This is Tony C – I was riding home from dropping off bus passes at Hartford schools for an exciting high school internship program, and I noticed what might be the single widest traffic lane in all of Hartford – Edward Street. The pavement was new and the paint was fresh, paved within the last year. My first thought was, “How could this have been done in a city with a Complete Streets chapter in zoning?” My second thought was, “This is awful. It is right next to the kindergarten through 12th grade Achievement First Global Communications Academy.” There is a well established movement for Safe Routes to School, but this street was designed with eyes wide shut to the uses by residents and school children.
Traveling further down the street, I noted that the lanes remained extra wide (encourages speeding and drag racing) and the city had not incorporated what could have been very comfortable buffered bike lanes. There is no street parking to speak of, so the lanes would have been a couple extra paint stripes connecting the Northend and Albany Avenue to Union Station and Downtown. This was a simple fix and a giant missed opportunity. Did anyone at Hartford’s Department of Public Works walk or bike the street in question before designing a drag strip next to a kindergarten? How does an urban school’s leadership not fiercely advocate for safe and Complete Streets around their campus? The lived experience of our school administrators and transportation designers are often disconnected from the lives (and roads) of Hartford’s residents. It seems that disconnect hurts our neighborhoods more than it hurts downtown when it comes to designing safe streets.
[For those that like to #JFDI – Edwards Street is ripe for tactical urbanism, neck downs, pop-up bike lanes, and all sorts of things to right this wrong.]
Here is what is really bothering me. 21% of Hartford households almost never have access to a car, and many of our local students walk or bike to their school. The city has a well known infrastructure divide between the Northend and Downtown. Some may say that gap was intentionally implemented with adverse design principles to isolate lower income neighborhoods. I-84 certainly isolated the Northend, and many of the streets and intersections that Northend residents would use to connect to Downtown are extremely car-centric in design. The main thoroughfare, Albany Avenue (Rt 44), is an abomination. The CT DOT finally recognized that Albany Avenue has the highest bicycle and pedestrian crash rates in the Hartford region and the street is getting a much needed redesign this year (fingers crossed). Unfortunately the CT DOT is not lowering the speed limit to the 25 mph Hartford standard, and is keeping the higher 30 mph posted speed limit – despite the street passing through an extremely dense residential area with many pedestrians, commercial, and retail destinations.
This is not an isolated issue. Look out towards Flatbush Avenue in the Behind the Rock Neighborhood. This is a densely residential, low income neighborhood. Flatbush runs through that neighborhood and connects to a large high school (A.I. Prince Tech) and shopping center. The streets was recently repaved with no bike lanes, no traffic calming, and no crosswalk improvements. Students walk and bike to school on Flatbush every day, and residents walk to shopping. A 12-year old was struck and killed by a car in 2011. One doesn’t have to look far to find this pattern of shoddy, car-centric designs for streets in Hartford’s low income neighborhoods.
When one gets down to Bushnell Park, the streets are narrow and the sidewalks are ultra-wide. There are bump-outs and raised crosswalks. The redesign of Bushnell Park North would have been done around the same time that Edward Street was laid out. The traffic around Bushnell Park is heavier that that on Edward Street, but pedestrians were prioritized. The city’s iQuilt project in Downtown shifted Gold Street by 50 ft at a price tag exceeding $10,000,000, with about half funded by federal money. Gold Street is only one short block. The project was beset by NIMBY lawsuits that raised total project costs well beyond the initial estimates. $10 million of the city’s limited capital improvement budget could have been put towards Complete Streets improvements on miles of neighborhood streets.
Why is that? Is the safety and aesthetic experience for one group of pedestrians more important than another that is less than 1/2 mile away. As a diverse city, we must stop putting half-baked, car-centric designs into our neighborhoods. Edward Street could have been a wonderful and safe connection. A lame design applied in a low income neighborhood of color continues a system of infrastructure based oppression. Our current administration and city council has the opportunity to change how we consider and design streets. Residents and advocates need to be aware and vocal about the discrepancy in how dollars were spent in the last decade. Demand safe and equitable streets in your neighborhood. Every street, every time.