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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Cyclists and Walkers Share Thoughts in Advance of Forum

Cyclists and Walkers Share Thoughts in Advance of Forum
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Fairfield Citizen News)

Fairfield, CT – On Thursday evening, April 14, at Osborn Hill Elementary School, 760 Stillson Road, a public forum sponsored by the Town of Fairfield Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan Advisory Committee will address bike and pedestrian access and safety throughout town. The forum will be an opportunity for residents and committee members to share ideas and concerns.

The Committee was created through a grant from the Greater Bridgeport Regional Planning Agency and is comprised of volunteer residents and representatives from the Town Planning and Zoning Commission, Police Department, Public Works and the GBRPA.

In advance of the forum, the Citizen News spoke with Kirsten Etela, the committee’s chair, and hit the street to chat with cyclists and pedestrians about the issues.

“I feel that current facilities for walkers are inadequate and many sidewalks are incomplete,” said Etela. “The town’s been doing a good job addressing, but it needs to go further. For cyclists, the challenge is the number of cars on the road and their speed. There’s also a lack of education of both cyclists and motorists on how to share the road. Motorists by law must give cyclists at least three feet of space when passing and, more often than not, that doesn’t happen.”

Out walking together along Beach Road, Fairfield residents Carrie Cochrane and Leslie Noland were mostly satisfied with conditions. “We do a three-mile route in the beach area,” said Cochrane. “We feel safe walking and no threats from cars, and there are ample sidewalks. In the winter, of course, sidewalks were impossible, but that was due to all the snow.”

Noland pointed out a couple trouble spots, however. “If it’s a main road with no sidewalks, like Sasco Hill Road or Round Hill Road, I try to avoid it,” she said. “Pequot Avenue and the Turkey Trot route in Southport could really use sidewalks, too.”

Cochrane was happy about a few recent improvements. “The new sidewalks around Unquowa and Sturges are fabulous,” she said. “They made it more of a walking area, especially with kids.”

The pair felt a dedicated walking area wouldn’t be of interest to them, as they like to change up their routes, but that it could be good for kids on bikes and moms with strollers.

Trotting east on the Post Road near the Shell station, Sam Audino, 16, of Fairfield, said he does a lot of walking around town and enjoys it. “I’ve actually been avoiding getting my driver’s permit because I feel that, if I have it, I might get quite lazy and drive around all the time. I find sidewalks to be good downtown and wide enough for walkers and bikers to pass each other.”

Still, Audino pointed out a couple difficult areas. “The intersection by Borders can be a hassle to cross given cars making various turns,” he said. “Another tough spot is North Benson Road where it goes under the train overpass. There’s just no sidewalk there.”

Pushing a stroller east on the Post Road and carrying her infant son, Kelly Scinto thought walking routes were better near downtown versus the outskirts. “Beyond Brick Walk headed east, it gets difficult,” she said. “There are fewer defined paths. If there was a dedicated area to walk or pedestrian zone, we would love that.”

Cyclist Jonah Burnim, 31, of Fairfield, who was biking west on the Post Road, was particularly opinionated on issues. “Riding the roads is pretty much suicide and you get yelled at for riding on the sidewalks,” he said. “Riding between Beach Road and Mill Plain is especially challenging. I feel like an alien. I get looks and comments like “Oh, my God” when I ride on the sidewalk. But when I’m on the street, no one’s going to stop for me.”

Burnim added, “I ride to work at a local insurance agency and other times ride for pleasure. More bike paths would be sweet and make me feel like I’m accepted and not sneaking around.”

Cyclists Jim Sabo, 22, of Bridgeport, and Tom Frost, 17, of Fairfield, were also very vocal about their local biking experience. “I do a lot of bike riding from Black Rock to Fairfield,” said Sabo. “I feel like I’m kind of limited coming into Fairfield and competing with pedestrians on the sidewalks. In the streets, it’s worse as I’m going head-on into traffic. Cars don’t pay attention to traffic signs or lights and they’re coming pretty fast. I almost got hit the other day when these two cars came through the intersection by Cumberland Farms. A designated bike lane on the street like they have in New York would be ideal.”

Added Frost, “Sometimes when I ride on the sidewalk by a business, cars exit right out into the sidewalk and right in the path where I’m riding. You can barely stop in time.”