On the eve of the West Hartford “Center Streets” event on Sunday August 27th, organizers scrambled to correct rumors that cast members and fire-breathing dragons from the HBO fantasy television series Game of Thrones would appear at this family-friendly event for cyclists, strollers, and pedestrians.
“It was an honest mistake,” explained Center Streets co-organizer Ethan Frankel to a room full of befuddled reporters from Hollywood and West Hartford media outlets. “When HBO announced that the Game of Thrones season finale would appear at 9 PM on Sunday August 27th, it kind of got mixed up with our Center Streets publicity, which begins at 9 AM.” When reporters questioned Frankel about the cause of AM vs. PM mixup, he asked whether anyone actually reads press releases anymore, and blamed the rumors on a fake photograph created by Otis McCowboy, an overly enthusiastic social media intern for BikeWestHartford.org. McCowboy could not be reached for comment.
Frankel’s colleagues rushed to his defense. “Technically, dragons are not cars,” explained Center Streets co-organizer and scientist Edward Pawlak, “so they would be welcome to participate in our car-free event, if they actually existed.”
But HBO executive Andy Borowitz was not amused by the mixup. “Game of Thrones is not a family-friendly show,” he cautioned, “unlike this car-free event in West Hartford, Connecticut.”
Come join the fun (without dragons) at Center Streets on Sunday August 27th, 2017 from 9am to 1pm in West Hartford Center. Learn more at our public FaceBook Event Page.
Folks of all ages are invited to “take to the streets” for a care-free and car-free summer morning in West Hartford Center on Sunday August 27th, 2017, from 9am to 1 p.m. This second annual family-friendly event expects to surpass last year’s estimated crowd of 2,000 participants, and will feature the West Hartford Police Department hosting a bike rodeo and free bike registration. Learn more at our public FaceBook Event Page.
The town will close traffic on four roads that form a rectangular loop around the central business district: Farmington Avenue, South Main Street, Memorial Road Extension, and LaSalle Road. Ride your bicycle or scooter, or take a stroll down the street, without automobiles. Participating restaurants will offer brunch specials and free surprises, many merchants will feature discounts, and live music will be performed all morning. Children will be able to play hula-hoop, jump rope, and draw with chalk in streets closed to traffic.
“Our first year of Center Streets was beyond amazing,” recalled co-organizer Ethan Frankel. “We were thrilled with the massive turnout and everyone wearing smiles.” He was inspired by car-free summer events that have become increasingly popular in New York City and elsewhere around the globe. Residents tell co-organizer Edward Pawlak that they’re looking forward to this ‘open streets’ festival. “We would love for it to become an annual summer event, with support from the Town of West Hartford.” Center Streets is the signature community initiative of Bike West Hartford, Inc., a non-profit organization that promotes bicycle-friendly policies and programs in town.
Check out this video clip from the first Center Streets event in 2016:
Financial support for Center Streets is being provided by many local business and residents, including Whole Foods (principal sponsor), United Bank, West Hartford Police Officer’s Association, Scott Franklin & Associates, Inc., Farmington Savings Bank, Bloomfield Bike Shop, Filomeno, Thomas Fahy Insurance, Keating Insurance, Berkshire Bank, Simsbury Bank, Connecticut Ecosystems LLC, the MDC Water Wagon, Daniel Johnson, Dan Firestone, and the Frankel Family. Dust off your bikes, scooters, and strollers, and meet up at Center Streets!
Bike West Hartford, Inc. is a not-for-profit corporation promoting the development of bicycle infrastructure and education within West Hartford. http://www.bikewesthartford.org/
Discover New Britain — Sun Sept 25th meet up at Jack’s house (4 Frederick Road, West Hartford) to depart at 7am sharp (new time!) and ride to New Britain art museum; sign up to ride a 10-25-50 mile route to support BikeWalkCT, which departs at 8:30am (fee required) http://www.bikewalkct.org/discover-ct-ride-series-20161.html
On Saturday I rode south from Hartford to check out a newly-built segment of the East Coast Greenway in Cheshire, CT, and continued on to learn about bicycle history at the Arts and Ideas Festival in New Haven, CT.
The East Coast Greenway is a bike/walk route that stretches from Maine to Florida, and supporters are filling the gaps to convert more to off-road trail. The new segment will add 4 miles of trail through a beautiful wooded portion of Cheshire, CT, and connect to existing trail in the north (Southington) and south (Hamden and New Haven). While not yet finished nor officially open, the new trail is mostly paved and rideable, if you don’t mind a bit of gravel on the bridge aprons, and going around some fences (as hundreds of other riders have already done, judging from the tracks left behind).
I arrived in New Haven in time for a public demonstration by The Wheelmen, a group of antique bicycle collectors who gather to share their knowledge and show how people rode these two-wheeled inventions. (And yes, the group also included some Wheelwomen.) New Haven’s Arts and Ideas Festival coincided with the International Cycling History Conference and a celebration of the 150th anniversary of Pierre Lallement’s invention of the velocipede and his ride on the New Haven Green. While I had read some of this history, and seen a few old bikes on display in museums, this was a treat because never before had I seen so many people in one place, actually riding these bikes. They paraded their cycles in chronological order, and featured several items that were created in the Frog Hollow neighborhood of Hartford, the late 19th-century epicenter of bicycle manufacturing in the United States.
