Being car free does limit some of my after work cultural activities. Realistically a range of about eight miles is what I’m willing to ride to attend an event or visit a friend after a full day of work. That puts downtown Hartford, West Hartford, Manchester, and Glastonbury within my commuter cycling range. Luckily there is more than enough going on in that range to keep me busy and entertained. On Thursday, October 28th I was headed over to Hartford’s Connecticut Science Center to attend a free (I heart free!) event put on by the CT World Affairs Council. The former president of Shell Oil, John Hoffmeister, was speaking about his new book, “Why we Hate the Oil Companies.” The futuristic new science center is only a two mile jot from work and the petro topic had me intrigued. The weather was beautiful and it looked like it was going to be an ideal evening.
That was until I arrived at the Connecticut Science Center on my two wheeled spaceship. Due to construction on the Founders Plaza entrance, I dropped down to Columbus Boulevard and locked my spaceship to the railing at the edge of the very wide sidewalk. Upon entering the building I was detained by a confused but friendly guard that wasn’t sure that spaceships could be parked on a city sidewalk in that location. I explained that I didn’t see any other parking options in the vicinity and that my spaceship was neither causing harm to property nor blocking foot traffic. Regardless I was detained as the guard radioed upstairs to another guard for further instructions. After waiting a good five minutes and now late for the speaker, I insisted that the bike was fine and headed upstairs.
The guard at the top of the stairs asked me to wait until he could get further instructions on spaceship parking. Another five minutes went by until he was able to round up a museum official, Cherie Sweeney, the Vice President of Operations. Ms. Sweeney said she was fine with my parking location if it was okay with me. I replied that the ship was locked securely and most Hartford residents wouldn’t even recognize a spaceship as a viable means of transportation. I had no concerns of it being stolen or vandalized. I did learn from the Cherie that there is spaceship parking in the museum garage, although as a first time visitor it would be unlikely that I’d know to look there. My huffy recommendation was that the CT Science Center, as a good example to other downtown businesses, should put in ample spaceship parking near the building entrances.
John Hofmeister was an engaging and inspirational speaker, so much so that I purchased his book at the post event meet and greet. His message was largely focused on the neglected US energy infrastructure and was foretelling a great “energy abyss” that would become real by 2020 unless real moves were made to increase energy capacity while at the same time improving efficiencies. John laid much of the blame on partisan politicians, elected by a superficial partisan public, that hadn’t done much to improve the energy infrastructure of the US in the last thirty to forty years. His arguments were solid and although I didn’t agree with all of his proposed solutions, I recognized that a pragmatic compromise solution to our nation’s future energy needs was required if the US was going to in any way retain our current cushy standard of living. The “energy abyss” will punish everyone, including the liberal greenies and the fiscal conservatives.
I think I was the only person who rode a bike to that event, and I would be surprised if more than a few of the fifty or so attendees walked. Everyone nodded when John mentioned the potential efficiency gains from intelligent urban planning, but the nods were empty of any real substance in a sprawling suburban Connecticut. When I mention my current, possibly tentative, carfree status to co-workers and friends I get the “Spaceship Stare.” This is my new term for the look of disbelief that I’ve come to expect from Connecticut residents when someone shows up on a bicycle or explains that a full life doesn’t necessarily entail car ownership. It is seems like I’m saying, “I’ve got a spaceship and its a nifty way to get around,” or “Where can I park this here whizzbang spaceship?”
After the event I contacted Cherie Sweeney at the Science Center to see what their plans were for bicycle parking. I knew the building was a LEED Gold building, and hoped there were some comprehensive bicycle parking plans in the works. At this point there is bicycle parking with one rack outside the parking garage (near the fuel cell) and another rack inside the garage. There are plans to install additional bike racks on Founders Plaza and on Columbus Boulevard, with total bicycle accommodations for 43 to 44 bikes. If you’re in a hurry you should be able to lock right up to the railing on Columbus Boulevard, but this entrance is used for large school groups so there will be lots of minimally supervised youths passing your ride during the daytime hours. The CT Science Center is also planning to put up more bike parking info on their website and will be increasing signage at the entrances to point out the bike parking. Based on this info, I’d say my first awkward experience at the Science Center was part of their startup stumbling blocks. I’m planning a full trip to check out the facility in the near future if anyone wants to join me and my spaceship.