30-Minute Cities: A New Urban Planning Trend?

The concept of “30-minute cities” was originally conceived for the city of Sydney, Australia as a way to make the city easily accessible to all. It is a concept that can be adopted in other parts of the world as a way to develop a city strategically so that people can reach important destinations around the city within a reasonable time using a variety of methods of transportation, including car, bus, train, even biking or on foot.  

Access as a Driving Force in Urban Development

When planning for urban development around 30-minute cities, access is the focal point, or improving connectivity within a city. The goal is to reduce the amount of time people need to travel to get to critical points around the city such as work, school, shopping, health and recreational activities. Access also includes opportunities for all people, regardless of socioeconomic status, gender,  ethnicity or physical  or mental ability. One way to do this is to increase the number of available travel options close to where people live. 

Ways to Create 30-Minute Cities

Creating 30-minute cities takes a number of steps.  Some include giving people a variety of ways to get around the city, including public transportation, private cars, taxi, ride-shares as well as walking, bicycling, and scootering.  Others include creating important destinations in close-proximity to each other and to transportation hubs.  There are a few approaches that cities can take. 

Urban Transportation

Cities can take both short-term and long-term steps to increase access to different types of transportation, as well as to improve the speed at which people can get from one place to another. Short-term actions can include retiming traffic signals, bike sharing programs, protected bike lanes, as well publishing public transportation timetables. Longer-term steps could include implementing rapid bus networks, and planning development around transit hubs.

Urban Density Planning 

Cities can promote and prioritize redevelopment that creates well-designed urban neighborhoods or centers where people can live, work and play within a 30-minute radius by foot, bike, car or public transportation. This is commonly known as transit-oriented development. This development should also offer a variety of housing options, including affordable housing, and different employment options to include access to a range of people.

Private/Public Partnerships

To be successful, transit-oriented development needs both public and private input, support, and funding. Developing neighborhoods that include residences and businesses will need the participation and investment of private developers. Government participation is also key for infrastructure improvements to ensure a variety of transportation options and incentives to the private sector. The concept of 30-minute cities is certainly do-able for many urban areas. Better mobility,  including integrated and varied transportation options, neighborhood planning, and public and private partnerships will all help to make our cities a better place to live, work and play.

Norwalk Recognized for Sustainability Initiatives

Norwalk receives sustainability certificationThe City of Norwalk recently achieved a bronze certification from the group Sustainable CT in recognition of the community’s sustainability accomplishments. Sustainable CT is a statewide initiative that encourages and supports communities in becoming more resilient, inclusive and efficient.  In the fall of 2020, seventeen municipalities qualified for certification, meeting the high standards in a broad range of sustainability accomplishments.

Norwalk’s Sustainability Actions

Norwalk demonstrated significant achievements in actions in sustainable impact areas. A few of those initiatives are outlined below. 

Resources and Support to Local Businesses

The city underwent a substantial marketing and tourism program to promote South Norwalk. The Business and Economic Development Department created a Small Business & Main Street Program that includes a storefront improvement program, public art initiative and compacting trash bins that all improve the area visually. In addition, the city conducted a number of business roundtables with local business owners to open and improve communication between City Hall and businesses in Norwalk. Focuses of the initial roundtables included available programs for small businesses and planned improvements for various neighborhoods.

Stewarding Land and Natural Resources

Norwalk created a Watershed Management Plan for three different area watersheds including the Norwalk River, Saugatuck River and Five Mile River. These plans included the participation of a large group of watershed stakeholders. The Watershed Management Plans had a big impact on the adoption of the 2017 Norwalk Drainage Manual and recent City planning efforts. For example, the East Norwalk Transit-Oriented Development Plan places an emphasis on decreasing the amount of impervious surface in the City, which helps to prevent pollutants from running off into the Norwalk and Saugatuck River Watersheds. Actions listed in the Saugatuck River Watershed Plan include water quality monitoring, reducing impervious surfaces, restoring riparian buffers and land protection. In addition, Norwalk helped to fund a 2019 Fairfield County River Report by Harbor Watch, a research and education program located in Westport. The report assessed bacteria levels in 16 river watersheds, including Farm Creek, Silvermine River, Norwalk River and Saugatuck River.  The 2019-2029 Citywide Plan and the business section of the zoning regulations contain green infrastructure incentives for development such as green roofs, rain gardens, solar panels, as well as stormwater management and low impact development goals and actions.

