People Friendly Stamford
Our mission is to make Stamford, Connecticut’s neighborhoods safe, accessible, and enjoyable for bicycling and walking. We hope to engage YOU in our effort to work with the City and expand the links for pedestrians and bikes in our transportation system!
By William Wright, Rob Colgan, Dice Oh and Chris DawsonPublished 6:00 am EDT, Sunday, September 15, 2019
The Merritt Parkway Trail — a planned walking and bicycle path through the woods near the Merritt Parkway — could be a transformative recreational destination and a vital new transportation link in Stamford. But the Board of Representatives killed it at its September meeting before it could even be designed. It did so with almost no input from the community and based on speculation, innuendo and misinformation. The decision was ill-considered and a major loss for Stamford and its residents.
The plan for the trail is to take a small portion of the roughly 150 foot-wide, state-controlled right of way along the Merritt and transform this unused space into a pedestrian and bicycle path that would eventually run the length of the Fairfield County. It would also become a part of the East Coast Greenway, which runs from Maine to Florida.
Through the hard work of the city’s Transportation Department, the city was awarded a $160,000 grant from the State of Connecticut to design the first mile of the trail between High Ridge Road and Newfield Avenue in Stamford, where the right of way runs between the Merritt on one side and an office park and the Italian Center on the other. All that was required was that the city contribute $40,000 toward the design to accept the grant. Unfortunately, this expenditure required approval of the Board of Representatives.
One would think a walking and biking trail in the woods along a highway that abuts an office park and community center would be as uncontroversial as it gets for city government, but according to the several members of the Board of Reps, the plan for the trail is dangerous, destructive and unrealistic.
Rep. John Zelinsky, for example, said the trail would be a magnet for criminals, but provided no support for his scaremongering (there is none). Rep. Nina Sherwood said she was voting against the trail because the city needs more green space, ignoring that the greenspace she is trying to “save” is a wooded stretch along a major highway that is currently off-limits to the public. The trail is supported by the Connecticut Forest and Park Association and would improve the green space because it would allow for the elimination of invasive species and reintroduction of native ones. Rep. Eric Morson, who represents a North Stamford district that would benefit greatly from the trail, said he opposed the funding because he doesn’t know whether the trail is feasible, ignoring that a feasibility study has been completed and concluded that the trail is feasible.
In reality, many of these so-called concerns are merely attempts to disguise the NIMBY (not in my backyard!) sentiments of a small group of naysayers, rather than the consideration of what is best for Stamford as a whole. Although Representatives Benjamin Lee, Steve Kolenberg and Bradley Michelson spoke admirably in favor of the trail, they were vastly outnumbered by others who were really only acting in the interests of a small minority.
There were other concerns expressed regarding the potential cost of eventual construction and the impact of the trail on the aesthetics of the highway, but these are concerns that can only be evaluated after the design is complete. The required $40,000 contribution by the city — which is only 20 percent of the design’s cost — is not insignificant, but is small in the context of the city’s overall expenditures and was already allocated by the city to use as matching funds for a grant. When combined with the grant and weighed against the benefits of the trail, it’s a bargain.
These potential benefits are many: new green space and recreational facilities, improved neighborhood connectivity, and increased economic development, among others. These all add up to making Stamford a much more attractive place to live and work. Trails like this are enormously popular wherever they are built. Here in Stamford, this initial section of the trail would connect two major corridors and turn an inaccessible stretch of land into a new mile-long park for residents of all ages to enjoy. This is a win for all of Stamford.
It is unfortunate the Board of Reps voted against the Merritt Parkway Trail, but there is still hope. The board should reconsider its decision and vote to hold a hearing so the public can be heard. Thousands of people have already signed a petition in support of the trail in Stamford and there are many more who support it. The board should act now to save the trail and allow this important project to move forward.
William Wright, Rob Colgan, Dice Oh and Chris Dawson are residents of Stamford and members of People Friendly Stamford, a group working to make the city’s neighborhoods safe, accessible and enjoyable for bicycling and walking (www.peoplestamford.org).