Imagine being able to ride a bicycle from a downtown Shelton residence to the Derby train station, using a designated bikeway along the entire route.
Well, that is what a group of local officials are working on as part of a project to improve access for bicyclists and pedestrians to the rail facility, officially known as the Derby-Shelton Multi-Modal Center.
The goal is to encourage what is called transportation-oriented development (TOD), or residential and commercial activity with maximum access to public transport.
A presentation recently was made on the project at the Shelton Economic Development Corp. office by the Valley Council of Governments (VCOG) and AECOM, an architectural design firm. A state grant has funded some of the planning work.
At the meeting, various options were presented on the best way to create a bicycle path from Howe Avenue in Shelton to the rail facility in Derby off Main Street, near Home Depot.
The meeting was intended to get input before finalizing the possible options. “We’re pretty much almost done,” Mark Nielson, VCOG planning director, said of the planning stage.
Public input will be sought
A public information meeting on the project is likely to be held this fall, enabling the public to learn more about the concept and offer feedback.
Preliminary design work on Derby/Shelton Bridge enhancements could begin soon thereafter.
“We’re going to keep moving along with this,” said Rick Dunne, VCOG executive director, adding efforts are being made to identify funds for construction.
For planning purposes, the TOD project has been divided into four sections: West Side (downtown Shelton), Derby/Shelton Bridge, Downtown Derby, and East Side (section of Derby closest to the train station). Multiple options were presented by AECOM representatives for each section.
The first priority is “to enhance the pedestrian and bicycle experience on the bridge,” said Deborah Howes, an AECOM community planning director.
Some challenges discussed are how to get bicyclists from the Derby/Shelton Bridge to Howe Avenue, crossing Bridge Street at Route 34, and getting across Route 34 before the congested Route 8 intersection.
Two separate bridges actually must be crossed to go from Howe Avenue to the Derby border: the Derby/Shelton Bridge over the Housatonic River, and a newer cement bridge that goes over the railroad tracks and Canal Street to connect to Howe Avenue.
That newer bridge is not as wide as the Derby/Shelton Bridge and therefore doesn’t have the space for a bike lane, meaning a bike path is likely to exit Bridge Street onto Canal Street.
But crossing the railroad tracks on Canal Street could be an issue due to federal and state regulations, despite the fact the rail line has been inactive for a few years.
The Derby/Shelton Bridge offers many opportunities because it is wide, with 10-foot sidewalks on both sides. A gathering area could be created on the bridge, such as a viewing plaza with benches.
A wider Route 34 is coming
In the future, the state plans to widen Route 34 (Main Street) through downtown Derby and this should create an opportunity to build bike lanes on the river side of the road in that area.
A negative of this approach, however, is that bicyclists wouldn’t travel near most retail stores in downtown Derby because they are on the north side.
Another option is to use part of the existing Derby Greenway, near the Housatonic River.
Having the bikeway cross Route 34 near the train station may mean trying to use the grassy area in front of Home Depot.
Dunne said some walkers now find “creative and dangerous ways” to get across Route 34 close to the train station, and a designated path for bicyclists and walkers would be a big improvement.
It is expected a shelter where bicycles could be stored securely would be put near the rail station. “You put them up and the bikes just keep coming,” Howes said.
Some other issues are whether to have two-way bikeways on the same side of roads, and whether to create a barrier between cars and bicycles (such as landscaping elements, slight elevation change or curb).
Signage, landscaping and lighting
The project also may include signage, landscaping, and new bridge railings and lighting to match “the historic character” of the two downtowns.
Various ways to upgrade the Derby/Shelton Bridge have been discussed in recent years, with the two-town Rotary Club helping to fund a study on possible ideas.
The goal has been to turn the bridge into a more aesthetically pleasing gateway that will encourage more interaction between the two downtown areas.
The TOD project would be a way to improve the bridge while using targeted transportation funds. “Finding money for these projects can be a challenge,” Dunne said.