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Norwalker: City Needs to Be Bicycle Friendly

NORWALK, Conn. — David McCarthy, secretary of the Zoning Commission and Republican candidate for Common Council in District E, went for a bike ride Thursday, but it wasn't just for recreation. McCarthy was participating in a study to make Norwalk more bicycle friendly. He writes about it below:

The importance of bike and ped planning to create a livable, walkable and bikeable city became very evident to me today. Having previously risked life and limb on an extended walking tour of my part of the city, I know the hazards of side view mirrors and speeders of every sort. Of course, most every town and city on the East Coast started out as walkable ... colonial villages didn't have cars, and horses do tend to walk.

The post-war boom that created suburbia also created the sprawl that gave birth to the automobile-centric society we live in. Anyone who has lived in a center city and relied on mass transit and bikes for a while knows the major difference in lifestyle this creates. Unfortunately, the largest part of our population never thinks about life without a car. I don't know what I would do without my Flex.

To assist in the work being done under the Transportation Management Plan study, I took my new friend Peter Libre and consultant Dan Burden around this side of town by bike. Today was a school holiday, so the traffic wasn't quite as bad as it might have been, but nevertheless, we don't live in what can be considered a bike-friendly city. As I recall, there was significant political resistance to the approval of this study. That was misguided and disappointing.

Now, I don't know how many bike-friendly cities there really are, but Bicycling Magazine does ... their top 50 includes New York and Boston, but not one city or town in Connecticut. So, real urban centers are adding the infrastructure and support, it would seem, while edge cities like Norwalk are only now beginning to recognize the need.

We are recognizing the need and the simplicity of making changes. By working together to add simple and cost-neutral touches to our roadways, we can make a difference for pedestrians and bicyclists alike. Eliminating center stripes, adding sharrows or large striped bike lanes accomplishes the goals of creating a safe-biking environment while having an impact on the flow of traffic as well. Creating a little lack of confidence in the roadway might seem counter-intuitive, but it actually slows traffic and allows better use of the roadway by walkers and bikers.

The more we create a user-friendly environment for this subset of our citizens, the more that can join their ranks. I have advocated for Transit Oriented Development and that goes hand in hand with access to mass transportation. The more we can create linkages that don't involve motor vehicles and the more we ingrain our young people in avoiding using cars, the more we can create a lasting culture shift.

So, what are the benefits? To me, a man who enjoys his bacon, there is a decidedly beneficial boost to my health. That is true across the board and will tend to affect society as a whole through a reduction in long-term health-care costs. I see this as similar to anti-smoking acts. Enabling a physical activity might just allow a few citizens to help themselves to be healthier. The other effects aren't too shabby, either: the lack of congestion, the lack of air pollution, the end of dependence on foreign oil.

Ok, so I took a bike ride and solved the energy crisis. No, not really. I will still get in my car tomorrow and so will you, most likely. The difference won't be made tomorrow or next week but in the next few decades as our children's children begin to take over. In the same manner as the proclivity to smoke or other archaic habits have faded, so might the over-reliance on inefficient, uneconomical modes of transport.

Contact reporter Nancy Chapman at nchapman@thedailynorwalk.com

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