Trail projects in Plainville, Southington, Farmington, Cheshire, Bloomfield and a handful of other communities are among those expected to be completed under Connecticut's five-year transportation ramp-up plan unveiled earlier this year, which aims to make biking and pedestrian walkways a more prominent part of the state's transportation strategy.
The $10 billion ramp-up plan, which is part of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's more ambitious 30-year, $100-billion transportation overhaul, includes $101 million for maintaining trails, completing gaps in the state's trail network and completing urban bike/pedestrian connectivity projects. For the following 25 years, $250 million is earmarked for pedestrian and bicycle improvements including construction of a trail along Route 15 (Merritt Parkway) and $30 million for trail maintenance.
Tom Maziarz, bureau chief for the Connecticut Department of Transportation's Bureau of Policy and Planning, said Malloy's transportation plan — called Let's Go CT! — is based on a new state strategy that aims to achieve more than simply reducing accidents or congestion.
Economic growth and "preserving, Connecticut's quality of life, particularly in terms of helping make our communities more livable and sustainable," are two other main focuses, he said.
"If one of our goals is to support revitalization of our community centers and make them more desirable to live and work … how do you attract and retain young talent?" Maziarz said. Making community centers more livable and connected is part of that, he said, including expanding bike, pedestrian and other transit options.
"To get those young, talented professionals to stay in Connecticut … they're not looking for a three-bedroom ranch or colonial out in the suburbs, especially early in their careers," Maziarz said. "They're looking for something in an urban center where they have a lot of mobility options and choices where they can walk to dinner, walk to a train station or a bus station. They want the availability of transit so that they don't have to rely as much on a car."
The bike/pedestrian connectivity and expansion plan could also include better connection of transit and work centers to pedestrian and bicycle trails and neighborhoods. DOT is still defining how money for these projects will be spent. It has not yet been determined, however, how Malloy's Let's Go CT! initiative will be fully funded, although lawmakers have approved $2.8 billion in bonds for the plan's first five years.
For the first year, without a predefined selection process, DOT sought bike/pedestrian connectivity projects that are ready to go or that it could undertake quickly, Maziarz said. They include design for bike and pedestrian trail connections to the William H. Putnam Memorial Bridge walkway from Wethersfield and Glastonbury and one of two projects in New Haven, either a commuter corridor to improve bike and pedestrian connections between downtown and residential areas west of downtown, or a protected bike track to allow bicyclists a safe route for traversing the Tomlinson Lift Bridge and continuing east and south along the east shore connecting several parks, according to a DOT document.
DOT also is making bike/pedestrian connectivity funds available for its road safety audit program to help 20 or 30 communities a year audit bicycle and pedestrian issues on local roads where improvements can be made.
Projects that are identified will focus on how to get bicyclists safely into community centers and, once there, ensuring good walking and on-road biking conditions, Maziarz said.
Kelly Kennedy, executive director of Bike Walk Connecticut, a nonprofit working to make Connecticut a better place to bike and walk, sees progress in the state allocating funding for bike and pedestrian uses in its long-term plan.
"Having a line item and signaling that bike/pedestrian active transportation is a real, serious component of our transportation plan is success; having dedicated funding for that is a success, too," Kennedy said.
But the devil's in the details, she added.
"What's the business case for how we're going to apply that money?" she said. "How do we make sure that the projects that get funded are the most useful projects?" That includes relieving vehicle miles traveled and congestion, and connecting places people want to go, she said. There should be connectivity between towns, too, not just within towns, and connections between complete streets and trails.
DOT last year adopted a complete streets policy. Its website defines complete streets as safe, comfortable and convenient transportation systems that serve everyone, whether they travel by walking, bicycling, riding transit or driving.
"Getting it on paper is great; seeing it applied in the real world is another challenge," Kennedy said, adding that her organization sees instances where complete streets aren't being integrated. "We need to stop designing roads just for cars."
Added Kennedy, "I think we need to think of active transportation in terms of Connecticut's overall economic competitiveness and we're behind. There are many states that are much farther ahead than we are on being bike-friendly and walk-friendly. That's where the knowledge workers want to go, and that's where Millennials want to go. The longer it takes for us to catch up, the longer it's going to take for us to restore some prosperity to Connecticut. We need to consider this as an economic competitiveness factor."