Walking along Bridgeport Avenue shouldn’t be a scary and almost life-threatening experience, but it is. The main thoroughfare that connects downtown with corporate office parks along the Route 8 corridor is not a very pedestrian-friendly roadway.
That can be blamed on the road’s history — it once was Route 8, after all — as well as the suburban sprawl mind-set of the latter half of the 20th Century. But there’s little excuse for the lack of any progress in making such an important road a place that is safer for both walkers and bicyclists in more recent years.
There is no suggestion here that Bridgeport Avenue — which also has become a major retail corridor in more recent decades — should be a nice place to take a leisurely stroll or bicycle ride. It’s too late for that, just as it is too late to do the same with many roads that were primarily developed after American life began to revolve around the automobile.
There are more practical reasons for making Bridgeport Avenue a more congenial place to walk short instances: Such improvements could pay dividends.
A boost for downtown housing
One is the redevelopment of downtown. A selling point to get people to live downtown would be the ability to safely get to their workplace in the corporate parks without having to drive.
While walking may not be practical for many needing to go more than a mile or so, at certain times of the year bicycling surely is — if only there were bicycle lanes to provide an added degree of safety. Buses are another alternative means of getting somewhere, and people must walk to and from buses.
Good for the environment, health
Another reason is the environment. People do not have to drive everywhere. There’s nothing wrong with walking a short distance to get somewhere. It saves gas. It cuts down on pollution, including carbon emissions.
The fewer people hopping in their cars to go from parking lot to parking lot, the better. People who still need to drive, or want to drive, can do so.
An additional reason is health. Walking or bicycling is much better for people than driving. And it isn’t just health nuts who like to walk. Make it easier and safer for people to walk short distances, and more people will do just that. As they say, “Build it, and they will come.”
People do walk along Bridgeport Avenue now. They can be spotted most every day. Some are heading for bus stops to take advantage of public transportation, and others are wandering from their hotel rooms to nearby stores or restaurants.
In fact, the number of people using public buses to reach work sites in this area is increasing, especially as more retail establishments are built. How are people supposed to get to the bus stops near their employers if it’s not safe to walk along the road?
Making improvements over time
There are ways to add sidewalks and bike lanes to roads over time — even main roads such as Bridgeport Avenue.
One might be to make it a zoning policy to have sidewalks and bike lanes on Bridgeport Avenue, and require anyone who needs zoning permission for a project along the road to follow that policy. While this can lead to sidewalks that connect to nothing in places at first, over time just about every commercial landowner needs to get a zoning permit for some type of upgrade.
Yes, sidewalks and bike lanes are not cheap — they cost lots of money to build and then the city must maintain them. The idea of pursuing them in already-developed areas can seem daunting and overwhelming at first. But it can be done. Think of it as a long-term project.
It’s time for the idea of sidewalks, crosswalks and bicycle lanes to be mentioned in the same sentence as “Bridgeport Avenue.” It’s a quality-of-life issue that could make Shelton a more desirable place to live, work, shop, and dine.