Pieces fall into place for New London bicycle route

New London — Bicycle enthusiasts, rejoice!

A yearslong initiative to create a safe bicycle route that connects various parts of the city is in the final stages of completion. It's a culmination of years of study and design work, and has been achieved through a cobbling together of a variety of funding sources.

The city’s planning department has produced a map detailing the bicycle route and already begun work installing directional signs and painting bicycle lanes in anticipation of a fully functional route by next year.

Perhaps the most visible aspect of the project will be the installation of directional and wayfaring signs showing distances to various landmarks and identifying the bike route. The city will be crisscrossed by a series of bike lanes and sharrows — shared lanes identified by bicycle symbols painted where the roadway is too narrow to accommodate a bike lane.

“Cyclists can actually get safely all the way from Connecticut College to Ocean Beach Park, while giving riders the ability to get into some of these historic neighborhoods like Post Hill,” said Felix Reyes, director of the city's office of Development and Planning.

Reyes said that by next year, the city will have in place “a holistic, well-thought-out bike route that connects northern and southern portions of New London.”

The route will cover major streets that include Ocean, Pequot and Montauk avenues north to places like Jefferson Avenue and Williams Street. It also will connect to regional routes in Waterford and over the Gold Star Memorial Bridge to Groton. The route mostly steers clear of state roads, an attempt to avoid the lengthy state permitting process.

“If you’re truly trying to create a pedestrian-friendly city, you have to put that infrastructure in for the residents. You can’t have people guess,” Reyes said. “The sound, well-thought-out signage, it’s inviting people to feel safer about riding your bike in New London.”

City Planner Sybil Tetteh said some of the remaining work on the project — most notably $1.1 million worth of construction on a portion of Williams Street from Connecticut College to Hodges Square — is expected to start in the spring.

That work will include 5-foot-wide bike lanes, improved sidewalks, flashing crosswalk signs, landscaping and decorative bollards at the front entrance to the Connecticut College arboretum.

In the coming weeks, the city plans to install informational kiosks highlighting the bike route at locations that include the Union Station, Williams Street and Ocean Beach Park. The map is expected to be available on the city’s website.

Work on a portion of the bicycle and pedestrian path along South Water Street and Shaw’s Cove awaits permitting from the Army Corps of Engineers. City officials have yet to find a way for a pedestrian path to traverse the Amtrak railroad bridge to Fort Trumbull.

Plans for a bicycle rental program in the city, meanwhile, dissolved earlier this year. The City Council last year approved a five-year lease with PS Global Management for a series of bike share stations on city-owned property across the city. Reyes said the company pulled out due in part to a lack of sponsors for the program.

Reyes said he expects a series of informational meetings with the public in order to gather feedback on the plans, developed in part by the firm Kent + Frost. The city already has consulted with bike enthusiasts, the Pedestrian Advisory Committee, city police and others in creation of the route.

The city recently painted bike symbols along stretches of Pequot Avenue and Howard Street. Howard is the main artery to Electric Boat and expected to also be a main route for cyclists.

Steve Langello, bicycle enthusiast and manager at Wayfarer Bicycle at 120 Ocean Ave., welcomed the news and said the city has the right idea establishing the infrastructure to accommodate cyclists.

“You do have a lot of people in the city that rely on bicycles for transportation,” Langello said. “We see a lot of customers coming and want a way to get from point A to point B.”

But more can be done, he said, to protect cyclists from motorists on heavily traveled roads like Bank and Howard streets. Cyclists and motor vehicles sharing a lane in high-traffic areas remains dangerous, he said, and the city should consider ideas to help mitigate traffic issues in certain problem areas.

His idea for Howard Street would be to consolidate the four lanes into two travel lanes with a middle turning lane to allow for bikes lanes along the shoulders.

“Bike lanes is what you need to happen,” Langello said. “It’s what you see in successful cities. They enhance the city ... and they have to lead to somewhere. Don’t put in bike lanes just because you have room in the road.”

g.smith@rtheday.com

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