Want To Ride Your Bike To School? Sign Here!

An alert “0688o” reader writes:

We moved to Westport several years ago, drawn by the gorgeous coastline, many amenities and amazing educational opportunities that the schools offer our young children.

Over time, a consistent topic on this blog, in local news, with elected officials and in conversations with friends has been Westport’s lack of safety for our bicyclists, walkers and runners. Nearly everyone I know has experienced near misses.

Recently, our school district felt it necessary to protect itself from liability by sending out a  “Permission to Ride Bicycles to School” form.

At least a few kids ride their bikes to Long Lots Elementary School.

At least a few kids ride their bikes to Long Lots Elementary School.

I understand the safety reasons behind this new requirement. But I think it’s sad it has to exist. There are so many benefits that biking or walking to school gives children.

I bet many “06880” readers experienced those beneifts themselves — independence, exercise, responsibility, social interaction, self-confidence to name just a few.

As the town nears completion of providing a safe route from the library to Compo Beach, we should be able to improve (where it makes sense) walkable/bikable routes to schools for our children.

33 responses to “Want To Ride Your Bike To School? Sign Here!

  1. I couldn’t agree more! I rode my bike more when we lived in Manhattan and I do miss it.

  2. Joyce Barnhart

    The Greens Farms section of town is perilous for cyclists. I actively discouraged my children from riding their bikes even though I spent hours and hours on mine when I was a kid in Queens. Besides potentially hazardous road conditions, drivers are a menace to walkers and cyclists. Too many drivers seem unable to see even big yellow school busses and they have no care for anyone else, especially the vulnerable people on the edges of the road. Until cars are as scarce as they were before the 1960’s, bicycling will be dangerous in Westport.

    • Michelle Benner

      I agree! I live in Greens Farms too and find the lack of consistent shoulders and safe bike routes a barrier to safe bike riding. How do we make more bike paths in westport?

  3. Dan
    Can you explain this existing plan for a safe route from the Library to Compo Beach?

    We should try to develop a plan that utilizes and link as many publically owned properties together Baron, Winslow, Merritt, I95, Railway, schools and other undeveloped land. If we can do anything similar to Nantucket or Monroe which has the Pequonnock River Trail it would be fantastic and increase property values for everyone. https://www.traillink.com/trail/pequonnock-river-trail.aspx.
    Develop a plan, crafting town zoning laws to compliment the plan that encourages people to donated land or give right a ways for bike/walking paths.

    • Philip, I’m not sure about the library to beach plan. Those were the comments of the person who wrote the email to me — not mine. I assume they refer to the new sidewalks along Imperial Avenue.

  4. Bobbie Herman

    Westport used to have bike lanes, but they were eliminated sometime in the late ’80s. Doug Wood was First Selectman at the time. I believe it was due to budget cuts.

  5. Janette Kinnally

    I completely agree. I grew up here and think it is unfortunate they have not updated the roads. The do not have enough sidewalks and it is dangerous to let our kids take bikes or walk to school. more The town needs to think more about safety. The boys runners club/track team was on Bayberry and then Cross Hwy and part of the time, they had to run on the road. Dangerous!!!
    Also not adequate lighting in areas – for example, near Coleytown schools – all the main roads, Easton, Bayberry and North Ave do not have adequate lighting and sidewalks. Why is that the case?

    • I agree about the lack of sidewalks. But I’ve noticed something else: on North Avenue, Long Lots, Imperial, South Compo and elsewhere around town — places where there ARE sidewalks — plenty of people don’t use them. They walk on the shoulder of the road instead. Very strange!

      • Jerry MacDaid

        I’ve noticed lack of use of sidewalks a lot throughout Fairfield County as well. I’m told by runner friends that they are too uneven to run on and/or are overgrown by bushes and hedges in some places forcing them into the streets. On the other hand, they are used so little that no one (town, abbutters or otherwise) apparently has bothered to maintain them like they would be in a city or downtown.

      • Of course people prefer to walk/run/bike on flat surfaces! Why sprain an ankle? Jerry’s runner friends are right to also listen for cars!

      • I see that as well, and it drives me bonkers!!!

  6. Alan Phillips

    I agree wholeheartedly that we need more safe bike and walking paths.
    The town has the right of way and room in a most areas of town in front of our properties.
    The problem,imost Of our telphone (wires) poles sit on that right of way (and in a lot of instances very close to the road ) making it very costly to add safe bike/walking areas.

    A solution might be to make certain roads one way so that a car and safety area could be established. This may not be easy.
    The state would have to agree on state roads. Our neighbors inconvenienced by the one way would have to acquiesce.

    • Alan, can you give a couple of examples of places where that would work?