Sustainability and Resiliency Planning

Norwalk’s Citywide Plan heavily focuses on both smart growth and sustainable land development through preserving existing environmental resources. As part of this emphasis, the City will be drafting a climate action plan for Norwalk in the future. The Planning and Zoning Office has already adjusted its staff to include a Land Use Planner to work on environmental issues facing the city and the department has taken many steps towards sustainability through regulation changes. The City is also working on a regional level as a part of Western Connecticut Council of Governments COG's Regional Hazard Mitigation Plan.

Recycling Additional Materials and Composting Organics

A Food Waste Prevention and Food Scraps Recovery Campaign was developed providing residential food scrap collection at the Norwalk Transfer Station and the Rowayton Community Center.  Since the campaign began in July 2020, almost 20,000lbs in food scraps have been composted.

Growing Sustainable and Affordable Housing Options

The City of Norwalk has increased the percentage of affordable units in the city from 11.83% in 2014 to 12.75% in 2018, and most currently to 13.15% in 2019. Norwalk requires that any development over 20 units in most areas and 12 units in downtown areas include workforce housing units, and is looking at lowering that threshold to be any development over 10 units This will allow the City to further expand the amount of newly constructed affordable units in Norwalk which are in high demand. The 2019-2029 Citywide Plan continues this push for affordable housing with goals to provide more diverse housing options and encourage mixed-income developments in the City.  

Support of the Arts and Creative Culture

Norwalk has a very active Arts Commission that promotes arts and culture throughout Norwalk via activities, a website and an art inventory. In 2017, the Arts Commission appointed Norwalk's first Poet Laureate, Laurel S. Peterson, and the current Poet Laureate is Bill P. Hayden. A recent art project for Martin Luther K Boulevard has been recommended for full funding this fiscal year by the Mayor. 

What is Sustainability Certification?

To be eligible for sustainability certification, communities must have accomplished significant goals in nine sustainability impact areas, including community building, thriving local economies and vibrant arts and culture, clean transportation and diverse housing. In addition, certified municipalities must have addressed issues of belonging, equity, diversity and inclusion when implementing sustainability actions.  Collectively, sixty-one municipalities, over 36% of the state’s communities, have earned a Sustainable CT certification. Certification lasts for three years, with submissions rigorously evaluated by independent experts and other Sustainable CT partners. 

About Sustainable CT

Sustainable CT, managed under the leadership of the Institute for Sustainable Energy at Eastern Connecticut State University, includes actions that help towns and cities build community connection, social equity, and long-term resilience.  Sustainable CT is independently funded, with strong support from its three founding funders: the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation, the Common Sense Fund, and the Smart Seed Fund.  Additional support is provided by: the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut, Connecticut Community Foundation, Fairfield County Community Foundation, Main Street Community Foundation, and other sponsors. For more information, visit sustainablect.org  

Why Managed and Paid Parking Matters

paid parkingParking: many consider it a blessing and a curse. When in a city, it’s a joy to find parking, but very frustrating when you can’t. If you live in the suburbs or rural areas, you may not even think about parking in the same way, as parking spots are often numerous and free. In most cities downtown areas, paying for parking is the norm, not the exception. Although people may gripe about this, paying for parking can provide numerous benefits to city residents, businesses and visitors alike, including increased turnover and more availability of parking spaces, reduced traffic congestion, parking facility cost savings and resources for economic development.

The Cost of Free Parking

It’s typical for people to think that parking should be free and publicly available. However, not everyone needs parking, and in urban areas, there are only so many available parking spots. Whether you have to pay parking fees or not, people still bear the costs of parking - cost of pavement, street cleaning, facility maintenance, security services, and other services. These come directly out of tax dollars, and are passed on to residents and consumers in other ways such as through higher rents and prices that city businesses charge for products and services .  Therefore, parking is not really free. There is a choice, however, between paying directly or indirectly for parking facilities. Paying directly for parking is actually more equitable because with free parking, people who don’t use public parking spots are paying for other peoples' parking. 

