NB Politicus

It May Be A "Magic Bus" After All: NB As The Center Of Rapid Transit

Posted in downtown, environment, Hard Hittin' New Britain, transportation by nbpoliticus on January 26, 2014

CT Fastraks — called the “magic bus” to critics such as former Governor John Rowland — will start rolling 12 months from now (February 2015) on the 9.3-mile rail right of way from New Britain to Hartford.

The New Britain Herald’s Scott Whipple previews the potential of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) for New Britain folks using the bus to get to Hartford’s theater and cultural institutions in a Sunday story.

At drive time I’ve listened to WTIC’s Rowland carp about a project (ironically) launched during his time in the Governor’s office.

But next winter I am counting on it to get to the job in Hartford instead of sitting in stalled traffic on I-84.  It just so happens that the I-84 trek that intersects with I-91in Hartford has the most traffic volume anywhere in the nation. Not surprising given the limits and difficulty of what CT Transit busses currently offer.

New Britain’s Terminal Takes Shape (CT DOT)

Right now, if the work day in downtown Hartford takes me past 5:30 pm, I’ll miss the last departure for the “2” Express to the commuter lot at Brittany Farms.  I am left to get home some other way.  The CT Fastraks — BRT or Bus Rapid Transit is a better name — will keep going well into the night for the same regular bus fares we pay now.

For New Britain  the BRT system means a lot more than getting back and forth from Hartford for work, school or seeing the sites. The  terminal being built at the old Greenfield’s site is the only stop with a significant amount of parking.  The two large municipal garages are expected to be utilized in an a yet to be defined arrangement between the city and the state Department of Transportation.

With ample parking and unused, long vacant commercial property in the center of New Britain,  BRT  is setting downtown up for  transit-oriented developments in retail, housing and new businesses. A small-scale renaissance is possible bringing people and commerce back after they left for the malls and the burbs a generation ago. Not exactly the “magic bus” Rowland and the naysayers are predicting.

Critics like Rowland linger. They predict low ridership will turn the region’s first real stab at rapid transit into a boondoggle.   But more knowledgeable opponents who favored rail over a BRT system are resigned to making the project work as part of a network inclusive of rail or other options that will reduce traffic on the deteriorating I-84/I-91 corridor and connect communities for work, school and just getting around.

Twelve months and counting.

Virtual Busway Tour Starting At New Britain Station

Posted in downtown, transportation by nbpoliticus on July 29, 2013

A special section in The Hartford Courant has an interactive tour of the the New Britain to Hartford rapid bus transit system a/k/a “CTfastrak”  as provided by the CT  Department of Transportation at its project website www.ctfastrak.com

The state Bond Commission this month allocated $500,000 for transit-oriented development in the downtown district. The busses of the long-awaited and much-debated busway are scheduled to start running in early 2015.

Busway Advances: Rapid Transit Wins Over Purchase of 28,000 Jeep Patriots

Posted in economic development, transportation by nbpoliticus on April 30, 2011

Last week the arguments against Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) along the I-84 corridor were less about choosing rail over buses and more about opposing any public investment at all in commuter transportation.

On April 29th, the state Bond Commission approved $90 million for the New Britain-Hartford bus way, the lion’s share of state investment in a $567 million project in line to receive $455 million in federal transportation funds.

GOP State Senator Andrew Roraback, in a Hail Mary salvo before the bond vote, equated the cost of  Central Connecticut’s first legitimate initiative on mass transit as the equivalent of purchasing 28,000 Jeep Patriots for  every resident of New Milford, one of the towns in his district.  Roraback’s ridiculous comparison didn’t exactly advance environmentalism nor rail.  Think of all those Jeeps (22 city/28 Highway) on I-84 and their carbon footprint in 2020!

Public transportation needs to encompass more than folks in the Northwest Hills hopping into their SUVs and getting a more convenient train into New York. It needs to be about working people getting to their jobs in cities. It needs to be about the Hartford student without a car being able to get to his CCSU classes on time.

