On my pedal-powered bicycle travels I have seen how other cities and towns create opportunities from things Hartford and our state departments too often treat like liabilities. For instance, I have biked past and through several capped landfills converted to passive-use parks. The North Hartford capped landfill, managed by CT DEEP, is surrounded by a tall fence and no trespassing signs. Residents and riverfront park visitors are unable to (legally) view the city and neighboring towns from its elevated and unobstructed vantage point.
Hartford neighbors and visitors should have the opportunity to see the beautiful sunsets, have a picnic with a view, and watch July fireworks from that high point in our city. I can say from experience that the Hartford landfill is fantastic for those uses – along with room for tripling or quadrupling the existing solar panel array.
Having an entrance for walking onto the landfill property (legally) from the top of the dike would be a natural filter, keeping ill-use at a minimum. The width of a walk-in entrance can be limited to prevent unwelcome access by off-road vehicles. Fun, unique destinations like this help folks connect to their city and region and form lasting bonds.
While on the topic of the Connecticut riverfront trails and the dike-top trail, I want to point out what other successful cities do for their multiuse trails; they connect the trails to residential, commercial, and industrial areas. Isolated trails without community connections are limited to recreational uses without the benefit of more usage from people biking or scootering to work and other daily destinations.
In my travels, busy multiuse trails have spur connections, footbridges, and wayfinding signs letting users know where the connections lead and how to access local businesses, restaurants, and offices. The connectivity enables more car-free trips and local spending in the economy. Those connections also permit local community access to healthy recreation and fitness, directly from their neighborhood without requiring a two-mile car trip to the trailhead parking lot.
Assuming those in Hartford neighborhoods have a car is often incorrect, as the zero-car household rate in several neighborhoods is higher than 40%.
I have always been surprised that the Riverfront Recapture trails do not have a connection at Jennings Road where the Hartford Public Works Department is headquartered, along with the nearby CTtransit bus depot, industrial jobs center, and the Meadows concert venue. Despite the city’s world-class 2019 Bicycle Master Plan, the city’s DPW offices do not have a bike rack. A simple footbridge and switchback dirt trail could connect Jennings Road to the dike-top trail and the riverfront trail system. These community and jobs access connections are even more important now that the multiuse trail connection north to Windsor is moving forward with construction slated for 2023.
We need that beautiful riverfront trail to connect to Hartford’s North End neighborhoods and the North Meadows, not just Downtown Hartford.
These connections and unique land uses require collaboration between multiple organizations and visionary leadership from those within key groups. The Army Corps of Engineers needs to see their flood-control dikes and dike-top trails as more than just access roads for maintenance. Hartford’s Public Works Department needs to consider that their staff might want to walk to the dike over their lunch break, or even bike in from home or Windsor to get to work, rather than drive. The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection needs to see the top of the closed North End landfill, with its views and birdwatching, as a regionally important passive recreation destination that showcases adaptive reuse and local solar power generation.
And Riverfront Recapture needs to think beyond recreation and understand how important its trail system could and should be for transportation, with better connectivity and signage. The state Transportation Department should be coming to Hartford and Riverfront Recapture and asking how the riverfront trails could be better connected to the city and its neighborhoods, and facilitating multi-group discussions and planning with the Army Corps of Engineers to bring it all together.
This may sound like a lot of work, but other cities have already done these things with visible success. More often than not, the capped landfills that I’ve passed on my cycling travels have walking trails and a walk/bike access point. The multiuse trails in other cities and towns connect in many places to housing, jobs, shopping, and more. Transportation projects and land use in cities are always complicated. Rather than ignoring complicated projects, they should be seen as a worthwhile challenges that will better serve the entire region. Interested organizations, state departments, and federal flood-control folks should pull together with residents rather than huddling in silos.
With leadership, local vision, and community support and engagement, these projects would stitch a city together. Without that leadership and vision, the results are isolated projects that leave gaps and confusing disconnections.
In Connecticut, New Haven’s Farmington Canal multiuse trail is a great example of a system that serves recreational, fitness, and year-round active transportation purposes. The trail has many street-level and neighborhood connections as it enters the city from the north. Along the corridor, apartments are being built on formerly vacant lots and the development stretches beyond the city line into Hamden. New Haven is now working on another segment of the trail to connect even more folks to destinations via the State Street commuter rail station. That connection took years of planning, negotiations, and coordination by multiple groups, institutions, legislators, funding sources, and property owners. Congratulations to New Haven leaders and advocates for pursuing and completing such an important active transportation project.
A good venue for pursuing these opportunities in Hartford is the Hartford Complete Streets Taskforce meeting, which happens every other month. Residents, bike commuters, and trail users can also highlight the importance of these connections at the monthly, state-level CT DOT Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board. All the involved groups can be contacted with email recommendations and questions:
- Email the Hartford Complete Streets Task Force
- Email the CT DOT Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board
- Email Hartford Department of Public Works, Director Mike Looney or call (860) 757-9900
- Email Riverfront Recapture, Martha Conneely
- Email CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, Commissioner Katie Dykes
- Email CT Department of Transportation Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator, Anna Bergeron
- Contact the Army Corps of Engineers’ New England Offices