Tag Archives: busway

New Britain-Hartford Busway pt2

 

[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…

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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