This has been, in countless ways, a crap year.
In terms of Hartford-specific issues, it hasn’t been so bad, but that has gotten drowned out by the presidential election, all of our crushes from the 80’s dying, and a billion other things like plane crashes, environmental racism, Muhammad Ali, Aleppo, Orlando, and Princess Leia.
Still, our ridiculous awards must go on. If it helps, imagine us shoving a fiery dumpster down the red carpet. Because there is nothing more appropriate to round out this year.
Incomplete Streets Award
You might have thought that the drama surrounding the closure of Flower Street to all users had dissipated, especially since the CT DOT was told that they must do something to mitigate the stupidity (rough paraphrase) of shutting down quiet and safe north-south access to accommodate CTfastak, even though other crossings remained open elsewhere. You may have been led to believe that the so-called gentrification (that assessment is another story) of one block of Capitol Avenue would have compelled the DOT to provide improved access for the residents who will be moving into the former Hartford Office Supply building any day now.
Instead, the CT DOT has filed a petition to get itself out of the court-ordered requirement to construct a pedestrian/cyclist crossing on Flower Street between Capitol Avenue and Farmington Avenue. Their reasoning? There are now bike lanes on one block of Broad Street and there could be a bike lane on Sigourney Street in the future.
Sure, we welcome the addition of bike lanes, but both Broad and Sigourney are utter madness during the week when commuters are more concerned with getting on and off I-84 than they are with the safety of those on foot or bike.
Dodging the occasional bus or train that is on a straight, predictable path seems a hell of a lot easier than playing Frogger with the constant flow of cars whose operators often make nonsensical decisions, but we’re not engineers, just road users, so what do we know?
It’s possible that weirder things have emerged in Hartford over the last year, but we have to go with the installation of a life-size dinosaur on Scarborough Street. When people asked us where, we were like “I dunno, LOOK FOR THE DINOSAUR!,” because this is not hidden away in a backyard. It’s viewable from the street. How this item did not cause uproar at neighborhood meetings via someone attempting to enforce one arcane ordinance or another, we’ll never know. For the curious and uninitiated, this dinosaur has other art installation/sculpture friends on the property. It’s not a crime to stand on the sidewalk and stare.
Weirdest Waste of Time Award
It isn’t, actually, but it sure feels that way.
In recent years, Hartford has finally shown some signs of getting with the times when it comes to better infrastructure for all road users. That’s a fancy way of saying we got bike lanes. We’ve gotten special green ones on one block of Broad Street, which nearly nobody ever uses because you really need serious barricades to ride safely anywhere near highway ramps. We got — for a moment — semi-protected lanes on Brookfield.
But the issue here is that if we are going to have a change like this, more needs to happen than just dumping paint on the road.
Sure, part of the issue is the need to educate motorists and cyclists about what the lanes are for. Look on most of the major roads where lanes have been installed and you will see as many cyclists salmoning on the sidewalks as you will actually using the lanes. But you will also see motorists using the lanes for passing on the right or for parking, despite the paint that indicates the lane is for bicycle use. We get that it can be tricky to enforce when there are plenty of other laws being broken, but we’ve witnessed people get parking tickets for far less obnoxious maneuvers. If going five minutes over the meter results in a parking ticket, then surely the same can happen for those whose parking techniques actually interfere with foot and bicycle traffic. It can be done.
It can especially be dealt with when the situation involves a chronic offender, like we see happen on Wethersfield Avenue. A car dealership has routinely parked its wares in the bike lane. Does commerce trump someone’s right to travel safely?
If a bike lane is filled with snow and parked cars, does it exist at all?
For those who do not use bicycles, the analogy is simple. Imagine driving down the highway. One lane is for steady traffic and one is for slower vehicles. This allows trucks and drivers who have no need for speed to operate without the tailgating. Now, that slow lane suddenly closes without warning and all of those slower motorists have to merge with the maniacs going 80 MPH. Does that sound like calm, safe commuting to you?
Sweetest Under-the-Radar Event Award
This is a tie.
In November, columnist E.J. Dionne spoke at Trinity College. Hearing someone informed by decades of research and paying attention talk politics was refreshing, as his ideas were grounded.
In April, author Gary Shteyngart brought laughter to his talk at the Charter Oak Cultural Center.
Humor and wisdom were present at all three events, and both were sorely needed this year.
Best Low-Expense Improvements Award
The closure of Pratt Street. The remake of the roadway itself was not low cost, and the old bricks sure made a neat sound every time they were biked or driven on. Like dominoes. Some people fretted over this construction because they believed the engraved bricks — the ones on the sidewalks — were removed. Those are still present. It appears vehicles cause more wear-and-tear than pedestrians.
The improvement is how the street has been made more pedestrian-friendly. Right now, there is a single barrier blocking vehicular traffic some of the time. Massive planters add life to the sidewalks. The decorative lights add to the sense of this being a destination rather than a place meant to pass through as quickly as possible.
There is now a bike rack, an improvement long overdue.
Not everyone buys into the idea that in a city, they should expect to walk a few blocks, and so for that crowd, forcing the issue by keeping most cars off the street is probably personally painful in some way, made worse by the parking restrictions.
This change, however, enables opportunities that businesses on the street, along with various arts and cultural organizations in the city, could use to their advantage.
Most Improved Park Award and Jury’s Still Out Award
There are two contenders:
- Pope Park: Bankside Grove. Brush and debris removal began in this section of Pope Park — located north of Park Street and west of Park Terrace — last January. It looks unfinished. We’ve spotted a massive pile of mattresses, along with other materials that look like someone forgot to come back to remove them. Because of all the trucks and heavy equipment, huge ruts have been left behind. We aren’t sure if anyone is coming back to fix this up. In any case, the changes have added more visibility to Bankside Grove.
