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

Final Plan of Conservation & Development (POCD)

Promenades in Cities: Unique Public Spaces

Building Promenades in Norwalk | Norwalk TomorrowPromenades are public spaces designed for a leisurely walk. They are popular in seaside cities or those with waterfronts, think historic promenades in Nice and the Côte d'Azur in France, or in Brighton, England, as well as those closer to home in the U.S., Coney Island in Brooklyn or the Riverwalk in San Antonio. But even when they aren’t situated near the water, promenades in urban areas have a lot of positive features and are popular with residents and tourists alike.

Promenades as Vibrant Public Spaces

Promenades are prime public resources, providing a path for exercise and recreation as well as social interaction. They are most often conveniently located near a main street of a city, a park, or by a waterfront. Usually flat and of a certain length, promenades are ideal for walking, running, or biking. Located in picturesque areas, they are also places for social gatherings. The best promenades are welcoming and accessible to many kinds of users.

Promenades Fuel Urban Renewal

Promenades can revitalize urban spaces. By creating public access walkways and open spaces, adding attractive landscaping and design, and encouraging mixed private uses alongside, a city can enliven an area with a new public space that offers a mix of commercial, cultural, and leisure activities. This new lively urban promenade will attract city residents and tourists.

Promenades and the Environment

Because many promenades are situated adjacent to waterfronts or in green spaces, they cause people to think about and appreciate nature. Likewise, as important resources for cities, promenades factor into city planning, encouraging them to put in place environmental management systems to protect and preserve the natural spaces around them.

Considering Promenades for Norwalk

Promenades in Public Spaces | Norwalk Tomorrow In Norwalk, under consideration for the Transit-Oriented Development Plan for East Norwalk is a promenade along Seaview Avenue adjacent to Veteran’s Park and leading into East Norwalk along the Norwalk River. This promenade would have a number of functions; allowing a safe path for pedestrians and bicyclists, and providing sitting and other areas for recreational uses. Promenades in cities are an important part of the fabric of public life, providing a place for people to congregate, exercise and enjoy the outdoors away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Their connection to nature, as well as the opportunities for other commercial uses around them make them unique. Perhaps Norwalk too, will soon have a promenade that residents and visitors can enjoy.

The Importance of Preserving and Promoting Historic Buildings

An important part of what gives a city character and a sense of community is its history. One way of acknowledging this history is by preserving historic buildings and structures. They may be an example of a particular style of architecture, or represent a significant era, or a milestone in the city’s history. These historic buildings are worth preserving for a number of reasons.  

Preserving History Through Buildings

Old buildings are witnesses to the aesthetic and cultural history of a city, helping to give people a sense of place and connection to the past. Historic buildings often represent something famous or important to people who live in a city or those visiting.  Recognizing the importance of old buildings to the public and to the country’s heritage, Congress enacted the National Historic Preservation Act in 1966. This act works to save historic buildings, explaining, “preservation of this irreplaceable heritage is in the public interest so that its vital legacy of cultural, educational, aesthetic, inspirational, economic, and energy benefits will be maintained and enriched for future generations of Americans.”

Economic Benefits Of Historic Preservation

Older buildings especially those built prior to World War II are often made of higher quality materials. Replacing these buildings with similar rare hardwoods such as heart pine would be impractical and unaffordable. Newer buildings also tend to have a life expectancy of only 30-40 years, whereas many older buildings were made to last. It can make economic sense to retain historic buildings and Improve them to meet modern codes and requirements. Rehabilitating old buildings to their original appearance not only adds character to the area, but can also help attract investment, as well as tourists if the structures are historically significant. For example, a historic but abandoned industrial building can be turned into small business space, or a mixed-use development - giving new life to a building and even a whole neighborhood.

Aesthetic Importance of Older Buildings

Older buildings often are made with unique, valuable materials such as the heart pine, marble, or old brick. They may have detailing and features that you can’t find anymore like decorative facades,unusual glasswork, or copper lining. Many people feel that because of these, older buildings have their own identity and distinctive character, making them more interesting than modern buildings. An added benefit to retaining and maintaining old buildings old methods of workmanship are also supported. 

Environmental Considerations

The importance of recycling has become more and more understood on a household level, but preserving old buildings is recycling on a larger scale. Repairing and reusing existing buildings uses energy and material resources more efficiently and reduces waste. New materials don’t need to be created, nor older demolished materials thrown away. Plus energy for rebuilding is conserved. Also, tearing down structures releases toxins and pollutants in the environment.   

