Decision: Hartford's Flower Street To Stay Open For Walkers, Cyclists
Capitol Avenue Businesses Win In Busway Dispute
By DON STACOM
October 23, 2012
HARTFORD —— The state can permanently close Flower Street to vehicular traffic to accommodate the busway, but it can't close off the route for pedestrians and bicyclists, a hearing officer has ruled.
The decision is a victory for businesses along Capitol Avenue that feared shutting down Flower altogether would block them off from most of their customers.
It was also a win for the surrounding neighborhoods, where activists had warned that a complete closure would worsen the urban fragmentation that I-84 created decades ago.
"Closing the Flower Street crossing to pedestrians and bicyclists would have the potential to devastate the community in that it would isolate one community from another in addition to having a huge negative economic impact on the local businesses in the community," a transportation department hearing officer, Judith Almeida, wrote in her decision.
Virginia Iacobucci, owner of the La Paloma Sabanera on Capitol Avenue, said local businesses were thrilled with the decision.
"You can't cut two neighborhoods off from each other. I'm for the busway and mass transit, but it doesn't do any good to have the busway bring people to the city if there's nothing here for them," Iacobucci said.
The DOT intends to build the CTfastrak busway alongside the Amtrak line through Hartford and says there's no safe way to keep the Flower Street grade crossing open. The DOT originally planned to close Flower Street completely this month or in November, but that has been postponed.
"We are still working on a number of concepts and options for Flower Street, but it will not be closing any time soon," agency spokesman Judd Everhart said Tuesday. "We have been trying to work with the city, neighbors and other stakeholders and hope to have an agreement on the best plan in the next few weeks."
Iacobucci said the DOT has told her the Flower Street closing could be postponed until next June. Flower, which runs by the Hartford Courant building, connects Capitol Avenue with Farmington Avenue and the major insurance companies.
Iacobucci and neighborhood leaders from the city's Frog Hollow and Asylum Hill sections met with the DOT in late summer to discuss options, including building an elevated sidewalk and bike ramp to carry walkers and riders above the busway and the Amtrak line.
"None of the ideas looked very feasible because of the engineering," Iacobucci said.
The DOT had to apply to its own bureau of finance and administration for permission to close the road, and met opposition at a hearing before Almeida this summer. In a decision that was released Friday, Almeida wrote that rerouting the 6,000 vehicles that use Flower Street every day is "not particularly palatable" because all alternate routes are already overcrowded. Even so, closing it to motorists is unavoidable, she said.
Almeida directed the DOT to work with city officials and neighborhood leaders to find a solution that maintains bike and pedestrian travel.
"Better dialogue needs to occur between all of the individuals involved to have a successful outcome on these issues," she wrote. If the DOT cannot find any reasonable alternative, it may reapply for permission to close off pedestrian and bike access, she said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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