New study to examine bike and pedestrian improvements
Published 1:05 am, Friday, April 9, 2010
"The entire Post Road is a death trap," wrote poster No. 354, anonymously, on the "Fairfield, CT Needs a Bicycle/Pedestrian Plan" online petition.
David Henry agreed. "Twice I've come close to being run over at night crossing Old Post at the four-way stop with Beach at Town Hall," he said. "It is safer to cross a street in New York City than in Fairfield."
On Wednesday, the Board of Selectmen heard both posters -- along with 729 others -- loud and clear. It approved a nine-person advisory committee to help the Greater Bridgeport Regional Planning Agency (GBRPA, an advisory organization) in its coming study of pedestrian and bike traffic in Fairfield. The committee includes town officials, several residents and a local merchant.
The study was approved by the selectmen on March 10 and will come to the town at no cost. It will be managed by Mark Nielsen, the GBRPA director, who's now overseeing a similar project in Bridgeport. Nielsen was not available on Thursday to comment for this article.
The study should last around eight months, town officials said. During that stretch, the advisory committee will help Nielsen collect traffic and accident data, single out neighborhoods with high pedestrian and bike activity, review the town's current transportation strategies, and create short-, medium- and long-term plans for how Fairfield can bolster its network of non-automobile trails.
And while the committee will turn to the public for input, it already has feedback from the online petition. Many of the 731 responders -- like Henry and poster No. 354 -- contributed personal anecdotes with their names and offered advice.
The result: a bird's eye view of the streets, corners and neighborhoods that cause pedestrians the most trouble, and of those with the greatest potential.
"All of Beach and Fairfield Beach roads [need work]," wrote Patrick Neary, poster No. 149. Neary then mentioned Mill Plain Road as a danger-zone, likening the stretch to the back straight of a NASCAR track.
"Please be sure to include the area near the new Whole Foods/Vermont Avenue," said Illya Berecz, poster No. 114. "We would be happy to cut down on our auto usage if we had a safe area in which to ride our bikes/walk to the new metro center."
Alyssa Israel, a past board member of Fairfielders Protecting Land and Neighborhoods (PLAN), created the petition in mid-December, on Nielsen's advice, as a way of showing town leaders that the proposed study would have widespread support. As Israel recalls, Nielsen told her in a phone conversation last fall that he would perform the study for Fairfield at no cost. The offer caught her off-guard -- she'd phoned Nielsen that day for information on the state's repaving project on the Post Road.
Excited, she drew up the petition and shared it with friends and bike enthusiasts she knew. At the time, the group was a loose association that had begun meeting last summer. It soon grew into the "Fairfield Bike/Walk Coalition" -- of which Israel is co-founder -- the group that would midwife the study.
One coalition member forwarded the petition to all members of the Representative Town Meeting (RTM). Another sent it to the Trek Bike Store at 1215 Post Road. Trek sent an e-mail blast to some 1,000 people.
"The petition just spread like wildfire," Israel said. It launched on Dec. 14 and had around 330 signatories by New Year's.
Israel, a past member of the Planning and Zoning Commission, said that her growing interest in "new urbanism" -- a city-planning movement that promotes walk-ability and downtown areas -- is what catalyzed her participation in the movement. A Rowland Road resident and public health worker, she said she likes walking from her home to the downtown area, but that doing so forces her to skip between sidewalk and street.
"I'd like to walk on the sidewalk the whole way," she said. "Plus, we don't have any bike paths in the town. I guess we'll find out if they're feasible, given the street widths, in the coming months. That's what we're depending on [Nielsen] for."
While the study will be free, carrying out its suggestions -- be it connecting sidewalks, carving out bike routes or linking trails across town (or with trails in other towns) -- will cost money. The Fairfield Bike/Walk Coalition doesn't see that as a deterrent.
"Bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure has become a national and state priority," the group wrote to the Board of Selectmen in March. "It is likely that more funding will soon become available for bicycle and pedestrian projects, and when it does, Fairfield will be in the perfect position to go after this money."
And while the petition was intended for town residents only, outsiders have weighed in frequently, providing bike and pedestrian enthusiasts here with a jolt of encouragement. Oddly, many comments have come from Wisconsin.
"You have an amazing city and I really enjoyed my visit," said Roger Bird, poster No. 635, who resides in that state. "There are many cities in the USA taking a lead on bicycle lanes, safe routes to school and bicycle inspired city planning. I would LOVE to see this happen in Fairfield!"
Anonymous poster No. 601, also from Wisconsin, turned philosophical. "To have a street without the capacity to bicycle is like having a sunset in the complete darkness," he said. "It makes no sense!"
The petition is available at http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/fairfield-needs-a-bicycle-and-pedestrian-plan.