Thursday, March 22, 2018

Opinion: Main Street Must Not Be a Highway Armature

Submitted by Catherine Johnson, former member of the Planning and Zoning Commission.
As a city, we should make clear to the DOT that solutions for Route 9 need to guarantee 3 things.

  1. First, that the downtown streets are to remain intact as places for business and living, and not to be used as an armature of the highway system.  Dumping traffic onto a small side street is an invasion of thru traffic into a cohesive neighborhood, however humble it may appear. It will tear apart yet another walkable quarter of the downtown. Any traffic management technique that will take a slow-speed, robust street as Rapallo at different times of day, and turns it into a hostile place we have to defend ourselves from, is a proposal that we shall reject.
  2. Second, we need to make certain we never build anything that would preclude us having transit connections within the next 10 years. A great number of the disadvantages of traffic passing through downtown Middletown can be alleviated if we re-established regional train service. Every tiny town in Fairfield County has had their rail service re-ignited in the past 10 years with new stations built along historic rail lines. Why is central CT treated like a undeserving backwater not entitled to join the rest of the modern world and the east coast rail system? Taking that Rapallo Avenue parcels for a flyover lane will remove the  chance for us and the state to connect east/west to north/south, Waterbury to Willimantic and Old Saybrook to the Airport.
  3. Third, any discussion of RT 9 - whether it's about the lights or anything else - cannot take place without a discussion of what the whole length of river-adjacent RT 9 should look like, from Cromwell to the Silver Street exit. We are never invited to talk about a long-range vision for re-establishing connection across the great divide of the highway, even though Middletown is one of the few cities right on the bank  of the CT River. It is rare and special and connections from Main Street to the water need to be reinforced, not further pushed apart. We don't want artificial, overly complicated solutions, nor high-speed connections or anything else with highway vocabulary. 

We are a city first, and a city with a highway passing through it second. The correct hierarchy needs to be understood so when making decisions, more weight is given to the comfort of the person walking or biking, maintaining commerce on local streets, and extending the DNA of the downtown to the water, before the ease of accommodating large volumes of traffic.

Traffic passes through other cities within a minimal dimension, while inviting local enjoyment of their riverfronts. So can we.

Here’s one example of how they do it. The highway is kept very narrow so the riverfront park is maximized, people can cross from one side to the other easily and buildings can be close by. Through-traffic runs below the key intersections, which require no lights. Narrow lanes slow the traffic for the length of the city, so fatal accidents are reduced.


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