West Hartford town leaders disappointed us again by failing to take action to improve safe bicycle infrastructure via painted bike lanes on Boulevard. The town received positive feedback from their own appointed Pedestrian and Bicycle Commission (the PBC) and the Town Engineer, and promised to make a decision based on that feedback at the June 21st Town Council committee meeting. Instead, the Town Manager and Council members punted the issue to their Vision Zero consultants, effectively delaying a decision until mid-2024 at the earliest. Back in January 2023 the Town quickly approved its Vision Zero policy and called for swift action, including a budget for quick-build projects. But since then the Town seems unwilling to commit anything more than promises of future action. We object to using Vision Zero as an excuse to back away from taking responsibility for safer roads for all and stall even simple interventions like painted bike lanes.
If you ride a bike in West Hartford, you realize that the town lacks continuous networks to pedal safely from home to shops, schools, or work across town. One promising east-west connector is Boulevard, where the town has gradually added a mixed network of bike lanes at each end. The missing link is a 1-mile middle section between Mountain Road and South Main Street, scheduled for repaving and restriping this summer. The Town-appointed PBC and the Town Engineer reviewed options and finally agreed on a safer design for Boulevard: add two painted bike lanes, remove one underutilized parking lane on the south side, and keep one parking lane on the north side. As required by the Town’s 2015 Complete Streets policy, the design offered safer roadway accommodations to “users of all ages and abilities, including but not limited to, pedestrians, bicyclists, transit riders, motorists,” a key point outlined in the PBC’s letter to the Town. Though not a perfect plan, this design was a reasonable compromise, and Bike West Hartford sent our letter of support, along with a petition signed by over 140 people.
So why did West Hartford leaders not accept the Boulevard design recommended by their appointed PBC commission and their Town Engineer? To the best of our knowledge, four residents of the Boulevard area “pushed back” on the compromise plan. We listened to those who voiced their concerns at a PBC meeting. We agree with those who argue that cars travel too fast on Boulevard and that it’s difficult for pedestrians to safely cross the road. We urge them to join us in calling for the Town to install more traffic-calming safety measures.
But the answer to dangerous road design cannot be more dangerous road design. We strongly disagree with the handful of opponents who claim “ownership” of Boulevard and view current parking lanes as extensions of their private property. Transportation safety should not be treated like a political football. Streets are public goods that belong to all of us, and everyone deserves safer roads, whether we travel by car, bike, foot, or bus. At Bike West Hartford, we “push forward” toward mobility justice for all.
What happens next?
Town leaders delayed making a decision at their June 21st committee meeting, stating that they prefer to wait until they receive a Bicycle Facilities Plan from their consultants at FHI Studio & Toole Design. However, those consultants are currently busy working on the Vision Zero Action Plan, which is not expected to be submitted until January 2024. That timeline pushes the Bicycle Facilities Plan back until spring 2024 at the earliest, which effectively delays a decision on east-west bike lane connections like Boulevard until summer 2024 or later. We worry that Town Council members seemed unclear about the consequences of their delayed decision-making, as shown in this YouTube video of the meeting (starting around minute 44).
We urge the Town to act in the spirit of Vision Zero: make a short-term, inexpensive intervention of temporary painted bicycle lanes on Boulevard. Clearly, the repaved portion of Boulevard needs some type of roadway markings, and currently the Town Engineer seems likely to repaint the road with only center yellow lines on a “temporary” basis. But that default position is dangerous. Instead, a safer alternative is to paint both traffic lines and bike lanes on a “temporary” basis, according to the design approved by the PBC and the Town Engineer. Later in 2024, if the consultants recommend the removal of temporary painted bike lanes, so be it. But the Town should not be using the Vision Zero process as a cover for its failure to act, which endangers cyclists, pedestrians, and drivers on Boulevard.