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Bicyclist Gets His Day In Court

by Hugh McQuaid | Jan 21, 2014 5:26pm
(3) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Courts, Hartford

Hugh McQuaid Photo

Chris Brown

With his complaint against the Transportation Department now in the hands of a judge, a Hartford bicyclist seeking to reopen Flower Street said Tuesday’s court proceedings at least compelled state officials to listen to his concerns.

“I got open communication where there hasn’t been before,” Hartford resident Chris Brown said after a hearing on his lawsuit.

Brown and his lawyer Ken Krayeske filed a lawsuit against the DOT in November after the DOT closed Flower Street for the New Britain to Hartford busway project known as CTfastrak. With Flower Street closed, Brown argues that cyclists and pedestrians have been forced onto nearby Broad Street as they travel between the Asylum Hill and Frog Hollow neighborhoods. He says the volume of car traffic on Broad makes it unsafe for bike and foot traffic.

Brown and Krayeske were in court Tuesday to argue against a motion by the Attorney General’s Office to dismiss the lawsuit. On the stand, Brown told the court he felt the conditions on Broad Street were inadequate and dangerous for cyclists. He said he is usually subject to “honking and yelling” by motorists when he tries.

“We got the DOT’s brass to come and listen to a bicyclists’ concerns about what he’s been subjected to,” Krayeske said after the hearing.

Transportation Commissioner James Redeker was in the courtroom for much of Brown’s testimony and briefly took the stand himself.

Through his complaint, Brown is seeking to force the department to adhere to a decision by one of its own hearing officers. In May, the hearing officer concluded that if the department is unwilling to change the configuration of CTfastrak to allow for an at-grade crossing, then it must provide a way for pedestrians and cyclists to traverse Flower Street.

However, Assistant Attorney General Eileen Meskill said she wasn’t aware of any law requiring the commissioner to comply with an administrative decision made by someone under his discretion.

Superior Court Judge Marshall Berger said he didn’t think the department could “totally ignore” an administrative decision, but he said the department may never have been obligated to hold the hearing in the first place.

Berger suggested it was held because Redeker was being a “nice guy” and allowing for public input even when he was not required to in order to make a decision regarding Flower Street.

It was a “benevolent action by the commissioner to allow everyone to have a say because otherwise there is no say,” he said. “... They utilized a format to have a public debate. I don’t know if it was the right way or the wrong way.”

Although Berger listened to Brown’s assessment of how suitable Broad Street is for bicycle traffic, the judge was unwilling to let Krayeske seek Brown’s opinion on the suitability of alternate routes.

“Whether or not Hartford is a bicycle friendly city is not our issue. Maybe [Hartford] should be, maybe CTfastrak should be a light rail project but that’s not our issue,” Berger said.

The judge did not offer any timeline Tuesday as to when he will make a decision regarding the motion to dismiss the case.

Brown’s complaint is a longshot. It’s filed as a writ of mandamus, a last-ditch effort to force a government agency to act when other legal remedies are unavailable.

“Mandamuses are super hard to win. Do I think we have enough to win, do I think he rules on the mandamus on the merits? I don’t know… I’d like to think we got past everything in the motion to dismiss but I’m not sure if we did,” Krayeske said.

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(3) Comments

posted by: DrHunterSThompson | January 22, 2014  10:03am

DrHunterSThompson

No chance, but great try! Twist one up and celebrate!

HST

posted by: petersanchez | January 22, 2014  4:53pm

Good article. I read it carefully because my niece lives near Flower Street. To me, this seems like a personal vendetta against transportation officials and its political. I know the area and there are 30 plus ways to travel. REALLY, has anybody looked lately at this guy’s lawyer and his background? that’s the really story here.

posted by: heldermira | January 25, 2014  7:17pm

For the past 7 years as a resident of Asylum Hill in Hartford, Flower Street has been one of my major paths to get from my neighborhood to the Frog Hollow community. On a semi daily business, I would frequent businesses in Frog Hollow, participating in community events that united a diverse group. To get there, Flower Street was the most convenient way by bike or on foot. Flower Street allowed me and fellow residents access to another neighborhood, without the stop and go traffic jams of Broad Street. Broad Street’s walkablity and bikeabilty have been tenuous at best, but with the reconstruction occurring, it was convoluted mess. Only one side has a true side walk (which disappeared at points). Cars rushing to make lights to get onto the highway ramp are not eager to slow down for pedestrians or bicyclists. Several residents argued to keep DOT from closing Flower Street to pedestrians so that they had access. In May, a DOT hearing officer “concluded that if the department is unwilling to change the configuration of CTfastrak to allow for an at-grade crossing, then it must provide a way for pedestrians and cyclists to traverse Flower Street.” Yet, the DOT ignored that ruling, instead diverting foot traffic to the busiest section of Broad Street.
What’s most disappointing, is that only one person has been brave enough to stand up against DOT on behalf of the communities which utilize Flower Street. Hartford resident and bicycle commuter Christopher Brown has been fighting against the closure to pedestrian and bicycle traffic. As a pedestrian who often had free access to visit my friends in Frog Hollow via Flower Street, I applaud Mr. Brown for taking on a government agency that seems to be bent on ignoring the needs of the community. I wish I were as brave and dedicated to my community as he is.  And I hope that the court listens to what has been recommended and honors the residents that use that path to connect their communities.