Using fuzzy math, State Senator Jason Welch (R-31) told a constituent that the Busway will be a “boondoggle” and that light rail could be built at “10 percent”of the cost of the BRT.  Welch’s opposition clearly led him to start making up numbers on a light rail system. Say what you will about the BRT, but building rail infrastructure in this region, especially light rail, won’t be cheap.  At best a rail alternative is a $1 billion idea that is up to a decade away before any environmental and economic return on investments could be realized for the region.

There is an abundance of research on the costs and impact of rail versus BRTs.  BRTs have been shown to be flexible and effective as part of public transportation systems in metro areas around the world.  Certainly BRTs are not the end all for what a good transit system should be like in central Connecticut. But it is a start at reducing auto use and revitalizing urban areas which should be the priority of policymakers whether they come from cities or suburbs.

We’ve heard better arguments from opponents of the BRT than those made by Republicans Roraback and Welch this past week.  A boondoggle would really be occurring if the Governor had said no to the Busway thereby throwing the more than $65 million already invested in the project down the drain.

It makes you wonder. Had the Busway started in Bristol or Waterbury would these same opponents west of New Britain still be opposed? Or would they be hailing it as a necessary investment of public transportation dollars as economic stimulus (jobs) and every bit as good for the environment as any train?

Take That Bristol: The Case For Buses Over Rail

Posted in economic development, transportation by nbpoliticus on November 30, 2010

Buses Are the Answer: Developing a vibrant bus network would cost peanuts, compared with high-speed rail options.

Trains will never
Leave the gate;
Buses seem
A wiser fate.
With all due respect to President Barack Obama and the $8 billion he’s dishing out to the states for high-speed rail, it’s too late.
Fast trains have been overtaken by gradual events. America has become too populous and too spread out to allow enough rights-of-way to be acquired ever again.
Unlike Europe and Japan, we didn’t develop compact cities and towns. Instead, we sprawled them all over the countryside. OK, there’s plenty of room to run new lines in Nebraska and Idaho, but try Illinois or Georgia. It won’t work.
Still, the principle of getting travelers off planes is sound. Osama bin Laden has seen to that. Air travel has always been plagued with traffic congestion, mercurial fares, skyrocketing fees, baggage loss, bad weather, and mechanical glitches. Now there are unpredictable security lines as well. How many of us relish a plane trip anymore? Automatic check-in has helped, but not enough. What to do?
One alternative to shorter flights is, as I’ve argued before, the bus. Yes, the much maligned bus.
New bus systems have already captured the fancy of transit riders in Cleveland and the San Fernando Valley. Other burgeoning bus hotspots around the world include Beijing, Bogota, Brisbane, and Curitiba. Increasingly, these schemes are staving off additional subways wherever roads are wide enough to provide an exclusive lane.
But it’s not just local ridership that’s growing. Long-distance coach travel is swelling too. “Chinatown buses,” for many years a cheap option for traveling between major Northeast Corridor destinations such as Boston, New York, and Washington, DC, have expanded to 30 cities, reviving the ghost of Greyhound past.
The Interstate Highway System laid the foundation for long-haul bus service during the Eisenhower administration. Most countries didn’t have that kind of historic culture-altering, budget-busting initiative.
Back then, it was called the “Defense” Transportation Act, as was every other boondoggle of the day. It didn’t do much to deter the Soviets but it sure was great for road builders and automakers.
As fate would have it, it could also now be great for buses. We just need a little additional subsidized infrastructure. So let’s think what federal transportation subsidies could do if reallocated.
Since express buses can’t creep into every city, they need a dedicated terminal out on the interstate for picking up, dropping off and transferring passengers to other routes. They also need local transit services in each city to meet the express and scoot its arrivals into town. For the system to really succeed, it requires nifty new vehicles with real rest rooms, TV, internet, snack bar, and an attendant to approximate existing train and plane rides. And unlike trains, we even have American companies that can still manufacture these buses.
Of course such a system would cost money. But the cost would be peanuts compared to new rail lines, expanded airports, or added highway lanes. Amtrak, for example, wants to spend $117 billion over the next 30-years on high-speed rail just on the East Coast.
And the benefits would be huge. Like trains, buses with their more frequent schedules and convenience could attract air travelers away from short air hops and draw drivers out of their cars for the longer hauls.
Nor would these buses have to speed to reach their destinations in a timely fashion. Highway speed limits are high enough. More important are the low fares, convenient schedules, comfort, reliable connections and easy access.
Sure, high-speed trains have advantages, especially over longer routes. But it’s time for our nation to face reality. There’s no money and no lobby for trains and ‘they’re not likely to appear.
Express buses are a far cheaper, better bet for getting large numbers of riders off those short-trip airplanes.
OtherWords columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative and a former mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut.
from Other Words, formerly Minuteman Media: a project of the Institute for Policy Studies


Shared with permission under Creative Commons

Desperation from Busway Opponents?

