Any biker can tell you that the city of New Haven offers much more scenery and beauty than most vehicle-deprived Yalies would ever imagine.
A hearty group of 15 bikers met Saturday morning at Lighthouse Point in New Haven to hear about and test out the proposed $10 million Harborside Trail, a potential multipurpose pathway along the city’s waterfront that would connect Lighthouse Point with Savin Rock in West Haven.
During the 11-mile ride, outing leader Chris Ozyck taught the bikers about the development process for the Harborside Trail while they stopped to discuss various obstacles in the way of the proposed path. These included stairways, an old apple orchard, city streets, inaccessible waterfront views, private property and a sandy beach littered with bottles and glass. Although the sights along the trail, including a breathtaking view of East Rock, were gorgeous for the most part, even the paved sections of the route were in desperate need of development.
But Tiffany Ng ’05, the new undergraduate liaison to Elm City Cycling, said she thought the Harborside Trail plan was great. “It was all the places that I like to go biking, but I never thought about connecting them into a trail,” Ng said.
Ozyck, a biking enthusiast, began organizing his thoughts for a trail along the waterfront in 1991, and the city began considering the idea in 1993. In fact, the creation of the trail was the first city proposal by New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr., who recently aired a commercial touting his “pedal power.” In 1998, an actual design was created, mapping out piece-by-piece how construction would go through.
Though people generally support such a trail, the process has been an extremely slow one because there are so many other issues that must take priority.
“Ten million dollars is relatively cheap for a harbor trail, but that’s a lot of money when the city is laying off its workers,” said Elaine Lewinnek GRD ’05, the organizer of Saturday’s ride.
Ozyck told the group of bikers that in order to make progress, New Haven needs a staffer dedicated to working on greenways, a funding stream and a five year plan. Besides these vital components, Ozyck is especially looking for more trail advocates.
“The important thing is that we need a lot of voices,” Ozyck said.
While New Haven might be lagging in greenway development in comparison with other cities across the country, it certainly has made a good deal of progress. The mayor’s Share the Streets Commission, which built the Orange Street bike lane, has been dedicated since bikers signed a petition last September to creating one new bike lane per year, installing more bike racks, and paving more trails.
“For a year’s work, it’s pretty good,” Lewinnek said.
And bikers in New Haven have been becoming increasingly more visible. Critical Mass, a group of some 100 bikers that takes over the streets and trails the last Friday night of each month, has been gaining in numbers, and the advocacy group Connecticut Bike Coalition recently moved to New Haven.
Because the Harborside Trail will likely not be constructed anytime in the near future, Lewinnek suggested there are other means of opening up the route to New Haven cyclists. Instead of spending $10 million to pave a trail right away, for example, the city could spend a couple thousand dollars on smaller modifications, such as posting signs telling people where to go for the best views of the harbor, or installing rails along the stairways so that bikers can walk their bikes up safely.
The Harbor Trail would eventually be a part of the East Coast Greenway, a bike trail passing all the way from Maine to Florida.