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Authority Poised to Act on Norwalk's Beach Road

NORWALK, Conn. – Mayor Richard Moccia is poised to expose Norwalk to unnecessary liability, according to activists, who have reached out to the city's corporation counsel in an effort to stop a decision that is planned for Monday.

Item three on the agenda for Monday's public meeting of the Traffic Authority, a three-person board appointed and chaired by Moccia, is "Approve the implementation of Wide Outside Lanes (WOL), aka Shared Roadways, aka Sharrows, on Calf Pasture Beach Road from Marvin Street to the entrance to Calf Pasture Beach in accordance with the attached plan." This is in defiance of three studies paid for by and presented to the city of Norwalk, activists say.

There is no plan attached to the online agenda, and a request to the mayor's office for a copy was rejected.

"All three studies recommended a 'road diet' and no study recommended sharrows," said Dr. Peter Libre, a resident of Seaside Place, near the beach. "If something bad happens, don't you think it's possible that a lawyer could say, 'Gee, not one, not two, three studies that you paid for told you not to do this.' Why would you do exactly what they told you not to do? It's dangerous for the cyclists, for the pedestrians, for the teenage drivers and the city's finances, in terms of liability."

Sharrows are traffic lanes marked to indicate that motor vehicles are expected to share the lanes with bicyclists.

Libre calls the half-mile stretch leading to the beach the most dangerous road in the city. "I know of at least six teenage deaths there in the last four decades," he said, a claim he made at Tuesday's council meeting.

"I understand Dr. Libre's concerns about safety," Moccia said Tuesday. "I checked with Chief Rilling, there has been no major accidents or fatalities down there for many years. One is too many, I agree with him."

Council members were addressing the beach road issue, as Democrats had proposed a resolution urging the city to test the "road diet" plan – which calls for making the road one lane in either direction and using the remaining space for a lane dedicated to cyclists and pedestrians – by putting up orange cones in July and August.

Councilman Michelle Maggio (R-District C) objected to the test-and-learn plan because part of the issue is the safety of children walking to Marvin Elementary School. The trial period would come when school is not in session.

Councilman Nick Kydes (R-District C) was offended that the proposed lane would be in the roadway, on the same level as speeding cars, with no curb to protect anyone. "To put children, to put cyclists on a road that is going to be shared with cars is contradictory to the safety issue," he said. "I don't think that's safe. I think this needs to be well thought out."

There was talk of tabling the resolution and sending it to the Traffic Authority. "We'll discuss it," said Moccia, one of three members of the board. "Really, we will."  Councilman Matt Miklave (D-District A) objected, saying that the resolution couldn't be sent to the authority, and the council voted to send it to the department of public works committee.

Moccia did not mention Tuesday night that the next meeting of the Traffic Authority would be Monday. Advocates found out when Diane Cece checked the city's website and read the agenda. Libre emphasized that the agenda uses the word "approve" in reference to sharrows.

"The advocacy group lit up the internet when they found out," said Miklave in an e-mail. "They seemed to be pretty mad that the mayor did not say anything about it on Tuesday, as if the Traffic Authority was trying to pull a fast one."

Moccia, who spent much of the week in Orlando at a mayors conference , did not return a request for comment Saturday. The other two members of Traffic Authority are Republican Pete Torrano and Democrat Dan O'Connor, both of whom are appointed by the mayor in accordance with the city charter.

"It’s a little unfair to try to prejudge what the Traffic Authority is going to do," Moccia said Tuesday as council members debated whether to pass the resolution or refer it to the authority. "If it is tabled and referred to us, passed and referred to us, I believe, in talking to Mr. Alvord, I believe we are willing to look at some items that might not be perfect answers for everybody but might be the compromise. I do believe there are some efforts that we can do to at least get some shared lane markings on there, to at least make drivers aware."

"It is interesting, given some of the comments from members about the safety issues created by putting a bike lane next to a vehicle travel lane, that the Traffic Authority is considering putting a bike lane inside of a vehicle travel lane," said Miklave in a Friday email.

Activists say there are three studies that do not recommend sharrows for Beach Road.

The Norwalk Pedestrian and Bikeway Transportation Plan, Recommended Improvement Plan, by Fitzgerald and Halliday, which is dated January 2012, was done for the planning and zoning department. It is available on the city's website, through this link.

"The relevant pages are page 9 (the Tier One Improvement Plan), that does not mention sharrows, page 32 (Calf Pasture Beach Road recommendations) that does not mention sharrows), and page 61 that describes sharrows' appropriate use on low-speed roads where cars and bicycles can mix freely," said Mike Mushak in an e-mail.

Sharrows are recommended in a preliminary draft of the plan, available through this link (listed as Task 2 on the city's website on a lead-in page)

Libre provided chapter two of the Transportation Management Plan, although his copy is labeled a draft, for review purposes only. That was prepared for the department of public works and is attached as a PDF below. Beach Road is section L, on page 49.

Dan Burden prepared the bicycle/pedestrian part of the plan. "I believe that this is the final chapter that I prepared for our team," he said in an e-mail to Libre. "Although I do not have a print copy of the final report, I do not believe anyone made changes to this chapter. I have gone through my files, and I cannot see where there would have been a point where sharrows would have been recommended for Calf Pasture. Even so, the mayor should act upon the final report, not preliminary judgements before all of the information was in. I recall that one of the concerns for Calf Pasture, reflecting the views of people living in the area, is speeding. A road diet is a highly proven and very affordable solution to this problem. Sharrows would have little or no effect to change such behaviors."

Activists say another study was done by the health department but have not provided further specifics.

The meeting of the Traffic Authority is at 4 p.m. Monday at police headquarters, and is open to the public.

"What the mayor is saying is sharrows," Libre said. "Sharrows don't make the road safer for anybody. It's just totally a zero. It just spends maybe $5-$10,000 putting down some paint that probably will be redone when the next administration comes in here and realizes it has to fix this mistake."

Correction made 1:25 P.M.: Resolution was sent to the DPW committee.

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