Advocates Tour CTfastrak Bus Rapid Transit System

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Representatives from transportation and environmental advocacy organizations (including Tri-State) joined the Connecticut Department of Transportation for a tour of the CTfastrak bus rapid transit (BRT) system on Thursday. The tour was organized by Transit for Connecticut and led by ConnDOT’s Mike Sanders and Maureen Lawrence.

Here are a few photos from Thursday’s tour:

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NACTO State Transportation Departments Walk the Walk

State transportation departments in Massachusetts and California -- which have adopted NACTO's Urban Street Design Guide -- happen to be located in highly walkable, bikeable, transit-accessible locations. | Image: WalkScore

State DOTs in Massachusetts and California — which have adopted NACTO’s Urban Street Design Guide — happen to be located in highly walkable, bikeable, transit-accessible locations. | Image: WalkScore

As MTR reported earlier this week, Tennessee became the sixth state to formally endorse the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) Urban Street Design Guide.

The NACTO Guide is considered “a blueprint for safe, multi-modal streets,” but 44 states (including New York, New Jersey and Connecticut) still rely on the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials’ (AASHTO) less progressive design guidelines for urban streets.

That got us thinking: What, if anything do the states that have endorsed the NACTO guide (California, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Tennessee, Utah and Washington) have in common?

Back in March of 2013, we used Walk Score to see if there was any correlation between a state transportation department’s priorities and where the people who staff those departments go to work each day.

Tri-State looked to see if — and to what extent — state departments of transportation lead by example. Specifically, how walkable are the locations of state department of transportation (DOT) headquarters, and what does this tell us about that state’s transportation priorities?

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Connecticut Seeks Bids for I-84 Widening as Number of Structurally Deficient Bridges Continues to Rise

The percent of structurally-deficient bridges in Connecticut has been steadily increasing over the last several years. | FHWA via CTMirror.

Source: Federal Highway Administration National Bridge Inventory (via CTMirror)

The Connecticut Department of Transportation announced yesterday that it is seeking bids for the Interstate 84 widening project in Waterbury. The project, which is based on a 16-year-old environmental assessment, is expected to take five years and cost $400 million, “although the final amount will be determined by the bids received,” according to ConnDOT. 

This announcement couldn’t have been timed more poorly. On Tuesday, the CT Mirror reported that 413 of the state’s 4,218 bridges were structurally deficient as of December 2013, up from 406 in 2012, according to the Federal Highway Administration. In fact, the number of structurally deficient bridges has been on the rise for years.

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Connecticut’s $400 Million Question: Replace Norwalk River Rail Bridge or Widen 2.7 Miles of Interstate 84?

Governor Malloy put the widening of I-84 in the state's capital plan, but a fix for the Norwalk River Rail Bridge depends on competitive federal funds. | Photo: Office of Governor Dannel Malloy via WNPR.org

Governor Malloy put the widening of I-84 in the state’s capital plan, but a fix for the Norwalk River Rail Bridge depends on competitive federal funds. | Photo: Office of Governor Dannel Malloy via WNPR.org

The State of Connecticut is demanding federal funding to replace the Norwalk River Railroad Bridge, a Victorian-era swing bridge that has received a great deal of attention after failing to close twice in the last few weeks. When the Walk Bridge, as it’s known in the industry, gets stuck in the open position, rail service shuts down not only on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, but also on the Metro-North New Haven Line. But federal dollars are going to be hard to come by. According to the Connecticut Mirror:

Connecticut is now competing with a dozen states and even Metro-North’s parent, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, for a share of a $3 billion Federal Transit Administration fund created by Congress in the 2012 Hurricane Sandy relief bill. To replace the bridge, the state is seeking $349 million, more than 10 percent of the entire fund.

If the application fails, there is no other ready funding source for a project estimated to cost $465 million in state and federal funding.

While we don’t dispute that federal transit dollars are few and far between, there is one source of funding that exists within Connecticut. It’s just a question of priorities.

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Downtown Hartford’s Future Hinges on Reducing the Oversupply of Parking, Leveraging Investments in Transit

Hartford parking circa 2000. Source: "Losing Hartford, Transportation policy and the decline of an American city"

Downtown Hartford parking circa 2000. Source: “Losing Hartford, Transportation policy and the decline of an American city

The downtown Hartford campus of the University of Connecticut gained final approval this week, a move that UConn President Susan Herbst expects will bolster the city’s economy by attracting “a huge influx of visitors studying and working daily on the new campus.” Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra echoed that sentiment, citing the 2,500 students, faculty and staff that he expects “will generate an infusion of activity” in the capital city.

It was also announced this week that the Double-A New Britain Rock Cats baseball team will also move to downtown Hartford, bringing up to 9,000 fans to a yet-to-be-built stadium on the northern edge of downtown 75 nights each year (and potentially more for concerts and other events).

Minor-league baseball is great entertainment, and it would be lovely to have it in Hartford. Downtown residents and workers could walk to the games… it would undeniably bring more feet to the street and more jobs and tax revenue to the city. Along with a UConn campus opening on Prospect Street in 2017… a top-of-the-line baseball stadium would give Hartford the vibrancy it needs.

Having more people downtown could mean more foot traffic and an economic boost for local businesses. And it’s easy to imagine that “shops, restaurants, a bar or two” and more could spring up near the new stadium, or that new retail and dining establishments geared toward college students might set up shop near the Hartford Times Building, the centerpiece of the new UConn campus.

