The Department of Transportation claims that the Flower Street closure is a matter of public safety, but residents who live here 24/7 have observed how unsafe this maneuver would turn out to be. Doubtless, Courant (et al) employees would be inconvenienced by having parking lot access disrupted when Flower Street is blocked. There would be added congestion in areas because of this. But ten minutes of added drive time is nothing compared to other headaches likely to emerge of the DOT proceeds as they intend.
Emergency Vehicles to be Blocked
For starters, emergency vehicles would be unable to use Flower Street.The solution seen fit by the engineers? Let ambulances and fire trucks cut through the parking lot at the corner of Capitol Avenue and Broad Street. It’s worth noting that this “adds” an east/west route, not the north/south route that would be lost.
Added Distance for Cyclists
When bicyclists spoke out at a meeting about the distance that would be added to their commutes if Flower Street were to close, the DOT flippantly suggested that the few hundred yards to Broad Street would not be an inconvenience. But Hartford bicyclists who have any sense of self-preservation know better than to take Broad Street or Sigourney. In fact, to make an equivalent trip without riding on Flower Street or cycling directly across an Interstate on/off ramp, one’s travel distance more than quadruples, the risk of accident even more so.
Currently, a northbound bicyclist can travel from the Capitol Ave intersection to the Farmington Ave intersection directly, a distance of .3 mile with one intersection (the railroad crosing) and a traffic light at each end. For this and all further examples, it should be presumed that the bicyclist is riding in a legal and proper manner in the street and not on the sidewalk.
Elimination of Flower Street as a choice saddles the northbound bicyclist with the dubious and dangerous choice of Broad Street or Sigourney Street as the closest alternate routes. Both of these routes force the cyclist to cross entrance ramps to Interstate 84. The Sigourney Street route crosses an additional I-84 exit ramp as well.
The northbound bicyclist who wishes to avoid crossing I-84 on/off ramps has two choices:
Westerly detour: Capitol Ave west to Laurel Street north to Farmington Ave east. This route is 1.3 miles long according to Google Maps. It adds 1 additional mile of distance, 12 intersections, and 8 traffic lights to the trip.
Easterly detour: Capitol Ave east to Broad Street north to Armory/LOB cut-through to Bushnell Park north to Union Place north to Church Street west to Myrtle Street northwest to Cogswell south to Farmington Ave west. This route is 1.3 miles long according to Google Maps. it adds 1 additional mile of distance, 11 intersections, and 8 traffic lights.
Forcing bicyclists to take these long detours drastically increases the risk of accidents and could easily discourage people from bicycling in the area altogether.
Overstated Danger of Grade Crossing?
While Flower Street is being portrayed as the most dangerous of all local crossings — thus, building the DOT’s case for closing it — judging from recent news stories, this does not seem to be accurate.
In 2010 a pedestrian was struck and killed by a train, but this was near Capitol and Laurel, where there is no street crossing. Another fatality in 2010 was near Fishfry and Main Street, again, where there is no legal crossing. After being struck by a train near the Meadows, a woman died in 2008.
According to the Federal Railroad Administration, “more people have been killed while trespassing than as a result of motor vehicle collisions with trains at highway-rail grade crossings.” The closure of Flower Street would no doubt result in an increase in trespassing.
From 2002-2012, in Hartford County, there were twelve fatalities on or near railroad tracks, eleven of which were on Amtrak property. Of those, all were trespassing. During the same period, there were 33 non-fatalities. Three were trespassers, one was a non-trespasser, and the remainder were passengers or railroad employees who experienced a range of injuries from overexertion to abrasions to toe amputation.
According to the National Transportation Safety Board, nationally, there were 4,280 pedestrian fatalities on roads, while there were 534 pedestrian fatalities (trespassers and non-trespassers) on the rails during 2010.
Proposed Closure Violates City and State Policy Recommendation
Beyond creating unsafe scenarios for bicycle and pedestrian commuters, the closure of Flower Street actually violates Hartford’s Plan of Conservation and Development. The POCD “is a record of the best thinking of Hartford as to its future growth to give direction to both public and private development.” The document names providing “a good pedestrian connection under the highway and train viaduct” as a key initiative for the Asylum/Farmington area. The City has also stated its plan to adopt “Complete Street” policies.
Policies direct transportation planners and engineers to consistently design and construct the right-of-way to accommodate all anticipated users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, public transportation users, motorists, and freight vehicles. Complete Streets have many benefits, including improving safety for all users, helping to address climate change issues (by making non-motorized alternatives more attractive), and fostering strong, livable communities.
The Hartford Transportation Pathways Strategy, as described in the POCD, includes “initiatives to facilitate connections to neighborhoods and jobs.” This names the “reconfiguration” of Flower Street. Nowhere in the document does this reconfiguration name closing it down, an act that would disconnect neighborhoods and jobs. The document notes the elimination of the at-grade rail crossing, but states that access to Aetna would be maintained. It does not suggest barricades to North-South access, as proposed by the DOT.
Closing Flower Street to nonmotorized uses is in opposition to the stated policy direction Connecticut is taking with respect to promoting bikeable, walkable communities, as embodied in the Complete Streets law and the recommendations of the DOT’s own Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Board.
The DOT is correct in one respect: the proposed closing of Flower Street is most certainly a matter of public safety. Maintaining this route for the use of pedestrians, bicycles and wheelchairs is the only way to avoid endangering the safety of the most vulnerable users of Hartford’s streets.