Two-way street? A forum for Fairfield cyclists, walkers to sound off
Updated 4:39 pm, Tuesday, April 5, 2011
Calling all bicyclists and pedestrians. Fairfield planners want to hear from you.
Issues concerning access and safety for those who bike or walk around town will be the topic of an April 14 forum conducted by a committee that's been scrutinizing those issues for more than a year. The group, known as the Fairfield Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan Advisory Committee, hopes the forum provides an opportunity for the public to share ideas and concerns.
The committee was created through a grant from the Greater Bridgeport Regional Planning Agency, and includes volunteer citizens and representatives from the Town Plan and Zoning Commission, Police Department, Department of Public Works and the planning agency.
"I feel that current facilities for walkers are inadequate and many sidewalks are incomplete," said Kirsten Etela, the committee's chairwoman. "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."
"We do a 3-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."
But Cochrane was also 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 youngsters on bicyclesand and mothers pushing 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 problem 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, riding west on the Post Road, was particularly opinionated. "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 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."
Frost said "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."
Have your say when the Fairfield Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan Advisory Committee holds a public forum at 7 p.m. April 14 in Osborn Hill School, 760 Stillson Road. For additional information about the meeting, call Lauren Lanham in the first selectman's office at 203-256-3030 or committee Chairwoman Kristin Etela at 203-256-9015.