Saturday, March 13, 2010

A trail for pedestrians and other non-motorized traffic, running the length of the Norwalk River Valley from Calf Pasture Beach in Norwalk all the way to Danbury.

Editorial: A Danbury-Norwalk hike-and-bike trail

The vision is ambitious, but should quicken the heartbeats of walkers, joggers, bicyclers, car commuters, environmentalists and greenies: A trail for pedestrians and other non-motorized traffic, running the length of the Norwalk River Valley from Calf Pasture Beach in Norwalk all the way to Danbury.
A walk-bike trail of that length, through such varied neighborhoods and terrain, wouldn’t be cheap, or easily done. But it’s a great idea.
A working group with representatives of Ridgefield, Redding, Wilton, Norwalk and Danbury is looking into the concept, which has roots going back decades — talk of a “linear park” along the Route 7 corridor dates at least to the 1970s. In recent years, groups in the different towns along the Norwalk River Valley have built trails, often with the notion of someday linking them into a grand trail that would benefit the entire region.
The working group is chaired by Pat Sesto, a Ridgefielder who heads Wilton’s Department of Environmental Affairs, and Ridgefield is also represented by Conservation Commission Chairman Dr. Ben Oko. The group hopes to build on the largely dormant support for the concept and get the project off the ground. The state has begun selling off properties it purchased for the dead-in-the-water Super 7 highway project, so it makes sense to get the trail project going before possible links in the chain are sold off.
The working group has applied to the federal Recreational Trails Program seeking grant money to finance a routing study that would include seeking input from municipalities, businesses and, yes, people.
People, most likely, will like the idea. While towns like Ridgefield and Redding have a good supply of woodland trails for hiking, there’s a very real shortage of decent safe places to bike, jog, run, or in-line skate. A walk-bike trail from Norwalk to Danbury would fill that need and could prove a boost to some businesses along the route.
And the trail would have a huge public safety benefit by reducing the number of bicyclists and joggers who now, sometimes suicidally, populate the shoulders of Route 7, getting their exercise three or four feet from cars and trucks that whiz by at 50 miles an hour.
A well-designed trail would be a magnet for joggers and bikers, vastly improving road safety in every town along its path.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Group studies walk-bike trail linking Norwalk to Danbury

Group studies walk-bike trail linking Norwalk to Danbury

A working group comprising representatives from Norwalk, Wilton, Ridgefield, Redding and Danbury has formed to explore the development of a multi-use trail for bicyclists, pedestrians and other users of non-motorized transportation. The proposed trail, which would extend from Calf Pasture Beach in Norwalk through the Norwalk River valley to Danbury, would, where possible, incorporate existing trails in Norwalk, Ridgefield and Wilton.
Since the early 1990s, groups that have successfully constructed trails in the individual towns have been exploring the possibility of linking them to form a trail that would benefit the entire region.
Because of this history, the working group believes that there may be significant public support for the project. The group will, however, seek confirmation of this support through an appropriate process of public consultation. It will also seek public input on design, routing, and other aspects of the trail.
The trail would aim to offer a number of benefits to residents and visitors:
  • An alternative to automobile transportation: convenient and safe pedestrian and bicycle travel between rail stations and local businesses, schools, town shopping areas, and parks;
  • A scenic route that links already existing multi-town trails and open space areas and that helps residents and visitors to the region enjoy and appreciate its natural attributes;
  • Encouragement of mass transit ridership by facilitating multi-modal transportation;
  • Reduction of carbon emissions by displacing automobile travel by commuters and local motorists;
  • Recreational and fitness uses; and
  • Expansion of regional tourism.
The working group was assembled during the summer of 2009, with the support of the chief elected officials of Norwalk, Redding, Ridgefield, and Wilton. Representatives from Danbury joined the group soon after. While the group is chaired by Patricia Sesto of Ridgefield, director of Wilton’s Department of Environmental Affairs, most of its members are volunteers.
In the fall of 2009, the working group applied for a grant from the federal Recreational Trails Program, which is administered in Connecticut by the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). The grant would be used to conduct a routing study for the project, including extensive solicitation of input from members of the public, regional planning agencies, municipal boards and commissions, and businesses and other organizations. One of 57 applications submitted this year to the DEP, the working group’s grant request is now on a list of 18 projects awaiting review and authorization by the State Historic Preservation Office and the Federal Highways Administration. A decision on the grant may be made as early as this month.
In its 2009 annual report, the Connecticut Public Transportation Commission expressed its support for the working group’s exploration of the project. According to the report, “The Commission supports the serious consideration of this project as one which: 1) fits the Department of Transportation’s objective of developing multi-modal transportation solutions, and 2) provides citizens with alternative commuting options beyond automobile reliance. The development of a public multi-use trail and corridor would also promote the planned use of the corridor for transportation purposes.”
“This project is a genuine regional undertaking,” said Ms. Sesto. “It offers significant benefits to everyone — residents of the towns directly involved and visitors alike — who would be served by the trail, and at the same time does not preclude any other transportation initiatives.”
The groups hopes that approval of its grant request will enable it to begin a routing study soon, and, in the process, to begin seeking public opinion and ideas.
For more information, e-mail Dr. Ben Oko, benoko@comcast.net This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , who is chair of Ridgefield’s Conservation Commission and a member of the group.
Discuss this story on The Ridgefield Forum.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

