More than development. Norwalk redevelopment.

Pedestrian Improvements

First and last, everyone is a pedestrian.  Whether it’s walking to your parked car, or walking from your parked car to your destination, eventually, even the most car-centric, walk-resistant among us find ourselves on a sidewalk or crossing a street, walking alongside or across moving vehicles.  So, everyone (not just the car-less, the power-walkers, or the pedestrian devotees) has an interest in a safe, comfortable walking environment.

This may seem intuitive, and yet, like eating healthy, exercising, and flossing, most communities have a very difficult time making the right choice and doing what’s best for themselves.  A report by Transportation for America shows just how dangerous the pedestrian environment is nationwide, and in downtown Norwalk specifically where there have been a number of pedestrian deaths in recent years.

Increasingly, federal and state laws (and their administrating agencies) are recognizing the importance of pedestrian accommodation, and complete streets.  Recently, the State of New York passed complete streets legislation, joining many other states in the region, including Connecticut.

As alluded to in the linking page, this issue is particularly critical in Norwalk as its downtown development agenda advances.  Under most sets of circumstances, the sheer volume of development proposed — originally a full doubling of the total extant development in downtown — would be considered rash.  But in Norwalk’s case there are 2 exonerating factors: a) each development project is in — and proposes to itself be — a mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly environment, and b) each development is within a five-minute walking distance of another one, making it reasonable to plan for a significant amount of pedestrian-oriented transportation for the population that will live, work, and/or shop in the area.

But this will not happen by itself.  Anecdotal evidence from the Wall Street area suggests that, despite the arrival of a large housing development a mere block off Wall Street which, by itself, doubled the district’s population, very little of that population has ventured outside their front gate to shop, dine, or avail themselves of services in the neighborhood.  Urban design of the projects and neighborhood pedestrian infrastructure must make the area not just walkable, but walk-appealing.

The Connectivity Master Plan identifies a number of high-priority areas for pedestrian improvements in the district.  A number of them are, quite sensibly, near the transit hubs (and the SoNo TOD Master Plan also examines this issue).

Probably the urban corridor’s greatest pedestrian challenge is the I-95 overpass which bisects “uptown” and “downtown.”  A design blog named “Pruned” has a fascinating post on creative approaches to barriers like this, here.  However, in none of the examples given does a major arterial occupy the majority of the space underneath, which is the case in Norwalk.  At least this section of West Avenue is blessed with lots of islands and pieces of right-of-way that are available for urban green and pedestrian amenities.  A study into how best to utilize that space was conducted here.

The Norwalk Transportation Management Plan is also looking at pedestrian issues throughout the city, and is currently soliciting public voting and opining through Livable Norwalk’s Facebook page on which links are most important.