Complete Bridges?


This is an update from the previous story about ticketing bicyclists who ride on the sidewalk. (“Sidewalk Biking Bust Nets 46-Year Old Crackhead”)

While New Haven officers like Lt. Ray Hassett are busy ticketing bicycle riders for riding on the sidewalk, innocent people are actually getting hurt because the same law is not being enforced on automobiles across town. The most recent incident occurred late last month on the Tomlinson Bridge where citizens say fishermen frequently park their cars on the sidewalk to avoid the excruciating 50-meter walk.

On August 24th, a New Haven man was knocked off his bike when he was forced onto the roadway because of the parked cars. He said he normally rides on the sidewalk there because of the danger of crossing the Tomlinson Bridge with automotive traffic. (Read the whole story via NHI here).

I personally take to the road when crossing the Tomlinson Bridge, but I can understand a cyclists’ trepidation when they see this four-lane monster open up to them as they are pedaling along Route 1. It’s kind of like getting swallowed by a whale. A whale that just ate a dump-truck  full of asphalt, and then vomited so that it smells like asphalt vomit.

This talk of regurgitation reminds me to once again bring up the most fundamental point of this whole argument. Yes, sidewalk riding is dangerous and illegal, and some would even say cowardly, but that does not mean it should be ticketed.

Anyone who is on their bike is potentially one less person in an automobile. They should be encouraged and even congratulated for breaking the status quo of personal motor-vehicle ownership in this country and thus ebbing the pattern of environmental abuse, fossil fuel consumption, and anti-urbanization sentiments that motor vehicle use has spawned. They should not be ticketed for fearing to ride with dangerous drivers, rather dangerous drivers should be ticketed for harassment and intimidation of pedestrians and cyclists (i.e. breaking traffic laws). Until that happens, I will side with bike riders who chose to use the sidewalk for fear of traffic.

Something smells in New Haven’s traffic enforcement policy.


Rob Smuts, the city’s Chief Administrative Officer, has responded on the NHI comment thread, probably as a result of my hard-hitting journalism (i.e. the exploded whale picture). I feel obligated to share his response:

Posted by: Rob Smuts | September 10, 2009 5:09 PM

This incident and the comment thread bring up a bunch of different, really important issues. I wanted to quickly comment on a few of them from the City’s perspective (and my own two cents).

1) General traffic enforcement – speeding, giving proper passing room, etc – is our responsibility, and obviously not just in this location. Starting under Chief Ortiz and continued and dramatically increased now under Chief Lewis, the NHPD has implemented a major push on traffic enforcement. From about 10,000 MV violations issued in 2007, we went to over 15,000 last year and expect to hit 22-24,000 for 2009. Any change in motorist behavior will require this effort to be sustained over several years and probably increased some more – both points Chief Lewis tells me we can expect to see.

2) Illegal parking on the sidewalk – two incredibly responsive public servants (Mike Piscitelli and Chief Lewis) are now fully aware of the issue and have committed to addressing it. Give us feedback on how we’re doing on this issue – you can reach me at I will speak with the City Engineer to contact ConnDOT about the possibility of putting up posts or bollards to physically prevent cars from illegally parking there – not something we can directly do, but we will certainly convey the idea.

3) Pointing out trouble spots – the article mentioned SeeClickFix, and I want to strongly recommend it (please don’t email me directly with every issue, in other words). City departments pay attention to the issues reported on that site: the NHPD use it to identify many of their targets for traffic enforcement, and even narcotics enforcement. DPW, Parks, LCI and other city departments do respond also. Some complicated issues like this one (because it’s a state bridge and a state road, and involves the railroad company) aren’t easily resolved right away, but none of the issues are ignored.

4) The railroad cut – this particular Tomlinson issue wasn’t raised in the article, but is the one I have most heard about and personally experienced. I broke my elbow May 2008 crossing the Tomlinson on my bike after I took a spill on the railroad crossing. Thankfully there was no car going 40mph+ right behind me and I wasn’t hit when I was sprawled out in a travel lane (as Anon would point out, the typical speeds on this stretch would be much more likely to kill me in that situation than on a road where vehicles travel slower). I shared my experience with the City Engineer, Dick Miller, who is our main point of contact with ConnDOT, but this is not something under the City’s authority. A similarly problematic railroad cut on Grand Avenue, however, is something Dick has been fruitfully working on – the City couldn’t fix the issue ourselves, but we have been working on that railroad cut with the railroad company and expect it to be fixed very shortly. So while the City can’t do much about the Tomlinson railroad cut, we are addressing the analogous situation for which we do have some responsibility.

– Rob Smuts
Chief Administrative Officer & fellow “Tomlinson Bridge Club” member

I’m excited to see those numbers that he cites in part 1, and the swift response to the other problems as well. Strangely, it’s both inspiring and troubling that people are able sit on their ass and complain (via the internet), but still accomplish something.

So, good work, but I think the number of violations issued could easily be increased. For every driver they catch there are countless others getting away with the same thing.

In his own words Smuts says, “any change in motorist behavior will require this effort to be sustained over several years and probably increased some more.”

Anyone that rides or walks regularly will probably agree with you that we have not noticed any significant changes in driving behavior over the past year. We’re all for increasing those numbers. Keep up the good work!

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