Lawyers, Engineers Gear Up For Fight Over Busway Crossing On Flower Street
By DON STACOM
March 24, 2013
A dispute between the busway and the city of Hartford has both sides digging in for what shapes up to be a long and adversarial hearing in April.
At issue is whether busway contractors will be allowed to shut down the Flower Street pedestrian crossing starting in June.
A city attorney has said he'll bring police, fire, public works, economic development experts and two independent engineers to testify against CTfastrak's proposal for Flower Street. Busway engineers are indicating they'll put on an extensive presentation, too, and recently suggested that Hearing Officer Judith Almeida should conduct the session over three days.
Almeida has scheduled it for just a single day, though: April 4 at 10 a.m. at the state transportation department headquarters in Newington.
Almeida, a lawyer in the DOT's administrative law unit, is assigned to decide whether DOT's construction unit may permanently block off the Amtrak grade crossing on June 24. Last fall, she authorized the DOT to close the crossing to cars and trucks, but said it had to remain open to cyclists, pedestrians and wheelchair users.
The DOT contends that it needs to completely close the crossing so it can continue building the highway for rapid transit buses between New Britain and downtown Hartford. The shutdown will prevent pedestrians and cyclists from being hurt, it says. Contractors plan to make the crossing into a heavy construction zone for the summer and fall, and later it will be much too wide and busy for pedestrians to use safely.
Businesses in the nearby Frog Hollow and Asylum Hill neighborhoods say the DOT, itself, created all of those hazards and now is forcing neighbors to suffer the consequences.
"This is one of the largest hubs of employment in the entire city. The DOT appears not to have considered this when closing Flower Street," the Asylum Hill Neighborhood Association said in a letter to Almeida. "Quality-of-life issues are now concerns for both employers and employees in Asylum Hill."
Much of the concern is about the flow of Farmington Avenue office workers who walk to Capitol Avenue coffee shops, restaurants or other businesses during the day. DOT says it will build a fairly convenient detour: A paved pathway linking Flower Street and Broad Street, which runs parallel and is about a block east. Pedestrians would take the path, then go south on Broad and head back a block west on Capitol to reach the little retail district.
The DOT says the pathway would be lighted and wide enough for bicyclists and wheelchairs. It would run just north of the busway route, and climb at only a slight grade to reach Broad Street, the DOT says. And later, if regulators allow, the DOT also is prepared to build a $4 million set of switchback ramps above the Flower Street crossing that would make the detour unnecessary. It says that structure couldn't be built until 2016 at the earliest.
Neither the city nor local businesses are pleased. Neighborhood groups are skeptical the set of ramps would ever be built, and say it would leave users vulnerable to muggers because of the isolation. They also say the path to Broad Street creates new hazards that the DOT isn't admitting.
"We believe that Broad Street is not safe for either pedestrians or bicycles, and ConnDOT's proposal that bicycles and pedestrians share a sidewalk, however wide, increases rather than reduces the peril to pedestrians and cyclists," according to a letter from David Corrigan, chairman of the Frog Hollow Neighborhood Revitalization Zone.
"[Our] concern is not that someone from Asylum Hill gets to Frog Hollow a few minutes later, AHNA's concern is that he might never make it there at all," wrote Jennifer Cassidy of the Asylum Hill Neighborhood Association.
The DOT said it has extensively studied other ways to get pedestrian traffic through the crossing, but none is feasible. Tunnels are too costly, and a regular overpass wouldn't fit because of the I-84 viaduct overhead. Neighborhood groups contend the DOT ignored alternatives and refused to redesign the busway, instead leaving them to absorb all the inconvenience.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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