The key to BRT success? Walking.

The key to BRT success? Walking.

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 January 2017 newsletter.
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