June 17, 2019

First Connecticut Bike-Walk Summit Raises Hope

If you doubt that bicycles and pedestrians are beginning to get some long-overdue attention as road users, those doubts might have been revised on Saturday, Nov. 13, when about 150 people gathered at Central Connecticut State University for the state’s first Bike-Walk Summit.

Participants learned about the latest developments at the Connecticut Department of Transportation, heard about national trends in community planning such as “Complete Streets,” got the scoop on the new legislative landscape, and learned about national and international bicycle and pedestrian planning—among many other topics.

The summit was sponsored by www.BikeWalkCT.org. Old Saybrook representatives included members of the Bikeways Committee, the Board of Selectmen, and the Police Commission.

Highlights:

A “Complete Streets” law took effect on Oct. 1 in Connecticut. This refers to a practice of considering all road users in street design, including non-motorized users. This new law says, among other things, that the state and municipalities working with state money must set aside 1% of funds for bike and pedestrian projects.

Things are busy in New Haven, where a number of tangible changes are underway. The city has completed a street design manual that addresses bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. It is available at the New Haven web site: www.cityofnewhaven.com/TrafficParking/pdfs/CS-Manual-04-05-10.pdf

New Haven is using the “SeeClickFix” Web site to accept public input about safety issues and repairs. (http://www.SeeClickFix.com) SeeClickFix is a local advocacy Web site that lets users write about issues and encourages communication between residents and local government. SeeClickFix users post a complaint about problems that occur within a set of boundaries on a Google Map, like a missing stop sign or a damaged curb, and the site communicates the problem to local agencies and departments, with a mark the Google map.

New Haven also has a “Vision Zero” initiative, an idea that got its start in Scandinavia and is spreading worldwide. It is based on the premise that traffic fatalities are NOT inevitable.

The Connecticut Department of Transportation is exploring six major changes to past policies, including the following:

  1. Setting aside 50% of Federal Transportation Enhancement funds received by the DOT for bicycle and pedestrian projects.
  2. Allowing Surface Transportation Funds (STP) to be used for bike and pedestrian projects.
  3. Putting sidewalks on an equal footing with other elements of road design.
  4. Including more bicycle and pedestrian design standards in the DOT Design Manual.
  5. Making faster responses to local situations, implementing of a “quick fix” mechanism.
  6. Collaborating with the Department of Environmental Protection, which currently administers many miles of bike and pedestrian trails within the state park system.

Comments regarding changes to DOT policy can be sent to Tom Maziarz, DOT’s Bureau Chief for Policy and Planning. Email: maziarztj@ct.gov.

The Capital Region Council of Governments (CRCOG) has a “Smart Cycling” education program. According to Sandra Fry, Transportation Planner, these programs are based on the principles advanced by the American League of Bicyclists: “Cyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles.”

Ms. Fry reviewed who and what causes of cycling accidents. According to her sources, responsibility for cycling accidents is about 50/50 between cyclist and motorist. She also showed that about 50% of all cycling accidents involve falls by the cyclist, indicating that many riders have poor control of the bike. The Smart Cycling program teaches five layers of safety for cyclists, including bike control, following traffic laws, proper positioning on the road, hazard avoidance, and use of helmets.

Legal trends are causing more state and local governments to look at laws as they pertain to bicyclists and pedestrians, according to Kyle Wiswall of the Tristate Transportation Campaign. Nonetheless, there continues to be a lot of misinformation regarding those laws. One of the primary objections to “complete street” designs, he said, is the fear that towns raise their liabilities with designs that encourage multiple types of users. Contrary to common opinion, however, towns have “design immunity” as long as implementation is done according to accepted design standards (such as those advanced in connection with Connecticut’s new “Complete Streets” law).

Wiswall also discussed the “vulnerable user law” that will be considered in the upcoming legislative session. This law creates a new category of road user—anyone outside the crumple zone of a motor vehicle. This can include emergency workers while outside their vehicles, road workers, pedestrians, cyclists, roller bladers, skateboarders, horseback riders, and others. If passed, it will give police the power to cite drivers whose role in accidents with “vulnerable users” is currently uncovered by existing laws.

Tim Blumenthal, executive director of Bikes Belong, shared that about 60% of survey respondents in Portland, OR, could be classified as “concerned” about safety in cycling—a factor which causes them to cycle less than they might. This 60% will be the source of growth in transportation cycling as better infrastructure and better education become established.

These were just some of the highlights. Information flowed freely, as did some cautious optimism that a new day may be dawning for those who would like to leave their cars in the driveway. The presentations will be posted at the BikeWalkCT Web site by the week of Nov. 22.

For some interesting Web sites, check out these:

Connecticut bicycling and walking advocacy site where the Summit presentations will be posted: http://www.bikewalkct.org

Walk to School Pledge: http://walkitbikeitct.org

United States Bicycle Route System: http://www.adventurecycling.org/usbrs

Share-the-road signage in Connecticut: http://sharetheroadct.org

Benchmarking report 2010 on biking and walking in the US: http://www.PeoplePoweredMovement.org

Kathy Connolly is Chairman of the OldSaybrook Bikeways Committee and can be reached at kathy.connolly@snet.net

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