Historic Preservation in Norwalk

Norwalk combines the character of a historic New England community on the coast of Long Island Sound with a thriving city in the county’s largest metropolitan area. One of the priorities outlined in Norwalk’s 10-year Citywide Plan is enhancing and preserving the city’s historic resources. Historic areas such as South Norwalk have seen investment and growth, while preserving its many historic structures and character.  The City’s Planning & Zoning Commissions have recently enacted several regulations to encourage the preservation of historic structures. Two areas of the City where this has been realized is in South Norwalk (SSDD Regulations) and the Wall Street area (CBD Regulations). For example, if the historic structures will be preserved, the Commission can reduce the amount of required parking, decrease building setbacks or increase building height or size for recognized historic structures. Read More about Norwalk’s zoning regulations pertaining to historic preservation Read More about Norwalk’s historic heritage on page 95 of  the Citywide Plan

Ways That Cities Can Prepare For Climate Change

Climate Change and CitiesWe are already experiencing extreme weather events from climate change. In the coming years, scientists predict that we can expect more heat waves, flooding from sea-level rise, water shortages and other effects. This weather can affect roads, bridges and other city infrastructure, along with important facilities such as water treatment plants and power grids. With more extreme weather conditions ahead, cities will need to take action. Along with plans to mitigate the causes of climate change, there are some important steps cities can take to combat its effects.  

Storm Management

During intense rain and other storms, cities need to look for ways to handle more water than they’ve been used to in order to reduce flooding. Some ways to do this could be using roadway tunnels as storm drainage systems, replacing concrete sidewalks with permeable pavements and adding green roofs. In addition, increasing and creating stormwater retention ponds, constructed wetlands and swales will be important to capture runoff. Other flood control systems such as seawalls and dykes can also be constructed, and pumps at wastewater treatment plants can be elevated.  For cities that are directly on the water, they can increase open space along the waterfront as buffers for rising water levels as well as storm surges by designating coastal hazard zones, establishing erosion setback requirements, and limiting development. Similarly in low-lying areas prone to flooding, cities can develop green zones by restoring natural meadows, wetlands and open spaces to areas and lots that are no longer being used.  

Conservation and Efficiency

Energy conservation and efficiency programs will be necessary to combat extreme heat and cold. To reduce electricity loads and limit risk of blackouts, especially in the summer, cities and building owners can put smart micro-grid technologies into effect and increase the use of energy efficient and renewable technologies. Examples of these are rooftop solar power, geothermal technologies, biodiesel-fueled generators, and technologies that respond to demand such as smart meters. To reduce the impact of rising temperatures, buildings can invest in green spaces, green roofs and more trees on the streets.   Another interesting initiative cities can take is to change zoning laws to accommodate urban agriculture, and encourage the development of vertical, indoor farms. These farms can be located in cities and are able to grow food with much less energy and water than outdoor crops, and without the vast amounts of pesticides.  

Power Grid/Energy

Power grids can be vulnerable to extreme weather events, as well as higher and lower than normal temperatures. As mentioned above, cities can put into place smart grid technologies for smart metering to help with energy and water conservation. In the future, cities and energy companies will also have to emphasize building redundancy.  This is developing networks and spare capacity as well as energy storage into a city’s power system to deal with disruptions and surges in demand.   

Emergency Response

During emergencies, it’s important for the public to be well informed. With more potential for emergencies with climate change, cities will have to improve and coordinate their emergency planning and response for such things as large storms, heat waves, flooding, high winds, water shortages, among others. Alternative transportation routes and systems will also need to be developed and publicized in cases where evacuations are necessary. Not only will residents and workers need to be made aware of how to react when climate change impacts a city, but the city can use that engagement to identify problems and come up with solutions. Developing plans and concrete steps will help cities prepare for climate change, making them better places to live and do business. Norwalk’s Citywide Plan envisions enhanced stormwater management, promoting smart growth development, energy-efficiency and greenhouse gas reduction and the preservation and restoration of open space.

Read more about Norwalk’s Environmental Sustainability and Resilience Plans on Page 133 of the Citywide Plan

Complete Citywide Plan Draft

The Importance of Open Spaces in a City

Maritime Center | Norwalk TomorrowMany of us like the great outdoors - fresh air, sunshine, a place to walk or a quiet place to relax. But people who live in cities may not always be able to get outdoors as often as they would like. However, there are outdoor spaces in cities that can give us the same feelings of being out in nature such as parks, playing fields, small public spaces, even green roofs. That’s a good thing for many reasons, as we take a look below.

Environmental Benefits

It’s been proven that trees improve air quality by adding oxygen and removing pollutants. In addition, green spaces with less pavement have a cooling effect, reducing city temperatures in the summer. Not only does this cool down humid summers, but saves energy costs to cool buildings. A 2013 study found that rooftops with grass and plants beats asphalt and gravel roofs as they help cool the building while providing a more aesthetically pleasing place for tenants to visit. Another environmental benefit to open space, particularly green space, is help with stormwater runoff. Unpaved ground absorbs water, aiding in water collection during storms and helping to prevent flooding.