New Times: Route 7 towns exploring idea of multi-use trail

Linking a network of pedestrian and bike trails from Norwalk north to Danbury would not only improve access to the Norwalk River Valley's wooded shores, but also serve residents by allowing them to ride bikes to rail stations, stores and other destinations, said Patricia Sesto, director of environmental affairs for the town of Wilton.
The network, called the Norwalk River Valley Trail, would extend about 17 miles from its start in South Norwalk, linking with other existing and future trails in Wilton, Ridgefield and Redding into Danbury, though a routing study is needed to determine the specific location of the path, Sesto said.
"This is a long-running desire of the community that has been long-standing, but we need to know what this trail could look like," Sesto said. "It could serve to get people better connected to the natural environment or change the way they commute."
A coalition led by the towns of Wilton, Ridgefield and Redding, with assistance from officials and activists in Norwalk and Danbury, recently received approval from the state Department of Environmental Protection for its application seeking a grant of $180,000 in federal funds to conduct a feasibility and route study for the trail.
The request, made this fall, is now being considered by the Federal Highway Administration and state Historical Commission alongside requests from other towns seeking some of the more than $1.4 million in highway funds expected to be awarded this year by the DEP to various trail construction and maintenance projects in Connecticut.

Active Transportation celebrated a milestone today with the release of Rep. Earl Blumenauer’s (D-Ore.)

Groundbreaking ACTion on Active Transportation in Congress
New Legislation Will Build Healthy, Clean, Cost-Effective Transportation Options
Washington, D.C., March 2, 2010 — Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Campaign for Active Transportation celebrated a milestone today with the release of Rep. Earl Blumenauer’s (D-Ore.) Active Community Transportation (ACT) Act of 2010 [H.R. 4722].

This landmark legislation promises to launch a new era of investment in building complete systems of facilities that make it safe and convenient for Americans to choose to walk or bicycle instead of drive for routine, short trips. The ACT Act creates a competitive fund to which communities can apply and receive funding to build these active transportation systems. In the process, tens of thousands of jobs in construction and small businesses will be created, invigorating local economies, while also saving Americans money at the pump.

“This is possibly the most important legislation to come down in the last 20 years for those who value trails, walking and biking, and we applaud the visionary leadership Representative Blumenauer and his colleagues have shown through the creation of this bill,” says Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) President Keith Laughlin. “In 2007, when we launched our Campaign for Active Transportation at RTC’s Portland conference, we knew it would take a focused, smart investment plan to make active transportation systems commonplace. The ACT Act is that plan, and we’ve never been more ready.”

ACT Act Findings
Americans are hungry for safe and convenient opportunities to walk or bicycle to work, school, shops, transit and other daily destinations. Respondents in a national poll said they would spend 15 times current levels on walking and bicycling (currently, less than two percent of all transportation dollars) at the expense of what they view as lopsided spending on roads. ACT Act states that:
•    Nearly half of the trips taken in the United States today are within a 20-minute bicycle ride, and half of those trips are within a 20-minute walk;
•    Further, 90 percent of transit trips begin with walking or bicycling;
•    There is huge potential for an increased role for active transportation to these nearby destinations, and;
•    The ACT Act is can maximize mode shift by providing “intensive, concentrated funding of active transportation systems rather than discrete piecemeal projects.” 

“Everywhere we go, communities are eager to pull the pieces of their active transportation systems together so the public can safely walk and bike,” says RTC Vice President of Policy Kevin Mills. “It is essential that we give Americans the means to achieve their dreams of livable communities by offering healthy, clean, affordable and enjoyable ways to get around. The ACT Act provides the missing piece of our transportation puzzle; ironically, we have left the simplest and most cost-effective investment for last.” 

RTC and the ACT Act
RTC has been the lead advocate behind the creation of this bill, organizing more than 50 communities around the country, and soliciting case statements from these communities that detail how, if the funding were available, they would create active transportation systems in their area. Most of these communities have been engaged for years, committing local resources to their organizing and planning efforts, earning support from mayors, city and county councils, advocacy and business leaders. Additionally, a national letter of support has been signed by representatives from more than 300 national, regional and local groups and more than 30 mayors and other elected officials.

The introduction of this bill, which would be a part of the larger transportation reauthorization, represents opportunity knocking. Current original co-sponsors of the bill include Representatives Capuano (Mass.), Carnahan (Mo.), Cohen (Tenn.), Filner (Calif.), Lipinski (Ill.) and Moran (Va.).

