Mayor Eddie Perez touts Hartford as a "walkable city," but he well knows that is as much hope as reality. Parts of downtown are pleasant for strolling - notably Bushnell Park and the river promenade. Other areas are dull and desolate.
To his credit, Mr. Perez is on the case. About 18 months ago, with considerable urging from this page, the mayor asked his staff to look at making Trumbull Street a more pleasant pedestrian thoroughfare. The city assigned the redesign work to one of its on-call consultants, Milone & MacBroom, an engineering and landscape architecture firm from Cheshire.
The firm presented a preliminary design Wednesday to a group from Business for Downtown, and it looks promising. The idea is to turn a worn, too-wide, traffic-clogged street into an attractive urban boulevard, as has been artfully done on Columbus Boulevard. The Trumbull plan does that, with wider sidewalks on the east side of the street, a wider and more attractive median, street trees, ornamental lighting, "bump-outs" at intersections and other streetscape improvements.
Trumbull runs from Jewell Street at Bushnell Park through the heart of downtown to Main Street. At the Jewell Street end, the new design picks up the park with three stone entry columns that reflect the stone in the park.
Heading northward, the design becomes more "corporate," as the designers call it, and then takes on a bit more of a park look when it reaches Main Street. The design achieves a consistency that most downtown streetscapes lack.
Downtown business people offered ideas for seating, litter receptacles and public art at Wednesday's meeting. City officials and the designers are looking for more suggestions.
The project is complicated by extensive underground utilities, but officials hope to go out to bid in the fall and begin the $4.5 million project in either the late fall or the spring.
The timing is right to remake Trumbull Street, with more people coming to the renovated Hartford Hilton, Hartford 21 and Trumbull on the Park. And, city planners are working on a scheme to remake the entire downtown pedestrian environment. They expect to move on to other streets in need of streetscape renewal or pedestrian orientation. Perez said the goal is a "24/7 walkable city," and that is the right goal.
For more than 60 years, since the Park River was buried to widen city streets in the 1940s, the city's transportation policy has been to bring cars downtown in the morning and back to the suburbs in the afternoon. Much was sacrificed for that goal. Now the thinking has changed.
Yes, the streets need to move commuters. But they have other functions as well - parking, walking, shopping, dining, socializing - which are finally being recognized.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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