      I know Daybreak Lane was made one-way a number of years ago (to cut down on traffic between Weston Road and Main Street, I think). I’m not sure what residents who live there think of that now.

    • Downtown Vancouver has changed/added on to its one way streets to accommodate bike lanes. Sure, drivers had to acquiesce. Doesn’t take long, though. Same with suburban bike lanes. Easy peasy.

      Perhaps a trip to Europe, Asia, etc. is in order?

  7. Unfortunately, it’s simply not a smart choice to do much riding anywhere in Westport.

    I used to ride a lot, until I realized that just about every time I went out I had a close encounter with a distracted or unaware driver that could have ended very badly. If you know a lot of riders, you’ll find them most of them have had bad experiences.

    If the town was serious about bike riding, they’d actively enforce the traffic laws in town (texting, stop signs/lights, speeding, etc.). Until then, the odds are not reasonable.

    I assume that the school waiver form (absolving the school from something it isn’t responsible for anyway?) is a not-so-subtle way of reminding parents of basic math. – Chris Woods

  8. “Share The Road” signs and bicycle lanes work… plus drivers’ Patience, of course.
    Of all the lovely towns, it’s alarming to hear that bicycling is becoming a lost mode of travel/sport/past-time/FUN in Westport, especially when towns and cities worldwide are making it a priority. Westport, don’t fall behind.

  9. I agree – we are still relatively new (just 2 years!) and still getting used to all the driving we now do since moving from Manhattan to this beautiful town. The bikes terrify me as a driver — there are so many “blind” curves, and riders often ride 3 abreast, taking up all of the lane — what are you supposed to do, other than swerve into the on-coming lane to get around the bikers?! It’s a disaster waiting to happen – proper bike lanes would be a huge help, both to the bikers and the drivers who are trying their best.

  10. Jerry MacDaid

    When I was younger and more foolhardy, I’d occasionally ride my bike in Westport, Fairfield and Easton generally trying to stick to less traveled routes. But that was for enjoyment, not transportation. Even then, traffic and roads were too dangerous if you wanted to go to downtown Westport or Fairfield. Even worse now. But that’s not unexpected – the places you most want to “travel” to (town, stores, schools, train stations) are also the one with routes most likely to be taken by cars.

    Traditional bike paths/trails tend to be more recreational than practical. The bike paths on Nantucket, for example, tend to be for tourists and are not heavily used by locals or for “commuting”. Among other things, they don’t all connect except, in some cases, through “real” streets in town which are not particularly bike safe/friendly. Worse, even, than Westport.

    Aside from what has been done in some cities that have dedicated lanes on existing roads, it is difficult to carve out space for dedicated commuting bike paths. Like “in town” Nantucket, roads often aren’t wide enough to dedicate a lane with little room to widen the roads.

    The dedicated bike/walk/run paths in Nantucket in most cases are 8-10 feet wide with 3-5 feet grass strips separating them from the road and another 2-3 feet cut on the non-road side. Takes up a lot of land. Probably doable in large parts of Westport given low density zoning, etc. but….

    However, imagine clear-cutting a 15 foot strip of land and laying down a 10 foot strip of asphalt in everyone’s front yard down North Avenue, Coleytown Road, Long Lots, Cross Highway, and Riverside Avenue (not to mention widening the Post Road to add bike lanes) to facilitate bike travel to school. Not gonna happen. And, sadly, would probably not be heavily used even if it did.

    • Now you’re being lazy. The “loss” of a strip of land which could easily be landscaped to accommodate cyclists is pragmatic.

      • Jerry MacDaid

        ????????????

        I have no clue why you are suggesting I’m lazy. If anything, I am being “pragmatic” pointing out how unlikely it is that the good citizens of Westport in general, much less the impacted property owners specifically, would emabrace the prospect of clearcutting 15-20 foot wide swaths of land for bike paths, irrespective of how pragmatic (or not) those bike paths might be.

        Exhibit #1 – the gnashing of teeth and rending of clothes over any tree that’s cut down along the Post Road. Exhibit #2 – the general disdain for any changes whatsoever that might threaten the “character” of Westport. Exhibit #3 – the general disdain for increasing property taxes which would be required to pay for all of this including the cost of “taking” of land if existing right of way is insufficient. Exhibit #4 – the general opposition to anything neighbors might do to their property that might change whatever they are used to.

        Please go away.

        • “Not gonna happen” is a lazy, negative response by “the good citizens of Westport in general”. Do you ever compromise?

          • ??????

            Do you not even understand what you write? You called ME, not the “good citizens of Westport”, lazy. You wrote “Now you’re being lazy”, not “that is a lazy, negative response from the good citizens of Westport”. If the latter is what you really intended to write, an apology with clarification would have been appropriate, not a question about me being willing to compromise. There is nothing in any of this to compromise about.

