Toni Gold, resident and one of the panelists at this morning’s forum on transportation, commented that the POCD must be less timid and more aggressive if it is to be successful. The packed house of audience participants seemed to agree with her.
After some introductory comments from Chief Operating Officer David Panagore and a presentation overview by Director of Planning, Roger J. O’Brien, the four member panel delivered brief comments regarding what their priorities would be for the transportation aspect of the Plan of Conservation and Development. In addition to Toni Gold, the audience in Union Station heard from Jim Redeker (Bureau Chief of the Connecticut Department of Transportation), Tom Maziarz (Director of Transportation Planning at CRCOG), and Anne I. Hayes (President of the Central Connecticut Bicycle Alliance and Director of Parking and Mass Transit at The Travelers).
Redeker and Maziarz echoed each other that the top two priority items should be the New Britain-Hartford Busway and the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield Commuter Rail. Maziarz said that the New Britain-Hartford Busway is “critical” in terms of regional labor market access, whereas the rail project would help connect the city to the global economy. He suggested that a suffering state economy is due in part to the failing transportation system currently in place. Redeker explained that there is a need to link environmental (climate change) and transportation for a few reasons including that doing so will help to secure federal funding of projects.
Hayes, through her work with the Travelers, shared that some 25% of its downtown employees take the bus. In her professional position, she explained that she promotes transportation choices. She urged the City to consider requiring businesses to include bicycle parking alongside any automobile parking. Hayes added that for some, biking is the only affordable means of transportation. The POCD should prioritize alternative transportation over the automobile, she said.
Gold, whose comments started the panel portion of the forum, demanded that pedestrians be given primary importance. She linked the rise of automobile dependency with the “fifty years of death spiral” that Hartford and other urban areas have been experiencing. As Heather Brandon of Urban Compass tweeted from the forum, “Since 1960 downtown Hartford has seen a 300% increase in dedicated land for parking. In same time city saw 60% drop in residents.” Gold said that the plan needs to acknowledge “damage that has been done by the automobile.” She pushed for an increase in sidewalk size, reduction in vehicle lanes, addition of roundabouts, addition of angled parking, reduction or elimination of private vehicles on Main Street from South Green up to Albany Avenue, and “no more publicly funded parking garages.”
Gold’s comments, while sounding initially ambitious, matched the sentiments of the public who discussed these issues in small groups. During the last POCD (1997), the city’s priorities seemed to be in a different place. Then, there was a call for more parking. Today, some participants expressed the desire to not only stop expanding parking, but to get rid of some of the parking structures altogether. The argument was that if people could not park with such ease, they would be forced into using alternative means of transportation, thus reducing traffic congestion and the environmental burden. Participants discussed the need to reduce automobile reliance and improve intermodal transportation. A few people remarked on the need to expand the hours that city buses run, as people wishing to support the arts and entertainment venues can get to them, but are then left with no way to return home if the event continues late into the evening. Repeatedly the issue of pedestrian and cyclist safety was raised. A few were concerned that even with an increase in transportation options, people would be hesitant or refuse to use them if they perceived Hartford as being unsafe. Others described need for a citywide vision; there have been reports of inconsistent responses to issues like speeding. In the small group discussion, Brandon explained that some streets have been equipped with speed bumps, while residents on other streets have been told that speed bumps would impede emergency vehicles. She noted that her street, which has speed bumps, receives regular traffic from emergency vehicles, so this reasoning has not been applied consistently. She added that such piecemeal decisions are often political, and results are achieved based on who someone knows. At the end of the meeting, participants were given three stickers so that they could vote on the items they found to be the most important of all that were listed during the small group brainstorming sessions.
In the POCD literature, the City explains that the POCD “is a guideline for asking the right questions, identifying challenges, determining resolutions and implementing strategies.” To achieve the various transportation goals, they list the following as possible points to discuss:
- Provide a seamless pedestrian transportation system that enables bicycling and walking, connecting origins and destinations, and effectively linking to the public transportation system within Hartford and the larger region.
- Pursue the development of various trails and greenways around the City, with an emphasis on creating linkages with regional and national trail systems, and with connecting Hartford neighborhoods and residents with employment centers, shopping center[s], and parks both in Hartford and in the surrounding communities.
- Leverage the East Coast Greenway (ECG) along the South and North Branches of the Park River and Hartford’s Riverfront to connect key links in and around Hartford.
- Develop appropriate bicycle infrastructure (bike lanes, bike shoulders, wide curb lanes, or parallel multi-use paths) along major commuter routes, commercial and employment centers and transportation hubs.
- Improve pedestrian connections
- Promote mass transit and Union New Station as the HUB of the City’s transit system.
- Develop urban commercial centers into transit activity. Transit stops should be intense activity areas.
- Work collaboratively with neighboring cities and towns, the Capitol Region Council of Governments and the State of Connecticut to evaluate and develop other regional mass transit systems.
- Encourage carpooling among employees in the Downtown area by offering discounted parking rates for multiple occupant vehicles at Hartford Parking Authority facilities.
- Explore the creative use of car-sharing programs such as Zipcar.
- Evaluate the synchronization of traffic signals in the City. Make improvements where necessary to reduce the number of intersections where vehicles are forced to idle for extended periods of time.
- Employ access management tools to promote traffic safety and maintain the “carrying capacity” of Hartford’s arterial streets.
- Review one-way street patterns to improve connectivity.
- Encourage the use of alternative modes of transportation including mass transit, pedestrian and bicycle. Encourage car pooling and rideshare programs during peak commuter times.
- Improve vehicular and pedestrian circulation around Union Station. Several of the major local roadways leading into the Union Station area have design, circulation and traffic congestion conditions that impede the development of Union Station as a convenient multimodal transportation hub.
- Connect Hartford’s Downtown to activity centers, urban neighborhoods as well as surrounding communities
- Centralize the public transportation system around Union Station, creating a multi-modal transit center that includes supportive transit-oriented mixed use development.
- Continue to support and promote the development of the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield commuter rail service and the Hartford-New Britain Busway.
Not all of the aforementioned points were discussed.
The theme panels will wrap up December 8th. The Planning & Zoning Commission will hold public listening sessions in January and February 2010, after which the City Council and CRCOG will review the draft. Formal PZC public hearings will begin in April. May 2010 is when the POCD should be adopted by the PZC.
The final two One City, One Plan meetings will be held December 1st & 8th from 6-8:30pm. The one on December 1st will be held at 85 Sigourney Street and will discuss advancing Downtown as the region’s center of commerce, culture and city living; the meeting on December 8th will be held at the CT Science Center to “Promote & Encourage the Integration of Sustainable Practices.”