Benefits of Paid Parking to Local Commerce

When there isn’t paid parking and management, convenient parking spaces tend to be in high demand. Without having to pay a meter or to use a facility, people tend to stay in spots longer - sometimes all day and many times longer. This leads to other would-be parkers spending more time driving around, wasting time looking for convenient, available spots close to their destination, or worse - leaving in frustration. Paid parking encourages longer-term parkers to use less convenient, but less expensive spaces. While businesses in urban areas tend to be worried about paid parking, it actually increases turnover and ease for customers to find a parking spot nearby and closer to their business.  Plus, data shows that  customers will pay for convenient, easy to find  parking spaces closer to their destination.

Efficient and Environmentally Sound

Having free parking not only negatively affects local business, but also provides an incentive to rely more on cars, crowding city streets and making it harder to drive and park. As mentioned above, free parking increases the time people drive around looking for parking. All of this increases traffic congestion and carbon emissions. When people have to pay for parking it encourages them to use public transportation and alternative modes of transportation to urban centers, including on-demand transit, microtransit and biking.  Recent studies have found that in dense cities, public transportation use is significantly higher in areas where parking is more expensive. 

Paid Parking and Economic Development

Parking  fees can be used to help finance  local governments to  make improvements for residents and visitors, and to enhance economic development investments such as public private development, transportation and mobility alternatives, connectivity, as well as repurposing parking facilities through community development partnerships.  Roads and parking facilities are valuable municipal assets. Building and maintaining them can be costly. Parking fees allow governments to recover these costs from those who use them, including non-residents.  Cities can also use revenues from parking fees to finance neighborhood improvements such as more street and sidewalk cleaning, increased security, public space and placemaking  amenities such as landscaping, benches, fountains and walkways, or community-wide events, and marketing for commercial districts. Monies can also be used to make improvements to alternative modes of transportation that will help reduce parking and traffic problems such as wider sidewalks, improved and safe walkability, biking resources and on demand transportation including microtransit.

Paid Parking in Norwalk

In Norwalk, paid parking is the norm in the urban South Norwalk, West Avenue and Wall Street areas. Parking pricing in Norwalk is a part of an integrated parking management program overseen by the Norwalk Parking Authority. Use of technology that calculates congestion and occupancy rates allows the City to vary parking pricing for less trafficked hours and spots as well as to create and manage flexible parking spaces to accommodate short term parking needs such as curbside pickups and deliveries.  Many of the complaints about parking stem from inconvenient payment methods. The Norwalk Parking Authority has been on the cutting edge of payment technology, having offered a pay-by-phone option for several years, and most recently, text to pay and online parking reservation options. The maintenance, security, enforcement and improvement of parking facilities and on-street parking in Norwalk is not subsidized by the taxpayer, but through parking fees by the user, with over 70% from out of town, making parking in the city more efficient and equitable. It has also generated revenues that have been used to benefit residents, businesses and visitors such as public art, and the promotion of local businesses via a parking validation program and Norwalk Now, and citywide investments in parking facility improvements and enhancements. 

Transit-Oriented Development Plan Moving Forward in East Norwalk

East Norwalk Transit-Oriented DevelopmentNorwalk has been undergoing  planning for East Norwalk to guide growth and development in and around the East Norwalk train station.   The plan is being developed with the help of stakeholders including the public, area businesses, and other city residents and representatives to create a vision for the future, and help guide recommendations for appropriate uses for the land and scale of development in the East Avenue  train station area.  Below we’ll take a look at some of the proposed recommendations

A New Village District for East Norwalk

One significant  recommendation is the creation of a new village district for the area, concentrated on East Avenue. This will require all development to adhere to design guidelines that control building architecture, streetscape, site layout, signage and landscaping . The city would also allow some buildings to have additional height and a moderate increase in the number of residential units, above ground floor commercial spaces, provided they include certain amenities that positively impact the community.   Benefits of this include additional revenue for property owners as well as promoting mixed-use development, so residents could live close to commercial and transportation options.   As part of developing the district, the plan proposes putting in place a street and facade improvement program in the areas of Charles Street & Osborne Avenue, north of Fort Point Street, similar to the program used in SoNo.  

