He was a wonderful character named
Nicky LaTorre who ran a live poultry shop in a small, five-sided
building at the corner of Columbus Boulevard (near Front Street)
and Grove Street and refused to move for a planned expansion
of the Travelers. So he held out, and they built around him.
After he died in the 1980s, his nephews opened a deli in the
building. It was the kind of curio or cranny that you like to
discover in a city. Alas, city officials didn't look at it that
way. The city took it by eminent domain, over my objection and
that of tens of others, to widen Grove Street so Travelers employees
could get out of town a few seconds faster.
Why is the solution always to widen the road? Two years ago,
the state Department of Transportation was going to widen Columbus
Boulevard to six to eight lanes, as part of the Adriaen's Landing
project. This was daft. Roads that are too wide function as moats;
they inhibit pedestrian passage. An eight-lane Columbus Boulevard
would have isolated the project from the downtown it was supposed
to revive. Fortunately, neighborhood activists, The Courant and
others protested vehemently, and the design was changed to an
actual boulevard of four to six lanes.
We never learn.
There is a city/state project on the drawing board to reconstruct
Broad Street in Hartford, including the part of the street where
The Courant is located.
The northern part of Broad
Street meets Farmington and Asylum avenues just west of where
the two avenues meet in a "V" intersection
and descend to the train station. This area is one of the most
dangerous pedestrian zones in the city. To cross any of the streets
requires a quick first step, good peripheral vision and a certain
indifference to danger.
This mess is a byproduct of the disastrous decision to run I-84
through downtown Hartford. Broad Street was widened to accommodate
a highway entrance. Now this part of the street is barren and
litter-strewn. It's also a speedway. Cars coming south, those
that don't enter the highway, are offered a wide, straight, downhill
surface that invites the motorist to floor it. Cars come over
a rise, and I swear I've seen wheels leave the ground.
So what we have is a poorly designed, ugly section of road that
is a pedestrian nightmare and walls off the Asylum Hill neighborhood
from downtown. If the preliminary plan for the reconstruction
is followed, the state will spend millions of dollars and aggravate
The plan would move Broad Street 12 to 14 feet west to line
up better with Cogswell Street, a small street that meets Broad
at Asylum Avenue. This would require taking some land in front
of the YWCA building, which just reopened as supportive housing.
There's also discussion about reintroducing one-way streets in
the area. I don't understand; making Asylum Avenue one-way at
rush hour was just done away with.
To be fair, most of the widening
of Broad Street - except one section that goes from 48 to 60
feet - is minor. This is more a failure to redesign a street
that's already too wide. The whole point of the new plan is
to create more "storage," more
places to queue up commuters' cars at rush hour until they can
get on I-84. There are no pedestrian or esthetic improvements
to speak of.
City streets have to accommodate commuters, but they should
also be attractive places to walk or bike. Why can't they make
Broad Street an urban boulevard like the revised Columbus Boulevard?
Members of the Farmington Avenue Alliance, a citizens group advocating
for improvements to that thoroughfare, have made such a request.
They're right. The mistakes of the past need to be corrected,
not amplified. With the new housing and possibly a school going
into the area, there should be an effort to make this area walkable.
What about long-term planning to lower the Aetna Viaduct, the
elevated highway that goes through the area? Can't we use staggered
dismissals, alternative routes to the highway or, dare I even
hope, transit incentives to reduce the congestion at rush hour?
Doesn't DOT really believe in its own busway proposal, which
should reduce congestion in this area?
As with its original eight-lane
Columbus Boulevard proposal, the whole thrust here is the "toilet
of getting a lot of cars out quickly. But since the highway itself
is congested at rush hour, why don't we compromise and have an
attractive and pedestrian-friendly street?
It seems that every time the DOT gets involved in a road project,
it becomes a road-widening project. James Howard Kuntsler, the
social critic, has observed that I-95 in Florida is so wide that
one cannot see the K-Mart on one side from the Wal-Mart on the
other because of the curvature of the earth. There must be people
at the DOT who think that is a good thing.
Tom Condon is the editor of
Place. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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