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.

3 comments:

  1. Well said, David. Your balanced analysis is a joy to read. The fact that our representatives are using the term "road diet" is encouraging, and even though it seemed politics got in the way of greater support last night, I agree with you that this is a step in the right direction.

    Mr. Hempstead suggested sharrows on Beach Rd. in the near future, and that a consultant recommended them. I hope he understands that was in a preliminary section of the report that just listed options to be evaluated, and was not in the final recommendations, for good reason. As the report states in its section on sharrows, which also reflects national standards, sharrows are used on low volume roads with low speeds, under 35 mph. They are most often seen on side streets that are 2 lanes only, or one-way, not on 4-lane roads. We all know Beach Rd has a much higher average speed despite a 25 mph speed limit, where some cars exceed 50 mph, and considering that the existing 4 lane configuration encourages speeding, passing, and even drag racing, it is not wise to put sharrows on this road in lieu of a road diet which was the consultant's final recommendation. This was even stated by Mr. Kydes, who recently said he was for sharrows, (including that when he attended a bike rally last year during election season where he stated he was for bike lanes on Beach Rd., he really meant sharrows, even though that term was not being used then). Last night he stated clearly he was against any sharing of the road as it was too dangerous, so now he is against sharrows too. It is confusing.

    As we heard last night, any resolution coming from the DPW Committee via the Council is not binding,although it is helpful to get the Council on record as it is the representative body of the city, and hopefully a revised resolution will be forthcoming. However, the actual decision to move forward is now solely up to the 3-member Traffic Authority, with the mayor as head, who do not meet until July. Hopefully there will be more transparency on the city website about this mysterious authority, which does not appear anywhere under Boards and Commissions or under "traffic issues" under DPW. This issue was brought up last night by councilmembers. The TA does appear under "agendas" but you would have to know to look there, which not many members of the public know to do. When the next meeting is announced it will be important for the public to be notified, so stay tuned.

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  2. Has anyone continued writing this blog? I heard David may no longer live in Norwalk. Dave - if you still look at this, how could someone post on this blog?

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  3. kds, I would love to see this blog continue. Most of the Livable Norwalk activity has moved to the Facebook group but I think the blog is an important and more visible forum. Please shoot me a message on FB (https://www.facebook.com/davidmarcus1) if you would like to contribute.

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