Getting out and around in Fairfield

FI-Letter-to-the-EditorTo the Editor:

For the past 13 years I have lived in Asia — nine in China and four in Korea. To say that these countries are crowded is an understatement. No matter the time of day or night the streets are always busy. A decade ago it was mostly pedestrians and cyclists, and today it is cars. And most of the time these cars and people are stuck in ever-present gridlock, encased under a shroud of dust, smoke and pollution.

Every summer, when I came home to Fairfield to visit my family, I loved to get out on the road to bike along the clean, quiet, green Connecticut roads. One summer, I think it was 2003, I went out on a beautifully warm July weekday. I biked my standard route up through Greenfield Hill, back down to Mill Plain Road and across into Southport. As I was biking, I started to notice something. There were vehicles on the roads, but I saw almost no runners, walkers, or other bikers. The only actual humans I saw out of their vehicles were landscapers working on lawns or contractors building rock walls.

This past summer of 2014, my family and I moved back home to Fairfield from Asia for good. I jumped on my bike again. I started noticing things. Someone painted lines on Mill Plain Road and bike symbols on Unquowa Road. I saw a “Share the Road” sign near Ludlowe High School and bike racks on the buses. I thought they only did that in California? There was a sidewalk on Round Hill Road along Fairfield University’s campus, where I never remembered one. And there were a lot more people out on the roads!

I passed packs of runners – running on the opposite side of the road facing into traffic (the proper way). There were a group of about 20 cyclists out for a ride along Fairfield Beach Road. The cyclists were all 50+ years old, all wearing bright clothes and helmets. They had bikes fitted with flashing lights. I followed them for a bit and asked one nice woman if they were part of a group. “Yes! We are in Sound Cyclists – we go out for rides all the time.” We talked for a while and she let me know there are groups of all ages and ability levels that head out year round.

I also noticed a lot more walkers – especially in the beach area. Some areas have sidewalks, and some don’t. Regardless, there were groups of people out – some pushing babies in strollers, groups of children, parents and grandparents. There were people outside. My brother-in-law who lives on Duck Farm Road told me, “Ever since they put that sidewalk in on Round Hill and the bike route signs on Mill Plain, the number of people I see out has gone up like 10,000%. And people drive slower.”

My mother reads newspapers. Actual paper ones. She likes to clip out articles and tell me to read them, mostly to try and direct me to do something different with my life. “You see, I told you that you should go to law school!” or, “Why don’t you become a doctor and do this…”

This one particular clipping was about the Town of Fairfield looking for volunteers to be part of a new Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee. “That actually sounds interesting,” I thought. “I like to bike. I am going to apply.”

And apply I did. A few months later, I was summoned for an interview at the Town Hall. A few weeks later, I was appointed to the Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee. Somehow, I was elected Chairman (my father, upon hearing this news said, “You were elected Chairman? That usually means you arrived late to the meeting.”)

It is great to see this new momentum towards a healthier and more active Fairfield, but there is a lot more work to be done. Many of the members of the committee have traveled extensively and seen what other states and countries have done (or are doing) and we hope to bring some of these ideas to our town.

You will be hearing a lot more from our Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee in the future as we work with residents, schools, local government, municipal agencies, businesses and others to make our streets safer and more accommodating to all users – whether you are walking, running, biking, taking public transport, or driving.

Fellow members of the panel include Elizabeth Gardner, Linda A. Lach, Edward F. Lane (secretary), Donald R. Hyman, Laura L. O’Brien (vice chair), William N. Pollack, Karen Secrist and Robert Tota, M.D. A special thanks to the Fairfield Bike Walk Coalition and the Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan Advisory Committee who were responsible for much of the good work done thus far.

For more information on the committee and its work, or if you would like to get involved visit http://www.fairfieldct.org/bikeped or send us an email at [email protected] You can find Sound Cyclists at http://www.soundcyclists.com/.

Keith Gallinelli

Chair for the Fairfield Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee

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