At last: A transit plan focusing on biking, walking

Are there any people more coddled than drivers?

Road signs warn them about sharp curves, steep hills, deer crossings, railroad tracks, hospital zones, hidden driveways, frost heaves, raised manholes, uneven surfaces, soft shoulders, lane shifts, no-passing zones, police radar, narrow bridges, falling rocks, nearby prisons and even low-flying aircraft.

Then there are all the signs directing motorists to shopping malls, scenic overlooks, gas stations, fast-food restaurants, historic sites, parking lots … well, you get the idea.

What’s more, phone apps, GPS systems and traffic reports provide a continuous stream of information about how to avoid lurking dangers and inconvenient delays due to crashes, slippery surfaces and construction work.

And whenever authorities discuss new transportation plans, the first consideration traditionally has been: How can we make life easier for those behind the wheel? Sheesh.

Now, at last, forward-thinking officials are taking into account another group of citizens: people without cars, or who at least try to limit their driving.

The Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments (SCCOG), a Norwich-based planning agency representing 22 towns, cities and boroughs, is preparing the region’s first comprehensive study of bicycle and pedestrian use with an eye toward making non-motorized travel safer, more enjoyable and increasingly accessible.

“On my way to work every morning, I see more and more people biking, walking, riding scooters — even one guy on some kind of mag-lev (vehicle),” James S. Butler, the council’s executive director, told me earlier this week. He added, “It’s terrific.”

I agree and applaud any plan that steers people away from cars and moves them in the direction of healthier, more economical and eco-friendlier modes of transportation.

Like many of us who run, hike and bike regularly, I remember times — late morning, mid-afternoon, early evening — when traffic was light and you could zip along, not a care in the world.

Conversely, I would try to avoid heading out during so-called rush hours, when throngs of drivers were on their way to or from work.

In recent years, though, I’ve noticed that traffic may still be heavy in early morning and late afternoon but doesn’t seem to taper off much the rest of the day. People are always out shopping, running errands, or simply driving around aimlessly. I often ask myself: Where the heck is everybody going?

On a more encouraging note, as Butler of SCCOG noted, people are also biking and walking more than ever, for exercise or simply to get from one place to another.

During a SCCOG public forum last week at Norwich’s Otis Library, Kevin M. Tedesco, a transportation planner with the consulting firm AECOM, reported that a larger percentage of people walk or bike to work in southeastern Connecticut than in other parts of the state.

Groton and New London make up the highest percentage, about 10 percent, compared to about 5 percent statewide, he said.

Katherine Rattan, a SCCOG planner who is project manager of the regional study, said clearly there’s a “lot of demand” for improved bicycle and pedestrian paths.

At this point in the study, due to be completed later this summer, the council is still gathering data about the number and locations of bike lanes and walking trails throughout the region, she said.

These vary widely. Some bike paths are simply road shoulders marked with painted lines; others are designated exclusively for non-motorized transportation. Pedestrian routes can be anything from urban sidewalks to tree-lined paths in a state park or nature preserve.

Rattan said one goal would be to develop a comprehensive map showing all these various routes with the idea of linking them into longer corridors.

“I want to understand what I can connect,” she said.

The report also will seek to identify specific locations where people are apt to walk or bike and suggest ways to make routes safer and more accessible, Rattan added.

Butler said SCCOG eventually would help communities apply for state and federal grants to offset the cost of any necessary improvements.

He added that the council continues to seek public input. Butler encourages people to fill out surveys gauging their interest in bicycle and pedestrian transportation, and to mark biking-walking destinations on a wikimap posted on the SCCOG website, seccog.org.

Southeastern Connecticut has so many wonderful natural and historic attractions that are even more appealing when visited by bike or on foot — all the more reason to support this worthwhile study. I look forward to the final report and seeing more cyclists and walkers on the road.

 

 

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