New England charm in Norwalk's Rowayton district.© Brian C. Howard
I was impressed to see that Norwalk at least has a bus system, Wheels, even if the buses seem to be empty a lot of the time. I never stepped aboard, partly because bus stops in town do not have signs to explain the routes.
Norwalk"s problems and Ottawa"s bonuses might have mattered less if drivers acted similarly. But Connecticut drivers were among the worst I"ve come across (okay, the Dominican Republic was much worse). They routinely cut off pedestrians. Contrast that with New York City, where cars and pedestrians seem to follow an uneasy truce. People on foot have the moral right of way, even when they don"t have the legal right, but they try not to block cars. In Norwalk, I felt like some drivers might really have run me over if I stepped out, even when the situation and a clearly marked crosswalk gave me the right of way.
Norwalk"s cars don"t just cut pedestrians off, either. Drivers constantly pull across sidewalks and crosswalks to wait to go right or, worse, straight or left. Sometimes drivers need to pull out a bit before they turn, but not when there"s solid traffic which you can see without advancing. And certainly not while you"re waiting for a green light. That kind of behavior is for lazy people, or those with a lead foot.
Though I don"t know the details, I heard while in Norwalk that Connecticut"s driver education system is quite lax. If future drivers are taught more about why they must stop at stop lines, what crosswalks mean and why pedestrians have the right of way, some might follow the rules.
Many small towns in the U.S. are similar to Norwalk, I"d bet. You might be tempted to say, hey, it"s a fairly small city, cut it some slack. But increased pedestrian traffic can actually save cities money. A person walking or taking a bus costs cities much less than one driving.
A final point that th
e Norwalk city council should work on is people parking right on sidewalks, especially on its busier residential streets. Again, it"s a minor annoyance for an able-bodied person, but it could pose a much larger problem for a senior. Writing laws that ban sidewalk parking, or enforcing them if they exist, could help.
Getting people on their feet helps the planet, and it helps the walkers themselves. South Norwalk’s busy shopping district is actually walkable, with close-together shops, pleasant sidewalks and trees—though cars are still all-but-required to reach the area unless you live nearby. But I didn"t have to walk far from this sustainable downtown area to hit the real Norwalk, where cars come first. Perhaps a quarter mile away was an auto dealership with an enormous white SUV on display. The enormous car entirely blocked the sidewalk as it sat there, shiny bumper smirking in the sun, leaving us hapless feet-dwellers to risk life and limb as we walked on a four-lane road.
ADRIAN LAROSE is back in Ottawa after his harrowing six weeks in Norwalk as an E intern.
Editor"s note: The city of Norwalk is currently working on plans to better link pedestrian areas, particularly in connecting the historic South Norwalk area to other parts of the city. Hopefully, this will lead to more walkability in the future.