At a public hearing before the state Transportation Committee yesterday, state officials proposed a bill that would increase biking safety in Connecticut.
Co-sponsored by State Representatives Roland Lemar and Cristin McCarthy Vahey and State Sen. Beth Bye, the bill would amend current statutes that complicate the construction of new bike lanes on state roads. Of the 10 largest cities in New England, New Haven — the sixth largest — has the highest percentage of residents who walk or bike to work, according to Director of Transportation for the City of New Haven Doug Hausladen ’04. Supporters of the bill seek to make biking an even more viable option for residents, while also ensuring the safety of those who already bike.
“Right now, state law presents a barrier to a lot of what New Haven is trying to do, and that really hurts our efforts to build a comprehensive transportation system in the city,” said Lemar, who represents the district that covers New Haven and East Haven.
Connecticut currently has several measures that impede safer bike lanes from being built. One requirement stipulates that bikers travel as far right on the road as possible, which means constructing left-handed bike lanes is illegal. In addition, two-way bike lanes are prohibited.
These statutes have hampered the city of New Haven from developing two projects that would create “21st century facilities for bikers,” Hausladen said.
The first project is a 2.1 mile on-street protected cycle track on Edgewood Avenue. The current design proposes the construction of a six-foot bike lane next to the curb, a four-foot striped buffer adjacent to it, followed by a parking lane — all to protect riders from roadway traffic.
Hausladen added that this is a typical design for bike lanes in cities like New York and Seattle, but that in New Haven, state laws impede lanes that are protected by a wide buffer. Specifically, state law requires that a parking lane be within 12 inches of the edge of the roadway, which means the parking lane would not be able to be used as protection for riders.
The city is also running into problems in the construction of a two-way protected cycle track on Route 1 because state law prohibits two-way cycle tracks, even though they are common across the country.
“Allowance for two-way bikeways is a change that should be implemented to our statutes to bring the State in line with best practices around the U.S.,” Department of Transportation Commissioner Jim Redeker said in his testimony at the hearing.
In addition to improving conditions for current bike riders, enhancing streets safety would also make biking to work a more viable option, Lemar said.
A recently published report by non-profit DataHaven shows that the main reason for unemployment in Connecticut is not that people cannot find jobs, but rather that they do not have transportation access to said jobs — which makes improving bike paths crucial, Vahey said in an email to the News.
“Too many people are afraid to ride their bikes out on the road because they just don’t feel safe,” Vahey said in an interview with the News after the hearing.
At the hearing, the bill had over a dozen letters of support and multiple people who testified in favor of it. The bill will be voted on by the full Transportation Committee by mid-March, Lemar said.
In the meantime, Lemar will be working with the governor’s office to incorporate the bill’s proposals into the governor’s broader transportation plans, he said.