If we want integrity in our transportation systems like CTfastrak (aka the busway), then Connecticut Department of Transportation Commissioner James Redeker must reign in his DOT engineers who are creating bad faith and ill will with the community in Hartford with their strong-arm and deceptive tactics.
I admire those who sat through the full length of Monday night’s DOT presentation at the Lyceum on Lawrence Street in Hartford. I embrace the mass transit project, but I walked out midway through because I could not stomach DOT ringleader Mike Sanders and his clown posse anymore.
What, you say calling them names won’t get me any respect and won’t help me get a solution? Yet I am only mirroring the level of respect I felt the DOT crew showed us community members.
Stalwarts supporters like Joe Barber and Jennifer Cassidy, who have been to countless meetings throughout the years, remained for the whole presentation, and afterwards they expressed displeasure to me as well.
Sanders brought his circus to the Frog Hollow NRZ allegedly to find out what the community wants to do with Flower Street. In reality, the meeting allowed DOT to dictate to the neighborhood that Flower Street must be sacrificed for fasttrak.
Construction will not hit Flower Street for several years. Fastrak will not serve passengers until 2014, but DOT wants to shut Flower Street to bicycle and pedestrian traffic like, now.
This is a major mistake. But DOT is intent on doing committing it. I call on the spirit of the Isham-Terry sisters and their newly-renovated house to help us. This DOT decision must not stand.
I kept asking if the die was cast, if there was no saving Flower Street, and one of Sanders’ henchmen responded several times that this is not a dog and pony show, that this is not a fait accompli, this is not a done deal, that DOT is still listening to the community’s input and looking for solutions.
DOT will hold a public hearing on closing Flower Street, input it welcome, we were told. The gavel has not fallen, the Rubicon has not been crossed. Okay. But why does it feel like all the evidence thrown at us is through the selective lens of closing Flower Street?
My answer arrived and my patience expired when Sanders said DOT made the decision years ago to close Flower Street. So which is it? Can DOT even stay on message? One joker says the public still has a chance, the other clown says, nope, we made the decision.
I live in Asylum Hill, I have three ways into Frog Hollow – Laurel Street (over the train bridge), Sigourney Street (past a highway on ramp), or Flower Street, (a gentle downslope with relatively little traffic).
Now, DOT wants to take the safest route away from me and the hundreds of other people who walk and bicycle on that street daily. DOT wouldn’t know this increase in non-motorized transit, because it is relying on a six-year old study to make its recommendations/orders to close Flower Street.
Sanders and his posse said that safety was an issue. There is a 100-foot crossing, there will be buses every few minutes, and trains, and we just can’t expose pedestrians and bicycles to that kind of danger.
Yet when another DOT engineer presented the short-term realignment and repainting of the intersection of Flower and Farmington, his slide showed 45-degree turning radiuses for cars and new travel lanes for cars. He said the re-design was for efficiency. It showed no bike lanes.
I said I wanted bike lanes now. I was ignored. Nor can I reconcile the aims of a transit agency that wants to protect me from the trains and busses, yet will expose me to thousands of corporate commuter cars on Farmington Avenue daily with no protection.
It seems simple to project fancy cross-sections of the road design on a movie screen and tell the audience there is no other choice. But when I go there in person, the explanations from DOT don’t seem to correspond with the measurements I make.
This is why I asked Jennifer Cassidy if we could DOT to show us on Flower Street exactly why there cannot be a pedestrian overpass or something. By the time this hits the newspapers, there may have been a meeting with DOT people at the actual site, explaining to us why. I am not optimistic.
In the meantime, we must continue to pressure DOT to not make this mistake. The urban connective tissue between Frog Hollow and Asylum Hill has been rent asunder and deeply scarred by I-84. DOT must not continue to harm our city.
Instead of having Flower Street, DOT argues pedestrians coming from Aetna will walk to Broad Street to get a burger at Red Rock Tavern. It’s only an extra 600 feet. That flies in the face of the drive-thru culture. DOT really thinks we are that stupid.
And the extra 600 feet will be safe, DOT told us, because we are putting in four foot bike lanes on Broad Street. That’s when David Corrigan, the chair of the Frog Hollow NRZ, said wait a minute. He has never seen a drawing with four foot bike lanes on Broad Street.
Oh, the DOT engineer said, we just did those drawings two months ago. Sorry you haven’t seen them. We’ll show you soon. This felt like a fast one, and Corrigan called them on it. But DOT will always apologize and promise to work with the community better. It never happens.
As a supporter of Fastrak (although I first sang “The Busway Blues” years ago), I do not want to see critics gain any more ammunition from DOT’s dishonesty or Fastrak’s immediate damage to an already struggling city.
Don DeFronzo, formerly a senator from New Britain and a busway critic, has already written once demanding answers about DOT’s sleight of hand in its accounting. In December 2010, then-Sen. DeFronzo complained to the legislature’s Transportation Committee that the cost of the busway had escalated $600 million.
He said at the very least “DOT needs to be held accountable for what appears to be an insidious strategy of incrementally locking the state into a full-funding plan without a clear up or down vote on the transfer” of federal funding and the need to allocate additional bonding.
I don’t know that we ever got answers on that very legitimate grouse. But when I hear suburbanites like Watertown’s Sen. Rob Kane predict failure for fastrak, saying that the busway may or may not get plowed, I get furious. I know Sen. Kane can’t be serious because I heard Sanders explain the contingency plans for inclement weather.
Yet when DOT fibs about other things, Sen. Kane gains the ability to question inanities like snow removal. Sen. Kane wouldn’t know mass transit if it crashed into his car. And I’ll bet a dollar that the GOP’s Kane drives an SUV.
I grew up in Watertown, and moved out because I couldn’t tolerate a suburb where raised ranches gobbled up farmland and open space. Sen. Kane apparently likes the alienation of suburban life.
Watertown’s poor development and land use policies demonstrate that without good mass transit, we are doomed to cars and sprawl and Watertown having one of the worst school systems in the state forever. Not that Sen. Kane, formerly head of the Town Council, would understand.
But he needs to. And it is our failure to show Sen. Kane and the DOT engineers how important mass transit and pedestrian thoroughfares are to creating and supporting vibrant communities and micro-economies like on Capital Avenue.
Sen. Kane and the DOT engineers, though, have seemingly never walked down Flower Street, and I think there is a good place to start.
So, Commissioner Redeker, let’s try to get everyone on the same page, with the same information, and put any traces of deception behind us. Because fastrak is too important to be abused so badly.