Exercise

Open space such as parks, walking trails, playgrounds and fields are great areas for recreation. These spaces encourage people to walk and exercise by providing places for physical activities - whether organized or spontaneous. This is especially important for city residents who cannot afford gym memberships or exercise classes.

Mental Health

Exercise has great mental and physical health benefits. Open spaces also boost a sense of well being by providing calm places to stop and think without the city noise and hustle, bustle. This helps reduce stress by providing a respite from the city.

Community Benefits

Open spaces are areas for recreation, but they can also be social spaces for people to gather, meet, play, and talk. Open space can be used for cultural purposes, for social events or to engage in recreational activities with one another. These places cause people to interact with others in the community, whether via an organized event or activity or just because they are places where people gather. This benefits adults and children by providing a sense of community as people get to know others in their neighborhood. Urban green spaces are good for the environment, facilitate physical exercise and better mental health for city residents, and help create a sense of community in a city. The Norwalk Citywide Plan (Plan of Conservation and Development) notes that the City has a network of parks, natural open spaces, and waterfront offering residents many opportunities for recreational and nature experiences. The plan envisions the creation of an Open Space Committee to develop a Parks, Open Space, Trails, and Recreation System Plan, giving direction for and priority to the City’s open spaces, such as, completing the Norwalk River Valley Trail. This new plan would also identify opportunities in areas of Norwalk where this is little open space to ensure that all residents can walk or bike to a park or green space. Read More of the Citywide Plan

What Are Smart Cities And Why Are They A Trend?

Smart Cities | Norwalk TomorrowReliable and robust civic infrastructure is important to the health and function of a city. Along with what we usually think of when we refer to public services and infrastructure, from services such as emergency responders, public schools, and health department, to structures such as roads and bridges; cities are now including factors that make a city “smart”. Connected, smart cities can improve the quality of life for its citizens in a number of ways, including environmental, financial, and social aspects. But what does being a smart city mean and why are cities making this one of their priorities?

What is a Smart City?

A smart city is one that uses electronic and digital technologies and infrastructure to gather information to manage assets and resources more effectively and efficiently. Examples of ways to achieve this include investing in a municipal network of optical fibre and technologies such as 5G, free Wi-Fi routed via street lighting, and data collection sensors. Cities can also work with developers to include functional design standards in the requirements for non-residential and mixed-use development, as well as encouraging commercially available 5G. These provide vital broadband infrastructure for a host of new smart city technologies and strategies that can be deployed. By connecting the city, a municipality can use the data to better the lives of citizens, as well as enhance communication between citizens and the government. Data collected can be used to improve a variety of things from power management, to reducing pollution, increasing public safety, or offering improved services to residents.

Smart Cities for Environmental Improvements

To improve the environment, networks of connected devices and sensors can monitor environmental characteristics such as air quality, electricity use, water main leakage detection, and waste tracking. With the help of these sensors, smart applications and data analysis capabilities, cities can identify problems early on before they become a problem. Another example is the use of traffic light coordination systems to help keep traffic moving, reducing emissions - or saving energy by turning street lights off when the street is not busy. Similarly, smart LED street lights (which last longer and require less energy to operate) can be dimmed or brightened depending on their location and the time of day, leading to even less energy use - and municipal cost savings!

Smart Cities as Time and Money Saver

Speaking of cost savings, the smart city can use digital technologies to improve the efficiency of city services by eliminating redundancies, finding ways to save money and streamlining workers' responsibilities. A smart city can better manage services and variable infrastructure based on input of data. By make adjustments a city can best use those resources or improve safety. For example, connected emergency response services can reach emergencies more quickly, saving lives. To help residents, cities can gather data for all transit options, including: the best place to board the bus or closest train, what stop to get off, and even which door to exit from the subway. Cities can integrate transportation data, offering the public information on a variety of different transportation options, including public transit and bike and car shares.

Public Access to City Information

One big way a smart city is beneficial to citizens, businesses, and others is by easy access to city information. For example, having a public-facing website with real time permit, inspection and complaint data can help residents and business alike. Another is to have a dashboard of municipal performance metrics that residents can access. Cities can also offer digital systems that reach and engage the public. Apps for services, like 311, can push out information via smart phones such as amber and emergency alerts and other civic messages that engage the public. By investing resources and brainpower into building robust data infrastructure, the smart city can initiate change that benefits its residents, attracts business and improves the environment. Norwalk, as part of its ten year citywide plan, envisions some of the smart city initiatives above. To read more about Norwalk’s plans for City Systems, read chapter 4, starting on page 168 of the plan. Citywide Draft Plan

Other Planning Efforts

Along with and helping to shape the Citywide Plan/POCD, the City is also conducting planning studies in the Wall Street/West Avenue area, in East Avenue centered around Transit Oriented Development, as well as a citywide Parking study. Read more about: What's happening with Parking? What's happening with Urban Neighborhoods? What's happening in Transit Oriented Development?