Officials hope that opening the route between LaSalle Road and South Main Street will improve traffic flow in West Hartford Center.
By Ronni Newton
A plan that officials hope will improve traffic flow in West Hartford Center and increase accessibility to an under-utilized garage will likely begin next month on a trial basis.
Director of Community Development Duane Martin told We-Ha.com that the during the trial period the bollards that currently block access from the driveway that runs between Bricco and PeoplesBank on LaSalle Road to the Town Center garage and South Main Street will be removed. Traffic will be permitted to travel in an eastbound direction from LaSalle Road to the parking garage entrance, and traffic in both directions will be permitted between the garage and South Main Street, where there is a signalized intersection with Memorial Road.
The driveway between Bricco and PeoplesBank is currently two-way, but is only used to access gate-controlled tenant parking behind 78 LaSalle Road. The driveway is too narrow to accommodate through traffic in both directions, Martin said, and will be restricted to one-way eastbound only.
The town is currently working with Stantec, the consultant hired to assist in development of the West Hartford Infrastructure Master Plan. Town staff and Stantec agreed that opening of the Memorial Road Connector could significantly improve connectivity and ease traffic in what has been referred to as a “super block.”
Stantec had noted in a public information session, and in their draft report to the town, that a significant number of motorists in the Center are engaged in a search for parking. The Town Center garage – which has 800 parking spaces and in 2022 has occupancy rates of 0-30% on weekends and between 30-60% midday on an average weekday – is not currently accessible from LaSalle Road without going all the way around the block. While the Town Center garage is not town-owned, the cost to park there is roughly the same as in town lots and garages ($1.70 per hour vs. $1.75 per house in town-controlled areas).
“The reason we’re doing the trial is to make sure there’s not something we’re overlooking from a safety standpoint,” Martin said, and to ensure that traffic problems aren’t being pushed off to other areas.
Concurrently, staff continues to interact with the residents of the Woodrow Street area, Martin said. While it had been hoped that the recent move to return LaSalle Road to two-way travel would ease traffic issues on Woodrow, that hasn’t happened so further measures are necessary.
“We’re refining a concept plan for them, for traffic calming,” Martin said. “We’re cognizant of the two going hand-in-hand and we are going to come up with a solution for Woodrow which keeps that in mind.”
Ultimately, there may need to be some type of traffic calming on the Memorial Road Connector if people are driving too fast.
Temporary easements were required from three different property owners in order to open access to the Memorial Road Connector, even just for the trial, Martin said. “Originally we thought there were two,” he said, and both Town Center building owner Bruce Simons and LaSalle Road Partners II, owner of the building where Bricco is located, had agreed to the plan. A final survey of the property indicated that a tiny sliver of the pavement is part of the 102 LaSalle Road property, which is controlled by Robert Udolf.
All three property owners have now responded favorably to the draft agreement, and once that is executed the plan can move forward.
Martin said before the trial begins there will need to be some signage added – in particular indicating that the piece of roadway that connects to LaSalle Road is eastbound only, so those exiting either the gated parking area or the garage will only be permitted to turn left.
There may also be some temporary measures used to narrow the roadway between LaSalle and the parking areas, to make it more obvious that it is one-way only, Martin said.
Permanent signage related to parking will be installed as part of the wayfinding project that is currently in progress town wide through the Economic Development Department which has engaged MERJE as a consultant. MERJE is collaborating and coordinating with Stantec for the areas that are being addressed by the West Hartford Infrastructure Master Plan.
Stantec is in the phase of their work where they are developing draft designs for LaSalle Road and Farmington Avenue. “When reconstructing LaSalle and Farmington, we will be addressing parking supply,” Martin added, because according to preliminary plans, some on-street spaces will be lost as sidewalks are widened and bike lanes are added.
Stantec will also look at all parking rates to determine how they should be structured “to try to spread the usage out,” Martin said. “Everybody wants to be on-street,” he said, but pricing may be adjusted so that garage parking is more favorable from an economic standpoint. In total, there are currently about 5,000 public parking spaces in the Center and Blue Back Square, but while people hunt for on-street parking, garages have plenty of capacity.
If the trial opening of the Memorial Road Connector is a success and becomes permanent, Martin said that the Town Council will have to approve permanent easements for a right of way, and take on the responsibility of maintenance such as plowing and paving, as well as signage and other traffic control measures.
Also, Martin noted, the “Memorial Road Connector” is just a working name for the stretch of roadway. If it becomes a permanent roadway, the Town Council could come up with a different name.
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