The ride from Hartford to New Britain for the annual Bike Walk Connecticut dinner could have been worse.
But, it could have been much easier.
Imagine a direct route, one that does not involve speeding motorized vehicles with their operators honking for everyone to move out of their way. Imagine not having to constantly weave around smashed bottles, tree limbs, chunks of asphalt, and potholes.
According to James P. Redeker, the Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Transportation, the route will soon be easier. Part of the oft maligned* New Britain-Hartford Busway will include a bike path, allowing cyclists to make this very trek without wondering when the shoulder is going to suddenly drop off or which driver is going to back out of his driveway without checking his rearview mirror first. Though this will not be completed overnight, having a reduced risk route between these two cities increases job options for many, including myself.
The New Britain-Hartford Busway development was not the only change Redeker mentioned in his keynote address at the Bike Walk Connecticut Annual Dinner. His Powerpoint showed improvements and proposed changes to infrastructure statewide, from closing gaps in bike trails to installing bicycle racks at train stations. He noted how resistant Metro-North has been to bike racks on trains, even when others were willing to foot the bill.
He said that sometimes a bit of public embarrassment is just the ticket to getting others to do the right thing.
For years, the CT DOT has had a reputation for dismissing the needs of cyclists and pedestrians outright. Redeker's speech Tuesday evening intended to assure the public that the DOT has begun to move in a new (or very retro) direction by supporting the need of all residents to safely move from place-to-place.
Professor and author, Mary Collins, in her welcome speech, spoke of the importance of movement and how our youth yearn for it. She is the award-winning author of American Idle: A Journey through our Sedentary Culture.
When she had her own students at Central Connecticut State University consider movement in our culture, it became clear to her that gaming and virtual reality could not replace the need that many have for moving around outdoors, whether that happens on a frozen lake or on a basketball court.
Ray Rauth, the first chair of the CT Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board, was the recipient of the President's Award.
Supporters, particularly those who were silent auction winners, left the event in high spirits, maybe energized by Redeker's urging for advocates to remain in touch with him and stay on the DOT to continue making more people- and earth-friendly decisions about our state's infrastructure.
Again, as with last year's fundraiser, very few people rode. Though there was rain last time, the weather was ideal for riding last night: clear and crisp.
One can only speculate the reasons for this-- no time after work? Fair enough. Afraid of riding at night? Be more visible. Uneasy with riding in an area that is not exactly bicycle friendly? Good point. Too far? There were plenty of folk in attendance who live within ten miles.
If bicycle and pedestrian advocates are not willing to ride to their own events, what hope is there for getting others on board?
*I suspect that much of the Busway hate is mainly not because it involves a bus instead of a train, but because of the deep fear off all things urban. What would happen when Hard Hittin' and Hartford are linked up more easily? There goes the neighborhood!