Thursday, March 20, 2008

...and leave the driving to us!

Today's News-Times online edition has good news for everyone who commutes between Danbury and Waterbury. Three buses during peak commuting hours could potentially take 120 cars off the road. That hardly puts a dent in the 7,000 cars that make the trip each day, but it's a start. And it's better than doing nothing.

HART expansion proposal would expand bus service to Waterbury
By Mike Russo Staff Writer
Article Last Updated: 03/20/2008 09:38:52 AM EDT

NEWTOWN - The bus stops here, or at least it could.

Two proposed expansions of Housatonic Area Regional Transit, which now operates 14 routes, could add bus service here as early as September and help commuters who would rather ride than drive.

More than 7,000 vehicles travel on Interstate 84 from Danbury and Waterbury each day, according to Richard Shreiner, director of service development at HART. An estimated 900 vehicles travel between Newtown and Danbury alone.

"It is one of the most congested corridors in the state," he said.

Shreiner said there are currently 20 Newtown businesses with employees who commute from the Danbury and Waterbury areas.

Shreiner presented an overview of a December 2007 feasibility study and potential bus routes through Newtown to the Board of Selectmen on Monday night.

Proposed plans for the Danbury to Waterbury line suggest a Newtown bus terminal located off Exit 10. The bus would make three round trips during peak traveling hours in the morning and the evening.

"Bus service during the peak period would allow more options," he said.

Friday, March 14, 2008

265 Main Street

The Main Street post office opened for business on September 2, 1916. The city's four wards met at a point in the middle of the street directly in front of the post office, so it literally was at the center of town.

This week the News-Times reported that the USPS is considering whether to close the downtown post office. This doesn't really come as a surprise, since all mail processing operations were moved to the Backus Avenue facility over a year ago. The Main Street location now serves mostly as a retail facility, selling stamps, accepting packages and letters, and providing over 800 post office boxes. It still serves a useful function, say business owners and residents of the downtown area, who would incur the added expense of driving to the Backus Avenue branch. The possibility of opening a new, smaller facility at an alternate location, still convenient to downtown, has not been ruled out, but the 92-year-old building on Main Street probably won't figure into those plans unless we give the USPS a reason to include it. There's no reason that the newer, smaller facility couldn't be included in a plan for renovating the building for multiple uses. A New England town without a downtown post office is not really a town.

Several people are already putting forth ideas for new uses for the building, which would require extensive interior renovations in any case. I think this might be just the opportunity we've been waiting for to begin a revitalization project similar to Norwalk's efforts in its SoNo district. The building is centrally located, within walking distance of both the HART pulse point and the Metro-North train station. We need a coalition of citizens to start making plans, and if things don't work out with this particular building, then they can also begin looking at other possibilities near the downtown center. Whatever we do, please let's not allow the building to get snapped up by the usual developers who will put it to the usual uses. The last thing downtown Danbury needs is another dormitory.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Metro-North Railroad Celebrates 25 Years

In 1852, when the Danbury & Norwalk Railroad started operation, a one-way trip on the 23.6 mile line took 75 minutes using two Hinkley Steam Engines named "The Danbury" and "The Norwalk." The route was electrified in 1925 and de-electrified in 1961. We've been talking about re-electrifying it for as long as I can remember. You can read the March 2006 Electrification Feasibility Study here in a 2.5MB PDF, and you can get an overview here at the Danbury Branch Electrification Feasibility Study website.

Over the decades, the operation of the line changed hands several times, and you can read more about the history of the Danbury Branch Rail Line here at the Housatonic Valley Council of Elected Officials website.

In 1983, Metro-North Commuter Railroad was formed, and Connecticut's Department of Transportation became the owner of the Danbury-Norwalk Branch Line in 1985, with Metro-North operating the passenger service. In 2007, Metro-North ridership exceeded 80 million passengers, setting a new record. Many of those commuters are on the ten round trips per day between Danbury and Norwalk, and probably at least as many, if not more, drive from the Greater Danbury area to use Metro-North stations in Croton Falls, Katonah, Brewster, and Southeast.

If you have been following this blog, you know that I am a fan of both public transportation and architecture, especially Art Deco. So of course I must also mention that Grand Central Terminal was showing the signs of years of neglect when, in 1988, Metro-North began a $200 million modernization, preservation, and redevelopment program. The building was restored, new retail and dining spaces were added, tracks were updated, and the utility systems were modernized. The Kodak photo marquee was removed to reveal more windows, and the ceiling was cleaned to reveal the constellations. Free tours of Grand Central are offered every Wednesday and Friday, and you can read more about them here at the Grand Central Terminal website.

To celebrate its 25th year of operation, Metro-North Railroad and the New York Transit Museum are presenting an exhibition entitled, "A Railroad Reborn: Metro-North at 25." This free exhibit is located in the New York Transit Museum's Gallery Annex next to the Station Master's office in Grand Central Terminal, and it will be open to the public through July 6, 2008. On Saturday, April 5th, the Transit Museum and MTA Arts for Transit will team up with Metro-North to present a unique tour of artwork at Grand Central Terminal and select stations along the Hudson Line. Arts for Transit staff will be joined by artists who will talk about art and design in transit facilities and discuss details of the transit art projects inspired by each community. You can find more details and learn more about the New York Transit Museum, located in Brooklyn Heights, and its Gallery Annex at Grand Central Station, here at the Museum's webpage.

Photo by David Iliff, for WikiMedia. Used under a Creative Commons Attribution license. Click here to see a larger image of the photo, and click here to see more awesome photos by David Iliff. Many thanks to Roxanne Robertson, Director for Special Projects for the New York Transit Museum, for bringing the 25th anniversary of Metro-North and the exhibit to my attention.