a while.  I feel the “complete streets” methodology is really worth adopting holistically.  We are a developed city and cannot change everything overnight, though, so we need to prioritize projects and address them in time, making sure we balance the needs of neighborhoods and progress.

NK: Norwalk should absolutely have a program for traffic calming devices. I have been an advocate for slowing traffic down for the past few years.  We need footpaths ( ours are in deplorable condition) restored, sidewalks built, bike lanes created and other measures implemented.  When we do our paving plans this should go hand and hand.   I have been a big fan of an accountability and reporting system for city hall primarily for the Public Works Department.  I think every concern, incident and complaint registered via the web or the customer service hotline with full access for the public to see.   This way the Common Council, the Mayor the Department Heads and various committees will be able to see the real issues and not just rely on the studies but will have the hardcore data that the entire public will have access to.    Transparency is key here!


(2) sustainable development - The desire of people to walk or bike is affected by the way their community is constructed. Large parking lots, wide roads, or businesses set far back from the street have a negative impact on walkability. Would you support initiatives to promote walkable development?

 DM: Andy Conroy and I have made this a cornerstone of our campaign, though I only wish to speak for myself here.  I feel that the best way to address the needs of neighborhoods is to respect them and bring people together.  Closer, more compact, walkable development in the more urban core is my idea of a sustainable streetscape.  I see this as an intergenerational effort to promote community and enhance local economic vitality.

 NK: Walkable development is one of my top priorities.  I have been fighting for safe passage and safe streets.  A vibrant community is defined by sidewalks, bike baths, rollerblading paths, walk ways and outdoor cafes.    I do not believe anything in the city that is approved shouldn't have this factored into it.   The current administration and the head of DPW supports wide roadways for cars.  The more asphalt for cars the better.  I don't support this especially for a city that needs as much redevelopment as ours does.  The time is now to build this.    The more we encourage sidewalks, bike paths, footpaths - the more cars are off the road, the less gas used and the more exercise people will have.  


(3) pedestrian infrastructure - Many of Norwalk's busy arterials have incomplete sidewalks. Often Norwalk pedestrians must walk in the roadway or scramble along the side of the road. Would you support an initiative to complete these sidewalks?

 DM: Understanding that it would not magically happen overnight, yes, of course.  There should be a prioritized list of areas for attention, with a focus on Safe Routes to School, expanded to encompass the train stations and commercial areas, with an additional focus on areas along bus routes and at bus stops.  I believe technology would be of assistance in allowing us to prioritize these projects in a way that is visible to everyone. 

 NK: Yes.  I have already been an advocate of restoring our footpaths and putting sidewalks in.  I am not for making our roads wider. I think the plan should be sidewalks, footpaths and bike paths.  


(4) bicycle infrastructure - Norwalk is currently lacking any formal bike lanes or bike routes. Our bike paths exist only in short, disconnected segments. Would you support completing the Norwalk Harbor Loop Trail and the Norwalk River Valley Trail? Will you support dedicated funding for low-cost infrastructure such as bike lanes or bike routes that could be rolled out on a large scale?

 DM: I already am on record as supporting the Loop Trail and I support the NRVT as a long term project.  There are funds currently allocated to extend/expand the trail and it is a worthy focus of the overall “open-space” initiatives.  We need to work together as a community to draw more attention to this area and there should be an organized community effort beyond the handful of committed volunteers who currently advocate for the trail.  I see the “Friends of the High-Line” as a model for this project as a way to bring community resources to bear.

 NK: Yes.   This is essential and shouldn't be an afterthought in any plan. Though I do not believe the folks doing the traffic management study realize that this should be the number 1 priority.  I have been a biker all of my life and I think Norwalk could do a much better job on supporting bike lanes.


(5) calf pasture beach project - Do you support the plan to add bike lanes to Calf Pasture Beach Road?