What Could New Development Look Like?

So what could the new village district look like?  The study team put together a rendering  and buildout of  the corner of East Avenue and Winfield Street to illustrate what is possible.  The new regulations could allow slightly taller buildings (1 additional story than currently allowed) in exchange for a large pedestrian plaza with other features such as fountains, public arts, public WIFI and/or public seating, as well as a shared parking lot to the rear of the development.  In addition,  sidewalks around this parcel could be widened to encourage pedestrians and to make room for possible outdoor dining space. It is important to note that this plan has no mechanism or recommendation to take anyone’s property or force them to change their current use.  The Plan is meant to guide development, if and when change occurs.  

Improvements Toward the Norwalk River

In East Norwalk, as you go closer to the Norwalk River, one possible improvement would be to explore the relocation of the DPW garage elsewhere in the City. This site could be used for a variety of other uses, ranging from marine commercial use to open space. Closer to South Norwalk, the study team suggested the creation of a promenade along Seaview Avenue, connecting the Cove Avenue area to SoNo. The promenade would be another great resource for Norwalkers, with amenities that could be used for recreational and entertainment purposes. 

Next Steps

These recommendations will be posted in full in a draft plan and area residents, business owners and others with an interest in the area will have the opportunity to give their feedback to the City. Once put in place, the revitalization of the area around the East Avenue train station will be  yet another step toward ensuring that Norwalk is a great place to live, work and play.

Read Final Plan 

Plan Appendices

Reassessing Industrial Zones In Norwalk

industrial zonesNorwalk is embarking on a  study to review the city’s industrial zones, their current uses, and the city’s future needs. Since its beginnings, Norwalk has transformed from an important colonial seaport, to a major manufacturing center, and today is a city with both a diverse population and economy, from Fortune 500 companies, to high-tech manufacturing, and innovative start-up companies. By revisiting its industrial zoning, Norwalk hopes to use its remaining industrial parcels as key resources for creating job growth, and to further diversify its economy.

What is an Industrial Zone?

Industrial zones  are important components of city planning.  An industrial zone is an area of a municipality that is designated to be used for industrial uses. These zones can benefit a city by boosting economic development, providing employment and investment in the area, and generating city revenues. For industrial zones to be beneficial, a city should have space for manufacturing that is suitable and affordable. This can be challenging in places where land values are high and there is significant demand for space for other uses such as residential or office buildings. Industrial zones also need to be located in areas that are accessible to transportation links, allowing employees to come and go and goods to be shipped. Having zones where manufacturing is clustered allows these businesses to operate freely without worrying about disturbing neighboring businesses or residents. Some schools of thought argue that having a diversity of industry near one another promotes both more industrial economic growth as well as development of the city’s surrounding area. The theory is that diversity provides opportunities for technological inter-fertilization of industries as well as innovation and entrepreneurship. 

Industrial Zones in Norwalk

According to Norwalk’s Zoning Regulations, the “primary purpose of industrial zones is to provide areas which permit manufacturing and related uses”. Heavy industrial uses are allowed by special permit. Examples of businesses in this area are any manufacturing that doesn’t involve noxious waste or overly loud noises. They can also include warehouses, package distribution facilities and places that sell or store building materials.   The city also  recognizes that while there’s a need for manufacturing space it needs to ensure that industrial zones are compatible with nearby residential neighborhoods and with the capacity of available infrastructure. Therefore, city regulations state that any  plans for building a structure more than 20,000 square feet or with more than 50 parking spaces must include special permits.  In keeping with the coexistence of residents and businesses, industrial zones in Norwalk can also include retail stores, offices, including medical offices, banks and financial institutions, other service establishments such as restaurants and taverns, as well as single- and two-family housing.

