Walking a Hard Road – Connecticut Post Reporters Give up Cars for a Day

Last week, several Connecticut Post reporters found that getting to work without a car isn’t as easy as the New Haven line’s record-breaking 2011 ridership would suggest.

In a series entitled “Getting There,” the paper’s staff spent a day without a car, travelling instead by train, bus, bike, or leg. The writers’ transit adventures, exhaustively chronicled on The BlogJam and developed into a series of articles, highlighted the challenges facing those that don’t travel by car.

Reporters found several problems with the region’s transit, pedestrian and cycling infrastructure: long waits, sidewalks to nowhere, a paucity of bike parking, and unreliable service. But these challenges are not insurmountable, and in some cases, fixing them isn’t as expensive as it sounds.

The Connecticut Department of Transportation (ConnDOT), for example, could make buses faster and more reliable without overhauling their system. Implementing pre-board fare collection (a system in which riders buy tickets before they get on the bus, so that the driver doesn’t have to wait for them to pay), signal prioritization (a system that gives buses more green lights), and dedicated bus lanes would get people to work faster and attract more riders.

“Getting there” also showed that Connecticut must continue working to address the needs of cyclists and walkers. Even after the passage of complete streets legislation and changes to ConnDOT’s bike and pedestrian policies, there’s still work to do. One reporter had to bring her bike into a mall food court because she couldn’t find a bike rack, and another discovered that Connecticut’s sidewalk system is far from adequate.

Reporters also found that route planning was more difficult than it should be. Despite ConnDOT’s recent Google Transit initiative, the Post’s writers still had a hard time plotting out trips. 15 bus systems get people around Connecticut, but a coordinated effort to make cross-system trip planning easy has yet to be developed. It’s not hard to imagine a web and smartphone app that makes this possible.

The experiences weren’t all bad, of course.

One reporter assured readers that biking doesn’t lead to excessive sweatiness, another found that her nighttime ride on a busy road wasn’t as perilous as expected, and a number of them found that walking to the station made them see their neighborhoods with fresh eyes. And while some confessed that they’d be happy to get back behind the wheel, others relished their carless lifestyle. Vinti Singh:

I was not worried. I had headlights for the front and back of my bike, I was wearing all white, and my coworker had lent me his reflective vest. I was hard to miss. And the 2.2 mile ride was all downhill. On the way, I passed a gas station and saw regular unleaded was $3.89 a gallon.

“Not tonight,” I thought, as I pedaled by.

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