Take ACTion
RTC is calling on its supporters and coalition members to contact their members of Congress and encourage them to become co-sponsors of the ACT Act.

For more information on RTC and the ACT Act, visit www.railstotrails.org/act.

Posted Wed, Mar 3 2010 3:56 PM by Todd Christopher (RTC) Filed under: , , ,

SWRPA: A Greenway, More Business, No Super 7

SWRPA: A Greenway, More Business, No Super 7

Analysts find more multi-family housing and retail service businesses are needed on that corridor.
By Harold F. Cobin |
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Email the author | March 2, 2010
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About 60 people attended the Route 7 corridor program in the cafeteria in Wilton High School. new
About 60 people attended the Route 7 corridor program in the cafeteria in Wilton High School. Credit Harold F. Cobin
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About 60 people attended the Route 7 corridor program in the cafeteria in Wilton High School. Credit Harold F. Cobin /assets/photos/000/241/805/241805_collapsed.jpg?1267500931 600x311 311,311,144,0 0.25 88,88 2400x1244
The completed portions of the Route 7 corridor study "Vision For the Future and Existing Conditions" can be found at www.route7study.org. Credit Harold F. Cobin /assets/photos/000/241/806/241806_collapsed.jpg?1267500998 338x450 338,338,0,55 0.1404821280133 88,88 2406x3200
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About 60 people attended the Route 7 corridor program in the cafeteria in Wilton High School. new
About 60 people attended the Route 7 corridor program in the cafeteria in Wilton High School. Credit Harold F. Cobin
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About 60 people attended the Route 7 corridor program in the cafeteria in Wilton High School. Credit Harold F. Cobin /assets/photos/000/241/805/241805_collapsed.jpg?1267500931 600x311 311,311,144,0 0.25 88,88 2400x1244
The completed portions of the Route 7 corridor study "Vision For the Future and Existing Conditions" can be found at www.route7study.org. Credit Harold F. Cobin /assets/photos/000/241/806/241806_collapsed.jpg?1267500998 338x450 338,338,0,55 0.1404821280133 88,88 2406x3200
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Six months into a study of the Route 7 corridor between Norwalk and Danbury, analysts Monday night reported on existing conditions there and on their intent to recommend both traffic flow improvements and community-tailored development.

The study, intended to create a plan for the corridor that should be implemented by 2030, is scheduled to be completed in March 2011. It's sponsored by the South Western Regional Planning Agency and the Housatonic Valley Council of Elected Officials.

Project manager Craig Lader of SWRPA said the study will cost about $375,000, 80 percent of which will be funded by the federal government and 20 percent by the Connecticut Department of Transportation.

Lader noted that neither of the sponsoring organizations has the power to force implementation of the study's results, so they will be presented as recommendations to the corridor's communities and to the state.

The study is being conducted by the consulting firm Fitzgerald & Halliday of Hartford.

In her remarks opening the session before an audience of about 60 people, Susan VanBenschoten, chief operating office and project manager of Fitzgerald & Halliday, said the ultimate purpose of the study is to "enhance the quality of life in the corridor."

Highlights of the presentation, "Vision For the Future and Existing Conditions," held in the cafeteria of Wilton High School, included:

* Ridgefield is a "significant (destination) attraction" for trips emanating from Norwalk and Danbury.

* The existing conditions along the northern (Danbury) end of the highway work well in handling traffic demands.

* The worst traffic problems are in the south end of the corridor between Grist Mill Road and the I-Park office complex in Norwalk. (The highest number of vehicles per day in the corridor is approximately 37,000, the lowest about 18,000.)

* There is public interest in riding bicycles along stretches of Route 7, but it is unsafe for that purpose. Also, facilities for safely storing bicycles would be needed at train stations along the Danbury Branch of Metro North Railroad.

* The size and character of the residential population along Route 7 is mostly stable, which makes planning easier.

* There is an insufficient amount of multi-family housing along the corridor, which creates difficulties for young families. Also, more workforce housing is needed.

* The vacancy rate of office buildings along the corridor is 14 percent, including the Merritt 7 complex in Norwalk. Without that complex, the vacancy rate is 9 percent.

* There is a demand for "big box" retailers, but there are few parcels of available land large enough to build them.

* There is a large demand for service retail establishments that can be reached in short trips.

VanBenschoten emphasized the study will not consider construction of a multi-lane expressway between Norwalk and Danbury, an idea that has been proposed since the 1960s.

She said two more public sessions will be held during the course of the study, with the next sometime in October. At that time, she said, the analysts will present proposed future conditions for the corridor with a draft of a plan to implement them.

The current results of the study can be found online at www.route7study.org.

Monday, March 1, 2010

I am at a meeting for the Route7 land use study

Route 7 land use. There appears to be about 90 people here. Study is to evaluate what the community wants.