By Christopher Zurcher, Environmental Headlines
The pros and cons of a 37.5-mile path along the Merritt Parkway for bicyclists, walkers, runners, and maybe even equestrians, were discussed at a meeting held by the Connecticut Department of Transportation at Osborn Hill Elementary School last week.
Further evening meetings are planned for Westport on May 1, at Police Headquarters; Trumbull on May 14 at the Trumbull Library, and Norwalk on May 17 at Norwalk High School. More information can be found at www.CT.gov/DOT/MerrittTrailStudy.
For more on this story, visit: Paths along Merritt pros/cons; proposed 37.5 miles for bicyclists and walkers – Fairfield – Minuteman News Center.
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A public workshop on the Merritt Parkway Multi-Use Trail Feasability Study that took place at Osborn Elementary School in Fairfield Tuesday night was aimed at uncovering concerns and opportunities and suggestions the Connecticut Department of Transportation could consider implementing if the trail ever comes to fruition.
Most of the $1.3 million study is being funded by a $1.1 million grant from the National Scenic Byways Program.
The 37.5-mile trail would probably be built primarily in the 300-foot right-of-way on the south side of the historic limited-access parkway (along the north-bound lane) that spans Connecticut’s Fairfield County. Discussions of a trail date almost to the beginning of the construction of the parkway, principal engineer William Britnell told Environmental Headlines.
Since 2000, a new organization, the Merritt Parkway Trail Alliance, has advocated actively for a trail, with support from the Connecticut Forest and Park Association, RPA, and the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection., Britnell write on an article for the January/February 2012 issue of Connecticut Preservation News.
Once these meetings are complete (additional workshops are scheduled for May 1 in Westport and May 17 in Norwalk) and a conceptual design for the trail has been established, more meetings will take place in the fall or winter of 2012, to present the conceptual design and gather additional feedback.
Some concerns the residents expressed included preservation of pristine lands along the Parkway, too many trees having been cut down already, the unpleasantness of walking along a highly traveled roadway, and the safe sharing of the trail by pedestrians and cyclists.
Ray Rauth, a long-time cycling advocate, first chairman of the statewide Connecticut Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board for the DOT, chairman of Weston’s Bicycle Pedestrian Committee and active with the local Sound Cyclists, said he is pleased to see so many people interested in the project.
“Developers design these road systems and they don’t connect. A direct route would be a Godsend,” he said. In regard to trees having to be cut to make way for the trail he pointed out that most of the trees along the Parkway are fairly young but did agree that care should be taken to protect the older trees along the route.
The trail would also intersect with the Norwalk, Housatonic and Pequonnock River Trails already in existence.
David Ames, of Westport, said he is in favor of the trail and supports bicycle commuter opportunities throughout the state.
“Seventy-five percent of people live within five miles of their workplace,” he said. “If this increases my ability to commute and increases bicycle commuting in general, then I’m for it.”
Ames, who commutes by bicycle from Weston to Westport, said Route 1 is rated one of the most dangerous stretches of roadway for bicyclists and pedestrians.
Connecticut’s most dangerous roads for pedestrians are the Boston Post Road (Route 1) and US-5, according to an analysis by the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a policy watchdog organization.
Between 2008 and 2010, seven pedestrians were killed on Route 1 and four pedestrians were killed on US-5. The pedestrian deaths on these roads were clustered in Westport and East Hartford, the report says.
Some who attended the meeting own property that abuts the Parkway and where the proposed trail would be built.
Mary Belletzkie, of Fairfield, said she is in favor of a trail because her family likes to hike, but her support will depend on a number of factors.
“I would love to see it happen,” she said, “but I have wetlands on my property, which abuts the Parkway, and I also don’t want an increase in hunters on my property.”
Geoff Kooris said “public land is public land.”
“I live on lands that abut the Parkway,” he said. “It’s not my right to restrict access to public land and I feel the trail would be an asset to my property.”
Steven Mitchell of the East Coast Greenway said he is not familiar with a property value ever decreasing as a result of the trail.
Ariane Mermod, who was representing the Fairfield Bridle Trails Association at the meeting, told The Daily Weston that while she would welcome another trail to ride her horses on, she isn’t convinced. But Britnell said is the purpose of the feasibility study – to collect information from local residents and identify and prioritize community challenges and opportunities.
Other concerns raised at the meeting include property owner liability, security and trespassing concerns, cost of maintenance, parking availability for trail access. Opportunities that were identified include getting more bicycles off the roads, opportunities for the Audubon societies, farmers markets, garden clubs, and increasing property values.
The trail would span from the New York border to the Igor I. Sikorsky Memorial Bridge that spans the Housatonic River between Stratford and Milford where the Wilbur Cross Parkway begins and continues to Meriden. The trail would eventually become part of the East Coast Greenway that will “provide people under their own power with a safe, non-motorized trail that connects cities and towns of the Eastern seaboard” from Maine and Florida.
There are about 60 roads the Merritt Parkway Multi-Use Trail would intersect with and would somehow have to cross. Like the East Coast Greenway, the trail would take into consideration accessibility issues outlined by the Americans with Disability Act. A good local example of how this manifests itself can be seen by taking a drive (or a pedal) along the Charter Oak Greenway that goes along Route 384 from East Hartford to Manchester.
The Merritt Parkway is known for its scenic layout, its uniquely styled signage, and the architecturally elaborate overpasses along the route. It is designated as a National Scenic Byway and is also listed in the National Register of Historic Places. It serves as the continuation of the Hutchinson River Parkway, to the Housatonic River in Stratford, where the Wilbur Cross Parkway begins. On May 19, 2010, the parkway was named one of America’s Most Endangered Historic Places in 2010.
The Merritt Parkway is one of a handful of United States highways listed in the National Register of Historic Places. It is acknowledged for the beauty of the forest that it passes through, as well as the architectural design of its overpasses; at the time of its construction, each bridge was decorated in a unique fashion so that no two bridges on the parkway looked alike.