Op-Ed: CTfastrak brings chance to re-create our downtowns

Christine Schilke
Christine Schilke

Roughly 60 years ago, we as a state and a nation began placing greater value on the car, building great expanses of roads to carry our automobiles through and around our cities.  The idea was to connect us, quickly and easily depositing us from city to suburb and back again.

While noble, this method of planning was deeply flawed.

Rather than connecting us, we became increasingly isolated.  Instead of actively engaging in our downtowns – living, working, shopping and recreating all in the same dense area – we now simply visited our commercial centers during daylight hours for work or errands, retreating to our suburban homes each night, and leaving desolate urban areas in our wake.

Op-ed submit bugEven our quaint Main Streets weren’t safe from the restless, relentless auto, as greater emphasis was placed on parking rather than encouraging visitors to stroll along the sidewalks.

But with CTFastrak, we have an extraordinary opportunity to begin changing all that.

CTfastrak is Connecticut’s bus rapid transit system that links points between Hartford and New Britain with a dedicated bus corridor, bypassing traffic on I-84 and local streets in this heavily-congested area. It is scheduled to open for passenger service in early 2015.

The timing couldn’t be better as interest in living in auto-centric neighborhoods rapidly declines, most notably among Millennials and Baby Boomers – the former of which Connecticut desperately needs to attract and retain, the latter of which Connecticut has in droves.

In fact, a recent poll by the American Planning Association found that 56 percent of Millennials and 46 percent of active boomers would prefer to live in a walkable community, whether an urban, suburban or small town setting.

Building a vibrant mix of housing, retail and commercial uses in the half-mile radius surrounding the CTFastrak stations will further enhance these areas, attracting development, interest and jobs.  The tax revenue per acre for these types of developments is much better for a municipality’s bottom line than traditional car-oriented development.  Other studies have found that for every new unit of housing built downtown, up to $39,000 is spent there.

What’s unlikely to occur, however, when this type of smaller, affordable housing arrives is an influx of children and increased taxes – an insidious myth that refuses to subside.  In fact, the truth is that most of the state’s municipalities are projected to see a significant decline in their school-age population over the next decade.

With CTfastrak comes the opportunity to create and re-create our downtowns and Main Streets, using the lessons learned from the last several decades.  We’ve learned that when people not only work, shop and recreate downtown but also live there, we create 24-hour neighborhoods that offer activity and a sense of security by providing eyes on the street, as well as a constant supply of customers for our local businesses.

Thankfully, many are catching on to the benefits that will come with CTFastrak.  Governor Malloy recently announced the creation of a $15 million Transit Oriented Development fund to encourage development in the CTFastrak and New Haven-Hartford-Springfield rail towns.  And organizations like Young Energetic Solutions (YES) – a statewide steering committee of young professionals advocating for the creation of vibrant Connecticut communities with whom we partner – are promoting just such types of transit and neighborhoods.

With CTFastrak, Connecticut once again has a chance to create its future.  By building communities that support, encourage and use non-auto methods of transport, we will return to communities that truly connect us, bringing us together instead of driving us apart.

Christine Schilke is communications manager at the Connecticut Main Street Center in Hartford.

 

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