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    Wednesday, May 22, 2024

    Biking brings health, environmental benefits

    Rob Cerrato rides his cargo bike in the left turn lane on Stonington Road in Mystic Friday, March 10, 2023, to grocery shop at Big Y. Cerrato doesn’t own a vehicle and either rides a bike or walks everywhere. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Rob Cerrato, his wife, Tiffany Barber, and their daughter Friday, March 10, 2023, with their cargo bike outside their home in Mystic. The family doesn’t own a vehicle and either ride bikes or walk everywhere. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Editor’s Note: To read more Earth Day-related stories, read the next edition of More than a Month coming out on Sunday.

    Mystic resident Rob Cerrato said the decision to walk or bike just about everywhere has given his family a lot of freedom.

    More than a Month Earth Day logo

    Cerrato said not having the expense of a car is helping him and his wife save money faster to buy a home. Biking also is a way to get exercise and is a fun experience.

    “We really like the idea of biking because it gives you that freedom of seeing a place in a different way,” Cerrato said.

    He and his wife also are environmentally minded, so they like that it benefits not just their pocketbook, but also the environment.

    Cerrato and his wife, Tiffany Barber, moved to Mystic during the pandemic, partly because New York City was becoming too expensive and they wanted to save money to buy a home and start their family. They chose Mystic because it was close to the train and within biking distance to the grocery store and other places.

    When Cerrato needs to get groceries, he bikes to the grocery store, loads up his cargo bike with his purchases, and bikes back. They rent a car if they need to take their 7-month-old daughter to the doctor, and also do errands that day, or if they need to visit family.

    He said he’d like the community to look at ways to make biking and walking safer, mentioning that he lives on a hill near downtown Mystic and cars fly down that hill. He also avoids Route 27, which he said is not safe for cyclists to ride on.

    Cerrato is among residents of southeastern Connecticut that are enjoying the recreational, health and environmental benefits of biking ― an activity that has become more popular with residents getting outside during the pandemic ― and also advocating for improved safety and more bike paths.

    Environmental benefits and a call for safety improvements

    Jennifer Lacker, president of Bike Stonington, a group working to improve bicycle access, safety and awareness, said biking has many benefits for the planet, including reducing carbon dioxide emissions, noise pollution and the need for gas.

    But Lacker said she hears everyday from people saying that it’s not safe to bike, especially from women. She said the gender gap in cycling is a highly discussed subject, with lack of protected bike lanes and social groups being the main issue. Women may feel more vulnerable. Lacker, who was raised before Title IX, said she was not given confidence in her physical ability or activities, as girls just watched the boys play sports. Women also may have less time due to domestic responsibilities or are self-conscious due to body issues, but once women overcome a fear of cycling, they often find tremendous freedom both physically and mentally.

    There are many movements, including Black Girls Do Bike and All Bodies on Bikes.

    Lacker calls improving bike infrastructure an equity issue.

    “Not everyone can afford a car, and they have to bike or walk, and we just haven't provided safe infrastructure for that to happen here,” she said. While cities, including New Haven and Providence, R.I. are providing the infrastructure, she said it’s not happening here. Mystic sees 1.8 million visitors a year who come to the area in cars, which adds more traffic to roads and is another reason people don’t feel safe biking, she said.

    Bike Stonington is working on initiatives, such as a Bike2Work Month, in collaboration with the Economic Development Commission, and advocating for bike lanes on the Mystic Bascule Bridge

    Regional plans for bicycle-friendly infrastructure

    Region-wide, 218 miles of bike facilities, such as trails, paths and bike lanes, are planned or built, not including the Airline Trail multi-use path on the region’s northern boundary, said Kate Rattan, transportation program manager at the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments, a regional planning organization. That also does not include the regionally significant trail concepts, developed in the 2019 Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments Regional Bike and Pedestrian Plan, of 14.8 miles from Colchester to Norwich and 49.7 miles of the Eastern Shoreline Path, she said.

