April 19 - 26, 2006
By ANDY HART, The Hartford News Staff Writer
Well-known urban planner Ken Greenberg has weighed in on the controversy surrounding the proposal to build a new magnet school next to what many consider to be the busiest intersection in town.
The City is planning to build the new Pathways to Technology School on a triangular piece of land at the southeast corner of the intersection of Broad Street and Farmington Avenue. Because it is situated between a highway entrance and several large corporations, the intersection is extremely congested, particularly at rush hour.
After meeting with local residents, city officials and others, Greenberg and traffic engineer Frederick Grove of Washington, D.C. developed three alternatives to reduce the traffic congestion in the area and thus mitigate one of the main objections to building the school on the corner that have been raised by numerous local residents.
The three alternatives were announced by Greenberg at a special meeting called by the Asylum Hill NRZ Tuesday afternoon. The previous evening, local residents had a chance to voice their opinions to Greenberg and Grove about the school’s proposed location. Virtually all were opposed to it.
On Tuesday, although several residents said they saw potential in Greenberg’s plan, they and others also pointed out that making the plan a reality may take years while Charles Crocini, Hartford Director of Capitol Projects, said the City is under time constraints and wants to start building the school at the beginning of next year.
“With time and money, you can do anything,” Crocini said, “But this project [building the new Pathways to Technology School] is out of time and money.” The city is under pressure to complete the magnet school because of the judgement handed down in the Sheff vs. O’Neill school desegregation case. Pathways is currently located on the Hartford-Windsor town line.
Crocini said the city hopes to put the Pathways project out to bid this November, start construction at the beginning of next year and finish the school in 18 months.
“We could handle a two to three month delay,” Crocini said, “But a two to three year delay and the school probably won’t happen.”
Greenberg said he and Grove worked with city traffic engineers to develop their three alternatives. The first plan would involve creating a trapezoid shaped traffic circle at the Broad-Farmington-Asylum intersection. The second would include making a portion of Asylum one way.
The third proposal is the most ambitious and is also the one that Greenberg recommends. This would involve closing Asylum Avenue to traffic from its juncture with Farmington Avenue to Asylum Place and replacing it with a multi-use pathway for pedestrians, cyclists and emergency vehicles.
To further ease traffic congestion, Sumner Street, which currently runs from Collins Street to Asylum Avenue, would be extended out to Farmington Avenue.
According to Grove and Greenberg, this would eliminate one of the main causes of congestion at the Farmington-Broad intersection: the close proximity of traffic lights where Asylum and Farmington run parallel but are only a few yards apart.
Greenberg also said that the sidewalk from Broad Street down the hill to Union Station could and should be widened.
Although many residents at Tuesday’s meeting had favorable comments about Greenberg’s plan, they also questioned whether it made the proposed site for the school any more attractive.
Asylum Hill resident and former City Councilman Mike McGarry said the new road configuration might work under ideal conditions but questioned how effective it would be when traffic is slowed to a crawl by snowstorms or if a major accident shuts down Farmington Avenue and Asylum is no longer open to traffic as an alternate route.
McGarry also challenged the city to put the proposal up for a vote and pointed out that Hartford voters had rejected a proposal to build a public safety complex on the spot where the school is slated to go.
Two other local residents asked Greenberg if a section of Farmington Avenue could be turned into a green-space/pathway rather than Asylum Avenue. He responded it was possible as his plan is in its very early stages.
West End resident Jill Barret, who has done extensive work on reducing traffic congestion for the Farmington Avenue Association, said she and others still have significant concerns about the design of the school even if the traffic problems are solved. Among other things, she said the walls of the proposed school are too close to the sidewalk, too imposing and not encouraging to pedestrians.
Another major concern is a lack of recreational space for students at the proposed site. In response to a proposal to put the school’s parking lot underground, leaving the surface free for recreational use, Crocini said such a change would totally disrupt the project and require extensive re-design.
Phil Will of the Farmington Avenue Business District expressed concern over how closely the road improvements and the school are linked. “We need some sense of commitment from the city that they are going to do this,” he said.
ArtSpace resident Jacqueline McKinney allowed that the plan “might have a chance” and half-jokingly said, “Can we fix the roads even if we don’t build the school?”