Sunday, August 2, 2015

It Feels Like Mode Shift

Before - Dead?
Yesterday was a fabulous Summer Saturday in Hartford.  I spent most of the day transforming my crushed touring bike back into an everyday rig.  A little over a month ago the bicycle was underneath a Nissan Maxima on the Park Street sidewalk.  It was 9:00am on a quiet Saturday morning and I was on the second floor preparing for the school year end celebration.  A loud crash gave me time to look out the window and watch a car roll onto my parked bike after slamming into a parked car.  The replacement parts all came in last week, and I've been contacted by the driver (no insurance) who agreed to pay me back in $50 installments for the damage.  I never expected to hear back from the driver, and that makes me feel a little better about humanity.

After - New fork, wheels, handlebar, brake levers, cranks, front rack
Steel is real!  The bike was operational just in time to zip over to the Youth Play Institute production at Hartbeat Ensemble's Carriage House Theater on Farmington Ave.  YPI takes a team of fifteen diverse teens and young adults and starts with a relevant social justice question.  The team researches the issue and interviews local experts.  From that research they create an originally written play, with lighting, set design, and costuming.  The play is performed in three shows to a live audience, and all of this goes down in a short five weeks.  I'm always stunned by the process and product.  What blows my mind the most is that the team operates using consensus decision making, which I've never seen result in quick decision making.  Both of the facilitators, Hannah Simms and Vanessa Butler, must be wizards.  (Side note - Vanessa is Juliet in the outdoor production of Romeo and Juliet at St. Joe's.  This is their last week and it is amazing! Not to be missed.)

Over the last three years, I have seen a noticeable uptick in those using bicycles to commute.  The low 0.8% bike mode share in Hartford never made sense to me, with greater than 35% of households not owning a car.  One of the issues is paltry support.  The only bike shop in the city, Taskar's on Franklin, closed last year due to retirement.  Many note that the shop didn't observe typical business hours.  Absent a legal way to obtain bike parts and quality bicycle service, there is an extra hurdle for those that would like to use a bike in our city.  On top of that, Hartford's transportation planning is non-existent.  The city really doesn't have a traffic planner, ridiculous in a city of our size.  Bike lanes are segmented, and there isn't a network of connected bike routes.  The Department of Public Works Director looked at me like I was speaking French when I asked if they were using Sharrows on the recently repaved Park Street.  Park Street is popular for utility cyclists.  Sharrows would send a positive message to both motorists and the cyclists.
Posting (finally) for a Traffic Engineer in Hartford.
Behind the wave of rising bike use by residents, there is some painfully slow change coming at the government level.  The Department of Development just started a Complete Streets Challenge Team, which is working a list of bike and pedestrian improvements.  The city also has a posting up for a Transportation Designer.  Now all we need are some bike, walk, transit users at the Department of Public Works.  For a department that is focused on road issues and infrastructure, it's telling that there isn't a bicycle rack out front of their offices.
Special delivery to BiCi Co.  Donation from Tom Brown of the Wethersfield Bike Swap.
Since we collectively can't stand the snail pace of government, we're taking a lot into our own hands at the grass roots level.  Center for Latino Progress is kicking off BiCi Co., a teaching bike shop with members and volunteers.  Right now BiCi Co is working with thirty Hartford teens in a Summer program.  The teens are learning about bike safety, Hartford's rich bike history, science and engineering, and bicycle mechanic skills.  The group is tuning up bikes that will be donated to grandchildren in CRT's Generations Program.  Stay tuned for the BiCi Co. membership drive and crowd funding campaign to support the larger project.  It starts with our youth, and it changes the whole community.  A group at Aetna with David Hildebrand just partnered with the Hartford Police and donated 150 bikes to youth and teens.  Those youth will need somewhere to get replacement parts, locks, helmets, and lights.  Cue Bici Co!
Trying to figure out where the noise is coming from.
Proud team finishing their first tuned up donation bicycle.
Hartford Slow Roll is this afternoon, 8/2 at 3pm - 1429 Park Street, (1st and 3rd Sundays of each month) and we'll be stopping at Wethersfield Avenue.  The Wethersfield Ave stop was supposed to mark the recent completion of the bicycle lanes that were added to the paving job at the last minute.  Unfortunately, snails pace government strikes again.  The "No Parking" cones have been up all week, but no lanes.  Leaving "No Parking" signs up all week is particularly dysfunctional.  Rather than postpone again, the show will go on and we'll ride the bike lanes in spirit.  The Slow Roll events are being organized by Breakfast Lunch and Dinner (BL&D), another grass roots effort connecting new friends (and bike lovers) in Hartford.
Future bike lanes - Wethersfield Ave
Winds of change.  The bike lanes coming to Wethersfield Ave were the product of a scramble by multiple neighborhood groups (NRZ's) when they realized the city hadn't planned any Complete Streets improvements on this corridor. When the MDC multi-year sewer separation project was done and the road was finally paved, no thought had gone into this important connection  Hartford needs to capitalize on all the paving happening across the city to pivot towards sustainable transportation and Complete Streets.  Unfortunately, there is dysfunction and car-centric thought among those in leadership positions.  In the meantime, our citizen groups and grass roots efforts will have to do a lot of change making.

Interested in being part of the conversation?  Tune in to and participate in the discussions on Transport Hartford.  


bikeculturetheory said...

The City doesn't just seem incompetent--they're actually quite good at getting advocates to run around in circles and play 'the jumping game' (I used to use this fun but pointless game to tire out my young campers in the summer). They get us to run around in circles for years on things like traffic calming Fairfield Ave (one of Hartford's nicest streets, become a traffic sewer with few crosswalks); they get us to do the spin-around-the-baseball-bat game and try and run a straight line on project after project. The really perverse thing is that they have some smart and adept people, but instead of putting any effort into real implementation, they use their skills for stalling, for delay, and for wearing people down. It's a big jumping game. I hope Bronin is able to fire people in Development and in the DPW and actually hire some people who are interested in living here and making the city better. Because right now, I'm not particularly interested in either of those--I've got straight lines to run in else where.

Tony C said...

You may be giving too much credit. You have to be organized and competent to pull off effective tactics to frustrate your grassroots organizations.

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