DOT Seeking Solutions To Problems Caused By Closing Flower Street In Hartford
By DON STACOM
August 23, 2012
HARTFORD —— Responding to disgruntled business owners and neighborhood groups, state engineers are examining a compromise on the busway project that would let pedestrians and bicyclists keep using Flower Street.
The state transportation department plans to erect barriers this fall shutting off the center of Flower Street, a north-south street that links the city's Asylum Hill and Frog Hollow neighborhoods.
But a recent outcry by businesses and residents has the Department of Transportation considering the possibility of building an elevated sidewalk and bike lane over the busway and adjacent rail lines.
"By closing Flower Street you're turning a whole group of customers away from us," Virginia Iacobucci, the owner of La Paloma Sabanera coffeehouse, told the DOT at a hearing Thursday morning.
"You're setting up a blockade. We want a more livable, walkable city. If we have to start closing business for this [busway], it's defeating its own purpose."
The transportation department is offering no guarantees, but has agreed to do a quick feasibility study of that the elevated sidewalk option and others, according to a memo Transit Administrator Michael Sanders sent to corporate and city leaders this week.
The DOT intends to close off Flower Street by mid-November at the current railroad crossing, which is just south of the I-84 viaduct. The barriers would go up to allow construction of the CTfastrak busway crossing, and then stay in place permanently to keep vehicles and walkers out. The location is just north of the Courant's building, and south of Aetna's parking lots.
The DOT said safety demands closing off the rail and bus crossing. After it is built, the two-lane busway will have buses passing every 90 seconds or so at peak periods. Connecticut also plans to add a second set of railroad tracks and roughly double the schedule of 16 trains passing through each day.
The Flower Street shutdown would divert most traffic to Broad Street, which runs parallel to Flower a block east. The detour would cost only 5 minutes for motorists and 5 to 10 for pedestrians, the DOT said.
Attorneys for the city argued Thursday that Hartford — not the state — has the power to decide whether Flower Street is closed. The city is worried that forcing traffic off Flower will compound delays at the congestion-plagued Broad Street intersections at Capitol and Farmington avenues.
"We have intersections that are failing already," agreed Jennifer Cassidy of the Asylum Hill Neighborhood Association.
Restaurant owners on Capitol Avenue complain that Flower Street brings many customers who walk from the major insurance offices during the day. If those people are forced to drive, many may simply go elsewhere, according to the owners. The DOT had offered a shuttle bus to serv the restaurants and other businesses, but merchants and neighborhood leaders prefer keeping the route open.
Sanders' memo said the DOT will examine the feasibility of making all of Flower Street a bridge, but acknowledged that this would be "very problematic and very expensive." More likely options are some version of an elevated sidewalk and bike lane; the DOT expects to report its findings within three weeks.
DOT Staff Attorney Judith L. Almeida presided over Thursday's hearing, in which busway designers are asking another a different arm of DOT for formal permission to close Flower Street. Almeida has 90 days to give a decision, but anticipates acting sooner.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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