New Britain-Hartford Busway pt1

Dumb All Over

The Connecticut DOT has been planning a busway from New Britain to Hartford, and is supposedly in the “home stretch”.  In ConnDOT-terms that means that sometime in the next decade you might move from hearings to the bid process.  Glacial Progress is the order of the day. It would seem that taking an underused railway bed and returning it use as an active transportation corridor would be a win-win project.  Look around the region, if not the world, and you see evidence that transit projects create economic hubs, jobs, and opportunities.  The T System in Boston, MA is a major economic corridor.  Home prices near T-Stops are higher than those elsewhere.  Retail and service business can leverage transit traffic for everything from convenience stores, gallery malls, and even the ubiquitous taxi services.

As simple as it would seem to explain the benefits of transit infrastructure investment to the communities that would be hosting that investment, this busway is becoming a layer-cake of what is wrong with transit planning in America:

  • Planning by an agency that is hostile to mass transit
  • Opposition by politicians who are hostile to intelligent discussion
  • Lack of Vision by citizens who can’t leverage an opportunity
  • Resistance by communities who fear change

That’s not a complete list, but you get the picture.  This busway project is not dependent on some kind of Jetsons-like unproven technology.  The technology is off-the-shelf old-school stuff.  The money is available through a routine bonding process.  The roadblocks to this busway will not be technological or financial, they will be social.  The host communities have been built “facing away” from the railway corridor (the busway uses an existing railway… more on that in pt2), in both the physical and societal sense, and those communities are now being asked to accept a new use of that space.  Residential and commercial development has occurred, centered on the automobile and the roads that accommodate the automobile, at the same time that rail use on the railway has declined.  This creates a form of NIMBY in the host communities, instead of a PIMBY (Please, In My Back Yard) reaction that could have resulted from a positive approach to leveraging infrastructure investment.

The DOT has taken their typical “lowest common denominator” knuckledragger approach to solve a problem with the only hammer they have ever known: rubber tires on blacktop.  Conventional buses on a closed roadway is about the least effective form of mass transit possible, and (in my opinion) the least best use for this transit corridor.  The DOT is doing nothing less than replacing one single-mode system (cars on surface streets) with another single-mode system.  The busway plan has no bike lanes, no pedestrian facilities, and no set-aside for future expansion/retooling to light rail.  You could possibly see a move to a “guided busway” in the distant future, which is akin to lipstick on a pig.

Next Up: a 300 foot wide mountain range in Connecticut

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