Examining Norwalk’s Industrial Zones  

Norwalk’s study of its industrial zones will help it to make decisions about the city when planning for development. A goal of the study is to determine what Norwalk can do to foster industrial growth, including craft industries, and ensure that thriving businesses expand and/or remain in Norwalk. Among the key issues the study will look at is if all the areas that are zoned industrial  currently are still appropriate for the neighborhoods. The study will also examine what  other similar communities in the Northeast are doing to attract commercial and manufacturing companies, including new tech and green manufacturing. Conversely, the study will evaluate what might discourage industrial growth in Norwalk, including limitations or issues with regard to infrastructure (e.g. roadways, sanitation, energy, etc.). For industrial development to thrive, governments and private developers need to create sustainable, profitable conditions. Designated industrial zones with the infrastructure (both physical as well as technical), convenient location, and municipal and residential support can deliver jobs and economic growth. Norwalk’s reassessment of its industrial zones is a step in that direction.

The Importance of Anchor Institutions to a City

anchor institutions_hospitalsThere is a lot of talk in city planning circles these days about anchor institutions in cities and towns. With the loss of manufacturing in smaller cities and towns, institutions like hospitals and universities have become more important factors in local economies, and partners to neighborhoods and municipalities. In fact, those two institutions alone employ eight percent of the U.S. labor force and account for more than seven percent of U.S. gross domestic product. Below we delve a little deeper into anchor institutions and how they can benefit their communities.

What Are Anchor Institutions?

Anchor institutions are organizations that are established in communities and tied to them via place. Examples are libraries, hospitals, local community foundations, colleges and universities, and cultural organizations such as museums or arts centers. Anchor institutions can also be major employers in certain niches like science and design.  Because of their longstanding establishment in a town or city, these places have an interest and investment in keeping their community vibrant. They contribute to their community via their employees, businesses they use as vendors, and relationships with neighbors and other organizations in the area. Because of their ties to their neighborhoods, towns, and regions, they are seen as key to its economic development, wellbeing, and cultural growth. The thinking is that they can be even more beneficial to their towns and cities via their intellectual resources, and economic and cultural power.

Economic Partners 

As some of the largest regional employers in a city, anchor institutions can benefit a city or town through its hiring and workforce development programs. Hiring local residents at decent, living wages and offering career building opportunities for local residents and employees can keep the area’s economy healthy. Working with and hiring locally-owned vendors promotes small and local businesses. Other ways anchor institutions can promote business development in the area include colleges and universities making use of their resources, such as faculty and students. By creating small business development centers to work in their regions they can help to build the capacity of local  businesses. Area foundations and nonprofits too can create programs to work with local individuals and businesses to build their professional capacity. Colleges for example can also work with local school districts to create viable pipelines and pathways to skilled, high-paying  jobs.

Promoting A Healthy Community

Institutions can do a number of things to impact the health of their neighborhoods and regions. They can work directly with the community via public health interventions. They can also make investments in factors that affect good health such as access to health care and health care information, access to healthy food and physical activity in local public schools, workforce wellness initiatives with local businesses, investment in safe and affordable housing, and by providing employment to local residents. 

Community Engagement

Anchor institutions need to engage with their local communities to maintain a partnership relationship. Universities can foster civic participation via discussions, lectures, workshops around adult education, politics, and the economy. Art institutions can support building a thriving arts and culture hub by supporting local artists and businesses, and partnering with local schools.   Anchor Institutions can bring important benefits to local communities in which they are located by creating decent-paying jobs for residents, supporting local businesses and community-based entrepreneurship, promoting the arts, culture and health, and engaging residents in a variety of productive ways.  In Norwalk, we have a number of anchor institutions, including Norwalk Hospital, Norwalk Community College and The Maritime Aquarium, for example.  Anchor institutions are central to the implementation of the current Wall Street-West Avenue Redevelopment Plan. Because there are only a few traditional institutions in the area – Norwalk Hospital, Norwalk Public Library, Stepping Stones – non-traditional anchor institutions such as major employers like King Industries and Devine Brothers are also  involved. These community strongholds continue to contribute to making Norwalk and surrounding towns a dynamic place to live and work.  

