Cyclists want their say on Pequonnock trail
BRIDGEPORT — Area bicyclists have a last-minute opportunity to weigh in on the design of the city’s section of the Pequonnock River Rail Trail leading to the Monroe/Newtown line.
The City Council at the request of ex-member and biker Robert Halstead, delayed voting recently on a resolution finalizing the trail project. Halstead complained that the 3-year-old planning process was poorly advertised by City Hall.
“We have a bicycle club in Bridgeport — Urban Bike Tours. Three hundred people. And none of us know anything about it,” Halstead said in an interview.
And, he said, from what he has recently seen, the 2.5 miles of trail being built in Bridgeport is not worth the $1.8 million in mostly federal air-quality grant dollars being spent on it. Four-hundred thousand dollars of that $1.8 million is city money.
“People like me and others who ride bikes should be part of the discussion, and we were kept out of it,” Halstead said.
Councilwoman Maria Valle successfully made the motion to send the trail resolution back to the Public Safety Committee for further discussion on Dec. 4.
“I want these bikers to be part of the conversation,” Valle said.
William Coleman, deputy director of the city’s Planning and Economic Development Office, said five public meetings on the trail design were held between July and early November — including when the Public Safety Committee unanimously recommended the project to the full council on Nov. 7.
And, Coleman added, two initial meetings were convened as far back as March 2015 and project information has been on his department’s website “for close to two years.”
But Coleman emphasized he and his staff have no problem continuing the discussion and will work with the council “on getting as much public input as they would like.”
“We’re happy to have the conversation continue to get this to be all that it can be,” he said. “But let’s do it with reasonable time constraints and let’s move forward sometime soon.”
The 16-mile Pequonnock River Rail Trail has been years in the making, with some 9,900 worth of linear feet already in place in Bridgeport in Beardsley Park and along Housatonic Avenue. The remaining 2.5 miles — 13,150 linear feet — of work would complete the trail in Bridgeport.
Halstead said too much of the proposed Bridgeport route is along busy, dangerous streets.
“There’s not enough room on them for a bike path,” he said.
The city breaks the quality of the sections of trail down into classes, with Class I exclusively for bicyclists and physically separated from vehicles, Class II a bike lane installed on an existing roadway, and Class III a “shared right-of-way” identified with signage and sometimes lane markings.
According to Coleman, the majority of the Pequonnock trail in Bridgeport — the existing 9,900 linear feet and a planned 5,500 linear feet — will be Class I. Coleman said 3,750 of planned linear feet falls under Class II, and 3,900 linear feet will be Class III.
Coleman admitted that while much of the total trail is “a wonderful, bucolic experience” linking it through “highly developed” Bridgeport has at times been a design challenge. For example, he said, critics might assume it simple to establish a bike lane on a certain street, but that can mean eliminating on-street parking for residents.
“But we’ve done well. You’re off-road completely at Beardsley, along the water. You’re off road at Housatonic Avenue. And we get back to the water as soon as you can at the ferry landing (near downtown) and Seaside Park,” Coleman said.
He said to add more Class I sections and “go off road all the way” would require purchasing private property and/or cleaning up contaminated sites.
Halstead argued Bridgeport should find the money necessary to instead install “a system of bridges and tunnels” for bikers.
“Once we do this, this is a one shot deal. We’re stuck with it forever,” Halstead said.
Coleman said that generally it is important for the city to be more bicycle-friendly, and not just for recreational purposes.
“We also see it as economical,” Coleman said. “You have a lot of folks here in Bridgeport, particularly within lower income communities, for whom bicycle transit is a big part of their economic way of life.”