LETTER: Make Safe Cycling Part of the New Normal

To the editor submitted by Vin DiMarco, Greenwich

My wife and I excitedly watched on Facetime last Sunday as our 7 year old Granddaughter finally learned to ride, no doubt prompted by recent “distance ride-by” visits of two of her close friends and their families, the girls sporting new bikes and helmets. We celebrated as she got over the wobbles and navigated the rough patches of the alley (access road) behind their Venice, CA home. We can’t wait to see her do her own family ride-by on the main streets in her neighborhood.

I wondered months ago how many kids (and adults!) have learned to ride since the Covid lockdown began. It seems every day we see individuals and families ride, jog, or walk by our house who we have  never seen before, and we’ve lived here 40 years (and I, 54 years).

It’s especially surprising and  sweet to see the little ones on training wheels, riding fearlessly down the center of the road with their  parents.

Among the countless events canceled by the Pandemic was the 19th Annual Mother’s Bike Ride. The Ride is a 6+ mile loop from Old Greenwich School, around Tod’s Point and back, pleasant and picturesque for  riders of any ability, and with no hills, it’s a great ride to shed the training wheels on.

The Ride has been a special event of the OGRCC (Old Greenwich-Riverside Community Center) since 2014, but was started  by Greenwich Safe Cycling in 2002, one year after the completion of the Greenwich Bicycle Master Plan, one of the first in the State.

Initially, Town authorities had concerns about a bike ride taking place on roads with no special traffic control,  blockading or re-routing. No reported accidents over the years proved that with proper behavior all users  can safely share the road. Each year, the Ride drew more families from other parts of town, and it became clear  why, as those folks all asked “where can we ride (with our kids) in our neighborhood?”

The Bicycle Master Plan included recommendations to create bike lanes and other physical changes to roads wherever possible, and a completely new, car-free East-West Multi-Use Pathway mostly on state-owned right-of-way between  Port Chester and Stamford. Of those recommendations, four bike symbols were soon painted in the shoulders on each side of  Sound Beach Avenue between the Post Road and Binney Park alerting motorists to look out for cyclists in Old Greenwich.

And bike racks have been installed at train station parking lots, some schools, Town Hall, and “downtown” areas. But the wheels  stopped squeaking. Line item funding for bicycle safety improvements was removed from the Town Budget requests years ago,  and some time ago the Master Plan was removed from the Town website.

May happens to be National Bike Month, and though group events could not be held this year, the desire to get out and recreate, along with calmer, sparser automobile traffic during the Pandemic have caused a significant spike in cycling across the US and in  other countries as well. Many cities and towns have responded to the demand, with complete or partial conversion of auto travel  lanes on some road to facilitate “distanced” bike/pedestrian use. Locally it appears that much of the spike is from families and new riders.

What will happen as Covid restrictions are eased? Should changes be made so families and individuals will  continue to feel safe cycling on  their neighborhood roads with more cars? Or can car-free routes be created?

With a little effort, safe, shared routes (simple upright signage and road markings, e.g. “sharrows”), partial or complete lane conversions, or new pathways can be created to the many wonderful parks, to our beaches, libraries, schools and the downtown “centers” we are blessed within Greenwich.

If you are among those who have enjoyed this experience, alone or with family, celebrate it and let the Town know about it. Between now and the end of May, share photos or thoughts of your ride on social media, and help decide what the “New Normal” should be.

Vin DiMarco
Former member/chair of Greenwich Safe Cycling