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Letter: Center Master Plan: Trading Safety, Dining, and Vibrancy for Parking Spaces

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An open letter from Bike West Hartford regarding the West Hartford Center Infrastructure Master Plan.

We need your help to make sure West Hartford doesn’t roll back promises of safety and undo years of summer fun in the Center.

Are 32 street parking spaces worth risking the lives of pedestrians and cyclists? Are those 0.6% of total Center parking spots worth losing the vibrant “gardens of eating” that have made West Hartford Center a unique summer dining destination? That’s the trade-off promoted by the Town of West Hartford’s April 8 “Semi-Final” Center Master Plan.

It didn’t have to be this way. At the initial public workshops in October of 2022, Stantec, our global consultant, was visibly excited about the amount of space that West Hartford is fortunate to work with to benefit residents, visitors, and businesses. They joked that a plane could land on the widest section of LaSalle, and asked us to imagine what we could do with that space for the betterment of all.

And we, as a community, imagined.

Prior to April 8 we had pop-up workshops, four public meetings, and a stakeholder meeting. We answered multiple polls and surveys, scribbled on sticky notes, and dropped over 1,000 pins on an interactive map that has since disappeared from the Town’s website.

And yet despite this, the Semi-Final plan that the Town presented squanders an opportunity to create an accessible, vibrant town center that works for residents, visitors, and businesses. It falls short on West Hartford’s own Vision Zero commitment to support safe, healthy, and equitable mobility. It also precludes potential recommendations from the ongoing Bicycle Facilities Plan.

Changes Coming to LaSalle Road: Say Goodbye to Extensive Outdoor Dining

2024 will be our last year of enjoying sprawling “gardens of eating.” The Semi-Final plan allows for only 6 feet of outdoor dining, the exact same as current conditions during our winter months. This stands in contrast to the 16 feet offered in Option A – our global consultant’s original plan–which most closely mimics the space we’ve been enjoying in summer months since 2020. In other words: future West Hartford Center dining space will be less than what we currently enjoy. We’re replacing our gardens with just a handful of extra parking spaces.

Residents and visitors have loved these spaces and restaurants have reported excellent sales. Who is this plan working for?

Retracting Farmington Avenue Changes: No Safe Access from Trout Brook Trail and New Developments

We can have 10-foot wider sidewalks and protected bike facilities stretching from LaSalle to the Trout Brook Trail – the potential for which has yet to be fully realized – with no change from pre-pandemic street parking conditions. This was the vision in October 2022, when the Director of Community Development said that the Center Master Plan would address connectivity to the Trout Brook Trail. We have ~1,300 residential units in varying stages of development either alongside or within reach of the Trout Brook Trail. Units that were pitched to developers and future residents with the promise of enhanced connectivity and outdoor dining.

Currently, there is no way for any but the most experienced and hardened cyclist to get from the new Trout Brook Trail to the Center. Remember, town ordinance states bicycles are not allowed on sidewalks in and around the Center. By law, even children are forced to ride in the street with traffic.

We’re all concerned about traffic and congestion. The solution is not to prioritize 32 parking spaces. The solution is to provide both existing and new residents with safe, convenient, inclusive options for traveling to and from the Center safely. All the way to the Center. Not a few blocks short of their final destination. Just as we promised.

We want our Gold Bicycle Friendly Community designation because this attracts visitors and new residents. We want people traveling from the future Asylum development, and the Elmwood transportation-oriented development (TOD) district, and the new Beachland Park community center by bicycle or by foot where possible. Despite what some businesses would have us believe, studies increasingly show that bike lanes are good for business. 

Let’s fix this before it’s too late.

We need what our global consultant actually recommended to the Town: remove 32 street parking spaces from their current Semi-Final plan and improve garage visibility. Proceed with our global consultant’s original recommended plan: Option A. 32 spaces might seem like a lot, but those spaces are just 0.6 percent of 5,274 spaces across the entire Center.

Is less than 1% of parking spaces worth more than increased safety, outdoor dining, and business vibrancy?

Instead, let’s keep 99.4% of parking, and expand outdoor dining. Let’s give residents and visitors safe, enjoyable transportation options. Let’s give space for the Holiday Stroll, Moms and More Halloween Stroll, and other events.

If the town doesn’t feel it can currently commit to Option A – again, the original recommendation of our global consultant and the only option that complies with our town’s Complete Streets Policy – then we respectfully request that the Town Council delay the final decision on the Center Master Plan until finalization of the Bicycle Facility Plan, just as the town did with the Boulevard bike lanes.

Please reach out to Town officials at [email protected] and [email protected] to let them know your thoughts on the Center Master Plan, and please feel free to copy us at [email protected].

Tell them that we need Option A for the benefit of everyone in our community–residents, businesses, and visitors alike.


Bike West Hartford, Inc.

Join in on the discussion: Bike West Hartford Discussion Group

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  • If West Hartford officials are serious about Vision Zero they need to realize that change isn’t easy and they cannot please everyone. Not only are they refusing to lose 0.6% of available parking spaces, but motorists will also control the entirety of the road. Giving up 0.6% of parking spaces would mean increasing bike safety by 600% with a separated bike path. West Hartford was just voted the best place to live in Connecticut, but I think we have to start questioning that. Is it the best place for outsiders or residents? Residents are the ones who would benefit from a biking lane; kids, students from nearby Universities, and families could all bring their business to downtown, but now they are forced to get in their cars and fight for the same parking spots as outsiders who don’t pay for construction.

  • Thank you for this clear and compelling message about the town’s backtracking on the extensive outdoor eating areas that we’ve enjoyed for the last 3 years and on recommended plans to provide a safe and inviting way for cyclists and pedestrians to get to the town center. Whose idea were these drastic measures and who benefits from them? Definitely not those of us who have really enjoyed the outdoor dining or the restaurants who attract so much business or the other businesses that attract more passersby to shop. This is a huge step backward for sustainability and general liveability of the town. I’m writing the town council members now! Thanks again.

  • If West Hartford is serious about Vision Zero, it needs to be known that change isn’t easy and we cannot please every loud voice. Not only are they refusing to lose 0.6% of available parking spaces, but motorists will also control the entirety of the road. Giving up an insignificant 0.6% of parking spaces would mean increasing bike safety significantly with a separated bike path. Residents are the ones who would benefit from a biking lane; kids, students from nearby Universities, and families could all bring their business to downtown, but now they are forced to get in their cars and fight for the same parking spots as visitors

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