Rebirth of a Great Street
By Julie Caniglia
There is a street like Farmington Avenue in nearly every city.
It is a classic example of what happens when cities plan mainly for one thing: moving traffic. Once a majestic tree-lined boulevard, Farmington Avenue became more and more auto-oriented with fast-moving traffic, rows of uninviting parking lots in the retail areas – where business is dropping – and hardly a place to sit for a pedestrian. In fact, pedestrians sometimes have to go a block out of their way just to cross the street.
Major changes are in store as local residents and business leaders seek to turn the avenue around.
In early 2000, the Farmington Avenue Joint Committee selected PPS to develop a plan for the once-thriving street. The joint committee is a formal partnership among neighborhood organizations, cultural institutions, business leaders, property owners, and city officials.
Farmington Avenue, stretching from Union Station to the West Hartford line, has a long, rich history in the city of Hartford. Once known as “Millionaires’ Row,” it boasts numerous distinguished mansions.
In addition to two neighborhood commercial districts, historic landmarks and important institutions still line much of the avenue, including the Mark Twain and Harriet Beecher Stowe Museums, the corporate headquarters of Aetna, and St. Joseph’s Cathedral.
Farmington Avenue is the busiest bus route in the entire state, with more than 6000 riders daily. In fact, buses efficiently carry over a third of all people in vehicles, even though they account for only 2% of Farmington Avenue’s vehicular traffic. Despite this, the amenities for bus riders are very sparse.
In analyzing Farmington Avenue with an emphasis on providing the appropriate context for its redesign, PPS conducted the following community outreach and information-gathering activities:
- Meetings and interviews with hundreds of residents and business owners
- Two community forums, both of which attracted over 100 people who gave their input and ideas
- Extensive surveys of residents, business owners, and employees
- “Placemaking” workshops in which participants evaluated different blocks in terms of their functions and generated ideas for their improvement
In addition, surveys and observations indicated that traffic speed, pedestrian hazards, bicycle safety, and lack of a sense of place are problems along the whole of the avenue, although we also discovered that people wished to see more shops, services and restaurants. Two retail districts, numerous cultural and historical institutions, and major companies like Aetna Insurance, with 20,000 workers, suggested great potential.
The proposed redesign of Farmington Avenue tries to recreate a lost balance between pedestrian activity and other modes of transportation. The plan converts the street’s width from a four- to a three-lane configuration, and provides textured and planted medians that become left turning lanes at intersections. With the extra street space, a four-foot bike lane is created. At three major intersections, modern roundabouts both calm traffic and create gateways to the avenue’s different districts.
Among the other major changes that were ultimately recommended: replacing front parking lots with diagonal parking spaces in special “side access” roads and with pedestrian plazas; closing driveways and eliminating curb cuts to create a continuous sidewalk; and promoting bus stops as “place nodes” with more and better amenities. In working to make the street more livable, the goals are to achieve a balance among pedestrian, bicycle, vehicular uses and to develop a mix of amenities and activities – all of which not only make the street convenient and functional, but also, quite simply, an enjoyable place to be. As a result of this process, the Farmington Avenue Joint Committee is incorporating. They are arranging for funding to implement the plan; however, members are also capitalizing on the momentum behind the project. They hope to begin by re-striping the streets as an experiment.
In the end, the process we facilitated goes beyond pure research into the habits of motorists and users; it also generated a vision for a commercial and historic street that has clearly captured the hearts of residents in Hartford.