- Bushnell Park: playground. It has not been replaced yet, but the dangerous, broken playground by the carousel was removed. That’s a start. Our dream would be to install old-school playground equipment like monkey bars, but we’re aware it’s not 1985 anymore.
Biggest Bang for Buck from Non-Profit Award
This year’s winner is the Greater Hartford Harm Reduction Coalition.
There’s what they say: “There are some ugly facts that have to be addressed, but simply put the right people are not being used to engage the populations intended to be reached. We do know that the Landscape from ‘top down’ is vastly different from that of which we see from the ‘ground up’.”
There’s the mission: “The Greater Hartford Harm Reduction Coalition (GHHRC) is dedicated to promoting the dignity and wellbeing of individuals and communities impacted by drug use. GHHRC holds that every individual deserves a participatory voice in the public dialogue regarding drug use policies, programs and practices. Through advocacy, training and service, GHHRC aims to ensure the availability, adequacy, accessibility and acceptability of services and resources that remediate the adverse consequences of drug use.”
And there’s what they do. In the last year GHHRC has made naloxone kits and training both free and available to the public. A greater number of people can now identify the signs of an opioid overdose, and likely, help to reverse it. It’s practical — many of those people receiving training and access to naloxone are heroin users themselves.
Moralizing does not save lives; information and access does.
Runner-up: BiCi Co. won this award last year and definitely still deserves a mention this year for the continued work, and particularly for the involvement with the BIKE LIFE festival in April that featured a massive bicycle giveaway.
The Doing, Not Whining Award
This last year has featured budget cuts left and right, which is what happens when a City spends irresponsibly for years without figuring out how to bring the money in.
This award isn’t for those who whimpered on and on about the loss of fireworks during a time when people were actually losing their jobs.
This year’s award goes to everyone who picked themselves right back up and figured out how to move forward in spite of the financial difficulties. In some cases this has meant crowdfunding to pay for entire events or to close the gap left when some of the public funds were taken away. It also goes to those who have designed different events to accommodate the reality we are living in. It’s not possible to name everyone, but a few of the organizations and events that come to mind: Hartford Art Sled Derby, Winterfest, and I Am An Artist Day.
I’m Still Standing (but shouldn’t be) Award
For the third year in the row, the award goes to 64 Babcock Street, and of course, the owners of that derelict building, Southern New England Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.
Jane Jacobs Cognitive Dissonance Award
This is a three-way tie:
- Trash Museum Closure: In a time when there are huge protests over environmental degradation (pipelines) and global warming is only denied by those on the fringes, it is absolutely crucial for there to be education surrounding how to stop trashing the planet. From walking around on garbage collection day, it’s obvious that people still need to be schooled. Recyclables overflow from trash cans. Mattresses are tossed on the side of the road at a rate that makes one wonder if they are free with the purchase of a Big Mac.
When we visited the museum on its final day, we saw a hands-on educational facility that could have been boosted by an expansion. Revamping the museum to include an unapologetic and broader look at sustainability could have made this more of a draw, even beyond field trips. It was already engaging, even for adults who recycle as if it were a competition.
Since it seems unlikely to reopen, the next best thing would be if the Connecticut Science Center took up the cause, expanding upon its “Energy City” exhibit to include more information about how visitors can take more environmentally-friendly actions.
Why the cognitive dissonance award? In this case, it was that unsustainable practices basically shut down a facility that was promoting sustainability.
- Gold Street Remake: On the one hand, it is now more direct for pedestrians to move to-and-from Bushnell Park without having to jaywalk or backtrack half a block to catch a crosswalk. During construction, pedestrians could more swiftly cross Gold Street at Main because of the closure to motorized traffic. On the other hand, no bike lanes were installed in this reconstructed roadway, which is kind of annoying since this project was raised under the guide of aiding connectivity between Bushnell Park and the Connecticut River back in 2009. We also lost that traffic island near Bushnell Park which means pedestrians need to wait for the signal or pick up the pace. And on still the other hand, this Gold Street realignment wasn’t exactly a pressing need that had to be addressed during a time of financial crisis. It is, however, at least serving pedestrians better overall.
- Cuts to Animal Control: Hartford is, financially, in a bad place. There are actually people who have contested this. As we’ve said many times before, if there is little money coming in, we have to work within that reality while figuring out ways to make bank. In April, we offered up our suggestions for how to deal, and have seen the beauty of coincidence as a number of those ideas played out.
At the same time, old ways of thinking have ruled in certain respects. For example, our suggestion that First Responders use more practical vehicles than fire engines when responding to medical calls inspired trolls to send us messages suggesting that they hoped our homes would burn down. As a side note, education and literacy are important; we should not have to go out of the way to say that we support the Hartford Fire Department while reserving the right to critique an expense that could be significantly reduced, and yet…
That outmoded thinking is what we have to wrestle with to make progress. For every attempt to make rational decisions, there are walls and straw men erected by those who refuse to change.
Another example of this is the outdated policies that meant that one of Hartford’s absolute best employees — former animal control officer Sherry DeGenova — was out of her job. She and Carmelo Mercado, another former ACO, were dismissed because of the union’s black-and-white “Last In, First Out,” policy which fails to take into account more important details, like actual job performance. While such a policy may have prevented older employees from experiencing job loss due to age discrimination, it lacks nuance and it’s time that such rules be revised so that skill and performance are considered when layoffs become necessary.
What happened to ____ Award? If you’ve been following along for a few years, you have likely noticed that categories get added and subtracted. This happens either as needed or on a whim. The “Best New Dining Award,” for example, could return next year if we’re feeling it.