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New Administration Making All the Right Moves in Connecticut

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 local users.

Steven Mitchell, 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 of Stamford, 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 Connecticut 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 users.

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 trails. "Governor 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.

"The Merritt 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 ride."

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 community.

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.


Posted Wed, Sep 28 2011 1:31 PM by Jake Lynch

Comments

pschweid@gmail.com wrote re: New Administration Making All the Right Moves in Connecticut
on Thu, Oct 13 2011 2:59 PM

YAH00 TO GOVERNOR MALLOY; TO HAVE THE VISION AND FORETHOUGHT,

TO SEE THAT IMPROVEMENTS TO INFRASTRUCTURE LIKE BIKE PATHS,

HIKING TRAILS AND PARK IMPROVEMENT ARE GOOD ECONOMICALLY,

CREATE JOBS, REVITALIZE TOURISM AND IMPROVE ALL CONNECTICUT

CITIZENS LIVES , IMPACTING EVERYONE POSITIVELY !!!

Cheers,

Norway Paul. Sierra Club & NEMBA Member.

Jim Matulis wrote re: New Administration Making All the Right Moves in Connecticut
on Thu, Oct 13 2011 4:33 PM

I work for ConnDot and commute 7 miles to work by bike. There is a change in how the DOT thinks about cycling. I just wish that we could add more bike lockers and bike racks at all State facilities. But we are finally moving in the right direction !!!!  

Jan Loomis wrote re: New Administration Making All the Right Moves in Connecticut
on Thu, Oct 13 2011 8:28 PM

I have a problem with this only  because CT is in the red.  How can Molloy justify spending money that doesn't exist?

Mel wrote re: New Administration Making All the Right Moves in Connecticut
on Thu, Oct 13 2011 8:45 PM

I am glad to see the Governor support the continued development of the rails to trails system here in CT.  I use it for recreational purposes like many other residence.  What I don't agree withe Governor on is the Busway fro New Britain to Hartford.  This is a colossal waste of taxpayer money without solid data of the level of useage it will generate.  Not to mention the ongoing operating costs that guess who gets to pay for.  

Al Horila wrote re: New Administration Making All the Right Moves in Connecticut
on Fri, Oct 14 2011 9:31 AM

It is good to hear that the governor is on our side for the improvement of the trail system in this state.

Jonathan Howard wrote re: New Administration Making All the Right Moves in Connecticut
on Fri, Oct 14 2011 10:59 AM

Great that Gov. Malloy is accelerating CDOT's shift from roads-only to multi-mode transit investments. The Merrit has become a scary rollercoaster of a road for cars at peak times - too narrow and twisty for the high speeds and massive cars it carries today - but still a lovely parkway at the best of times. I hope a bike trail and transit connections can help prevent what I would expect otherwise - widening, straightening and lane additions that would destroy the Merrit as a parkway.

Dan wrote re: New Administration Making All the Right Moves in Connecticut
on Fri, Oct 14 2011 7:33 PM

CT has some great trails. Thank goodness because the roads in Ct suck for cyclists.

More please.

Phil Smith wrote re: New Administration Making All the Right Moves in Connecticut
on Thu, Apr 5 2012 4:25 PM

As with Jim, I commute to a state facility.  Lockers and shower rooms for non-motor commuters are not here.  I pay the same for onsite parking even though I use my parking space for a few winter days only.  I get no insurance discount because I stay in shape by cycling to work.  These are all relatively inexpensive things that could be used as enticements to encourage state employees out of their cars and into a more healthy, less polluting lifestyle.  This would be a meaningful demonstration of the Administration's dedication to re-thinking how CT moves.  This would show genuine leadership as initiatives for the private sector are encouraged.

Also, a good way over the Farmington Hill into the Valley is badly needed.  Here's an idea: Boulavard through West Hartford, Farmington Ave up the hill and past the reservoirs, then at Talcotte Notch road, use the ROW of the former Hartford-Unionville trolley line (it loops to the north behind the businesses across fromt the Health Center), cross 4 where the ROW joined the road down the hill, and have the bike bath cut through Hill-Stead to come out on Mountain Road and on down to Porters?  From there, it's an easy and safe ride to the Canal trail and to the River trail, the Valley is easily accessed.  

 

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