New Milford withdraws complete street ordinance
NEW MILFORD — Town Council is no longer considering an ordinance that would have required town officials to take pedestrians and bicyclists into account when planning road projects — but it doesn’t mean the idea is off the table for good.
The complete streets ordinance proposal was withdrawn at the request of the town engineer so the Department of Public Works and the town planner could find more information for the council, Mayor Pete Bass said.
Under the ordinance, most road projects, including paving, would incorporate elements of “complete streets” to provide safe and convenient access for all users. This could include sidewalks, bus stops and bike lanes. Highway projects where there are no pedestrians allowed would be exempt, as would other projects where the cost for the complete streets elements exceed the need or probable use.
The suggested funding under the ordinance is 2 percent of the road budget and 2 percent of the road capital.
The council expressed concern about the cost of adding landscaping and other amenities for pedestrians and cyclists, as well as how the ordinance would affect every road in town, Bass said. He said the complete streets approach might not work for every road, including some of the older ones where there aren’t shoulders.
“Does it change the flavor of a rural road?” Bass said.
He said the department could rewrite the ordinance to better address some of these concerns. There isn’t a set timeline for the new version.
The ordinance comes to Town Council from the town’s Bike and Trails Committee, which called it a way to encourage town leaders to improve accessibility. The committee was formed in 2017 and enacting the complete streets ordinance was one of the goals. The state Department of Transportation enacted a complete streets policy in 2015.
New Milford is already making steps toward complete streets. During a public hearing on the proposed ordinance last month, town engineer Dan Stanton highlighted some of their activities, including 11 downtown pedestrian projects. Public Works Director Mike Zarba created a bikeability plan that includes signs and markings.
Several residents also spoke at the public hearing — most in favor of the ordinance.
Tom O’Brien, who chairs the Bike and Trail Committee, said the ordinance isn’t meant to be burdensome or punitive, but encourages officials to think about walkers, bikes and wheelchairs when designing projects. He said if this had been in place 15 years ago, there would be a better chance to get sidewalks on Route 7.
Residents Pat and Larry Greenspan also spoke of the need for sidewalks, especially along Route 7.
“In this car-oriented society those who don’t have cars have been forgotten,” Pat Greenspan said, according to the minutes for the hearing.
Resident Carl Dunham, on the other hand, said he didn’t understand the purpose of the ordinance and that it shouldn’t apply to the whole town. He also questioned the funding for it and how the projects would be determined on an “ad hoc basis,” according to the minutes.