CTfastrak Observations on Opening Weekend

ctfastrak-capitolThis weekend marked the grand opening of Connecticut’s landmark CTfastrak bus rapid transit system. Mobilizing the Region contributor Sandy Johnston made the trip from Albany to check it out on Sunday, the second full day of operations. Here are some of his observations: 

Arriving in Hartford

CTfastrak is a major win for Connecticut’s capital city, but Hartford still has work to do to enhance car-free options. It’s not news that downtown Hartford has a lot of parking lots and, despite state investments, isn’t the most transit-friendly place.

Still, it’s somewhat jarring to see so much surface parking right across the street from historic Union Station, which serves Amtrak trains, and soon the Hartford Line commuter rail service.

ctfastrak-union

More work to do on CTfastrak stations downtown

CTfastrak offers an easy transfer from Union Station at the corner of Asylum Street and Union Place, but the station isn’t yet complete. There’s still no shelter, seating or ticket machines; there’s not even any signage indicating that it is a stop. Other downtown (that is, off the busway) stops are in similar stages of not-quite-completeness. Attracting more riders who work in downtown Hartford will be easier if it’s clear where CTfastrak buses stop and where they’re going, so hopefully these final touches will be completed soon.

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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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“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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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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CTfastrak to Hold Informational Open Houses, Starting Tonight

CTfastrak, Connecticut’s new Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, is rapidly gearing up for its opening day early next spring. The new service will provide a connection between the cities of New Britain and Hartford along an exclusive dedicated busway. In preparation for CTfastrak’s launch, ConnDOT is ramping up its public outreach to help potential […]

Wednesday Winners (& Losers)

NYC Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer announcing the installation of Queens slow zones. | Photo: Twitter @JimmyVanBramer

NYC Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer announcing the installation of Queens slow zones. | Photo: Twitter

A weekly roundup of good deeds, missteps, heroic feats and epic failures in the tri-state region and beyond.

WINNERS

New York City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer – Sunnyside Gardens, Woodside and Sunnyside will be included in two new slow zones coming to Queens.

Linden, NJ – Linden’s City Council passed a unanimous resolution in support of “the renewal of the red light camera program in the interest of public safety” – a powerful statement in the face of increasingly vocal opposition.

Connecticut – ConnDOT adopted a departmental Complete Streets policy which “enables the alignment of transportation funds to encourage improvements for non-motorized users,” such as the road diet planned for East Hartford and the addition of bike racks to 50 train cars.

Alexion Pharmaceuticals – New Haven, CT’s Gateway Community College has received a $250,000 subsidy from the company to halve bus fares for college students over the next five years.

Retirees – Americans are outliving their ability to drive safely, and nonprofits are stepping in to connect housing choice and transportation options for the aging.

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All Aboard the “Hartford Line”

Central Connecticut’s forthcoming commuter rail system, until today known as the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield Rail Program, is being branded as the “Hartford Line” according to a press release from Governor Malloy’s office today.

This is the second time Connecticut officials have rebranded a transportation service in the years prior to launching. In 2012, the State officially renamed […]

A Better Formula for Safer Streets in Connecticut

Armed with federal money, Connecticut is cracking down on dangerous driving by launching two driver safety campaigns this week.

Monday kicked off the first phase of the state’s speeding crackdown: speeding on rural roads, where ConnDOT says “most speeding-related automobile deaths occur.” This campaign comes with a pool of money available to local municipalities for increased enforcement, special […]

Transportation Advocates Release Connecticut Candidate Bulletin, Call for Debate

Earlier this week, a broad coalition of nearly three dozen transportation advocates, including the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, gathered at New Haven’s Union Station to release their 2014 Candidate Bulletin Moving Transportation Forward in Connecticut. The Bulletin lists four actions that Connecticut’s elected officials, particularly the gubernatorial candidates, must take in order to develop a safe and reliable system […]