Opinion: Keep Twin Brooks Drive car-free and dedicate more public space to Trumbull’s people

Opinion: Keep Twin Brooks Drive car-free and dedicate more public space to Trumbull’s people

The current construction in Trumbull’s Twin Brooks Park is an exciting move to better manage floods in an important watershed and continues the great progress made by the Tesoro administration in improving the town’s parks and trails.

According to the town’s official statement, as part of the project a new 8-foot-wide paved pedestrian trail will be “placed on the landward side of the former roadway, allowing the public to engage the riverbank and away from traffic that may pass through the park.” This is so much better than the small, rough sidewalk that existed previously, but Trumbull can and should think bigger. Instead of giving pedestrians an enlarged walking path, the town should keep all of Twin Brooks Drive pedestrianized and begin to dedicate more public space to people, not cars.

Twin Brooks Drive closed to traffic in late April and early May to prepare for construction, and during that time the road became one the rarest sights in Trumbull — a public space without cars. People responded by doing what they do everywhere with open streets — they spent time together. Parents and children rode their bikes side by side, couples walked their dogs, and friends strolled and talked without having to worry about the ever-present dangers of automobile traffic. As I jogged through the park one night, I looked around and wondered — why would we ever reopen the street to car traffic?

Twin Brooks is a beautiful, 83-acre recreation area extending all the way up to Beach Memorial Park, and Twin Brooks Drive, which runs from end-to-end, does not connect densely populated neighborhoods. Additionally, the road’s closure did not lead to an explosion of traffic or public safety issues. Ultimately, I think we are still planning to let cars drive through Twin Brooks Park because we’re used to the status quo of car dominance.

Most of us living in Trumbull today were born after autocentric design became the norm — after the construction of massive highways, after the razing of countless buildings for parking lots, after the conversion of streets into stroads — and there’s almost no living memory of what our cities and communities looked like before. But the decision to hand over our built environment to cars was not inevitable and does not have to continue.

Trumbull’s population quadrupled from 1950-1970, a time period when the vision of a good life meant single-family homes, backyards, and easy motoring to all of life’s necessities. However, the idea of easy motoring on the Merritt and unlimited parking at strip malls has been replaced with hours of gridlock and the anonymity of car travel. Fortunately, Trumbull is not exurban like Weston or Easton, and it still has the vestiges of what Strong Towns calls the traditional development pattern — we have neighborhoods, distinct centers, and a world-class bike trail, and we can build on all of that.

Town officials are already working to fix the unappealing, car-dominated environment in Trumbull Center, but in the meantime there are other ways to make our environment more people friendly. 2021’s pedestrian safety law grants local governments more latitude in setting speed limits on state roads, and we should immediately lower the speed limits on Main Street (Rt. 111) and Church Hill Road (Rt. 127). While legal limit changes often don’t dramatically reduce speeding (road design changes do), it’s simply malpractice to have 35-40 mph posted speeds through residential neighborhoods. We could also update our walk signals, many of which only provide a green light, into longer, dedicated crossing times. And, while more expensive, we should build out our sidewalk system on important roads.

Trumbull may never be Amsterdam in terms of walking and biking, but we don’t have to accept the current state of affairs, either. The current standard of a “good childhood” is living in a single-family home with a large, private backyard while being shuttled to and from activities in massive, quasi-fortified SUVs. I’d like to suggest a new measure — can kids safely walk and bike to school? Can they independently visit a friend or go to the park? If not, perhaps family-friendly isn’t the right moniker for your town.

Every time I see a sign in Trumbull that says “drive like your kids live here,” I want to change it to “design like your kids live here.” Our built environment isn’t handed down on high, and we don’t have to accept the status quo of fast cars and main roads that are too dangerous for walking and biking. Let’s begin by keeping Twin Brooks Drive car-free and then let’s transform the rest of Trumbull’s public spaces into places for people, not cars.

Thomas Broderick is a Connecticut educator and Trumbull resident.

#Opinion #Twin #Brooks #Drive #carfree #dedicate #public #space #Trumbulls #people