Thursday, September 17, 2015

I Saw the Sign, It Opened Up My Mind

The title for this article is not just the lyric for a 90’s pop song.  Signs, and their placement, make a world of difference. If you can’t find it, it doesn’t exist for you.  Unless you are interested in obsolescence and avoiding the majority of those interested in your city or product, pay attention to signs.  I’ve noticed in my recent travels that many cities do signage in a more proactive way than Hartford, Connecticut.  Particularly from the viewpoint of a pedestrian or cyclist, there isn’t much to guide you in getting around Hartford and the near suburbs.  Finding the best route from point A-to-B, say for a work commute, usually involves internet research, asking local experts, and then testing the route out on the weekend to determine if you’ll become roadkill when you brave the trip during a morning commute.  In Columbus for example, there were several bike signed routes crisscrossing the city that included bike lanes, multi-use paths, and shared use roads (with Sharrows).
Learning up on history.  This sign was about the Homestead Strike.
The 2014 Parks Plan proposed (and was accepted by the City) a signed and color coded system of bike routes throughout Hartford, connecting the parks, and more importantly providing clear cross town routes for those choosing to make their way via bicycle.  This portion of the parks plan was the only section that received applause during the Parks Plan presentation and public comment session.  Since being adopted very little has been done to implement that beautiful and forward thinking concept.  Hartford residents, cyclists, and Parks users should continue to ask the City (City Council, Hartford’s Mayor, and the Department of Public Works) what they are doing to achieve the vision set out in that plan.

The East Coast Greenway runs directly through Hartford.  This is a nationally significant bicycle route connecting the entire East Coast, from Calais, Maine to Key West, Florida.  A significant portion of the trail (~30%) is on multi-use paths and that non-road share is growing.  The purpose of the trail is to provide safe and enjoyable routes connecting cities all along the Eastern seaboard.   The cities and states that embrace these non-car multi-use routes get benefits galore.  Weekend recreational users come from the nearby areas to take short trips, shop, and dine at the nearby restaurants.  Organized regional bike tours choose those cities for tour stops, filling up hotel rooms and restaurants.  Bicycle and hiking tour books list those trails and cities, drawing in out of state visitors that come from all over to experience the day trips and loop rides from a convenient central location.  Cross country cyclists, the tail of the bell curve, carry a lot of weight when making recommendations to others on where to ride – and where not to ride.

I bring up the East Coast Greenway because it is pathetic how little and sparse the signs are for the route in the Hartford metro region.  The East Coast Greenway Alliance has provided signs, and the local committee has valiantly hung them, but they are small and far between.  There isn’t a “Hartford Welcomes the East Coast Greenway” sign on Founders Bridge or at the Bloomfield border, and there aren’t signs directing ECG users to the nearby shopping and restaurants downtown.  Signs noting that there are temporary lockers for panniers at the Science Center and Wadsworth Atheneum would free riders up to economically cavort around the city with their bikes and locks alone.  A half dozen clearly labeled “bike lockers” located on Founders Plaza could be used by commuting employees and bicycle tourists alike.   This is a ripe opportunity for the Hartford Business Improvement District.  Spend a couple thousand dollars bragging about what you’ve already got and shout about the existing East Coast Greenway.  Pull folks off the riverfront and into your business establishments, and advertise that Hartford is welcoming to those that come to town via bicycle.
The Gold Street realignment would have improved the East Coast Greenway connection between the Hartford Club and Bushnell Park, but the expensive overreach of the project and a NIMBY short sighted condo board squashed that plan.  There are several infrastructure projects on deck in East Hartford (see page 19 of the linked PDF) that will massively improve the ECG route.  Connecting the multi-use path from Forbes Street to Simmons in the I-84 corridor is one of them.  The CT DOT is also looking at a way to connect Riverside Drive to the dirt road that comes off of the Route 2 off ramp.  Riding up the off ramp to the dirt road is a favorite non-road alternative to Main Street, but you run the chance of getting collared by the state police.  Closing that 400 yard gap shouldn’t be difficult, until you consider that it involves working with both the CT DOT and Pratt and Whitney.
Despite wrangling a $500,000,000 tax deal Pratt & Whitney (or someone at UTC corporate HQ) is against routing the East Coast Greenway from Pratt & Whitney Field and down Willow Street.  P&W is building a supposedly “green” engineering headquarters right on Willow Street.  One would wonder why a company trumpeting their environmental chops is against the best routing of a sustainable transportation connection for the both their employees and the community.  UTC just moved its headquarters out of Hartford to Farmington, where the amazing Farmington Valley Trail provides all the benefits that I’ve described above to the towns it passes through. I encourage folks at P&W, UTC, and the Town of East Hartford to ask about the plans and where they stand.  If you’re not asking for it, it will never arrive.