Posted in downtown, transportation by nbpoliticus on February 15, 2010

The arguments of opponents to the the New Britain-Hartford busway have a ring of obstructionism and desperation  in this Courant story by Don Stacom.  

With news of $45 million in federal money for a busway to leverage other funds,  the project may finally see a  light at the end-of-the-tunnel. It’s a little specious to oppose public transit because it will deny the DOT funds for highway and bridge repair.  It would seem some extra recovery money might be found to keep the bridges safe and the roads paved. And it’s not at all clear the busway will kill off the more ambitious, regional rail concepts that are only concepts at this point. 

Blocking the busway now might doom this part of Connecticut to just  more autos along the I-84 corridor for the foreseeable future.  However limited putting a lane alongside the railroad bed is, the busway has reached a tipping point as a realistic way to move public transit forward in central Connecticut.

And not to be parochial but New Britain has suffered too much from the 9/72 highway that cut the center of the city in two in the early 70s.  The busway is a start at making amends for that disaster and the highway mentality that brought it about.

Funds Coming For New Haven To Hartford Rail: Does This Mean They’ll Get The Hole In the Train’s Roof Fixed?

Posted in transportation by nbpoliticus on August 1, 2009

Measured against the hundreds of millions invested in the 11-mile New Britain-Hartford bus way, a $4 million appropriation to start “preliminary work” on high-speed rail on the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield Amtrak line doesn’t seem like much.

The FY 2010 federal appropriation that surfaced last week is, according to Sen. Chris Dodd, a “down payment” toward improving an under-utilized and rickety Amtrak trunk line that charges fares considerably above Metro North’s New Haven to Grand Central run.

Testimony abounds on the need for Amtrak upgrades — even ones that don’t have “high speed” attached to them but would make a world of difference. Last summer I had to get back to Hartford from New Haven without an auto. The early afternoon shuttle in New Haven took me north without incident. But the conditions in the train car were a reminder of the investments needed to make a New Haven to Hartford train run a first choice for commuters going to and from two of Connecticut’s big cities. It was a hot July day with plenty of thunderstorms. Air conditioning would have been one of the amenities you’d expect for 11 bucks. No luck. I did get cooled off somewhat when the train jolted and a big splash of water came down on the seat next to me from a leak in the roof. Good thing my attache case is waterproof.

My experience says a lot about Amtrak’s perpetual financial and service delivery problems — another area where stimulus bucks would be well spent to rebuild infrastructure. I’d have to look it up but I suspect other industrialized nations are light (rail) years ahead of the U.S. on mass transit. They recognize public subsidies — not D.C. bean counters looking for a profit – are necessary to keep rail going for enough people to help an economy and save money on fuel. On the rebuilding infrastructure side, Michael Moore’s idea to turn idle car factories into bus and rail production is a common sense idea that policy makers should jump on.

My minor complaints aside, the existing rail service on up to Springfield is an unsupported adjunct for every day commuters or travelers wanting to get up to Massachusetts, Vermont and Canada and find easier connections moving down the Northeast corridor to New York and Washington.

So it’s a good move to get that New Haven-Hartford-Springfield spike up to scale for fast and more convenient rail.

Let’s start a countdown and push for getting it done and hope that the project doesn’t get bogged down as much as the local bus way that we’re still waiting for 10 years after it was proposed.

The Courant’s Rick Green reports The Pioneer Valley Advocates for Commuter Rail are ahead of us on rail advocacy. They’re circulating a petition to make a CT to Western MA rail corridor a reality. You can sign at

Photo Credit: www.kinglyheirs.com/

Railing Against Highways: Is Momentum Building For Expanded Rail, Bus Service?

