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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Going for the gold...or the bronze

Cyclists seeking honor for city

By Elizabeth Benton
Register Staff
NEW HAVEN
— City cycling advocates are seeking to secure national recognition for New Haven as a bicycle-friendly community.
In an effort spearheaded by cycling advocates ElmCityCycling, New Haven recently submitted an application to the League of American Bicyclists, seeking the group’s “Bicycle-Friendly Community” award.
“I think New Haven’s best shot is for a bronze. Even that is pretty hard,” said ElmCityCycling member Hunter Smith. “New Haven is a pretty good bicycle city. The city has taken a lot of steps lately to improve infrastructure and road safety,” said Smith. A bronze is the lowest of four levels granted, and the majority of applicants receive no prize, he said. Winners will be announced later in the spring.
Whether the award is granted or not, Smith said the process has been a learning experience.
“The worst case is that we will get feedback from the League of American Bicyclists, and we’ll know what we need to do to improve. … Even if you do get a bronze, there’s always something to improve. … (LAB) gives specific recommendations with what New Haven has to do better,” he said.
ElmCityCycling already has a few recommendations of its own; in particular, the group would like to see a bicycle and pedestrian coordinator in City Hall.
“The way government works, if one person isn’t assigned, it doesn’t get done,” Smith said.
ElmCityCycling member David Streever bikes several times a day from his home in East Rock, and said he met many of his friends through cycling.
“New Haven is a really small city. If you try to ride from East Rock, or any of the neighborhoods to downtown, you should pretty easily be able to beat any car because of the traffic patterns,” he said.
Still, he’s concerned about safety, “generally the way people drive,” he said, and would like to see increased traffic enforcement. “People are routinely driving 10 to 15 miles over the speed limit, they blow through red lights,” he said. “It just seems like part of the culture around here.”
According to the award application, 1.8 percent of commuters bike to work, the second highest percentage in any major city in the Northeast. However, there are only four miles of bike lanes. While the city eventually plans to add six additional miles of bike lanes, that’s a small percentage of the total 255 miles of city roads, according to the application.
However, the application touts other bike-friendly initiatives, including the Arts & Ideas Festival bike tours, an ElmCityCycling-lead monthly bike-to-work day breakfast, the bike-friendly Farmington Canal Greenway, and youth bicycle safety programs through the city’s Department of Youth Services.
“Increased cycling will also help alleviate parking challenges downtown and at the local train stations,” said Michael Piscitelli, director of Transportation, Traffic and Parking for the city.
City spokeswoman Jessica Mayorga said in a statement that, “The city of New Haven and Mayor John DeStefano Jr. are strongly committed to encouraging cycling among residents and commuters.”
“As gas prices rise and concerns about global warming mount, New Haven is proud to be a state-wide leader in working to promote cycling and other forms of non-motorized transportation,” DeStefano said in the release.
ElmCityCycling meets the second Monday of every month at 6 p.m. in City Hall. Meetings are open to all.
Elizabeth Benton can be reached at 789-5714 or ebenton@nhregister.com.

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