Will the Land of Steady Habits Get on Board with BRT?

Is Connecticut ready to get on board with bus rapid transit? We'll soon find out. | Image: New Britain Herald

Is Connecticut ready to get on board with bus rapid transit? We’ll soon find out. | Image: New Britain Herald

CTfastrak, Metro Hartford’s new bus rapid transit system, will officially begin service this Saturday with nine days of free rides. The BRT system has been the topic of much conversation in Connecticut over the last few years, with more than its fair share of detractors. CTfastrak has been known to some as the “busway boondoggle” and the “busway to nowhere,” while others have wondered why the State didn’t build a light rail line on the corridor instead.

But state and local officials have been bullish on the busway, predicting that CTfastrak would spur economic development. And they were right: public and private investments have kick-started the revitalization of downtown New Britain, Newington cleaned up the former National Welding site to make way for transit-oriented development, and in Hartford, downtown buildings are being converted into apartments.

Connecticut is known as “The Land of Steady Habits,” so skepticism about a road designed solely for buses in a metro area where 81 percent of commuters drive alone shouldn’t be unexpected. But the opening of the busway will be an historic moment for Connecticut. CTfastrak is only the nation’s eighth full-fledged BRT system, and the only example of true BRT in the tri-state region.

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Tolls Aren’t as Controversial or Politically-Risky as Some Connecticut Politicians Would Like You to Believe

The Connecticut State legislature’s Transportation Committee voted this week to advance a bill which would bring the state one step closer to reinstating highway tolls. The vote followed party lines, with 18 Democrats voting in favor, and 13 Republicans voting against.

State Senator Toni Boucher (R-Wilton) spoke against the bill, but her argument falls apart when you look at the facts.

Transportation Committee Chairman Representative Antonio Guerrera and ranking member State Senator Toni Boucher.  | Image: SRO/Flickr

Transportation Committee Chairman Rep. Tony Guerrera and ranking member State Senator Toni Boucher. | Image: SRO/Flickr

Boucher said “People uniformly have an opinion on [tolls],” but that would only be true if you look at the results of a poll which was conducted by Boucher’s office, which only surveyed voters in her district.

An independent Quinnipiac University poll conducted earlier this month, however, shows that 58 percent of Nutmeg State Republicans (and 62 percent of Democrats) support tolls as long as the revenue raised goes toward transportation purposes. Without that provision, 61 percent of voters oppose tolls. But it’s highly unlikely that tolls would be implemented until the State puts a “lockbox” on the Special Transportation Fund.

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“Bike Bill” Would Pave the Way for 21st Century Bike Infrastructure in Connecticut

Contraflow bike lanes, left-side bike lanes and parking-protected cycle tracks may soon be coming to Connecticut. | Photos: NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide

A law which would permit modern bicycle facilities such as contra-flow bike lanes, left-side bike lanes and parking-protected cycle tracks, recently advanced in the Connecticut General Assembly. | Photos: NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide

Connecticut has one of the nation’s best statewide Complete Streets laws, but Nutmeg State municipalities are limited in what kinds of bicycle infrastructure they can design and implement. You won’t find protected bike lanes, two-way cycle tracks, contra-flow lanes, or even bike lanes on the left side of one-way streets in Connecticut because, as advocates have heard over the years during conversations with engineers, they’re “illegal.”

What makes these context-sensitive bicycle facilities “illegal,” we learned, is that they contradict Section 14-286b of the state statutes, which says “Every person operating a bicycle upon a roadway shall ride as near to the right side of the roadway as practicable.” You can’t be “as near to the right side of the roadway as practicable” if you’re riding in a bike lane that’s been marked on the left side of a one-way or median-separated street. And more to the point, municipal engineers could find their livelihoods in jeopardy if someone were injured or killed using a bicycle facility which doesn’t jive with the state law.

The wording of Section 14-286b has stymied efforts to bring 21st century transportation infrastructure to cities and towns across Connecticut, including plans to install a two-way cycle track in New Haven. That prompted the City’s Transportation Director Doug Hausladen and advocates (including Tri-State), to push for state legislation that could free municipalities to build modern bicycle facilities.

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Throwback Thursday: Snow Still Blocking Manhattan’s Eighth Avenue Bike Lane

Back on Monday, March 9, 2015, we learned about a giant pile of snow blocking the protected bike lane on Manhattan’s Eighth Avenue, just around the corner from TSTC’s midtown headquarters.

We figured it would be cleared right away — after all, New York was recently named America’s Most Bike Friendly City. But Wednesday morning came and that pile of snow was still there.

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The Usual Suspects: Analysis Shows Little Progress on the Region’s Most Dangerous Roads

The latest analysis from Tri-State Transportation Campaign, released this week, finds that 1,266 pedestrians were killed on roads in Connecticut, New Jersey and downstate New York in the three years from 2011 through 2013.

The Most Dangerous Roads for Walking analysis found that Jericho Turnpike (Route 25/Middle Country Road) in Suffolk County, Long Island, […]

Connecticut Uniquely Positioned for Congestion Pricing, but Legislators Must Seize the Opportunity

A study on electronic, variable-rate road pricing for Connecticut is underway, but will the state's elected leaders be receptive to congestion management? | Source

Connecticut has a unique opportunity to pursue variable-rate road pricing, but will the state’s elected leaders be receptive to this congestion management strategy? | Source

If last week’s hearing on tolls at Connecticut’s borders did anything, it strengthened the position that implementing tolls for the sole purpose of generating revenue is a bad idea. And if anything else grew out of the hysteria, it might be additional support for congestion pricing.