            To all the other reader’s of these comments, I apologize for my part in subjecting you to this completely unnecessary series of exchanges.

            • Yes, Jerry, you are correct. “You” is directed to the whole, not you, personally. My apologizes (yet again) for troubling you and “you”.

              Back to the issue: a “compromise” would be something as Peter Blau suggests below.

  11. Bobbie Herman

    As a former cyclist, who rode for many years, I learned through bike safety classes that 1- You do not make left turns, but get off your bike and walk it across the street; 2- You ride single file. I find both of these rules, especially the second, broken by many cyclists riding locally. Even by those riding with bike clubs. That is one reason why cycling is so dangerous around these parts. When approaching a cyclist in my car, I tap my horn very gently to warn them that I am coming, but even so, many riding two or three abreast continue to do so. The law says you must drive at least three feet away from cyclists, but it’s difficult when another car is approaching. In that case,I wait until the other car passes.

  12. I completely agree with the comments regarding creating and encouraging safe biking to school.

    The next form we will get from our schools to sign is probably a release of liability form from injury at the playground during recess!!!

  13. Hmm. Two issues here:

    1) As a mature adult cyclist, I think cycling the Westport area is reasonably safe if you take sensible precautions and dismount on particularly dangerous stretches of road, like US-1, Merritt and i95 exits and the railroad underpass on Compo Rd.

    2) Regarding children safely cycling to and from school, I agree that this requires bike lanes segregated from road traffic, like they have in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, but precious few other places in the U.S.

    Westport only has true sidewalks in a few areas — principally Downtown and Saugatuck — but I believe it’s technically against the law to cycle on them, and highly inconvenient for cyclists, too, thanks to the curbs and other obstacles.

    I do remember from teenage years that there were some paved paths on main roads within a mile of schools. (Like Easton Road near Coleytown.) These, too, were inconvenient for cycling because they were often built atop hills higher than the main road — meaning lots of wasted effort — were badly maintained and often overrun by brush and tree branches.

    • Unless Westport has a separate ordinance, it’s legal to bike on sidewalks in CT http://www.norwalkct.org/DocumentCenter/View/7556

      (note the 2-abreast rule cited here is incomplete in that 2-abreast riders can’t hinder car progress.) – Chris Woods

      • Interesting…but as I mentioned earlier, sidewalks have obstacles (including pedestrians) so are only beneficial to cyclists in a handful of places where the road is too treacherous.

        I also drove by the paved school paths on North Avenue near Coleytown Schools on the way to work today and same as I remember from 45 yrs ago. Often too narrow for cycling, rutted, etc. Also inconsistently placed. None, for example, on Coleytown Road, perhaps because they owuld displease the owners of the estate properties on that street.

  14. I agree that creating a comprehensive bikeway system around here would be difficult, expensive and NIMBY-challenged, but I’d suggest it would be worthwhile to have quality, traffic-segregated paths within 1 mile of schools. This is would encourage a healthy habit — cycling and walking to school — and discourage an unhealthy one: parents driving their kids there.

    • Our daughter lives in the Netherlands – bikes there are the pre-eminent form of travel. Mass transit via train and bus are also excellent. Whenever we visit her we bike or use train/bus as preferred form of travel. But unless Trump wins, forcing us to move to the Netherlands, we will continue to live in this un-bike-friendly country, and take our daily, weather-permitting rides, of an hour or so, on our bikes…on user-friendly Sherwood Island – no cars, great bike paths, beautiful vistas – and free 365 days a year (with our Charter Oak pass in summer, and free to anyone mid-September to mid-May)…just a short ride from our house with bikes transported on back on hitch mounted bike rack. Westport’s secret bikers paradise.

  15. David Feliciano

    I used to enjoy riding my bike through the back streets of Westport enjoying the exercise and beautiful scenery of our incomparable beautiful town. And yes, avoiding the occasional distracted or speeding driver. Certainly segments of Greens Farm are particularly narrow, and some drivers came a little to close in their rush to park poorly, while getting their latte’s at Starbucks! But truthfully our streets are not exactly littered with mangled bicycles and bicyclists. We seem to have a lot of motorist engaged in single car accidents, or slamming into each other, through lack of signaling or speed. CYCLE ON Westportians and learn to connect via safer, side roads, in the knowledge that our motorists are generally very fair minded and careful toward those who pedal the same way.

  16. Fairfield has really lovely bike lanes now & is working on putting in more. This was done w/ similar roadways & sidewalks or lack of them & telephone poles & thoughtless drivers & trees & funding issues etc. that Westport has — which were mentioned above by so many here.

    Come by & see them / ride them… The town is just East of you… not far at all… When you lose the *new* scent of money & McMansions you’ll know you’re there…