Top Tips for Bike and Pedestrian Safety

biking and walking safety tips Getting around any city like Norwalk by bicycle  or walking can be challenging as the vast majority of people travel by car. In 2017, the Norwalk Bike/Walk Commission was established to support bicycling and walking as safe, accessible and sustainable forms of transportation and recreation. Norwalk’s 10-year Citywide Plan envisions making city streets safer by implementing policies that provide safe transit for all moving vehicles as well as pedestrians (Read more here), such as investment in new bicycle and walking facilities distributed equally throughout the city. As Norwalkers gear up for more biking and walking, the Bike/Walk Commission shares some tips for safely getting around the city on a bike or on foot.

Safe Bicycling Guidelines

When biking around town, it’s important to remember that bicycles are vehicles. When on a bike, you need to follow the rules of the road, just like a car. This means riding with traffic, always stopping at red lights, and making a full stop at stop signs. When biking with another person, you can ride two abreast (no more than that), but need to ride single file when there is car traffic coming from behind you in order to let cars pass. Here are some tips for staying safe on your bike:
  1. Wear a helmet that fits properly (this is mandatory for those under 15-years old, including infants and toddlers in a bicycle seat)
  2. Adjust your bicycle to fit you: 
    • When standing over your bicycle, there should be 1- to 2-inches between you and the top bar if using a road bike, and 3- to 4-inches if using a mountain bike 
    • The seat should be level from front to back
    • The seat height should allow a slight bend at the knee when the leg is fully extended
    • The handlebar height should be at the same level with the seat
  3. Make sure your tires are properly inflated and brakes work
  4. Ride with at least one hand on the handlebars. Don’t hold items- carry them in a bicycle carrier or backpack.
  5. Be on the lookout for hazards that can cause a crash such as potholes, broken glass, gravel, puddles, leaves, and dogs. If you are riding with friends and you are in the lead, yell out and point to the hazard to alert the riders behind you.
  6. Be visible by wearing bright clothing and using lights and reflectors at dusk and at night 

Walking Safety Tips

In 2007, the Connecticut legislature stiffened the law regarding pedestrians and crosswalks requiring that drivers grant the right-of-way when a pedestrian has stepped “off the curb or into the crosswalk”. In other words, drivers must yield, slow, or stop when pedestrians are in crosswalks. When there are no crosswalks, drivers have the right of way. Despite the crosswalk law, and since there are many places around town with no crosswalks, you can’t be too cautious or careful when walking. Here are some guidelines to keep you safe when walking in town:
  1. Use a sidewalk- if there is one. When on a sidewalk, you can walk with or against traffic
  2. Walk single file against the traffic If there is no sidewalk 
  3. Cross streets at crosswalks, and when the signal gives you the “green light”
  4. Watch for cars and bicycles entering or exiting driveways or backing up in parking lots
  5.  Be visible. Just like on a bike, it’s important that drivers can see you. Wear bright colored clothes and consider wearing a safety vest and a light at dusk or when it’s dark
  6. Stay tuned in to the environment around you. Don’t wear ear buds or text while walking
  7. Practice “defensive” walking by assuming it’s your job to stay safe. For example, establish eye contact with drivers
Walking and biking around town can be a great alternative to driving. They are not only healthier for you, they are also better for the environment. As Norwalk works to make it easier to get around town by bike or on foot, keep in mind the tips above. Stay safe!

Making Norwalk Streets Safer with Vision Zero and Complete Streets

Vision Zero & Complete Streets in Norwalk, CTAccommodating all moving vehicles and pedestrians on a town or city’s streets so they can all transit safely can be difficult, but it’s necessary as more and more people use alternative methods of transportation such as biking or public transportation. Norwalk’s 10-year Citywide Plan (Plan of Conservation and Development) envisions adopting Complete Streets and Vision Zero Initiatives to make its streets safer. Vision Zero is a different way of approaching traffic planning and policies with the goal of improving road safety so there are no deaths or serious injuries. Complete Streets is an approach to city street design and policies that promotes safe, convenient, and equitable mobility and forms of transportation for everyone, especially children, people with disabilities, and older adults. Below we take a closer look at these two initiatives.