As the Connecticut Post pointed out this morning, Connecticut is one of only 15 jurisdictions in the nation that has been granted an exemption by the Federal Highway Administration from the general prohibition of tolls on Federal-aid roads. Connecticut’s exception falls under the Variable Pricing Pilot Program, which is “intended to demonstrate whether and to what extent roadway congestion may be reduced through application of congestion pricing strategies.”

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Distractions Driving Connecticut’s Toll Conversation

Tolls at the borders would raise revenue, but they would do little to address congestion on Connecticut's most congested corridors. | Source

Tolls at the borders would raise revenue, but they would do little for Connecticut’s most congested corridors. | Source

Modern, all-electronic tolling systems don't require old-fashioned toll booths. | Source

Modern, all-electronic tolling systems don’t require toll booths. | Source

There’s been a lot of talk about about bringing highway tolls back to Connecticut these last few days. The state outlawed tolls after seven people were killed in a fiery crash at a toll both on Interstate 95 in 1983. That tragedy has left Connecticut residents skeptical of tolls, and justifiably so. But  in recent days, a lot of the discourse surrounding tolls has been misinformed, which has led to some confusion. And that’s not good for lawmakers who are trying to deal with serious congestion problems on some of the worst roads in the nation, not to mention an underfunded 30-year transportation plan.

Tolls at the borders

A bill introduced by State Rep. Tony Guerrera, which would bring tolls to interstates at Connecticut’s borders, was the main topic of conversation at a Transportation Committee hearing Wednesday. Guerrera, the committee’s co-chair, “says the legislation is needed to pay for highway projects because the state’s gas tax isn’t raising enough money.”

The argument for placing tolls at the border is that out-of-state residents would shoulder some of the load — as much as 75 percent, Guerrera argued. Connecticut residents pay tolls when they drive to New York and Massachusetts, so let the folks clogging up Interstates 84 and 95 between the Boston and New York metro areas pay their fair share, right? It’s good political calculus — especially since Guerrera represents Newington, Rocky Hill and Wethersfield, which are smack dab in the middle of the state (and would be minimally impacted by tolls at the state’s edges).

The argument against border tolls hinges on the fact that they disproportionately impact residents (and the economies) of border towns like Danbury and Enfield.

Both arguments are perfectly sound. The problem is, it’s wrong argument to be having.

Rep. Guerrera is right: the state’s gas tax isn’t bringing in enough revenue to maintain the state’s transportation system. But reinstating tolls in order to raise revenue misses the point of tolling. The goal of bringing back highway tolls must be congestion management.

When you look at tolling from a congestion management perspective rather than a revenue perspective, it completely changes the map. Instead of locating tolls in a way that aims to minimize its impact on intrastate travel, they should be placed A) where there’s a great deal of congestion, and B) like the proposed Move New York plan, where there are alternatives to driving available.

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Roads and Rails, Buses and Bridges: Breaking Down Connecticut’s Transportation Vision by Project Type

Yesterday we wrote about what’s included in “Let’s Go CT,” Connecticut’s long-term statewide transportation plan. Both of the documents released yesterday — the “5-Year Transportation Ramp-Up Plan” and “Connecticut’s Bold Vision for a Transportation Future” — are nicely laid out and full of details about each project, but they lack user-friendly charts to help see where the money is going.

In order to provide a clearer picture of Connecticut’s spending priorities moving forward, we’ve broken down spending totals for the five-year ramp-up and for the following 25 years by project type.

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What’s in Connecticut’s 30-Year Transportation Vision?

letsgoCTcoverConnecticut Governor Dannel Malloy made an historic announcement today that will set the tone for the state’s transportation priorities for the next three decades. Speaking at the State Capitol in Hartford, the governor outlined a 30-year, multi-modal vision for Connecticut’s transportation system, which includes not only upgrades to aging highways and bridges, but also railway improvements, new bus rapid transit lines, and funding to improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety.

The governor’s vision will extend well beyond his time in office. What he will oversee, however, is the five-year “ramp-up,” which invests an additional $2.8 billion above the State’s expected levels of transportation funding. That $2.8 billion is front-loaded with $1.7 billion for railway improvements, which can be accomplished “faster and cheaper than big-ticket interstate jobs.”

The full 30-year, $100 billion plan, introduced today as “Let’s Go CT,” is being billed as a “Bold Vision for a Transportation Future.” How bold? Here are some of the highlights:

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Another Look at Stamford’s Washington Boulevard

An elderly woman who was using a motorized wheelchair sustained serious injuries after she was struck by a driver late last week while crossing Washington Boulevard at Main Street in downtown Stamford.

Washington Boulevard is like many of Stamford’s downtown streets: a wide, multi-lane arterial that is out of place in a downtown area. There’s a well-marked crosswalk and a narrow landscaped median on this segment — a good start, but more should be done in a central business district such as this. Ideally that median would extend into the crosswalk and serve as a pedestrian safety island. Without one, you’ll need to get all the way across seven lanes in one phase of the pedestrian signal (which you might consider much of a challenge, but imagine doing it in a wheelchair).

We took some rough measurements of Washington Boulevard using Google Maps. It appears to be 80 feet wide curb-to-curb, with lane widths of about 11 feet. We uploaded these characteristics into Streetmix and came up with an alternative design that considers more than simply level of service for cars and trucks.

Here’s what Washington Boulevard looks like today:

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Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 1.03.29 PM

And here’s what it could look like:

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