But in order to revitalize downtown Hartford, the City will need to do more to address a street network that is disjointed and congested largely because of one reason: an oversupply of parking. Unlike nearby mid-sized employment centers like Stamford and White Plains, Hartford isn’t served by frequent inter-city transit, so just about everybody drives to get there. On top of that, many Hartford streets “were progressively re-engineered to accommodate more private vehicles at ever higher speeds” at the expense of the pedestrian and cycling environment, leaving a downtown that suffers from “underpopulated sidewalks [that] appear unwelcoming and even forbidding.”

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Connecticut Senator Murphy Calls on Congress to Enact a “Sensible, Modest Increase” in the Federal Gas Tax

Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy called on Congress to raise the federal gas tax Friday in New Haven. | Photo: Joseph Cutrufo/TSTC

Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy called on Congress to raise the federal gas tax. | Photo: Joseph Cutrufo/TSTC

“For 20 years, Congress has had its head in the sand, pretending that money is going to fall off trees for infrastructure. It’s time to stop pretending.”

That’s what Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) told a crowd in New Haven on Friday, where he called on Congress to enact a sensible, modest increase” in the federal gas tax to pay for badly-needed road, rail and bridge maintenance.

The federal gas tax, now 18.4 cents per gallon, hasn’t seen an increase since 1993. Murphy’s proposal calls for 6-cent per gallon increases in 2015 and 2016, which would bring the tax up to where inflation would have taken it over the last two decades.

Senator Murphy’s message was well-received by an audience which included not only transportation advocates and labor unions, but also members of local chambers of commerce. Senator Murphy noted that raising the gas tax has support from a broad constituency, including two groups that don’t tend to find much common ground.

“The U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington supports this, the AFL-CIO supports this,” Murphy said. “Both business and labor understand the imperative of fixing this problem.”

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Bus Lanes on 125th Street Already Speeding Up Service

Without camera enforcement, some drivers will treat bus lanes as nothing more than a suggestion.

Without camera enforcement, some drivers will treat “BUSES ONLY” as nothing more than a suggestion. | Photo: Joseph Cutrufo/TSTC

New York City Transit staff were on hand to help new SBS riders with off-board fare payment. | Photo: Joseph Cutrufo/TSTC

New York City Transit staff were on hand to help new SBS riders with off-board fare payment. | Photo: Joseph Cutrufo/TSTC

Select Bus Service for the M60 bus in Harlem launched earlier this week — a move the MTA expects will “speed trips to LaGuardia and across 125th Street” for the thousands of daily riders who use the service along the corridor.

To get a first person perspective of the new service, MTR rode the M60 Select Bus Service on 125th Street Wednesday morning at rush hour to see how the newly-installed bus lanes have helped to increase bus speeds. The M60 bus traveled at an average speed of 2.7 miles per hour prior to the addition of bus lanes on 125th Street.

The ride from St. Nicholas Avenue to Lenox Avenue — where there are no exclusive bus lanes – is .4 mile in length, and took four minutes and 30 seconds, for an average speed of 5.3 miles per hour, largely because the M60 doesn’t make any stops between St. Nicholas and Lenox.

The ride from Lenox Avenue to Lexington Avenue — where exclusive bus lanes have been painted — is .5 mile long, and took four minutes and 45 seconds, for an average speed of 6.3 miles per hour. While that doesn’t seem like much of a difference, during this particular trip, the bus was stopped at the Madison Avenue station for extended period. First the operator had to direct passengers to pay their fare using curbside payment machines (after just three days in service, people are still getting used to Select Bus Service off-board fare payment) and then assist a passenger using a wheelchair. That was more than enough time to capture this video and grab this photo of the real-time bus arrival signage from one of the rear doors. Take away 45 seconds from the total trip time and it’s more like 7.5 miles per hour, nearly three times as fast as before SBS implementation.

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The Health Consequences of Being Dangerous by Design

Communities that are "Dangerous by Design" are problematic because it's unsafe to walk, and it's unhealthy to not walk. | Source

Unsafe streets are a threat to those who walk — and those who don’t.

Since the release of Smart Growth America’s Dangerous by Design 2014 report earlier this month, people have been wondering what characteristics the regions with the most dangerous roads have in common. It’s no surprise that the metro areas that topped the Pedestrian Danger Index are primarily automobile-oriented, “Sunbelt communities that grew in the post-war period,” or that the safest metros tend to be centered around denser cities where driving isn’t the only way of getting around.

But that’s not all these places have in common. Metro areas where streets are “dangerous by design” aren’t just a threat to pedestrian safety. They may also be a threat to our health.

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With Governor Malloy’s Signature, Vulnerable User Bill Becomes Law in Connecticut

SB-336, “An Act Concerning the Penalty for Causing harm to a Vulnerable User,” was signed by Governor Malloy today. | Source: http://www.cga.ct.gov/

After more than four years of advocacy by Tri-State and fellow advocates, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy today signed SB-336, the vulnerable user bill, into law.

The vulnerable user bill has been considered for each of the [...]

Without Wide Sidewalks, People Will Walk in Bike Lanes

During rush hour in Manhattan, you’re likely to encounter just as many pedestrians using Eighth Avenue’s protected bike lane as you will cyclists.

The problem isn’t necessarily that people are unwilling to walk on the sidewalk; it’s that the sidewalks on this busy midtown avenue cannot accommodate the volume of pedestrian traffic, especially between Penn Station and the Port Authority Bus Terminal. This creates a rather chaotic — and potentially dangerous — environment for both pedestrians and cyclists, as the video illustrates.

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