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Letter: A Center for the People

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To the Editor:

Over the past two years, the project to reimagine and redesign West Hartford Center has generated a tremendous amount of public discussion. One thing that all sides agree upon is that it is people and vibrant businesses, not automobiles, which make the Center a vibrant destination. In fact, automobiles detract from the Center experience. They create congestion and pollution and at times threaten human safety.

A vigorous debate is taking place over how much of the public right-of-way in the redesigned Center should be devoted to automobiles vs. people. The challenge is finding a design that accommodates the transportation choices of visitors to the Center, but also creates a plenty of vibrant outdoor space for them to enjoy the experience. The town’s consultant showed us what that could look like with an innovative plan that included narrower roads, wide sidewalks and outdoor dining areas, and which drew strong public support.

To the great disappointment of many, in response to complaints from some business owners and landlords in the Center, the town appears to have rejected that plan for one that devotes the vast majority of the public right-of-way to automobiles. The few additional parking spaces produced in this new design by angled rather than parallel parking won’t meaningfully benefit the businesses in the Center. But they will swallow up an enormous amount of valuable space in the public right-of-way that could otherwise be devoted to people for dining, strolling, resting, riding bikes, etc. This is particularly frustrating because the town’s consultant has documented the surplus of unused parking spaces in the Center, many of which are in surface lots in very close proximity to the businesses.

The community has already expressed a clear vision of how they would like to see public space in the Center divided between people and automobiles. In response to an online survey in 2022, a strong majority of respondents indicated a preference for “dedicated outdoor dining space” and “widened sidewalk walking space” over “angled on-street parking” on both Farmington Avenue and LaSalle Road. It wasn’t even close.

The town has a very important decision to make in the near future. It can select a design for the Center that creates vibrant spaces for people, making it an even more desirable regional commercial destination, to the benefit of the community and Center businesses, while also providing safe access to the abundant parking spaces in and around the Center. Or it can go all in for automobiles, clogging the roadways, polluting the air, and making the Center a much less desirable destination than it could be.

The people have spoken very clearly that they want a Center designed for people, not automobiles. Will the town honor that aspiration?

Edward Pawlak
Chair, West Hartford Pedestrian and Bicycle Commission

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1 Comment

  • West Hartford Center did well and thrived before Covid when we had parallel parking on Farmington Ave and had 4 lanes of automobile traffic. Like Mr. Pawlak says, the voters have said their priority is to keep/expand the outdoor dining and sidewalk space. To remove 2 lanes of car traffic and give some of back to parking instead of using that space for wide sidewalks, green-space and permanent dining space doesn’t make sense. There’s no reason to take valuable public space and add angled in parking on Farmington Ave when we did well for years without it. I hope the town leaders reverse course and prioritize our outdoor dining, sidewalks and green-space over creating larger parking areas for cars on Farmington Ave.

    This also goes for LaSalle which has always had angled in parking but with making one side of LaSalle parallel parking you could gain so much space for side walks, businesses and green-space. It would be sad to see the town give away this public space for parking for generations to come instead of use it towards adding to a vibrant, walkable downtown.

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