It's hard to believe that no sitting state governor has ever addressed
a single meeting of the East Coast Greenway Alliance (ECGA) Trail Council or Board, given the tremendous tourism and recreational significance of a trails
network that will eventually link communities along the entire eastern seaboard.
So when Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy (right) walked into an
ECGA meeting in Simsbury, Conn., earlier this year, the trails
community took notice. And when Malloy started talking about hiking and biking
as keys in the battle against obesity, and of a changing culture in the
Connecticut Department of Transportation (CDOT) in favor of cycling and
walking, it was hard to ignore what appeared to be genuine support from the new administration.
Malloy's appearance at the ECGA meeting was just the latest
in a series of shifts in Connecticut's
transportation and planning leadership that has sparked optimism among trail advocates.
His election in 2010 has coincided with the introduction of a number of people
in key positions with a history of promoting multi-modal transportation
projects, and the creation of the state's first-ever full-time bike/ped coordinator.
Kate Rattan, who assumed that role in February after four years
in corridor planning in the same department, says it's an exciting time for Connecticut. "Now we're
moving forward," she says. "Our administration is amazing."
Rattan pointed to Malloy's interest in non-motorized
transportation--and the appointment of James Redeker as DOT commissioner and
Tom Maziarz as chief of policy and
planning--as reasons for optimism among bike and pedestrian advocates in the
state. In their previous roles, both men demonstrated a support of non-motorized
projects and an ability to work with other agencies and community groups.
At the opening of
a new 1.8-mile stretch of bicycle trail in Canton recently, Redeker told local
reporters the transportation
landscape was changing. "I'd say it's moving very quickly from being a
highway department to being totally intermodal," he said.
These changes at
the top are being translated into real improvements on the ground. Rattan says CDOT was about the launch a pilot to equip the Metro-North trains into New York with bike
mounts, so commuters can carry their bikes on the train even in peak times.
New road design
guidelines bring city roads in from 12 feet to 11 feet, allowing some extra
room for pathways, and CDOT is experimenting with new sharrow designs and other
ways to make biking safer on the road. A ban has been lifted on CDOT staff
traveling out of state for multi-modal planning education and training. And
CDOT and the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection are
collaborating on trails and sidewalk projects like never before.
CDOT has also made
effective changes to the way it applies Transportation Enhancements (TE) funding,
resulting in more money being utilized for trail improvements in local
communities. And Surface Transportation Program funding is for the first time
being made available to trails and sidewalks projects.
These adjustments are part of the reason Connecticut has either completed, or is in
the process of completing, key connections in its trail system, including a
long-delayed segment of the Farmington River Trail.
Next month will
see the opening of a five-mile section of the Charter Oak Trail between Manchester and Bolton, a
vital link of the East Coast Greenway chain that will also serve commuters and
a member of the ECGA Board of Trustees and a resident of Simsbury,
Conn., is excited to see state
administrators catching up with what has been a dynamic and active biking
community for many years. "When he was mayor
Governor Malloy always had a strong awareness that cities which have parks and
trails and green space thrive," Mitchell says. "He made it a more desirable
place to live and do business. He built the jewel--he and his administration."
Mitchell says the
excitement in the biking and trails community at the moment is palatable, generated
by a new energy from CDOT, but also a growing awareness across the country that
has a lot to offer. The Tour DaVita was held in Connecticut
this year, the first time it has been staged in the Northeast, bringing 500
riders and support staff to towns like Simsbury. Connecticut
has risen to 21 in the League
of American Bicyclists' Bike Friendly States Rankings this year, up from 40 in 2010. "We want to keep moving forward," Mitchell says.
"The goal now is to crack into the top 15."
The good news
keeps coming. This month, CDOT announced they would add a 6-foot-wide
pedestrian walkway to the Putnam Bridge, which carries Route 3 over the Connecticut
River between Glastonbury and Wethersfield. And on October 1, CDOT and ECGA officials will cut the
ribbon to open a new bridge on the Hop River Trail in Andover, which has long been closed to trail
ECGA's Eric Weis,
who has been involved for more than a decade in efforts to complete the bridge link
at Andover, says
he is delighted with CDOT's newfound understanding of the many benefits of
Malloy deserves a big pat on the back indeed," says Weis. "His support has
caused a sea change in state agency support for bicycling and walking
programs. Employees who have been chafing at the bit for years are
finally able to address issues the way they should be addressed."
Connecticut riders are particularly excited about
plans for a redesign of the Merritt
Parkway to provide for an off-road bike and
pedestrian path. Built in the late 1930s, the parkway is listed on the National
Register of Historic Places and is renowned for the beauty of its scenery, as
well as its narrow shoulders and dangerous, winding alignment. With the right
improvements, it has the potential to be a crucial non-motorized link.
Parkway offers access to some of the region's
largest employers, and a number of residential areas," Rattan says. "An off-road bike route would connect to
transit stops along Metro-North's branch lines. It would also be a lovely
Malloy used his visit to the ECGA meeting in Simsbury to announce a
$1.1 million grant had been secured to study the feasibility of using the
right-of-way along the Merritt
Parkway for a non-motorized corridor. Malloy says
it was an idea he pursued during his tenure as mayor of Stamford, but to no avail. Supporters hope as
governor he will be more successful.
Many trails advocates believe, and Malloy himself
acknowledged, that credit for this system belongs to the well-organized
grassroots groups that have long lobbied for funding and mobilized volunteer
labor. In recent memory, the state DOT was seen as an obstacle rather than a
partner. So while it is early yet, the direction that Malloy and his
transportation chiefs are heading is a pleasing sight for many in the Connecticut trails
Photo of Gov. Malloy (top) courtesy of East Coast Greenway Association; photo of newly completed section of Charter Oak Greenway (middle) courtesy of Robert Dexter; photo of Merritt Parkway (bottom) courtesy of Creative Commons/Flickr.