What is Vision Zero?

The Vision Zero movement considers traffic safety as a public health issue, believing that traffic accidents, deaths, and injuries can be prevented through design, engineering, policies, enforcement, community engagement, and education. Vision Zero plans bring together a wide variety of stakeholders, with collaboration among local traffic planners and engineers, policymakers, and public health professionals to work on the many factors that go into making roadways safe including roadway design, speeds, behaviors, technology, and policies. The movement, which began in Sweden in 1997, has grown across Europe and in the United States. Cities that have implemented Vision Zero in the U.S. include New York City, Boston, Charlotte, North Carolina, Denver Colorado, Tempe Arizona, and Bellevue, Washington, among others.

What is Complete Streets?

Complete Streets complements Vision Zero with the goal of having streets that are safe for everyone, from motorists to public transportation riders, bicyclists to pedestrians. Some ways to do this is to integrate better roadway design with safe access in mind for all different types of mobility through the city when improving existing streets and designing new ones. What this looks like depends on the city or town, but could include adding sidewalks, bike lanes, special bus lanes, safe public transportation stops, clearly marked and accessible crosswalks, median islands and pedestrian-designated signals.

Vision Zero & Complete Streets for Norwalk

The new Norwalk 10-year Citywide Plan contains details about adopting both Vision Zero and Complete Streets initiatives. Vision Zero will be used as an added safety layer on top of Complete Streets to establish equitable mobility for all kinds of people throughout all city operated roadways. The initiatives will include community engagement to identify concerns and discuss options before changes are made. Key city departments involved will include, the Mayor’s office, Common Council, Transportation, Mobility, and Parking, Planning and Zoning, Public Health, the Bike-Walk Commission, as well as the Fire and Police Departments. Some of the plans to reach the Vision Zero and Complete Streets goals include developing long-range transportation plans with an eye to safety that include many modes of transportation (motor vehicles, buses, bicyclists, pedestrians, and mobility devices , such as senior scooters), and giving other transportation options, such as biking and walking, a high priority. Specific steps may include creating safe pedestrian access to bus and transit stops as well as to new commercial and mixed-use development areas, allocating space for pick-up/drop-off and vehicular and bicycle parking in busy urban areas, and investing in new sidewalks as well as bicycle and walking facilities throughout the city.

Read About Vision Zero and Complete Streets on pages 183-206 of the Citywide Plan

Updating Zone Regulations for the City of Norwalk

 In 2019, the City of Norwalk began the process of updating building zone regulations in response to the recommendations of the Citywide Plan.  The regulations contain key requirements and guidelines for land use and development in Norwalk. The first step was to evaluate current regulations and assess their usefulness and  consistency, among other things. The evaluation included discussion with local departments and agencies involved in land use permitting and enforcement, and meetings with other stakeholders who use the regulations, including developers, engineers, and attorneys. The assessment also included reaching out  to the public, including residents, property owners, and business owners, to learn about Norwalk residents’ experiences with and ideas about what they would like to see in new building zone regulations. The zoning regulations’ evaluation process revealed a number of issues and concerns, which are discussed below.

Organizational Revisions  

In discussions, it was pointed out that the way in which building zone regulations’ information is organized could be improved. Presentation of the regulations is not intuitive for many people, and oftentimes difficult for them to find information they need. It was suggested that the regulations should be organized around four major themes organized by what people are looking for: Regulatory Basics, Zones & Uses, Development Standards, and Permitting/Enforcement. In addition, they would be easier to read with a standard chapter, article, section titling and numbering system, as well as headings. Visual aids such as illustrations, tables and charts, and clickable tabs and links to related information would also help make the information more clear.  The current regulations are now available via a static PDF hosted on the City’s website. The City envisions the regulations being available in a similar format but with more search and tab functions, and also available as an interactive map that contains searchable function by property address, that contains the relevant zoning and history of that property. By making the new regulations both user-friendly to find and read, information will be less confusing and more useful to all who use them. 

