Tuesday, June 24, 2008

City gets funds to boost rail station bike access

By Mary E. O’Leary
Register Topics Editor
— The city has nailed down some funding to enhance bicycle access to Union Station and has applied for a larger grant to greatly expand it.
A $10,000 grant from Bikes Belong Foundation in partnership with the League of American Bicyclists and REI, an outdoor activity store, will be used to hire a consultant to design a bicycle route and bicycle parking facility at the rail station.
The city’s Department of Transportation, Traffic and Parking worked closely with Elm City Cycling, a large local grassroots organization, dedicated to creating seamless bicycle routes around the city leading to downtown and then to Union Station,in applying for the grant.
It was eligible for the funds after it received "honorable mention" when it recently sought designation as a bicycle-friendly community.
Mark Abraham of Elm City Cycling said there is a great need for more bicycle storage at the train station to meet present needs of commuters and encourage intermodal transportation. There are now only 62 bike storage spaces at Union Station, which are at full capacity.
Like other larger cities in the U.S. and many in Europe, bicycle-rail connections are also a way to promote tourism, Abraham said.
The city, in conjunction with the New Haven Parking Authority, also has submitted a request for $145,000 to the South Central Regional Council of Governments for on-street dedicated and shared bike lanes connecting Union Station to downtown, the Hill and East Rock neighborhoods.
Also, the regional grant could fund 100 new bicycle parking spaces at the train station, which includes outdoor racks, as well as sheltered and valet spaces for long-term users.
"The scope of the work is an unprecedented investment in bike-to-train access in Connecticut, representing a true commitment to non-motorized access to transit," the regional grant application says.
Union Station is served by Amtrak and Metro North, as well as public buses and shuttle services to local businesses and Yale University, and serves some 3,000 daily passengers, the fifth highest on the New Haven-New York line.
The grant would include $130,500 in federal funds and $14,500 from the parking authority.
The bike lane, signage and striping would take place along Orange and Humphrey streets, Whitney Avenue, Temple, George, Church and Crown streets and Union, Howard and Columbus avenues with $15,900 for bike racks and covered parking at the rail station.
Judy Gott, executive director of the area council of governments, said if there were more applications for the funds than money, they will prioritize the grant requests in August.
The holy grail of biking in an urban setting is probably Paris, where that city has 200,000 bicycles around the city for public use through a card system underwritten by advertisers.
Washington, D.C., is the first U.S. city to get into this market, and Chicago employs 16 full-time bicycle planners to run its bike program.
Enhancing bicycle use is being pushed by planners as an economic development tool that makes cities more attractive, while also dealing with the high cost of gasoline.
"I can’t wait for the time when bicycle and pedestrian projects are enough of a priority that the city, state and federal governments dedicate serious funding to them in the regular budgets. That time should have come long ago," said Hunter Smith of Elm City Cycling.
Mary E. O’Leary can be reached at 789-5731 or moleary@nhregister.com.

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