 DM: I support the common sense modifications to streets across the city, as appropriate and safe, to add bike lanes and make the streets more walkable/bikeable/driveable.  I think this ties back in to 1 in that removing center lines and adding wide stripes on the sides (whether officially bike lanes, or not) calms traffic.

 NK: YES! YES! YES!


(6) other - Please share any further thoughts you have on how we can build a more walkable, bikeable and livable Norwalk.

 DM: The concept of a Livable Norwalk is something that is core to what I feel we need to focus on as a community.  We need to move beyond personal agendas to work for the common good and not spin our wheels arguing. 

 NK: (left blank)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Calling for a Harbor Loop Trail in Norwalk

In the second big livability event this weekend, fifty people came together today to walk Norwalk's nascent Harbor Loop Trail.

Mike Mushak leads the way.
Mike Mushak and Deborah Lewis led the way, showing the amazing work that's been done in the past 40 years to build this trail piece-by-piece. The pieces of trail that have been built are stunning, offering sweeping harbor views, but they are hidden gems. A few missing segments prevent Norwalk from having a full loop.

In introducing Norwalkers to the trail, Harbor Loop supporters are rallying the public support necessary to keep completion of the loop trail a top city priority. Amazingly, the big barrier to completing the trail is not money but bureaucratic inertia. There are surveys to be completed and state environmental approvals to be secured. These can be done quickly or slowly. In the interest of the economic vitality of Norwalk, our city and state representatives should be doing all they can to fast-track the process.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

BREAKING: Norwalk's mayor and local electeds endorse bike lanes for Calf Pasture Beach Road

Paul Zullo, far left, organized the ride to support bike lanes on Calf Pasture Beach Road. Endorsing the effort were, from left, Councilman Nick Kydes, Mayor Moccia and State Representative Gail Lavielle.
Norwalk may soon be getting top-notch bike lanes on Calf Pasture Beach Road. Today, at a bike ride to support the lanes, the mayor came out to give his endorsement. Also supporting the bike lanes were councilman Nick Kydes, who rode with the group, and state representative Gail Lavielle, plus a few dozen kids who hope their trip to school will soon be a lot safer.

This is what a movement looks like. Join us on Facebook.

The sunshine gods were upon us as dozens of riders, many Marvin Elementary families, set out from Marvin down the road to the beach. What is normally 4-lane speedway was temporarily calmed into a street safe enough for kids on training wheels. It was a thrilling sight to see kids enjoying Calf Pasture Beach Road as a safe public space--the way it should be all the time.

Preliminary plans call for the right lanes on Calf Pasture Beach Road to be replaced with bike lanes with a buffer zone between the bike lanes and the road. In addition to creating a major recreational resource and improving safety for kids biking to school, this will also make the narrow sidewalks along the road more tolerable by creating a large buffer between the traffic and the sidewalk. Dangerous conditions for kids walking to Marvin Elementary have been a major issue for neighborhood parents.

Long-term, the mayor acknowledged that the sidewalks on Calf Pasture should be widened, but that will require a lot of construction funds. On the other hand, restriping Calf Pasture into a safer road with bike lanes can be done for next-to-nothing. In the words of Nick Kydes, "It's a no-brainer."

Congratulations to Paul Zullo and Donna Bonato for organizing Saturday's ride and to all the families who participated. With continued persistence we'll hopefully all be enjoying this new resource for Norwalk next summer.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Parking minimums - how Norwalk requires sprawl

The Champs-Élysées in Paris demonstrates that even big, traffic-clogged roads can be walkable...as long as they escape the curse of the parking minimum. (from wikipedia)
Have you ever been walking through one of the world's great cities and wondered why we don't build anything like that anymore? What has happened in the era of automobiles that has made great places so hard to create? The demand of cars for big, noisy roads is a part of the problem, but the Champs-Élysées in Paris or 5th Avenue in New York show walkability can exist even on those big roads.

No, the biggest blight introduced by cars is the parking lot. Imagine how the Champs-Élysées pictured above would be eroded if all those stores were providing ample off-street parking.

