Town of Fairfield asks: Should money be spent on pedestrian and bicycle routes?
Published 12:52 pm, Wednesday, July 7, 2010
If you traverse Fairfield's streets and sidewalks by pedals or on foot, officials want to hear from you.
The town and Greater Bridgeport Regional Planning Agency have joined forces to conduct a survey of local bicycle and pedestrian issues. The primary objectives of the poll are to assess the existing conditions for bicyclists and pedestrians in Fairfield and decide if, and how, the town might make things safer and more accessible.
The brief survey asks people to describe their current biking or walking routes in town; if they are interested in other routes and are those routes accessible; to suggest improvements for cyclists and pedestrians, and would the respondent support using public funds to make those improvements.
Survey results will be accepted by the First Selectman's Office until July 31, but the Fairfield Citizen recently conducted an informal survey gauge public sentiments about the issues.
Doug Fried, an avid cyclist, bikes from his house on Pequot Avenue in Southport to his office building in Stamford every day, weather permitting. Fried takes the back roads as much as possible, avoiding the Post Road not just because of the heavy congestion, but also because of the inattention often shown by drivers of motor vehicles. On his bike, he feels vulnerable knowing that so many drivers have their minds anywhere but on the road -- sending text messages, fumbling with their CDs, putting on makeup.
Fried strongly favors upgrading conditions for bicyclists locally, arguing that a small expenditure would produce significant benefits. He suggested that paving the road shoulders and marking distinct bike lanes would lessen the conflict between bicyclists and drivers.
"It's a good thing for the town as a whole," he said of the possible improvements. More people on bikes would cut down on vehicular traffic, he said, adding, "We're not talking about a major [infrastructure] expenditure. It's a win, win, win."
And, taking a big-picture view of the positives, Fried theorized that the more people ride bicycles and get out of their cars, the nation's demand for oil will decline, lessening the potential for conflict in the Middle East. Prices of gas and oil would also drop, he said, and the bike-riding public would get more exercise and be in better health.
Based on his years of cycling, Stout has concerns about safety and had a few suggestions on how to improve the wellbeing of bicyclists as well as car drivers. He cited the existing "3-foot law" mandating that drivers and bikers maintain at least a 3-foot buffer from one another. The problem with the law, Stout said, is that the shoulders of many Fairfield roads are strewn with trash, glass and gravel. The risk these obstacles pose to bicyclists forces them to shift closer to the center of the road, often causing drivers to swerve out of their travel lane and into oncoming traffic.
In contrast, Stout cited roads near Compo Beach in Westport as a model for ideal biking. Aside from the beautiful scenery, he said those roads have roughly 6-foot wide bike lanes and, "If there were spots like that [in Fairfield], it would be great, really, really great."
Yet Stout argues that improved safety and aesthetics for bicyclists lie not only in the width of bike lanes and cleaned up road shoulders, but in the mentality of drivers and bikers. He emphasized that while "we're all caffeinated and late for work," everyone must learn to "share the road." He said he is aware that car drivers and bicyclists are both at fault. "Drivers think the road is their sole place" and bicyclists often ignore traffic signs and forget to signal their directions, according to Stout. A simple implementation of "common courtesy" would ameliorate the safety and enjoyment for cyclists and drivers, he said.
Pascale Butcher, head coach and co-founder of Trifitness, a multi-sport training facility next to Trek Bicycle Store on the Post Road in Fairfield, is a native of France who has traveled throughout Europe. She misses the many car-free roads there and believes that the Europeans' view of transportation is entirely different than that held by Americans.
Europeans, Butcher said, are more willing to get around town without cars. As she recalled the pleasure of biking in Europe without a car in sight, she snapped out of her reverie and admitted, "In America, it's not going to happen."
Although Butcher works in downtown Fairfield, she often bikes around Greenfield Hill and north into Easton, but also likes routes along the shoreline.
Asked whether she would support using taxpayer funds to improve bike routes and sidewalks, she quickly answered, "You bet."
But not everyone finds a thrill in biking. And not everyone is in favor of using government funds to improve the sport.
Steve Swett, a 20-year-old college student, views transportation in practical terms. Whenever possible, he drives, or if necessary, commutes by train. Biking is inconvenient, he said, and although he is sometimes irritated by "bicyclists taking up the road," he would rather deal with that nuisance than "waste money when there are more important matters to attend to such as education."
Swett sees no validity in Fried's view that improving conditions for biking in Fairfield and elsewhere could create a snowball effect leading to a decline in demands for oil, lower fuel prices and lessening the potential for war in the Middle East.
He also disagreed with the view that the town could help improve residents' fitness by making biking more attractive. "Exercise," Swett declared, "is a personal choice. I don't think the local government should impose sanctions encouraging a personal choice. Our country's about freedom, am I wrong?"
Still, Swett accepted the notion that the town should help improve safety for bicyclists and drivers as long as officials makes clear to the public that the changes are strictly for safety, not exercise.