HARTFORD— In an abrupt reversal, the city has dropped all opposition to closing Flower Street to accommodate the New-Britain-to-Hartford busway.
Mayor Pedro Segarra's decision came after weeks of behind-the-scenes negotiations between city officials and aides to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who is committed to drive the busway to completion by early 2015.
The decision cuts off what shaped up to be a struggle over the future of Flower Street, a short north-south street that links the city's Frog Hollow and Asylum Hill neighborhoods.
Neighborhood groups were counting on the city to block the state transportation department from shutting off pedestrian and bike access, and appeared angered after the city pulled out of the fight.
A state hearing officer this month will decide whether the Department of Transportation may permanently keep bicyclists and pedestrians from crossing Flower Street between Farmington and Capitol avenues. The DOT says it will be too dangerous for anyone to cross two lanes of busway traffic alongside the Amtrak line, and instead has built a pathway to detour Flower Street riders and walkers to Broad Street.
The city had warned it would present a series of witnesses to explain why closing Flower would be dangerous and damage economic development, but pulled out of the case altogether when it a hearing began Wednesday.
"The city accepts that the permanent closing of the street to bike and pedestrian traffic is a necessary step at this time," Segarra wrote in a letter to Transportation Commissioner James Redeker dated Wednesday.
Deputy Corporation Counsel John Van Norden gave the one-page letter to Judith Almeida, the hearing officer, and then he and DOT staffers said they wouldn't be able to elaborate on it. Almeida appeared perplexed and occasionally frustrated by what she described as its "vague" message.
"These are very precise words chosen very carefully," Deputy Transportation Commissioner Anna Barry told Almeida.
Segarra wrote that the DOT had committed to building an "up an over" crossing — a set of ramps and a short bridge — to carry riders and walkers above the crossing. But he added that the city was accepting the DOT's "commitment of comparable resources" to work with residents and businesses to design and build "alternate projects" that would improve bike and pedestrian connections in the area.
"So the 'up and over' is not going to happen?" Almeida asked.
"Not at this time," a DOT staffer replied.
"Will somebody be discussing these other alternate projects?," Almeida asked.
"They don't exist at this time," was the reply.
"I'm concerned there has been no statement of the grievous harm caused by the busway project to both of our neighborhoods," David Corrigan, chairman of the Frog Hollow Neighborhood Revitalization Zone, said before walking out of the hearing in frustration.
Christopher Brown of the Bike/Walk Connecticut advocacy group said the DOT's pathway to Broad Street is "a funnel to death" because Broad is too dangerous for bikers and walkers."
Almeida, who is assigned to the DOT's administrative unit, will resume the hearing today. She plans to decide by the end of the month whether to authorize the Flower Street closing.
"We've had everything taken from us," Brown told her, saying businesses on Capitol Avenue are already suffering because foot traffic is down. "And we've gotten nothing in return. I have a hard time seeing how that's in the best interest of two neighborhoods and the city."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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