The good news: it's easy to park. The bad news: why would you want to? (from hugeasscity)
You might assume that businesses are building big parking lots because of free-market forces, to meet consumers' demands. But why do businesses tend to provide so much more parking than customers will ever use? Those sprawling, half-used lots are mandated by a "parking minimum", a zoning requirement that all businesses provide an over-abundance of parking. Thanks to parking minimums, we are "saved" from anybody building a new Champs-Élysées or 5th Avenue.

For any business of a given type and size, Planning & Zoning has a formula spelling out much parking to provide. These formulas ensure, for example, that even during the Christmas Eve rush, Toys R Us will have more than enough spots for everybody. For the rest of the year those spots sit empty, collecting litter, generating runoff and blighting the neighborhood. Nobody likes to live by a parking lot, least of all an empty one.

Google the phrase parking minimums and you'll find nothing but studies and articles decrying their impact on communities. It is hard to find any planner who will stand up for them. Parking minimums inflict fields of asphalt on the streetscape. They make it so stores are so spread out that it is no fun to walk between them. They drive up the cost of development--some 20% of a development's cost is often spent on parking--and this cost is then passed on to customers in higher prices. They also make it difficult to build in dense city centers, where land is too valuable to be used for parking lots. Essentially, parking minimums mandate that new development should either follow a strip mall model or contain an expensive $25,000 per spot parking structure.

Slowly, this relic of 1950s planning is being repealed around the country. Many cities are even replacing parking minimums with parking maximums. However, suburban communities like Norwalk will likely be the last to see them go. Why? Because it can be hard for many of us to look beyond the convenience of easy parking.

Having sat in on a few developer presentations, some percentage of our community will always voice concerns about whether a development provides sufficient parking. Many people--one gets the sense--would rather stop a great business from opening than run the risk that it may be hard to park.

So we have Cafe 507 on West Ave unable to relocate because, apparently, the new location doesn't have enough parking for a bar. (Yes, parking minimums also promote hassle-free drinking and driving.) And today in the news we have Beach Burger in East Norwalk forced to remove its chairs. The concern isn't lack-of-parking. There is a ton of on-street parking and the owner also owns the spacious Mr. Frosty's lot next-door. But on-street parking doesn't count toward parking minimums. Nearby parking doesn't count either. No, every business must provide ample off-street parking right on their property. Fortunately, Beach Burger already has some pre-existing parking that can be approved as customer parking, so customers will get their chairs back soon.

The larger question remains though...what do we want for Norwalk? If we want to have side-by-side businesses generating foot traffic with attractive sidewalks lined by on-street parking, our zoning code should reflect this. It's time to get rid of the parking minimums.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Calming Traffic in Norwalk: Camp Street

Camp Street in front of Tracey Elementary
The Daily Norwalk today had an article about the speeding problem on Camp Street in front of Tracey Elementary School. Unfortunately, it follows the typical cycle of inaction:

(1) Residents complain about speeding; request speed bumps
(2) The mayor says no to speed bumps for a variety of reasons (snow plow hazard, emergency vehicle access, too bumpy...).
(3) More "enforcement" is offered, in the form of the occasional police officer driving down the street.
(4) Nothing changes.

It doesn't have to be this way. There are lots of alternatives to speed bumps--options that narrow the roadway, improve aesthetics and lead to big improvements in safety for all road users.

In the particular case of Camp Street, given the importance of safe crossings for schoolchildren, pedestrian refuges at crosswalks would be one natural solution. Pedestrian refuges not only calm traffic, but also simplify crossing the street by having children cross one direction of traffic at a time.

Safety improvements like these should be standard features of our community. It would be great to see Norwalk's DPW taking the initiative to respond to residents' speeding concerns with their own proposals.
A pedestrian refuge improves pedestrian safety while calming traffic. (credit: buildinggreen.com)