Hartford Mayor's Shift On Flower Street Closure Upsets Business Owners, Residents
By JENNA CARLESSO and DON STACOM
May 10, 2013
HARTFORD — — Virginia Iacobucci said business declined at her coffeehouse when busway construction in December blocked cars from reaching it by using Flower Street.
She now wonders if her business, La Paloma Sabanera, will survive if pedestrian and bike traffic from Flower Street is shut down, too.
"It's as though we really don't matter," Iacobucci said Thursday, sitting at a table in her shop, visibly shaken. "We're the ones here every day — running a business, living here, letting our kids go to school here — and it's as though we don't even count. The city leadership owes residents a better explanation for what happened."
Residents of the Asylum Hill and Frog Hollow neighborhoods say the CTfastrak busway is splitting the city and hurting businesses by shutting off Flower Street, a north-south connector between the insurance office buildings on Farmington Avenue and the merchants of Capitol Avenue.
They had been counting on Mayor Pedro Segarra to fight the state's plans to cut off pedestrian and bike traffic and expressed frustration when he abandoned the battle.
Bernie Michel, a member of the Asylum Hill neighborhood revitalization group, said Thursday that the mayor should have reached out to residents and business owners before making a decision.
"We were hugely invested in this," he said. "It's hard to understand how this is the right thing for the city or the neighborhoods. I don't know how we could possibly expect the DOT to treat neighborhood organizations with respect, because the message they're clearly sending is they don't need to. It is embarrassing that our mayor would do this."
The state transportation department confirmed Thursday that as part of an agreement with Segarra, it has abandoned a proposal to build a $4 million series of switchback ramps to carry pedestrians and bicyclists over the intersection where the busway and Amtrak lines cross Flower Street. Instead, it will focus on constructing a landscaped pathway that will detour people east to Broad Street.
That decision, which has infuriated business owners and neighborhood groups, was made to accommodate Segarra, according to Deputy Commissioner Anna Barry of the Department of Transportation.
"We would still build it if the city wanted us to," Barry said Thursday morning at an administrative hearing at DOT headquarters in Newington. "The city would rather apply this [construction money] to other improvements."
Segarra said in a prepared statement Thursday that he empathizes with the businesses affected by the road closure, but is concerned about maintaining a good relationship with the state.
"I … completely understand the concerns of the Frog Hollow and Parkville neighborhoods and businesses along Capitol Avenue who will be most affected by this closure," Segarra said. "However, for years I have heard concerns from all corners of Hartford that the city and state need to have a better, more effective working relationship.
"This agreement was not reached without significant back-and-forth and discussion regarding how to balance the needs of the immediate community with the overall benefit that this project — the first rapid transit project in the state's history — will generate. Our development director, Thom Deller, will work closely with the businesses on Capitol Avenue to make sure we're doing everything possible to mitigate any adverse effects of this decision."
He did not elaborate on how he would help the businesses.
During the winter, the city's objections were threatening to become an obstacle for the busway, but the city abruptly backed off after extensive negotiations between staff for Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Segarra.
The city had legal standing to ask the DOT's administrative law unit to order that Flower Street stay open, and had threatened to bring police, fire, public works and economic development chiefs to hearings to testify why the shutdown shouldn't be allowed.
At a hearing Thursday, the DOT acknowledged that shutting off Flower Street would inconvenience walkers and cyclists, but emphasized that it is offering to run a bus that would make loops along Broad, Capitol, Sigourney Street and Farmington Avenue.
"Details are being worked out, but it would be paid for by DOT and operated by a contractor," a DOT spokesman said in a statement.
The DOT insisted that it had studied every possible way of getting pedestrians through the busway crossing at Flower Street, but couldn't come up with a safe and affordable answer.
Wedged between the Aetna property and the Hartford Courant's building, the right of way for Amtrak and the busway is too narrow for a traditional crossing like one that will exist less than 2 miles away, where the busway crosses Hamilton Street.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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