Hartford's bus system could be better if only for some little things. The quality of bus shelters, the availability of maps and timetables, and the timeliness of service are some of those little things. One of the big things that's holding back Hartford's bus system is the way all routes merge into chaos downtown at Main Street.
Practically every bus route ends at Main Street, or just around the corner on Market Street. When buses pull in, passengers run off frantically in every direction in a desperate attempt to catch a transfer. Meanwhile, buses are idling loudly, and the air is full of diesel exhaust. As a result, Main Street is chaotic and not pedestrian-friendly. But there are ways to fix this.
One of the best suggested fixes has already passed a few bureaucratic wickets, thanks to the Capitol Region Council of Governments. What the council recommends is developing an area north of Union Station into a major transfer center, with all downtown routes passing through. Instead of stopping and idling on Main Street, buses could drop some passengers off at Main Street and then swing over to Union Station. There, transferring from one bus to another would be made easy under a roof and out of the elements.
There is one obstacle to making this happen, and that's the necessary size of a transfer center. To accommodate all of the routes, we'd need a really large transfer station or fewer routes.
Surprisingly, the better solution is fewer routes, and it could be achieved without actually reducing service.
Currently, all east-west routes go downtown, drop off and pick up passengers at Main Street, then circle back to where they came from. The routes from Asylum and Farmington avenues do it, as do the routes from East Hartford. The solution is to tie the Farmington and Asylum avenue routes to the East Hartford routes to make them one continuous route from one side of the river to the other.
This would do two things. It would eliminate the unnecessary turn-around-loops that buses currently make, which would reduce congestion and improve air quality. Second, it lessens the need for bus bays at the transfer center, because both routes would be served by just one vehicle. The timing of service along the new route would have to be adjusted, but the space under the roof could be reduced. By tying east-west routes together, or "through-routing," as the technocrats call it, a single transfer center for all downtown routes becomes feasible and the aesthetics of our Rising Star can be improved.
Also, a transfer center at Union Station would make it possible for folks using the proposed commuter rail from New Haven to Springfield or the Hartford- New Britain busway to transfer seamlessly to almost any destination in the region. With the Star Shuttle, it's already a cinch to get around downtown from Union Station.
To make all this a reality, we need to through-route as many east-west routes as possible (as the few north-south routes through downtown already are). Once through-routing is accomplished, and a transfer center replaces the chaos at Main Street, we'll be well on our way to making Hartford's transit system simple and fun. The real question isn't whether it can be done, but if there's enough political will to do it.
• Anton Rick-Ossen of Hartford is a graduate student at Trinity College.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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