People Friendly Stamford Op-Ed: "Board of Reps lost on the trail" (Stamford Advocate; Sept 15, 2019)
"Stamford intersections get more pedestrian friendly thanks to state grant" (Stamford Advocate; Aug 22, 2019)
"Bike lanes remain scarce in Stamford, as officials aim to add more" (Stamford Advocate; June 22, 2019)
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).
Stamford Now Has A Complete Streets Ordinance
In 2014, People Friendly Stamford advocated for the adoption of a Complete Streets Ordinance for the City. Members of PFS advocated to include a Complete Streets Ordinance as a strategy in the City's new Master Plan, we reached out to Board of Reps members, and held events to support this ordinance. The Board of Reps unanimously approved the Complete Streets Ordinance on Monday, January 5th, 2015!
Complete Streets are defined as roadways that are designed and operated to provide safe and convenient access to all users. Users are all people that use roadways, including pedestrians, bicyclists, public transportation riders, and motorists and includes people of all ages and abilities, including children, seniors and individuals with disabilities.
The ordinance applies to transportation improvement projects within the public right of way in Stamford. Transportation improvement projects are defined as any public or private investment with the public right of way, regardless of funding source, including, but not limited to, new construction, reconstruction, alteration, and maintenance inclusive of road surfacing. The ordinance mandates the City Office of Operations to review all transportation improvement projects and explore opportunities to meet the needs of all users. Further, all transportation projects located within 1,000 feet of a school, commercial center, or bus stop shall include infrastructure designed to accommodate pedestrian centers.
However, the Complete Streets Ordinance will not apply where prohibited by law, such as interstate highways or pedestrian-only paths. Also, where the costs of these accommodations are excessively disproportionate to the need or probable use, the Director of Operations must document the rationale for exemption from the Complete Streets Ordinance. Finally, a Complete Streets Manual detailing the steps to implement this ordinance shall be adopted by the Office of Operations and approved by the Board of Representatives.
People Friendly Stamford will continue to advocate for the application of this ordinance to encourage and prioritize non-motorized transit users, which are considered vulnerable users (according to state’s vulnerable user bill), and establish roadways that accommodate all users in a context-sensitive manner.
Thank you to all for your support and effort to make Stamford more People Friendly! Our work is on-going and we look forward to continuing our bike and pedestrian advocacy work in 2015.