West Hartford’s Department of Public Works removed the dining corrals on Monday morning.
By Ronni Newton
For more than five months, West Hartford Center and Blue Back Square streets were vibrant yet decidedly narrower, lined with cement barriers, behind which more than 700 seats were available for outdoor dining in roadside garden oases filled with flowers and planters.
By lunchtime Monday the corrals were history, a memory of the uniqueness that colored the spring, summer, and autumn of 2020.
Over the past several days, as the weather cooled, the tables, chairs, and umbrellas were put away, and beginning before dawn Monday, Public Works crews began the task of removing the barriers in preparation for the winter, and the need to be able to effectively plow snow from the town’s roadways.
The barrier removal project in the Center and Blue Back Square, which also included re-striping parking spaces along LaSalle Road and Farmington Avenue, was to have taken two days, but took far less time.
“We started at 5 a.m.,” Public Works Director John Phillips said. “Traffic was noticeably low, temperatures with a light wind dried paint fast, contractors were on time, and we hit no unanticipated obstacles.”
While Farmington Avenue is now completely back to its former appearance – with two full lanes in each direction from Dale Street to South/North Main Street and parallel parking on both sides of the road – LaSalle Road has retained some aspects of the new configuration.
LaSalle Road remains one way northbound from Arapahoe Road to Farmington Avenue.
With the barriers down this is far more on-street parking on LaSalle Road, and all of the spaces, also including the block between Ellsworth and Araphaoe roads, and extending to Farmington Avenue, are now head-out angled parking.
Head-out angled parking – requiring the motorist to back into the space – gives the driver a greater field of vision when leaving. Head-out angled parking is used in 32 major cities, and studies have indicated that it is safer, easier, and more accommodating for unloading, town officials said.
In addition, a bike lane was added Monday on each side of LaSalle Road.
Memorial Road, which was temporarily one-way headed eastbound from Isham Road to Raymond Road, is once again open to traffic in both directions.
There continue to be 33 free, 15- to 30-minute free parking spaces available for curbside pick-up of take-out orders on LaSalle Road, South Main Street, Farmington Avenue, Memorial Road, and Isham Road. With the removal of the corrals, some of the locations have changed, and an updated map can be found as a PDF below.
Parking lot kiosks in the Brace Road and Farmington Avenue lots will continue to allow 30-minute free parking. “Shoppers, diners, clients, and employees are asked to use the municipal lots and parking garages when their stay is longer than 30 minutes,” the town said in an announcement of the updated plans.
Outdoor dining in West Hartford Center and Blue Back Square, as well as in other parts of town, attracted a record number of patrons this year.
While this summer’s changes to dining and traffic patterns were prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the dining corrals were considered a great success and the town will be considering moves to replicate them in some form next year as well. Without an executive order allowing for the waiver of zoning provisions, however, it will require action by the Town Council to officially change zoning requirements.
With coronavirus cases spiking, as of Nov. 6, Connecticut rolled back from Phase 3 COVID-19 guidelines to Phase 2.1, cutting maximum restaurant capacity from 75% to 50%, limiting the number of people in a group to eight, and requiring last call at 9:30 p.m. for in-person dining and the closing of dining rooms (and corrals) by 10 p.m. daily.
“West Hartford is lucky and grateful to have so many wonderful restaurants. The extended outdoor dining has been a great success, appreciated by the owners and thoroughly enjoyed by patrons,” Mayor Shari Cantor previously told We-Ha.com.
“Now that we are entering this new phase of colder weather, each establishment has unique challenges and opportunities. We are working to do what we can to allow expanded capacity safely and extended areas for diners,” she said.
Although the corrals are gone, West Hartford restaurants can continue to use other outdoor dining areas, and can apply for permits for expanded outdoor dining through the town’s Planning and Zoning Division. Businesses can also apply for permits to enclose and heat their outdoor dining spaces, but those enclosures – including use of tents with more than 50% of the flaps closed – count toward the overall 50% indoor dining capacity.
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