Posted in economic development, transportation by nbpoliticus on January 31, 2009

Connecticut is a tale of two places when it comes to use of public transportation. There’s the Gold Coast and the Metro North line with hundreds of thousands of riderships on trains that need replacement and upgrade. Then there is the rest of us in central and eastern Connecticut with limited bus services and downtowns where the biggest retail businesses may be parking lots and garages. When he opened his restaurant a few years ago the late Hartford Mayor Mike Peters quipped that he could offer you a $7.50 hamburger but it would cost $10 or more for parking during your visit to Hartford’s central business district.

News stories this week suggest that the policy and plans on mass transit may be getting greener and less dependent on automobiles. A January 30th story by the Courant’s Don Stacom addressed the issue of a new approach and targeted use of federal stimulus money to push public modes of transit and reducing what the Al Gore crowd calls our “carbon footprint.”

The take away from the Hartford meetings attended by legislators and advocates was that it’s time to push a new agenda for the sake of the environment and for economic recovery built around new thinking on transportation. “With the federal stimulus plan moving quickly through Congress, leaders from a variety of alternative transportation fields agreed that they have a narrow window of time to influence how Connecticut uses its share of the money,” noted the news report.

On January 29th, the Courant’s Stacom reported on an even more tangible proposal to activate long dormant railroad tracks on the Waterbury to Hartford route, including stops in New Britain and neighboring towns.

Officials with Pan Am Railways told lawmakers that for $52 million, their company could bring the tracks on the Waterbury-to-Berlin stretch up to federal standards for passenger service and also build small stations in Bristol, Plainville and New Britain

The quick start up idea from Pan Am stands in stark contrast to the slow moving and increasingly costly busway plan first proposed in 1998. This plan would make downtown New Britain the terminal at the former Greenfield’s store site for a bus lane into Hartford aside tracks that are now used infrequently for freight.

State Senator Don DeFronzo (D-New Britain), along with colleagues Rep. Betty Boukus (D-Plainville) and David McCluskey (D-West Hartford) said the Legislature will examine these options toward mass transit closely in the first part of the current session. Joe Marie, the state’s new transportation commissioner, will be looking at this Waterbury to Hartford connector route that could be expanded and linked to local bus service if ridership demands increase. Marie will discover that old and steady habits die hard in Connecticut. But he is a departure from transportation commissioners of the past having come from Boston and the MBTA.

This may signal the end of the line for the New Britain-Hartford busway plan. From the start old transportation regimes said busway was preferable over rail because the ridership wouldn’t justify a rail passenger system. That limited vision seems to have doomed the once promising Griffin line (Hartford to the airport)in the 1980s and left the busway stalled and steeped in cost overruns.

If the Waterbury rail idea gets approval, New Britain’s downtown could benefit from being a stop on the line as much if not more than the busway. Transit-related plans for downtown economic development would stay on track, and residents could get an alternative to I-84 snarls and parking fees.

Commuter Question: Rail Over Busway

Posted in downtown, economic development, transportation by nbpoliticus on January 3, 2009

Today’s Courant story by Don Stacom reports on a brewing change in legislative thinking on public transit in the area led by State Rep. David McCluskey of West Hartford.

McCluskey, disturbed over the lack of progress by the Department of Transportation on the New Britain busway, recently called for dumping the New Britain/Hartford busway as too limited for emerging needs. This would sink New Britain’s terminal station planned for the former Greenfield’s property and force a change in thinking for downtown development.

From Don Stacom’s story:

“The busway was supposed to be a way to keep from building another lane on I-84, but I don’t have much faith that people are going to drive into New Britain to take a bus to Hartford,” McCluskey said. “But would people in Bristol and Plainville and New Britain use a train to Hartford? And would people in West Hartford welcome a way to get to New York? I think so.”

With last summer’s gas prices a harbinger of things to come and a surge in demand for rail service (even in Connecticut), McCluskey has a point. Investment in rail on existing tracks may be where we should have started 10 years ago. It’s another indication that Connecticut has had more of a highway department than a true Department of Transportation through the years.

Related: Rep. McCluskey’s blog frequently reports on transit conferences and meetings at http://ctprogressivedemocrat.blogspot.com/