Kicking the Fossil Fuel Habit: A man with a US flag on his baseball cap is smoking a big joint that looks like a smokestack and is labeled "FOSSIL FUELS." The smoke coming off it reads, "GREENHOUSE GASES." He says, "I really need to quit."
Credit: John Cole, / CTNewsJunkie via Cagle Cartoons / ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Kerri Ana Provost

Our recent days of toxic air, and an equally toxic response to and dialogue around it, brought unwanted March 2020 vibes. Officials tiptoed around straight up recommending masks. Some reverted to assuming that only those with pre-existing conditions would be damaged by the smoky air, and said without saying how they continue devaluing those with disabilities. Others diminished the experience entirely, complaining about postponed field trips and sports games. 

What stood out among the lack of empathy or commonsense, was the absence of curiosity or tolerance for either complexity or ambiguity.

The myth of the arsonist spread like wildfire among those who continue to conflate climate with weather, who refuse to accept what science museums to the EPA have been explaining: climate change has led to longer dry seasons, resulting in drier vegetation and soil. It doesn’t matter so much if a spark was caused intentionally, carelessly (fireworks, hikers not extinguishing campfires), or naturally (lightning), the environment is one that allows fires to spread faster.

While we watched the Air Quality Index fluctuate on our phones, trying to decide if a long walk with the dog would be fine or regrettable, people continued to debate bike lanes. 

So, in a way, arson was the cause of those and other wildfires – climate arson. 

To quote the Dead Kennedys and paraphrase those wishing to preserve parking in public space that they never had a special right to: “give me convenience or give me death.” Or, in the case of the bike lane fight, give someone else death, literally, or simply kill another person’s freedom, in particular, that of children to transport themselves safely. Imagine believing it is more important that you are able to store excess vehicles in the street than allow the kid next door to safely bike to batting practice. 

That’s what’s happening now, again, in West Hartford, where a few residents are standing in the way of public safety. Why? If I’m being generous, they misunderstand how public space can be used. When I bought my house, I did not purchase a portion of the street in front of it, and no matter how high my taxes go, that will never be pavement to which I am entitled. My property includes a bit of driveway, some grass, and the building. There is the expectation that I maintain the public right of way – sidewalk – but I am not permitted to obstruct others from using it because it is not mine. Being a homeowner does not grant you or your guests the privilege to store personal belongings off of your property. 

There is no need to pause progress because of a vocal minority, however. After months of deliberation with the West Hartford Pedestrian & Bicycle Commission, town engineers agreed to painted bicycle lanes on both sides of Boulevard between South Main Street and Mountain Road. This would be a shift away from the current sharrows, which have been proven dangerous. It would delete only one of the two publicly subsidized car storage lanes. This would make it safer for people to bike to the grocery store, to the West Hartford Reservoir, to jobs in Hartford. Currently, there is no east-west route in town with complete and connected bicycle infrastructure. 

All of this would be consistent with what more and more West Hartford residents are showing they want. During this year’s Celebrate West Hartford town festival, valet bike parking demonstrated what was possible. Using space usually designated for two cars, they were able to fit 50 bicycles at a time, and it was filled. Nearly 200 people used the bicycle valet station. This count does not include those who biked to the event and chose to lock up elsewhere. You can’t ignore hundreds of people on bicycles the way you could try to ignore one or two. Discussion of the former UConn campus redevelopment has shown the residents support more housing and they want it to be designed to support the town’s Vision Zero goals. Norms are shifting.

West Hartford is not special. Its neighbor to the east is experiencing this same issue. While we’re learning that summer Arctic ice is about to be history, with carbon emissions clearly the cause of this impending loss, a few Hartford residents are choosing to be part of the problem by trying to preserve the status quo. The pattern is familiar: despite multiple announcements of public meetings about the proposed Asylum Avenue road diet, a couple people claimed they were uninformed about these. To mollify them, more meetings were scheduled in Asylum Hill. Five months later, the process continues to be dragged out, now with a public hearing scheduled for the end of June. The level of fuss is what one might expect from a proposed freeway closure, not from simply making better use of underutilized parking and travel lanes.  

Norms for street design have changed, and zoning regulations are headed in this same direction. This year’s Drive Less CT Climate Challenge exceeded its goals with participants eliminating almost 27,000 car trips and preventing over 374,000 lbs. of carbon emissions during the challenge period. In less than two weeks, Connecticut’s e-bike rebate program launches. Electric bicycles are outpacing electric vehicle sales. Those wanting to see change can no longer be discounted as outliers.

With images of urine-soaked East Coast skylines not yet faded from memory, we could show that we have learned something from this moment in the unnaturally neon red sun. When there are opportunities to reduce carbon emissions, we must take them. We can act as if we want more breathable air, even if we didn’t start the fire.

Kerri Ana Provost is a Hartford-based writer who also publishes at

The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of or any of the author's other employers.