Updates to Policies and Standards 

The other set of recommendations from the evaluation phase of the new zoning regulations is to take a hard look at current regulations and make updates. This would include removing or revising ones that no longer make sense to enforcers, property owners and residents (such as parking in a residential front yard or rules regarding home-based businesses). In addition, the City should consider adding new regulations that would benefit Norwalk, for important issues such as stormwater, sustainability and pedestrian/bicycle facilities for example. Other areas where the City might changes include putting in place City‐wide design standards and guidelines, and updating provisions for industrial and business zones. Since the City recently updated the  Citywide Plan, there are changes to the regulations and Building Zone Map that are recommended in the Plan.  Some of these changes may involve the rezoning of certain areas of the City, necessitating outreach within the subject community(s).  

Administration/Enforcement Changes

The third area in phase one of updating Norwalk’s building zone regulations was to look at   updating, reorganizing, and clarifying procedural provisions such as getting permits and applications looked at and approved. The goal would be for the process to be consistent and easy to understand. For example, the process of obtaining a permit could be more clearly explained to help less experienced applicants. Inter‐department communication (including plan distribution, review and approval) could be more transparent and coordinated for applicants and others involved in the land use process. Changes to help the process could include improving public access to application materials and notice of pending applications, as well as putting applications and payments online. Internally, reorganizing the workflow within the City could help processes, including streamlining the approval process by perhaps establishing a “permit coordinator” position responsible for coordinating department activities and expediting permits. Norwalk has transformed over the years, from an important colonial seaport, to a major manufacturing center. Today it has an economy that supports Fortune 500 companies, a busy marine harbor, high-tech manufacturing and innovative start-up companies. Updating the zoning regulations is in order to keep up with the City’s changing profile. In 2020, the Norwalk Zoning Commission will be taking a look at the evaluation findings and recommendations in order to move forward with a new draft of the building zoning regulations. Once a draft is complete, the public will have an opportunity to review and weigh in via open houses, workshops  or hearings.  CLICK HERE to read the full Building Zone Regulations Update Evaluation & Recommendations.

Stakeholders Weigh In On Transit-Oriented Development for East Norwalk

East Norwalk Transit Oriented Development PlanThe public was given the opportunity to hear progress and give feedback on the East Norwalk Transit-Oriented Development Plan at a public forum in November 2019. The 50 + participants were updated on the progress to-date following two community workshops, one on what people envisioned for the area held in March 2019, and the other on the different kind of transit-oriented development options available, held in July 2019. The public also heard about the key drivers of the Plan and the broad recommendations that address these key drivers. The final in-depth recommendations being developed in collaboration with the Oversight Committee are based on these broad recommendations. Additionally, attendees were taken through a market analysis of the project from an outside consultant that looked at the feasibility of development in East Norwalk and Norwalk as a whole.

Public Priorities

During the public open house, participants were asked to vote on their priorities for various recommendations for development in East Norwalk. This was done via interactive boards on which attendees were asked to put stickers on the recommendations they preferred. Below are the results.

Highest Priority Recommendations:

  1. Enhance leisure opportunities with wider sidewalks, mid-block crossings, pocket parks, plazas, community gardens, and publicly accessible open spaces.
  2. Improve mobility for everyone with traffic calming tools and methods to slow traffic and discourage cut-through traffic.
  3. Preserve and enhance existing residential neighborhoods.

Lowest Priority Recommendations:

  1. Examine two-way traffic circulation options around the cemetery.
  2. Add road signage to increase driver awareness.
  3. Increase turnover of prime on-street parking.

Next Steps

The draft report, including recommended zoning and design changes, is expected to be completed in early 2020, and with Committee feedback, will be available for public comment. Ultimately, the Planning Commission will amend the recently adopted Citywide Plan (POCD) to incorporate the recommendations within the East Norwalk TOD plan. As part of that process the Planning Commission will hold two public hearings and will also refer the plan to the Common Council.
Click Here To View The Presentation