Regional trails, bikesharing: Plan aims to boost accessibility for cyclists and pedestrians
A shoreline trail, a bike path from Norwich to Colchester, bikeshare programs and streets that accommodate all modes of transportation are among the recommendations of a plan focused on how to make the region more accessible to cyclists and pedestrians.
The Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments will hold a public meeting at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 10 at the Groton Senior Center to present its draft regional bike and pedestrian plan to the public.
It builds on a statewide plan, the 2019 Connecticut Active Transportation Plan, that looks at bicycle and pedestrian accommodations and ways to better connect people to open spaces, parks, downtown villages and shopping areas, said Katherine Rattan, a planner and transportation program manager for the council of governments.
In southeastern Connecticut, about 4.1 percent of commuters walk to work, and 0.7 percent bike to work, according to the plan, which cites the 2013-17 American Community Survey. Groton, at 11 percent, has the largest population of people commuting by biking or walking, followed by New London at 10 percent and Windham at 8 percent.
Rattan said the region has a lot of open space assets but they could be better highlighted, as people might be unaware of them or of the connections between them.
The 338-page plan proposes pushing forward with implementing the Tri-Town Trail — a multi-use recreational trail that will travel through Groton, Ledyard and Preston — and creating a continuous shoreline trail, from the Rhode Island border to the Baldwin Bridge, that would utilize off-road opportunities, including in the Barn Island Wildlife Management Area and Haley Farm State Park, to make it more attractive to cyclists and pedestrians of all abilities, Rattan said.
A proposed bike route from Colchester into Norwich is another regional priority identified in the plan.
The plan suggests towns and cities take steps, including asking developers to incorporate bike infrastructure into their development plans, promoting bike safety education, creating regional or townwide bikeshare programs, and taking a "Complete Streets" approach that "involves designing and operating roads for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, disabled citizens, transit users, and motorists."
The plan further studied 15 areas within the region to look at compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, such as where handicapped-accessible ramps and painted crosswalks are in place and where they need to be improved, Rattan said.
The plan also calls attention to the need for improvements to make cycling and walking safer, she said.
In the last decade, there were 1,150 pedestrian and bicycle crashes in the region, including 990 that caused an injury or fatality, according to the plan.
"The SCCOG region is similar to that of other regions in the state, as the lack of safe and connected networks of bike and pedestrian facilities continues to discourage non-motorized transportation and promote motor vehicle use," the plan states.
Data shows that crashes happen across the area "but are clustered primarily in coastal communities and in denser municipalities," according to the plan. But they also take place in some rural areas, where factors include a dearth of signalized intersections, "low visibility" and lanes without shoulders "mean that they are also dangerous areas for biking and walking."
Safety projects in the area have included rumble strips, as well as "the addition of pedestrian crossings, warning signs and pedestrian actuated signals."
The plan recommends tracking the region's progress toward improving safety for cyclists and pedestrians and enhancing infrastructure. With injury and fatality rates on the rise across the United States, the plan recommends tracking the number of pedestrian and bicycle crashes "to know if changes made in response to the plan have an impact on the trend."
The plan also recommends keeping track of the miles of bike facilities in the region, miles of facilities in low-income areas, and percentage of the region's population "within 1 mile of a shared-use path or other bikeway," among other measures.
The plan, funded by a grant awarded by the state Office of Policy and Management in 2017, was developed with feedback from planners in the council's towns and cities and from the public, she said.
Rattan pointed out that the region needed a plan that identifies priorities so it can better advocate for federal, state and private funding.
The plan includes sections with priorities for each town and city.
"We have listed out priorities, for each one of the towns, about what the region feels would be good places to invest so that the investment that works for the town is also working on a regional scale," Rattan said.
Recommended priorities for municipalities listed in the plan include adding bicycle parking at Union Station in New London and the nearby area; constructing a multi-use path on the northbound Gold Star Bridge when it undergoes renovations; adding 5-foot bike lanes on both sides of Route 156 in East Lyme from Pattagansett Road to the Old Lyme border; filling in gaps in the network of sidewalks on Route 32 in Montville; and improving bike and pedestrian safety on Route 1 in Pawcatuck from Mayflower Avenue to the Rhode Island border.
What: Public meeting on regional bike and pedestrian plan; there will be a short presentation, followed by a period to ask questions and discuss the plan.
When: 5:30 p.m. Oct. 10
Where: Groton Senior Center, 102 Newtown Road, Groton