Looking back at the transportation goings-on in Connecticut during the last year, it seems like the state has stalled out on innovative new ideas. 2015 brought about some major changes, but it proved to be a tough act to follow. But while state leaders struggled to secure transportation revenues in 2016, municipal leaders took up the mantle of change. Here’s what you might have missed in the Nutmeg State over the last year:
Positive changes on both ends of the CTfastrak corridor
The stalled baseball stadium project in Hartford’s Downtown North district grabbed most of the headlines, but one night in January, Hartford’s Planning and Zoning Commission, led by Sara Bronin, achieved the biggest change to the city’s zoning code in more than a half-century. The new code reduces parking minimums for new developments downtown or near transit hubs, while expanding bike parking minimums — which likely helped the city earn Bicycle Friendly Community status this year.
Meanwhile, another Bronin — Mayor Luke Bronin, who is Sara Bronin’s husband — in seeking to pull Hartford out of a serious deficit, is considering a change to the city’s tax code to encourage development, and discourage using land for surface parking, especially downtown. It’s smart policy in a compact city where half the land is tax-exempt.
And 9.4 miles down the CTfastrak busway — which served its 4 millionth rider in 2016 — New Britain has been hard at work improving its downtown streets for pedestrians and bicyclists and paving the way for transit-oriented development.
A spotlight on pedestrian safety
Senator Chris Murphy survived his walk across Connecticut, but not without a few close calls. The senator didn’t intend to draw attention to pedestrian safety when he decided to walk across the state this past summer, but it could not have been better timed if he had: On the day his trek began, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced that 35,092 people were killed in traffic crashes in 2015, the largest one-year increase since 1966.
Murphy wasn’t the first Nutmegger to walk from one side of the state to the other in 2016: 75-year-old advocate Ray Rauth, a member of the state’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, walked the length of Route 1, the state’s most deadly road for pedestrians.
Lacking money and imagination, the state moves to hike transit fares
Connecticut has been dealing with a budget deficit throughout 2016, and is looking at a $1.3 billion shortfall in the next fiscal year. That’s required state agencies to make some uncomfortable choices — and in our world, that means transit fare hikes and the delayed extension of CTfastrak to the University of Connecticut. ConnDOT is launching a statewide bus study, but until it’s complete, we’re stuck with a coverage-based system and an outdated approach to how to serve riders.
Bus riders weren’t alone: Metro-North customers who ride the New Haven Line also endured a fare hike in 2016.
Imposing their will on New Haven, ConnDOT and Governor Malloy push parking garage
The Connecticut Department of Transportation has a plan to build a 1,000 car parking garage near Union Station in New Haven, but there’s just one problem: the city, in which 30 percent of households are car free, doesn’t want it. The garage proposal continues a troubling trend of putting driving first in a city that could benefit more from transit-oriented development and stronger pedestrian, bicycle and transit connections to downtown. Governor Malloy, who has been on the right side of most transit-related arguments in recent years, took a strange approach to this particular project: “We are trying to build a garage. This is not intended to be an economic development effort.”
Plans to widen highways somehow move forward, even at a time of financial uncertainty
Not only do state lawmakers bristle at raising fees for drivers in the Land of Steady Habits — legislators blasted a plan to spend $300,000 on a multi-state mileage tax study in 2016 — but securing existing funds is also proving to be a challenge. Like the three previous years, 2016 saw another failed attempt at securing the state’s transportation funding. After the late 2015 special session failed to bring about a constitutional lockbox on Connecticut’s Special Transportation Fund, state leaders regrouped and gave it another shot. The measure had support from a broad coalition of business, labor and transportation groups, but by the time the session came to a close in May, there was no vote on the lockbox in either chamber. In fact, lawmakers couldn’t even pass a budget on time.
And despite a bleak fiscal outlook (the fact that transit fares have been increased), the state quietly put aside $1.2 million in July to study the widening of Interstate 95, which doesn’t exactly seem like a worthwhile investment, and just this month planning began on an eight-mile widening of Interstate 84 in Danbury.