December 31, 2005
By OSHRAT CARMIEL, Courant Staff Writer
It's become a habit that a Hartford civic group would like to break.
The city's historic Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch was damaged again this week when a motorist hit the structure. The crash knocked out a sizable section of the brownstone bridge leading up to the arch on its north side.
The sixth such accident in two years is frustrating to protectors of the arch. But its timing is fortuitous. It comes just as the Bushnell Park Foundation is poised to approve a major street redesign plan aimed at discouraging speeding and reckless driving around the arch.
The plan is called "a defensive design against bad vehicular driving," said board member Linda Osten, and it would cost an estimated $2.2 million. And with this week's crash, board members see a fundraising opportunity.
On Friday the group announced plans for a Jan. 18 "summit" of state, local and corporate leaders, among others, to make a strong case for money.
"We'll make a steppingstone out of a stumbling block," said Osten, chairwoman of the foundation's archway committee. "This will be an opportunity for us to have the conversation."
The board is scheduled to vote on the streetscape redesign plan at its January meeting, Osten said.
The plan calls for a major facelift of the area around the arch, which is in the heart of Bushnell Park and just northeast of the state Capitol. The plan would widen the sidewalks that run alongside the arch, and narrow the street underneath it by building obstructions that would force a fast driver to slow down. A 25-foot-wide section of the street underneath the arch would be elevated and built out of cobblestone or another material that would dissuade speed.
"We're taking what people perceive as a city street and turning it into a park road," said Susan Wallace, executive director of the Bushnell Park Foundation.
When the board first hired the architectural firm of Richter & Cegan to redesign the streets, it assumed that, for financial reasons, the project would be completed in two phases over at least two years.
But with frequent accidents - there was also one in September - the board decided that completing the project was urgent.
"The idea is get it done all at once," Osten said.
The arch, a unique feature of the city skyline that appears in numerous postcards and landscape paintings, was built in honor of Hartford citizens who served in the Civil War, and the 400 who died for the Union. It was dedicated in 1886. Half a century later, the ashes of its architect, George Keller, and his wife were interred in the structure. In the warmer months, visitors may climb to the top of the arch for a scenic view.
The street underneath the arch was closed to traffic last year after it sustained four crashes. In March, after a few streetscape adjustments, the street was reopened.
"It just seemed wrong that a handful of errant, reckless people could take away that opportunity for thousands of people who are following the rules," said Joseph Williams, the vice president of the Bushnell Park Foundation board.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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