In pushing ahead to build the Pathways to Technology Magnet School at the intersection of Broad Street and Farmington Avenue in Hartford, Mayor Eddie Perez is taking a chance.
He is betting that he can make one of the worst pedestrian intersections in the city safe enough for hundreds of high school kids. It's too great a risk. For safety and other reasons, the school shouldn't be built there.
The 2½-acre parcel backs up to I-84, and was a leftover fragment from the highway project. It is at best a marginal site for a school. It is small, with little room for outdoor amenities. Street traffic may be its worst problem.
Over the years, Broad Street on the west side of the parcel has been widened to feed cars onto the highway. So it's crowded at rush hour, but is something of a speedway off-peak. On the north side of the property, Asylum and Farmington avenues meet in a triangular intersection, and both carry a lot of traffic.
The area is known locally as "no man's land" because it has so much asphalt and is such an unpleasant place to walk. Most of the neighborhood support, such as it is, for the school project has been conditioned on solving the traffic problems.
Mr. Perez has had planners study the intersection to see if it can be made safer. They've come up with four alternatives, which all are variations on the theme of de-emphasizing Asylum Avenue as a major traffic carrier at the expense of Farmington Avenue and generally tightening the traffic patterns using one-way streets.
A committee will soon recommend what it thinks is the best alternative, though it is far from clear that any of them will work. Two of the city's largest taxpayers, nearby Aetna and The Hartford, are yet to be heard from.
Some aspects of the plan - wider sidewalks and medians - can't help but improve the pedestrian environment. We understand that the school has to go somewhere, and that Pathways is one of the magnet schools intended to end racial isolation in city schools. But safety must be paramount.
There is another issue: The land was given to the city by the state a few years ago with a deed restriction limiting its use to a public safety complex - the plan at the time - or a park. Some legislators are balking at changing the deed stipulation, but Mr. Perez says if they don't he can simply buy the land and get 95 percent of the cost reimbursed.
Mr. Perez agrees that the site is less than ideal, but says school sites are very hard to find. That doesn't speak well for the chances of building additional magnet schools in the city.
Officials should look for some kind of campus for a group of schools, a place where there are more amenities and less traffic.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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