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Friday, April 15, 2011

Bike/Pedestrian Forum a Two-Way Street for Idea Exchange

Bike/Pedestrian Forum a 
Two-Way Street for Idea Exchange
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Fairfield Citizen)

Fairfield, CT – The experts crunched the data and outlined approaches. Citizens rolled up their sleeves and marked up maps. At the end of the session, targets of concern had been isolated for a further look.

Hosted by the Fairfield Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan Advisory Committee Thursday evening April 14 at Osborn Hill School, an open forum focused on issues related to traversing the town’s highways, byways and sidewalks. Following an informal reception, various town departments outlined their involvement in the bicycle and pedestrian plan, results from the related 2010 survey were presented and the approximately 90 attendees were split into groups by neighborhood to make recommendations addressing trouble spots.

Providing background about the Committee, Laura Lanham, Constituent Concerns Coordinator in the Office of the First Selectman, said, “Formed about a year ago, it’s comprised of a small group of town officials and members of the public, along with the Greater Bridgeport Regional Planning Agency (GBRPA). Its survey was made available online last summer and received responses from 554 residents. It sought to identify areas of concern and where residents currently walk and bike. From the feedback, the GBRPA has initiated a plan, upon which we are soliciting input from the general public.”

Resident Meg Capodanno came dressed for the occasion, rolling into the meeting room with her bicycle and related gear. “I’m an avid cyclist,” she said, “and think Fairfield has the potential to be a town easily accessed by bike/foot. But most people don’t travel around much because of traffic issues. People are not cautious and some react very aggressively to bikers. I would like to see bike lanes in a one-mile radius around all schools.”

First Selectman Ken Flatto opened the presentation, crediting Fairfielder Alyssa Israel with initiating the planning. “She kept saying ‘you’ve gotta do something’ and it took off from there.”

Kristen Etela, who heads up the Advisory Committee, said the evening was the result of months of effort. “It’s the culmination of work we’ve been doing to become a truly walkable, bikeable, livable community,” she said. “We looked at many aspects including transportation, environment, our natural resources, local economy, health and safety. We’re at a critical point where we need your help to meet goals we’ve outlined.”

Fairfield Police Deputy Chief Chris Lyddy spoke to safety issues. “This venture will help us define how to make Fairfield safer,” he said. “We’re committed to doing everything we can to reduce accidents.”

Director of Planning and Zoning Joe Devonshuk said his department’s role has been to review the Committee’s proposals to ensure they meet town guidelines. “We’re anticipating a report, much of which we expect will mirror our own plans.”

Bill Hurley, Town Engineer, said he has been busy gathering citizen concerns about sidewalks and access, and analyzing those sites. “Neighbor support, though, is key in addressing,” he said. “We’re seeking input about connecting sidewalks and have already had some achievements in areas of town with regard to the Safe Routes to School initiative.”

Public Health Educator Sarah Levy said there are great incentives to increase bike and pedestrian access. “One of the most significant health issues in this country is the lack of physical activity, which results in such conditions as high cholesterol, heart disease and loss of muscle mass. The upside is that these conditions respond well to increased activity.”

Mark Nielsen of the GBRPA was the most vocal of presenters, outlining plan goals and presenting survey results. “Almost all surveyed voiced concern about safety and indicated a desire for better access,” he said. “Popular areas they travel to include town center, the beach area and the university, which aligns with where they say they bike.”

Nielsen shared a desire to move to a “complete streets” policy wherein roadways are converted to accommodate all users, not just automobiles. Complete street enhancements would include streetscape elements, use of permeable materials, on-street parking designation and bicycle facilities. For bikers, approaches include shared roadways, bike lanes, painted bike boxes and shared-use paths. For pedestrians, wider sidewalks, curb extensions, textured pavement, raised medians and signals are all considerations.

Emerging from their breakout sessions, the Greenfield Hill team suggested making Bronson Road more biker friendly. The Stratfield area group imagined Stratfield Road is wide enough to be biked, though sidewalks were lacking. They also desired more connections to shopping and the new train station. The Tunxis Hill set suggested Black Rock Turnpike be made more pedestrian friendly, and include a centralized bike parking area. The Town Center crew wanted sidewalks for Round Hill Road, improved crosswalks and bike storage facilities at the train station. Southport wanted better continuity between bike paths and town center.

“Almost all of this is about speed though,” said Clif Meyers. “It would be great if we could enforce limits in a non-punitive way. I think we could flourish.”

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