    Through its Regional Plan of Conservation and Development and the bike and pedestrian plan, as well as other plans, the Council of Governments has demonstrated its commitment to provide planning and infrastructure so all residents have the opportunity to get outside and enjoy recreation and transportation in the region, said Rattan.

    Rattan said making the region more friendly to cyclists and walkers is critical for several reasons, and safety is a top priority with transportation funding.

    “Much of our existing infrastructure was designed exclusively for vehicles, and our transportation program reflects our efforts to shift our focus toward a safe systems approach – creating infrastructure that accommodates all modes and prevents injury,” said Rattan.

    Providing better cycling and walking amenities also supports climate resilience by enabling people to switch to a new mode of transportation and reduce vehicle emissions, she said.

    Residents are getting out and walking more than before the pandemic, which has benefited their mental and physical health, Rattan said.

    The Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments, in cooperation with the Connecticut Trail Census, counted trail users at Bluff Point and identified more than a quarter million people who use the trail annually. There was a 65% increase in use in 2022 compared with 2020, Rattan said.

    Complete Streets, bike proposals

    Among its initiatives, the state Department of Transportation has a Community Connectivity Grant Program to fund municipal initiatives that improve safety and accessibility for bicyclists and pedestrians, said DOT Spokesman Josh Morgan.

    The DOT also has a Complete Streets policy, which means in every project, the DOT looks “at ways to improve safety and connectivity for pedestrians and bicyclists,” Morgan said.

    Locally, communities that include Norwich and the Town of Groton, have adopted “Complete Streets” policies, which provide guidelines for and encourage projects that make roadways safe and accessible for drivers, walkers, cyclists, public transit riders and people using wheelchairs or scooters.

    Norwich City Planner/Inland Wetlands Agent Dan Daniska said Dunham Street was recently reconstructed in a Complete Streets manner, with new sidewalks and “Sharrow” markings, which show a road is shared by cyclists and drivers, to allow for bicycle connectivity from Thamesville to the Westside.

    A project is under design for New London Turnpike, from Norwichtown Green to Three Rivers, that will provide sidewalk improvements and a combination of dedicated bike lanes and sharrows. A second project will extend the corridor to the area of Mohegan Sun.

    Bike Groton, a bicycle advocacy nonprofit which worked with the Town of Groton on its Complete Streets policy, also is working to bring a bicycle pump track to the south end of Depot Road at the juncture of pathways, including the G&S Trolley Trail and the terminus of the Tri Town Trail, among other initiatives, said President Brian Kent.

    The Groton Town Council recently approved accepting a $936,000 Transportation Alternative Plan grant and matching it with $234,000 in local funds to create a bikeway that would connect the city to the town “from Thomas Road, South Road, Route 1 and Depot Road.” The project received support from residents, though some were concerned South Road was too narrow to handle bike lanes.

    Town staff have been researching the development of a braille trail in the Copp Family Park and consulted with the National Federation of the Blind and the Southeast Connecticut Community Center of the Blind on design possibilities, though there is no set date for development of the trail, according to Mark Berry, director of the Town of Groton’s Parks and Recreation Department.

    The City of Groton is assessing streets to see where bike lanes could fit and looking at sidewalks, said Economic Development Manager Cierra Patrick. The city received a grant for a project to demonstrate or try out different improvements for the Interstate 95 and Bridge Street area, so the city will be looking for that project at a potential bike lane, or pedestrian and bicycle path, that would travel up North Street, down to Meridian Street to Washington Park and the Municipal Building area.

    The city’s Community Resilience Plan recommended the city continue working towards the proposed Birch Plain Creek Resilience Trail, a concept for a “multi-use trail that links an existing trail connecting Washington Park to West Street with another existing trail at the Birch Plain Creek Open Space off Thomas Road.”

    Lacker pointed out that dollars spent on bike infrastructure go far.

    “Bike infrastructure is the least expensive and most cost effective, and the numbers of people you transport are great,” she said.

    Day Staff Writer Claire Bessette contributed to this report.

    k.drelich@theday.com

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