by John Dankosky - Our conversation about mass transit on yesterday’s Where We Live covered some familiar ground for us: The Hartford-New Britain Busway project and The Springfield-New Haven commuter rail line. But as I got to thinking about these topics, I realized we probably can’t talk enough about projects that – when combined – will cost more than $1 billion and could radically transform the look and life of many communities.
Our friend Tom Condon raised some of the same concerns of New York Times blogger Nate Silver when talking about the new Brookings report on transit and jobs in the top 100 metro areas (equally incredulous that Modesto, Calif. seems to rate more “transit-friendly than New York). We also raised a question about the study’s treatment of cities like Bridgeport, where residents’ usage of transit to get to work was only really studied within that metro area. Meaning that the thousands who hop the train to head to work in New York City weren’t counted. For his part, co-author Alan Berube defended the work, and suggested that this was just the first step in a larger process.
Serri Graslie, our soon-to-depart NPR Kroc fellow has been following the preparation in towns along the rail line, and has gotten her fill of buzzwords like “density” and “transit-oriented” and “multi-modal.” Her reporting on Enfield and Meriden reveals two communities with different ideas about how a commuter line might help them rebuild and transform. One of my favorite images from her story about Enfield is from the town’s community development director Peter Bryanton:
As he drives down a narrow road abutted by overgrown trees and the train tracks, Bryanton points out two houses — one is boarded up, the other looks occupied. Both are hardly 15 feet from the tracks.
“I’ll tell ya, you see these houses here how close they are to the tracks? When that train comes by, you know it. Because it’s buzzing through here at about 50 miles an hour.”
The implication: Maybe someday, they’ll actually slow down and let people off here.
We also heard voices from New Britain, where the busway project seems much closer to reality than an Enfield train station. Our collected Courant columnists, Kevin Rennie and Condon split on the merits of the idea, Rennie reinforcing his description of the plan as a “boondoggle,” while Condon told us he’d come around to the concept. To hear what people in New Britain think, I encourage you to check out CCSU journalism students’ “Project Main Street” an examination of the what the busway might mean to the city. I especially like Matt Clyburn’s virtual busway ride, where he follows the path of the new commuter option from downtown New Britain to the proposed Sigourney Street stop next to Aetna in Hartford.