IMPORTANT NOTE - The other huge thing that affects the route of the East Coast Greenway is the I-84 Redesign.  This is the biggest infrastructure and public works project that Hartford will see in our lifetimes.  There is a public comment session next Tuesday (Sept 22nd) in Hartford at the Lyceum.  Go there.  Be loud.  Verbally and in writing include the importance of Complete Streets and the Greenway.  Can't make the meeting, you can still comment online.
Obvious sign showing the way.  Come spend money here.  And I did.
This type of sign is common along the gap.  Where the local amenities are.  Spend money guide map.
That being said, there are already amazing trails in the Hartford metro area that are woefully under-utilized.  Why?  Because there aren’t any signs and the publicity of those resources is non-existent. Only those that read the Beat Bike Blog know about these multi-use paths and trails.  I’ll list a few below:
  • The Hockanum River Path – Part of the East Coast Greenway.  You can pick this up at the end of the East Hartford Great River Park trail or jump on behind East Hartford Town Hall.
  • The Charter Oak Greenway – This path starts on Forbes Street just a block North of Silver Lane and follows the I-84 / I-384 corridor.  You can ride to Wickham Park on a spur or go straight to downtown Manchester.  This trail almost connects to the Hop River Trail between Manchester and Willimantic.  
  • The East Hartford and Hartford multi-use paved paths along the riverfront.  There are several miles of paved paths along both sides of the river.
  • North-South off road trails along the dikes and Connecticut River.  One can ride all the way from Hartford North to Windsor on off road trails – on both sides of the river.  Heading South from Great mountain biking right from Downtown Hartford.
  • Mountain Biking in Keney Park – Right in our back yard.  Easy carriage paths and rather technical single track.  Keney is such a big park you could camp there for a week without bothering anyone.
  • The I-91 overpass between North Downtown and Hartford's Riverside Park.  I wrote a whole article about that under used connection.
  • The trail system from New Haven to Westfield, MA.  This nearly cross state route only has a few gaps remaining.  This is also part of the East Coast Greenway route.
  • The 5 miles of trail along CT Fastrak between Newington Junction and Downtown New Britain.  
What do we do about this lack of signs?  I suggest we make our own.  I’m tired of waiting for cities, committees, and the DOT to turn their broken rusty gears.  I would love to see Hartford Prints design and hang their own way finding signs that takes walking and biking visitors from Bushnell Park, Downtown North, and the Founders Bridge to Pratt Street.  Hartford Prints could then offer "way finding sign design services" to the other businesses clamoring for the exposure to directed and hungry foot traffic.

Sign for Round Bottom Campground.  I like signs.
Free camping trail side.  Round Bottom!  Like both.
Listed below are other "proactive" things I’ve noticed while riding the Great Allegheny Passage, an economic engine for many cities along its route.  The more of these we do along the Connecticut East Coast Greenway route, the better.
  • Camping.  Informal, free (or cheap) primitive camping at ~10 to 15 mile intervals.  These sites are maintained by the local park district or volunteers.  The lean-to shelters are for through hikers and bikers only and are built by the local scout troops.  This would be an ideal amenity in the Riverfront Park on either the East Hartford or Hartford side.  Cyclists that stay at the shelters are guaranteed to stop in your city for groceries, tourist activities, and restaurants.  They’ll also wax ecstatically about the awesomeness of your city to friends.  Examples – Connellsville, PA has 4 lean-to shelters on a grassy rise outside their business district.  I ate a huge breakfast there and they just got free advertising.  Confluence, PA has $5 hiker / biker camping at the city campground, walking distance from the city center.
  • Obvious and advertised lodging, hotels, and bed and breakfast directly along the route.
  • Mileage signs along the route letting you know how far you are from nearby cities and amenities such as lodging, restaurants, and bike shops.
  • Warm Showers hosts to provide options to budget bike tourists.  These bike tourists are usually on a tight budget.  If you can’t get their hotel dollars, they’ll still eat in your city.  Hartford fortunately has an active group of WS hosts, but it would be good to get more of them along the route in other Connecticut ECG cities.
  • Connectivity.  Connect the damn segments.  Even if there are on road segments.  Put up clear signs that hook trails into each other so that folks don't have to guess - or miss the connection altogether.
Let’s all see the signs – and where we don’t – we’ll create them ourselves.

Mckeesport.  A narrow bike way under a building overhang, next to rail.  Creative!

While leaving Mckeesport, PA outside of Pittsburgh on the GAP trail I noticed many creative infrastructure solutions that accomodated a multi-use path on a constrained or otherwise challenged corridor.  I challenge the CT DOT and Hartford's DPW to stop being whiners about "corridor width" and look to other cities for solutions.  Part of the solution is a city (and businesses) that cooperate.  We're all in this together.  If mountainous Pittsburgh can be a bike friendly city (with winter, cobblestones, and so many rivers), Hartford has it damn easy.
An unused (so far) rail bridge connection.  I chilled here for a bit.
Can you spot the coal seam?  
Learning about coal from a sign.  Holding in your hand is akin to reading porn.
I'm not sure why, but touch coal feels illicit.  I just want to burn it and act like a romping caveman.  So much history, geologic and human, in that small handful.  And so much slow destruction of our climate.

Entrance to a mine... that horizontal sliver.
Peeking into the mine.  Rotten timbers support the rocks above.  

Ohiopyle is beautiful!
This summer we most definitely made signs for BiCi Co.  You won't catch us under publicizing a new Hartford gem!
Summer BiCi Co service project - Painting signs with Brendan Gingras!

1 comment:

big bang dissertations said...

I totally agree that road signs are a sign of good management and civic sense of the local civil workers body. Your post is very informative on routes. Thanks