A mix of bike-friendly streets and dangerous roads
John Burgeson and Vinti Singh
Monday, February 13, 2012
Some of the artists involved gathered one night and spray-painted bike symbols along Railroad Avenue, denoting a bike lane. The lane happened to be part of a bicycle route the city was already planning. Shortly after the graffiti appeared, the city spent $17,000 to paint an actual bike lane that includes Railroad Avenue.
Bridgeport is a bicycle-friendly city, resident John Wilkins said. Outside of work, he said his bike is his main mode of transportation. He said drivers in Bridgeport are tolerant of cyclists, even those who don't obey cycling rules. But when he cycles into the suburbs, especially along Post Road in Fairfield, he feels most in danger.
"In Bridgeport, drivers see people without best bike habits. Once you get out to the suburbs, people are unaware," he said. "If you're trying to ride the Post Road in Fairfield, it's scary. They're not used to seeing a bicycle as a vehicle in transportation."
Other bike-riders contacted by the Connecticut Post agreed, saying riding through the city's more crime-ridden streets, such as Connecticut Avenue, is more pleasurable and safer than, say, biking on King's Highway in Fairfield or the Post Road East in Westport.
"Bridgeport is a city in which you can ride from neighborhood to neighborhood pretty easily," said Steve Hladun, special projects coordinator for the parks department and a bike commuter. "The city is on the threshold of developing more bicycle connectivity with a regional link from downtown all the way through Newtown."
Other links are planned from Saint Mary's-by-the-Sea to Seaside Park and downtown, he said.
Learning to ride
Visit just about any college campus in the Midwest, and you're bound to see platoons of students on bikes, with scores of bicycles chained to bike racks, railings and light poles. That's not the case at Fairfield's Sacred Heart University, where a recent visit revealed only one small bike rack, with two forlorn bikes.
Meanwhile, SHU students, many of whom would only have short ride to school, say that they spend 10 minutes or more looking for a place to park their cars.
"Sometimes I have to go way over there," said SHU student Leah Magliari, of Stamford, motioning to one of the school's far-flung parking lots. "There's really no effort to get more kids on bikes, not that I know of."
Things are a little better at Fairfield University, where in recent months, bike racks were installed outside all the buildings, and the newest dormitory was built with an indoor bike room. A recent visit to the campus revealed that dozens of bikes being used by students.
Fairfield U. has also instituted a bike-sharing program, with 20 bikes, and they've been getting a lot of use.
"We call it the `Borrow-A-Bike Program' and we started it about two years ago," said Ophelie Rowe Allen, who heads the school's Leaders for Environmental Action at Fairfield, or LEAF.
She said that the on-campus shuttle bus has been eliminated and freshmen and sophomores aren't allowed to have cars. Also, some of the campus roads are designated only for walkers and bikers.
"All of these steps are encouraging bike use," she said.
No place to chain up
But in other areas, the lack of bike racks are a big impediment to biking, cyclists said.
They're almost unknown at supermarkets, shopping malls and big-box stores, according a survey by the Connecticut Post.
While many public buildings are a little better in this regard, many aren't, as Mike Norris, of Stamford, discovered when he had jury duty.
"When I would get to (Stamford Superior) court, I'd have to chain my bike to a small piece of fence." he said. "One of the things that surprised me is that there isn't a bike parking area in the garage or anywhere on the courthouse property -- I was always told to use the flimsy piece of fence."
Still, he rode his bike to jury duty every day. "The traffic in downtown Stamford is often at a standstill, so it was a lot more fun on a bike," Norris said, who also operates the humorous pro-bicycle blogsite www.diybiking.com.
A visit to the Westfield Trumbull Shopping Park revealed a similar situation. Racks for four bikes sit outside of Target's lower level entrance, and room for three more bikes is at the bus stop, which is some distance from an entrance.
"That's too bad, because a lot of people live near the mall and could easily just take their bikes," Mandell said.