Lynn Ferrari has lived on Charter Oak Place, five blocks south of
downtown Hartford, for 24 years.
In the past month, since the launch
of a free downtown bus shuttle, she's patronized more city eateries "than
I had in the previous year."
Mayor Mike's, Agave Grill, Morty & Ming's,
Bin 228, Hot Tomato's and The Russell are just some of the beneficiaries
of her frequent ridership on the Star Shuttle - a temporary transport
to circulate patrons in this fledgling convention city.
"Since the shuttle started, it's like a whole new world opened
up," Ferrari, 53, a Phoenix Insurance employee, said Friday. "It's
just so much easier. It's a considerable distance to get to many
places. Now, I can walk down to the Atheneum, pick up the shuttle,
and you can go anywhere you want."
Well, not quite. The multi-colored
Star, as in "Hartford's
Rising ...", makes a 2.2-mile loop and stops along some of the
city's key arteries - Columbus Boulevard, and Trumbull, Asylum, Allyn
and Main streets.
The shuttle - a pilot program financed by the State Department of
Transportation - is an example of both forward thinking and backward
The legislature invested about a half-billion dollars building a
convention center and parking downtown, not to mention a football
stadium in East Hartford. Then, it got chintzy with the marketing
budget to promote the behemoth billed as Adriaen's Landing.
Lawmakers reduced the requested budget of the Capital City Economic
Development Authority, which oversees the convention center, from
$6 million to $4.7 million. According to the authority, that cut
compromised its plans to bring a full-time bus circulator system
to Hartford, which would cost about $600,00 annually to run.
There's a convention of math teachers in town this week. No need
to ask them if cutting back on the marketing budget, which amounts
to 1 percent of the state's investment, was a miscalculation.
Dan Kennedy, a math teacher from Chattanooga, Tenn., arrived in
town late Thursday night and found that his reservation was never
recorded at the sold-out Marriott Hotel. Strikingly unflappable,
considering the gaffe, Kennedy hopped onto the Star.
As he relaxed in one of its 25 seats, hoping to find a room at the
Hilton Hartford, Kennedy said Hartford's shuttle reminded him of
the electric trolley-like buses in his hometown.
"It's a great thing for downtown," he said. "It
worked very good for Chattanooga. There is development on the riverfront
and on the south side, so there was a need for that transportation."
The Star's ridership numbers are increasing as the word gets out
and more people come into the city. Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays
are the busier days.
I rode the shuttle this week on Monday and Wednesday during the
day and on Thursday night, when the Star logged about 700 rides.
I've seen the bus go from totally empty to fully packed. Conventioneers,
commuters and residents alike have given it a go.
A record of 871 rides was set last Friday, when a Women of Faith
conference converged on Hartford.
This weekend, there is the potential for even higher numbers. An
estimated 50,000 to 60,000 people are and will be in the area for
UConn football, Bruce Springsteen, a jazz concert and a marathon,
among other events.
The one flaw with the shuttle is that, for now, it is limited to
just a certain section of downtown. There is no connection to the
neighborhoods. Hartford's biggest selling point, it's worth stating
again, is its ethnicity: Little Italy on Franklin Avenue; Park Street
and a planned multimillion dollar Latino renaissance; and the West
Indian and African American influences on the work in progress that
is Albany Avenue and the north section of Main Street.
What better incentive for the neighborhoods to get their act together
than a commitment to bring thousands of open-minded out-of-towners
past their establishments? And what better way of making good on
the promise that Adriaen's Landing would provide an economic lift
for those neighborhoods.
But that's a story for another day.
Can't talk about expanding this interim bus shuttle - until you
get it fully on line.
To view the Star Shuttle's route and schedule, link to www.hartford.com
Stan Simpson's column appears Wednesdays and Saturdays. He can be
reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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