Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Common Council Approves Legislation to Develop Bicycle Pathway

"This request will go a long way towards starting to build a bicycle path plan for Middletown,” said resident Beth Emery at last night’s Common Council meeting in regards to the $20,000 appropriation request from the Planning, Conservation and Development Departments for developing a comprehensive bicycle pathway/complete streets plan from the Wesleyan Heights area to downtown. “I hope the committee that looks at the plan considers the numerous ways it can be done and selects the best plan for Middletown.”

For Emery and many others who support the proposed project, it may just be on its way to becoming a reality. Following informative and entertaining public comments from both supporters and detractors of the pathway, the Council voted unanimously to approve the appropriation request. They then voted unanimously to develop a comprehensive plan for a pathway and complete streets in order to access up to $800,000 in federal transportation enhancement funds.

Emery’s feelings towards the pathway proposal were shared by a majority of the audience, if the hands raised in approval of it can be believed. While a few of the residents who got up to speak were proudly in favor of the proposal, residents of Wesleyan Heights were seriously worried about the effect such a pathway could have on their private neighborhood.

The proposed pathway would link Wesleyan Hills along Long Hill Road to Wesleyan University and downtown. The path could be used by both bicyclists and pedestrians for recreation and would allow them to travel between home, work and downtown on off-road bicycle paths.

A group of residents passionately argued for the virtues of building a bicycle pathway in Middletown. John Hall, the head of the Jonah Center for Earth and Art, has been the lead advocate for the project. His organization has been working to get legislation passed in support of the pathway, and Hall argued that its existence would work to combat issues like the climate crisis and urban density. Hall urged the Council to approve the appropriation request for the good of the city, lest it make a huge mistake. Matt Lesser followed the route of praising the council, thanking them for leading the effort to build a pathway through the town. It was Emery however, who outlined the responsibility many believe the city has in front of it by stating it would have to look at every possible angle before choosing the most efficient plan. Those opposing Emery did not necessarily disagree with her basic argument. But they believed that the current version ignores the wishes of the residents of Wesleyan Hills.

Joyce Rossitter articulated the concerns of Wesleyan Hills residents when she spoke. Rossitter stated that they had not been given any notice of the current proposal. She asked that the council postpone its vote, saying “we have not been given a fair and accurate picture of the plan.” Thomas Hutton, the Vice President of Wesleyan Hills board association, supported her declaration of there being too little room in the streets surrounding their neighborhood to allow for a pathway. Hutton stated that the walkways within Wesleyan Hills were not meant for bicycles. The pair said that they were ultimately supportive of a Middletown pathway. But they constantly made the point that their neighborhood was a private one and the city needed to not have a future pathway disrupting life in Wesleyan Hills.

The councilmen and woman was receptive to the concerns of Wesleyan Hills resident. Councilman Ronald Klattenburg and Mayor Daniel Drew said that the Council had not done a strong enough job in exposing the proposal to Wesleyan Hills residents. Klattenburg acknowledged their concerns would have to be thoroughly considered but stated the lack of time the city had to apply for federal funds led to the legislation being rushed. Mayor Daniel Drew addressed one of Wesleyan Hills resident’s most immediate concerns when he stated the Wesleyan Hills walkway trails would not be connected to any bike paths, as those living in Wesleyan Hills were led to believe. “This wasn’t articulated well enough by the city,” he stated. “I take responsibility for that.”

The City Council unanimously approved the appropriation request to develop a bicycle pathway/complete streets plan. It then unanimously approved a resolution to develop a detailed version of this plan in order to access federal funding. In doing so, the Council declared with a clear voice that a bicycle pathway is essential to Middletown’s future.

Both Councilman Kattenburg and Councilwoman Deborah Kleckowski were strong supporters of the legislation. “A pathway will not be purely recreational,” he said. “It will demonstrate that there are alternatives to vehicular travel.”

“Having completed streets is very important for the future of our town,” Kleckowski spoke. “A pathway will create easy access for pedestrians and bikers from areas like Randolph Road, Saybrook Road and Connecticut Valley Hospital to downtown.”

While discussion of the pathway/complete streets legislation dominated last night’s proceedings, there were many other significant issues that came up for debate. Chief among them was a resolution that the citizens of Middletown do not support the release of murderer David Messenger from Connecticut Valley Hospital into the community. Though each Council member was extremely supportive of the resolution, it managed to generate much lively commentary and debate.

Councilman Thomas J. Serra set the tone for the debate when he said, “Messenger’s release does not affect the Psychiatric Safety Review Board’s well being or daily safety like it does ours. I am strongly opposed to Messenger’s release. ” Councilman Phillip J. Pessina shared that opposition and even stated of CVH’s Review Board, “Compassion should not overtake caution for a committee.” However, Pessina’s idea of having Messenger be implemented with a tracking device if he was released into the community was met with significant opposition. Councilman Joseph Bibsi seemed to speak for the entire Council when he said of the idea, “We don’t want to even crack the door. We want to keep him out period.” Though he took a measured tone in doing so, Mayor Daniel Drew, agreed, making it clear that Middletown should take every action possible to keep David Messenger out after his crimes.

The Common Council passed further important legislation Monday night. A $250,000 appropriation to restore funding to Public Works in various areas as a result of Hurricane Irene and Storm Alfred and to address the still damaged trees in the city passed unanimously. An $85,000 appropriation to pay for replacement employees and overtime dispatchers in Central Communications also passed unanimously. A resolution to create a Reserve Account from the city’s General Fund by deducting 5 percent from each line item, with certain exceptions, was amended to read that the mayor would establish the reserve account and that the sum being deducted would be 10 percent. The resolution then passed by a 10-2 vote. The one failed resolution on the night was a $4,450 appropriation request from the Police Department so that it will be able to properly pay for officer’s overtime for the Middnight on Main 2012 event. The council members failed the resolution unanimously, believing the appropriation request excessive.

Finally, a number of former council members were honored at the beginning of the meeting. Chief among them was former Mayor Sebastian Giuliano, who thanked his of his former colleagues for their service.


Anonymous said...

Excellent. I wasn't able to make the meeting but am eagerly following the progress of the bike path, and can't wait to bike safely in Middletown.

Middletown Eye (Ed McKeon) said...

Good report Dan. Far better than what appeared in the Press and the Courant.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the appropriation request for overtime for the Police Department, it was not that the request was excessive but that it was unnecessary. The funds have already been appropriated by the Council but needed to be TRANSFERRED between account lines and that does not require council action.

Anonymous said...

One would think we are living in prosperous times spending $1million of taxpayer money on a bike trail. Nice idea but we simply cannot afford the luxury of the bike trail during these economic times. Where was that discussion?

Ridge Road Resident said...

Thank you for all of your great articles, Danny! What a great addition to the Eye.

I am appreciative of all of the volunteers who make the Eye happen!