DOT Offers New Plan For Flower Street Pedestrians: A Detour To Broad Street
Department Says It's Willing To Build Pedestrian Bridge, But That It Would Cost $3 Million To $4 Million
By DON STACOM
January 24, 2013
HARTFORD —— In exchange for closing part of Flower Street to accommodate the busway, the state is offering to immediately build a 10-foot-wide pathway to Broad Street — and possibly a multimillion-dollar pedestrian overpass sometime in the future.
Neighborhood organizations who oppose the Flower Street closing say the ground-level pathway simply isn't enough to help the Frog Hollow businesses that fear losing most of their daily foot traffic.
At issue is how pedestrians and cyclists will get between Farmington Avenue and Capitol Avenue after the next phase of busway construction begins in June. Flower Street is a popular route, and crossing the single Amtrak railroad track hasn't been a significant hazard.
But busway engineers say it will be unsafe to let the public through after cranes, bulldozers and other heavy equipment are brought to the crossing. And after construction is done, there will be no way to allow walkers, bikers and wheelchair users to return because the new crossing will be too wide: Two lanes of busway, the Amtrak line and space for a planned second set of rail tracks.
Instead, the DOT intends to build a paved walkway to allow a detour to Broad Street, a parallel north-south connector that's a block east of Flower. The pathway would run along the north side of the tracks through what's currently a parking lot next to Aetna's garage, according to Brian Cunningham, a DOT engineer assigned to the CTfastrak busway. From Flower, pedestrians would follow the path upward, then use Broad Street to cross above the busway and tracks before reaching Capitol Avenue.
"The walkway would go under the [I-84] viaduct. It would be illuminated, and it would be meandering so we'd have no more than a 4.3 percent grade — it would be ADA-compliant," Cunningham said. "This should be a permanent solution."
To shut down Flower's pedestrian route, though, the DOT's construction division must first get a permit from the DOT's regulatory arm.
Hearing Officer Judith Almeida last fall authorized permanently closing the road to cars and trucks. Frog Hollow and Asylum Hill neighborhood leaders complained that the closing severs a major link between their neighborhoods, and hurts Capitol Avenue businesses that serve workers who walk at lunchtime from their jobs at Aetna or The Hartford. In response, Almeida ordered the DOT to study ways to keep pedestrian access open during and after construction.
On Thursday, Almeida convened another hearing at the request of CTfastrak. Cunningham said engineers studied a variety of options — digging tunnels, raising Flower over the busway, lowering Flower under the busway — that were impossible or exorbitantly expensive. Instead, they concluded the new pathway would create just a short detour while providing safety for everyone.
"We don't think it's a viable option. It will do irreparable harm to our businesses and will endanger cyclists and pedestrians," David Corrigan, chairman of the Frog Hollow Neighborhood Revitalization Zone, told Almeida.
Cunningham also said the DOT is agreeable to designing a $3 million to $4 million "up and over" pedestrian bridge linking the north and south stubs of Flower. It would require a series of switchback ramps on both sides, and would need a detailed environmental study, and land acquisition, he said. At earliest, it could be built by mid-2016, he said at the hearing, which was held at DOT's Newington headquarters.
An attorney for the city told Almeida that CTfastrak didn't give neighbors or city officials sufficient advance notice of the hearing and didn't consult with them about the proposals. He emphasized that Hartford might endorse the "up and over" concept, but needs to give its mayor, economic development officials and public safety leaders time to study it.
Almeida gave the city a week to ask for a new hearing, and told the neighborhood groups that they have three weeks to submit letters of support or opposition to the DOT's proposal. She repeatedly asked Cunningham whether his engineers considered every option.
"I feel like I'm being boxed in here," she said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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