How Public Transit And Bike Lanes Will Reshape New Britain

downtown-new-britain

Young people are moving back to cities in greater and greater numbers, changing the demographics and interest in urban living for the better. To meet the challenges of these young and vibrant citizens, many municipalities are scrambling to come up with transportation solutions that appeal to Millennials like myself. By 2030, New Britain will be a much different, and much better place than it is today.

But I can proudly and truly say that the humble metropolis of New Britain, Connecticut, where I live is doing more than most to make this former manufacturing center a place to live and play again. This includes a Bus Rapid Transit system, the addition of many miles of new bike lanes, and major reinvestment in downtown that is one of the many reasons I decided to buy my own home in a city many people have written off as beyond repair.

The 9.4 mile CT Fastrak Bus Rapid Transit system between New Britain and the state capital of Hartford is perhaps the most important element to New Britain’s future success. Originally conceived over a decade ago and passed through two Republican governors, the project was finally given the greenlight by current Democratic Governor Dan Malloy. With buses running every five minutes between several different stations connecting to strategically-located stops in New Britain, Newington, West Hartford, and Hartford, the busway will allow residents to skip the congested I-84 highway on their way to working at one of the many insurance agencies residing in downtown Hartford.

It also means I can get drunk at the downtown bars and ride the bus to the station nearest my house for less than the cost of a beer, and without ever having to get behind the wheel of a car. That’s an especially big perk for students at CCSU (my alma mater, I should note), who have limited bar options in the immediate area but are subject to frequent DUI checkpoints. The busway opens to the public on March 28th, 2015, and I plan to be a frequent user of public transit once it opens up.

busway

Unfortunately, the nearest station is still about two miles away, and while I’m an avid runner, I’m also sweat profusely. The answer? A bicycle of course, which plays into the growing number of bike lanes all across the city. Under (Republican!) Mayor Erin Stewart, the number of marked bike lanes has swelled, and because the CT Fastrak buses will have front-mounted bike racks, I can bring it with me on my journey downtown. Or I can take one of the many “feeder” buses that goes by my house, which will increase in frequency once the busway is operational.

These two changes will have a profound impact on New Britain, especially the downtown area which has been largely neglected for decades. But Mayor Stewart is investing more money into beautifying downtown ahead of the busway’s opening, and the effort is attracting businesses and people to an area once avoided. I predict a new wave of bars and clubs will open up downtown, specifically on Arch Street, which was once known as a happenin’ place to be. New businesses will come downtown too, especially if Mayor Stewart keeps good on her promise to bring the (exorbitant) tax rate down, after raising them to make up for years of budget deficits.

More businesses will move to New Britain too, drawn by low property values and historic factory buildings begging to be remade into high-end apartments and offices. CCSU plans to build dorms and classrooms downtown, bringing more students (and their money) downtown, and further encouraging development to cater to their needs. New Britain has a huge art crowd too, drawn by dozens of unique murals all over the city, as well as the artists co-op and world-renowned New Britain Museum of American Art that houses pieces from many famous American artists.

All the pieces are there to turn New Britain into a young, vibrant, and culturally diverse city that’s also a lot more affordable than surrounding areas like West Hartford and Farmington. People will take bikes and buses to work, and eventually the main downtown area could even be closed off to all vehicle traffic, giving the city back to the people who live there and promoting street fairs, farmers markets, and other such events that would bring people back into the city.

As far away as 2030 seems, everyday the future looks a lot brighter for New Britain, Connecticut.

This post was generously sponsored by the Masdar Engage Blogging Contest. Want to win a free trip to Abu Dhabi Sustainability Contest in Masdar City? Read all about the contest at the link above, and if you want to enter your own story about what your city will look like in 2030, head over here.

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