By James Simon
Member Stratford Housatonic Greenway Cyclist Club
Some say they join because they love bicycling and want to meet other cyclists. Others say they want to see the sights in Stratford, or relive their youth, have fun, or get more exercise.
Whatever the reason, membership in the Stratford Housatonic Greenway cyclist club has blossomed this year after seven years of steady growth.
At least twice a month, between three and 30 cyclists get together – often at Shakespeare Market on a Sunday at 10 a.m. –and pedal off to such local destinations as the beaches in Lordship, or to adjoining sites such as Silver Sands state beach in Milford, Seaside Park in Bridgeport, or over the Sikorsky Bridge to Milford.
The Greenway program’s mailing list tops 200 members, and 358 people are members of the Stratford Housatonic Greenway Facebook page. As of May 2023, our local program is now supported statewide by the CT DOT CTRides.com to encourage local multi-modal commuting and recreational uses. They are emailing our activities to their list of 14,000 CT cyclists. In the near future this will increase out-of-town cyclists who choose Stratford’s scenic Forest-to-Shore offerings.
The Stratford Greenway began in 1979 with an off-road section on Main Street from Deluca Field to Short Beach and on local streets past the light house, Russian Beach, the Seawall and Long Beach. You probably have seen the Stratford Housatonic Greenway arch, located adjacent to the DeLuca softball field off Main Street, where this sections of this scenic stretch of the town’s greenway has been open and available to cyclists and walkers for up to forty years.
And by this December, you will be seeing many more signs of multimodal activity in town, including striped bicycle lanes and upgraded sidewalks on Main Street that are the result of the Phase One of the Complete Streets Program. To this will be added town based on-street bike and sidewalks lanes from Broad Street down Elm Steet through the Shakespeare Park, then onto Birdseye where it will connect to the existing off-road Deluca Field portion built in the 1990’s.
“It’s been a long time in coming,” said Harold Watson, who organizes the rides, in addition to his work as Chair of the town’s Greenway/Complete Streets Subcommittee of Planning, as well as being Chair of the Zoning Commission. “It makes me so happy to see so many people enjoying Stratford from a different perspective.”
Greenway member, Nels Pearson from Paradise Green, a Fairfield University professor who has been on several of the rides, raved about a recent trip from Shakespeare Park to McKinney National Wildlife Refuge, and then to Long Beach, Short Beach and back. “Riding this route you really see the links between the Greenway, “Complete Streets,” and coastal conservation efforts in Stratford. Join us!” he said in a Facebook posting.
Cyclist Club member, Michael Murphy uses five bike-mounted cameras to shoot footage of many rides. He said he “loves seeing the group grow and exploring more of the beauty of our town’s coastline and Greenway.”
Riders come from all ability levels and unite in a desire to “leave no riders behind.” When we recently started our return from Seaside Park in Bridgeport, I got a flat tire but there were experts in the group ready to fix the tire, using futuristic CO2 tire inflaters, to get me rolling home again.)
Complete Streets is part of a broader town-wide Greenway plan to make Stratford’s streets more friendly to ADA and multimodal transportation –cars, bicycles, and pedestrians – and to better allow cyclists, hikers, bird watchers to enjoy the scenic vistas. This year Stratford received a grant from AARP to establish ten local community routes that give weight to our desire to have greenways use by all abilities including our seniors.
The Stratford Housatonic Greenway/ Complete Streets covers the waterfront from Long Beach on the Long Island Sound to Stratford’s Business districts and neighborhoods to northern reaches of the Housatonic River. Stratford currently is interconnected to the national East Coast Greenway system running from Stratford Avenue in Bridgeport, and in Stratford from Ferry Boulevard up Main Street to Long Brook and down East Main Street then over the Devon Bridge into Milford. We also are supporting the developing Pequannock Rail trail that runs from Long Island Sound in Bridgeport to Newtown in the north.
The Stratford effort received a big boost in October 2022 from a $6 million state grant for Main Street upgrades.
• The Construction Phase of Complete Streets Phase 1 will be beginning this December, Watson said by Spring bicyclists will see dedicated bike lanes and sidewalk upgrades on Main Street between Barnum Avenue to almost Stratford Avenue.
• At the same time, we will see the completion of our local town-Greenway project of on-road bike lanes and sidewalk upgrades starting from the historic Perry House on Broad Street then across MainStreet to Elm Street, through the Shakespeare Park down Birdseye and finally connecting to the existing Greenway.
• Phase Two of Complete Streets – a bike lane on Main Street, from Barnum Avenue to Paradise Green — is now also funded. It is in the design stage and projected for construction to continue after Phase one for expected completion summer 2024.
• Those improvements will be followed by upgrades in the planning stages to include on-road sharrows (Sharrows or shared lane pavement markings are bicycle symbols that are placed in the roadway lane indicating that motorists should expect to share the lane with bicycles and vice-versa. Sharrows also serve to guide bicyclists away from the hazardous “door zone” beside parked cars, and function as positioning cues) on Ferry Boulevard, a new Greenway segment on Stratford Avenue where a traffic circle is being installed by the CTDOT.
• The Greenway/Complete Streets sees a priority need to develop a signage and marketing program to include bicycle racks at local businesses.
The Greenway/Complete Streets effort intersects with many other parts of town planning, such as the new Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD) which has been released in draft form.
Watson, also a veteran of the town Planning Commission, has waged a long effort to encourage alternative transportation in Stratford. Bicycle advocates have had to deal with such hurdles as gaining local and state transportation approval, town budgetary concerns, and the slow cleanup of the AVCO / Stratford Army Engine Plant (where a right-of-way for the Greenway would be included).
Watson says the town Recreation Department, which now sponsors the rides, is a supportive ally, along with Town Engineer John Casey and officials in several other departments like Public Works and the Police. Both the Planning and Zoning Commissions regularly include consideration of the Greenway in matters that come before them.
“It’s like anything else,” he said. “You need to show town leaders that there is a group of people who feel strongly about an issue like bicycling, then convince the leaders – who face a lot of competing proposals for their time and money – that your idea is beneficial to the town and deserves approval. But the proof is in the pudding- Stratford, with the full support of both Mayor Hoydick and the town Council have voted in a model Complete Streets ordinance and are proactive in securing CT State multi-modal funding.”
The next ride: Thursday, August 24th, at 6 p.m., starting at Boothe Memorial Park. Bicyclists will ride the path through the Sikorsky estuary alongside Ryders Landing, then move onto the bike lane across the Sikorsky Bridge and into Milford.
To get on the Greenway mailing list, send your e-mail address to firstname.lastname@example.org . Visit the Stratford Housatonic Greenway Facebook page for the bicycle schedule, to post questions, and to see videos and pictures of recent rides.)