With his complaint against the Transportation Department now in the hands of a judge, a Hartford bicyclist seeking to reopen Flower Street said Tuesday’s court proceedings at least compelled state officials to listen to his concerns.
“I got open communication where there hasn’t been before,” Hartford resident Chris Brown said after a hearing on his lawsuit.
Brown and his lawyer Ken Krayeske filed a lawsuit against the DOT in November after the DOT closed Flower Street for the New Britain to Hartford busway project known as CTfastrak. With Flower Street closed, Brown argues that cyclists and pedestrians have been forced onto nearby Broad Street as they travel between the Asylum Hill and Frog Hollow neighborhoods. He says the volume of car traffic on Broad makes it unsafe for bike and foot traffic.
Brown and Krayeske were in court Tuesday to argue against a motion by the Attorney General’s Office to dismiss the lawsuit. On the stand, Brown told the court he felt the conditions on Broad Street were inadequate and dangerous for cyclists. He said he is usually subject to “honking and yelling” by motorists when he tries.
“We got the DOT’s brass to come and listen to a bicyclists’ concerns about what he’s been subjected to,” Krayeske said after the hearing.
Transportation Commissioner James Redeker was in the courtroom for much of Brown’s testimony and briefly took the stand himself.
Through his complaint, Brown is seeking to force the department to adhere to a decision by one of its own hearing officers. In May, the hearing officer concluded that if the department is unwilling to change the configuration of CTfastrak to allow for an at-grade crossing, then it must provide a way for pedestrians and cyclists to traverse Flower Street.
However, Assistant Attorney General Eileen Meskill said she wasn’t aware of any law requiring the commissioner to comply with an administrative decision made by someone under his discretion.
Superior Court Judge Marshall Berger said he didn’t think the department could “totally ignore” an administrative decision, but he said the department may never have been obligated to hold the hearing in the first place.
Berger suggested it was held because Redeker was being a “nice guy” and allowing for public input even when he was not required to in order to make a decision regarding Flower Street.
It was a “benevolent action by the commissioner to allow everyone to have a say because otherwise there is no say,” he said. “… They utilized a format to have a public debate. I don’t know if it was the right way or the wrong way.”
Although Berger listened to Brown’s assessment of how suitable Broad Street is for bicycle traffic, the judge was unwilling to let Krayeske seek Brown’s opinion on the suitability of alternate routes.
“Whether or not Hartford is a bicycle friendly city is not our issue. Maybe [Hartford] should be, maybe CTfastrak should be a light rail project but that’s not our issue,” Berger said.
The judge did not offer any timeline Tuesday as to when he will make a decision regarding the motion to dismiss the case.
Brown’s complaint is a longshot. It’s filed as a writ of mandamus, a last-ditch effort to force a government agency to act when other legal remedies are unavailable.
“Mandamuses are super hard to win. Do I think we have enough to win, do I think he rules on the mandamus on the merits? I don’t know… I’d like to think we got past everything in the motion to dismiss but I’m not sure if we did,” Krayeske said.