The Hartford's announcement last month that it would tear down the MassMutual building for more parking perfectly illustrates the city's most serious transportation issue.
Connecticut's capital city has a series of companies struggling to accommodate their large drive-alone workers in a city with very limited transit resources and limited parking. The auto-centric commuting continuously brings the city to a halt during rush hour and fills every crevice of open space with parked automobiles during the workday.
The Hartford's proposal to alleviate its parking problems by tearing down another part of the city is of a piece with the city's postwar pattern of demolition and parking development. But as other major companies across the country have come to realize, this is a backward solution, one that works against the development of walkable, mixed-use, interesting cities.
The Hartford should join the ranks of Cisco, Safeco Insurance, Pitney Bowes, Nike and Google, as well as universities such as Cornell, Harvard and Yale, which have solved their commuting issues by creating shuttle networks and strong van-pool and transit incentives for their workers and students.
Such systems accommodate a company's commuting needs; can save money for the company and its workers; help reduce emissions and energy use; and allow companies to preserve and invest in the neighborhoods around their facilities instead of tearing them down. The Hartford is in a position to achieve all of these goals in Asylum Hill, particularly because the company already has a decent set of commuting incentives for its workers.
There are good models for expanding this service.
Google has a network of wi-fi equipped shuttles that run around the San Francisco Bay area and transport Googlers to the company's Mountain View campus.
Intel has an extensive list of van-pool and transit subsidies, and a large portion of its intranet is dedicated to commuting options. Microsoft offers a free transit pass to all of its full-time Seattle workers on top of van-pool subsidies. Safeco has a series of van-pool programs for its workers across the country. And finally, Oracle, Nike and Stamford-based Pitney Bowes all run shuttle systems to local transit stations alongside additional transit incentives.
By implementing an aggressive transit program on one of these models, The Hartford could significantly lessen demand for parking. In addition, if The Hartford and Aetna offered incentives for employees to live in Asylum Hill, as Yale does in New Haven, and improved bicycle facilities, there'd be even less demand for parking.
Ideally, the company then wouldn't need to demolish the former MassMutual building. With more commuting flexibility and a diminished need for parking, perhaps the company could bring more workers to a renovated MassMutual complex.
There's a tentative plan for a magnet school on the property. With the transit in place, perhaps more of the complex could be used for education, for one of the new academies at Hartford Public High School or one of the UConn components now in West Hartford.
The coming of commuter rail and bus service to downtown Hartford in a couple of years should give the city the green light to focus more on transit programs and stop the sacrifice of buildings for parking. The Hartford can be in the vanguard of the movement.
Nicholas Caruso is working on a master's degree in architecture at Yale. He is a frequent contributor to Place.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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