[this was composed in October 2011, and I pulled it out of the “draft” folder to kick off what I hope will be a short run of similar posts]
A 300-foot wide mountain range in Connecticut
There is a huge physical and social divide that runs through Hartford’s southwest and continues through to New Haven. It may as well be a mountain range, or a continental-scale river. It is a railway thoughfare. Parts of it are home to an infrequent Amtrak run, and parts of it are completely unused. One thing that becomes obvious upon even a casual browse of the area with a tool like Google Earth is that there are very few road crossings. Maybe that is normal… bridging a railbed costs money. But take to the streets, preferably on foot or by bicycle, and you find another layer to the problem. Most of the cross streets are designed to move only cars. Cedar Street, between New Britain and Newington, is a deathwish trip for the cyclist or pedestrian. large stretches of it have no sidewalks, and the shoulder lines are painted right against the curbing. What should be a conduit for all types of transit was built to serve only one: the automobile. New Britain Ave (174), same deal… South Street in Berlin, same deal…
Other unused railways in the region, not the least of which is the Farmington Canal Line, have been retooled as greenways, providing a route for non-motorized transit. The railway right-of-way that is in play for the New Britain – Hartford busway could easily be a candidate for the same treatment. It could actually be argued that suburban greenways are redundant, and urban and fringe-urban areas benefit more from these transit projects. But that is moot since the current plan is to put a rubber tire busway on the railbed and prevent non-motorized transit from accessing it.
My perspective on this situation was heightened when I sketched out a bike-to-work route through New Britain, through Newington, and into Hartford. The streets are very familiar to me, but not linked into a contiguous bike route. The ride into New Britain was a doddle… pretty much a short leg of my usual recreational bike loop. Crossing east through New Britain on Monroe and Ellis Streets was equally a piece of cake. Watch out for sleepy car commuters backing out of driveways, no problemo. Now bang a left onto East Street… as a former resident of the Arch/Monroe area this was not foreign territory, but it was not exactly bike-friendly. Basically a “take the lane and be seen” stretch of road. Not dicey, but not relaxing by any means. Crossing in back of my old alma-mater CCSU is equally not anything new, but there is less shoulder and more traffic with each passing mile. Cedar Street is where the fun starts… Now, I could have crossed into Newington on South Street or Newington/New Britain Ave (174), which aren’t any easier. They also put me in the feeder streets for the Berlin Turnpike, so more traffic and still no bike lanes.
What I found was a host of bad choices, each of which led to a different kind of not-so-great scenario. I took the direttissima and dealt with running the gauntlet on Cedar Street. At 6:30am in the summer it is not so bad… good weather, high viz clothing and a blinky light help with being seen. But still, Cedar street exists to allow the maximum number of automobiles to cross the railway at very high average speeds. Eastbound is relatively easy compared with the nonstop retail/convenience traffic on the westbound side.
Speaking of Google Earth, you can draw some very interesting casual conclusions about the railway from some high-res sat images. You see a mix of residential and light industrial development. The railway forms a “backyard” for both types of development. In this case NIMBY really means MBY…