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The key to BRT success? Walking.

The key to BRT success? Walking.

By Joseph Cutrufo

Joseph Cutrufo is a former member of the WalkBoston staff and
current Director of Communications and Connecticut Policy at Tri-State
Transportation Campaign. 

In March 2015, Connecticut cut the ribbon on CTfastrak, New England’s first
bus rapid transit system. CTfastrak features a 9.4-mile bus-only guideway
which runs from downtown New Britain through Newington and West
Hartford to its terminus in downtown Hartford.

CTfastrak has outpaced ridership projections so far. But the real test for
CTfastrak will be whether it can transform the way people travel in greater
Hartford, where 81 percent of commuters drive to work alone — even higher
than the national average of 76 percent.

Not long after the system launched, prospective riders bemoaned the
lack of parking near stations. Predictably, the Connecticut Department of
Transportation responded by building more parking.

But when people won’t use the system due to a lack of parking, we shouldn’t
ask, “Where can we build more parking.” We should ask, “Why can’t people
get here without a car?” In greater Hartford, the answer is simple: the
neighborhoods surrounding CTfastrak stations aren’t dense enough, and the
streets in station areas don’t safely accommodate walking.

Some in the CTfastrak corridor recognize these challenges. The
City of New Britain hired a consultant to run a series of public workshops
to identify what kind of developments would be most appropriate for the
city’s three CTfastrak stations. And in West Hartford, town officials amended
local zoning regulations to allow mixed-used development around CTfastrak
stations, where much of the land is currently zoned for industrial uses.

But in suburban Newington, the town’s zoning board passed a moratorium
on “high density development” shortly after CTfastrak service launched.

Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy has set aside funds to help speed along
transit-oriented development projects, but ultimately the region needs a
more holistic approach to making greater Hartford a more walkable region.
The state had a chance to start the process through legislation in 2015, but
a bill proposing a “Transit Corridor Development Authority” was viewed
unfavorably by towns that saw it as a threat to home rule.

That won’t be the end of the movement to unchain the greater Hartford area
from car-dominant planning. One place to look for inspiration is the city of
Hartford, where a major zoning overhaul seeks to undo a half-century in
which the city’s parking inventory increased by 30,000 as the population
declined by 40,000 people.

This article was featured in WalkBoston’s Winter 2017 newsletter.

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