Saturday, June 30, 2007

CT ranks 7th in most congested highways

Gee, it seems as if no one knows quite how it happened, and no one knows what we can do about it. We build, we widen, and still there's traffic congestion. A dedicated bus lane on I-95 is deemed "impractical." New cars on order for Metro-North will barely replace aging cars that will be taken out of service. Bus service between New Britain and Hartford? Forget it! [And bus service between Danbury and Waterbury? Not a chance!]

What to do? What to do? Oh, of course! Build more highways!

[Link to story at,]

Study says state's traffic getting worse
By Rob Varnon
Another study found Connecticut's traffic is getting worse, but offered no concrete solutions to address the problem.

The California-based Reason Foundation published its annual report on state highways Thursday and, to almost no one's surprise, found Connecticut commuters drive the seventh most congested urban interstates in the country.

This is the foundation's 16th year of studying the condition and maintenance of roads. Connecticut's overall ranking inched up one spot from 40th to 39th -- due in part to Connecticut having the second fewest fatalities on roads during 2005, the year upon which the foundation based its study.

"If a kid consistently brings home F's and D's on his report card and suddenly gets a C, he should get a little credit," said Robert Poole Jr., the foundation's director of transportation research, on Connecticut's better ranking.

Poole said Connecticut has consistently ranked poorly because it spends a great deal of money with little to show for it, except the low fatality rate. That might also be attributable to congestion, however, as Poole said speed is a major factor in most fatalities and the states with the highest rates, like Montana, tend to be less congested with higher speed limits.

Connecticut's problems are well known to Poole, who worked at Stratford-based Sikorsky Aircraft in the 1960s. He said the roads were congested then and he suspects they're worse today.

"A lot of states are in the same boat," Poole said. It's a case where Americans aren't willing to take on the costs of building new routes, he said.

"America has to have a serious debate about transportation," he said.

But getting something done quickly, according to Poole and other experts, seems doubtful because people are looking for cheap solutions, which don't exist. He said it's going to cost money and people need to prepare for new taxes and tolls to cover it. However, to do nothing won't make the problem go away either, he said; in fact, it will just get more expensive.

Michelle Ernst, analyst for the New York-based Tri-State Transportation Campaign, said the foundation's study mirrored results of her own. Tri-State is also a research institute focused on transportation issues in the New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut area.

Like many studies, the foundation's doesn't address the question people are asking more and more, she said, "How do I improve my quality of life right now?"

It's well documented that I-95 and the Merritt Parkway are carrying more cars during rush hour than they were designed for and trains running on the Metro-North New Haven Line are near capacity during rush hour. Many train commuters will say the trains are over capacity now, because it's nearly impossible to get a seat into New York City during the morning rush after Westport.

The state's programs to improve transportation include buying more than 200 railcars, but the first deliveries of those won't come until 2009. While this will ultimately increase the size of the rail fleet, studies by the DOT in the late 1990s and earlier this decade, indicated those cars have been needed for several years as either replacements for ones that are failing or to match today's ridership.

Road improvements remain limited and have often dragged on for years.

Ernst said a planned express bus service between New Britain and Hartford could provide some relief, but she added the project has been in the planning stages for more than a decade.

She also said dedicating a lane to buses on I-95, a three-lane highway, probably is impractical. But, the state might be able to use congestion pricing -- in the form of a high-occupancy toll lane -- to address the problem sooner than later.

Ernst said cars carrying more than two or three people pay no fees, but those with just one are charged. Theoretically, this would encourage car sharing and reduce traffic.

Another possible solution to traffic congestion would be changing land-use patterns to encourage development around transit hubs, like bus and train stations.

Rob Varnon, who covers business for The Connecticut Post, can be reached at (203) 330-6216.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Summertime Festival on the Green

The Summertime Festival on the Green opened last night with a pops concert from our own Danbury Symphony Orchestra, thanks in large part to the generosity of long-time Danbury Music Centre supporters Fred and Joan Weisman, who were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary with many of their friends.

It's hard to imagine summer in Danbury without the Green now, but its existence came about almost by accident. I've tried to find articles from the News-Times on the subject, but they are safely hidden away in the archives, or more likely were never preserved in digital form to begin with, so I'm relying on my memory here. If any of you readers have better recall than I do—and I'm sure you do—please speak up.

As I remember it, this block was cleared many years ago with the intention of selling it to developers, but it sat unused, perhaps as long as the current site of the Terrance P. McNally Parking Garage languished in concrete and rebar disrepair. At the same time, the market for office space in downtown Danbury crashed. Then some enterprising and visionary souls conceived of and organized the summer concert series and September's Taste of Danbury on this empty and unused plot of land.

When the real estate market picked up again, and the property was to be sold for development, a loud protest rose up from the citizens of Danbury—so loud that even City Hall heard and obeyed. The space remained open, and has been improved and maintained to the beauty that you see here today, thanks to the efforts of CityCenter Danbury and the Danbury Downtown Council. The Green is framed on three sides by the aforesaid parking garage—which is really quite attractive as parking garages go—and brick buildings both old and new. Dining opportunities in the immediate vicinity include Two Steps Downtown Grille, Ciao's, and the newly opened Bella Luna.

The Summertime Festival schedule and more photos are here at the new CityCenter website. See you next Thursday for Dr. Ya Ya's Gumbo band, Friday for The Glamour Girls, or Saturday for Seeking Homer? (Speaking of gumbo, try the chicken and sausage gumbo at Two Steps Downtown Grille before the concert!)

By the way, the original Danbury Green was the median strip of Main Street that we know today as Elmwood Park. I'll have some photos of it in its full summertime blooming glory in the next week or two.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

276 Main Street

This is without a doubt one of the most attractive buildings on Main Street. Look at the cornice and the detail over each window. It has an attractive storefront that welcomes pedestrians, and the upper floors both appear to be occupied. It does look a little lonely, though. I imagine that once upon a time there might have been an entire block of buildings of similar height and utility, but over the years they were torn down in order to put up something "more modern."

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Living Locally

I'm taking a class on Digital Libraries this semester, and I discovered this extraordinary video library today.


In particular, I found this video of James Howard Kunstler, whom I mentioned in an early post as one of the influences that prompted me to start this blog. In Mr. Kunstler's view,
"public spaces should be inspired centers of civic life and the physical manifestation of the common good. Instead, he argues, what we have in America is a nation of places not worth caring about. Reengineering our cities will involve more radical change than we are prepared for, Kunstler believes, but our hand will be forced by earth crises stemming from our national lifestyle. 'Life in the mid-21st century," Kunstler says, "is going to be about living locally.'"

I urge you to watch all 20 minutes of the talk. Some of the photos he shows will remind you of similar places in and around Danbury, so while you're watching, think about the best and the worst civic features of Danbury, and what we can do to enhance the best and redesign the worst.