To celebrate National Trails Day, I rode the East Coast Greenway from Hartford to Willimantic, to see the newly-opened connector. In Bolton, I jumped on the Hop River Trail and pedaled southeast along this old railway bed, covered by wonderful shade trees. When this trail ended, I pedaled about a mile on the road west of town, then switched onto the brand-new trail that runs along the Willimantic river. While this new trail is relatively short, it now gives Hop River riders a way to avoid highway traffic into downtown Willimantic, or to cross a bridge to connect to the Air Line south trail to East Hampton. I took both options, first by zipping into town for a late breakfast at the Willimantic Food Co-op, then back across the bridge for a ride on the Air Line south trail, where I encountered dozens of cyclists and hikers enjoying the day as much as I did.
Update: This post features the easy routes that I would recommend to most riders with suitable tires for crushed stone trails, such as hybrid, touring, or mountain bikes. If you ride a skinny-tire road bike, these trails may not work for you. Also, these routes are ideal for dry weather, as heavy rains can turn sections into mud.
Also, I biked a longer route than shown above. I began in West Hartford and rode the East Coast Greenway through Hartford, East Hartford, and Manchester, and continued on the ECG/Hop River trail as described above. (See East Coast Greenway maps page for details.) When I finished the Air Line south trail in East Hampton, I biked through Glastonbury, crossed on the ferry at Cromwell, then back home through Rocky Hill and Newington. My total was 83 miles.
If you’re looking for friendly, non-racing bike rides with friendly folks this summer, check out two Hartford-area options.
Join the Hartford “Slow Rolls” for informal rides to explore the city and meet people on selected Sunday afternoons. The pace is usually around 10-12 miles per hour, for about an hour of actual riding, and the direction depends on whatever the group decides (which sometimes changes mid-route). This is not a highly-structured route with cue sheets, but rather a friendly ride with people who enjoy exploring. Although I’ve been riding around the city for fifteen years, I always learn something new, and enjoy meeting folks who come out with us. The organizers usually announce about two rides per month as Facebook events, which are usually shared on the FB sites of BiCiCoHartford or Transport Hartford or Breakfast Lunch & Dinner. Or see this event announcement for the next ride on Sunday June 12th at 3pm, starting at the parking lot on 1429 Park Street in Hartford.
Also, the Bike West Hartford group has announced a series of “Wheels on Wednesdays” rides, beginning on June 8th at 6:30pm in the parking lot behind West Hartford Town Hall, 50 South Main Street. These also are non-competitive friendly rides of about 10 miles or more, with groups for varying paces. The first ride will feature the West Hartford Reservoir. The organizers require you to wear a helmet and sign a liability form. This summer these rides are scheduled for alternate Wednesday evenings: June 8, June 22, July 6, July 20, Aug 3, Aug 17th. Learn more at the link above.
My new friend Jeff Allred at Hunter College learned of our shared interest in cycling, and recommended that I read John Stilgoe’s Outside Lies Magic: Regaining History and Awareness in Everyday Places. His book reveals what “the explorer,” traveling by foot or bicycle, can discover by looking more closely at ordinary objects that most of us pass by, especially when trapped inside the metal box of a motor car. This wide-ranging set of essays rambles across multiple topics, and many of these resonated with my own memories of what I’ve seen while riding a bike, though Stilgoe has taught me to take a second look. My favorite passage is his observation about fences:
Depending on the spacing of the pickets that seem at first glance to make a solid wall, the bicyclist-explorer can pedal with some magic speed that makes the fence transparent. Usually about 11 miles an hour does the trick. At that speed the explorer can see through the fence almost as though the fence had disappeared. At a speed that runners and pedestrians rarely reach for long and so slow that a few motorists ever attempt it, the explorer rides effortlessly, and secretly, screened from observation by the fences intended to block views, spying on what the fences surround.
Stilgoe also taught me how to look more closely at telephone poles, railroad ties, and rural delivery mailboxes. He also reminds us how bicyclists of the 1900s agitated government to improve roads in ways that benefitted cars, and how the Cold War led to the construction of interstate highways in the 1950s and 60s, which continue to ban walkers and bikers today. The book encourages us to explore the limited access frontage roads and the back parking lots that link together commercial strip malls. He shows us how to look at the fraternal-order signs that welcome visitors into small towns, and the historical relationship between main street businesses, trees, insurance companies, and firehouses.
Overall, it’s a book that I recommend, as have others, such as the Neglected Books site, which notes that this title is no longer in print, though used copies and digital editions are still available for sale. Or check it out from your library, as I did. In any case, it’s the right book to read outside.
Today marked the first Hartford “Slow Roll” Sunday bike ride of 2016. These are informal meetups of friendly cyclists who love to explore while riding around the city. Today did a leisurely 6-mile ride and landed at the southern branch of the Park River, where the waterway tunnels under downtown Hartford. I’ve lived here for over fifteen years and it was my first time seeing this. Come and join us on a future ride and go places that you can’t reach by car. Find out about the next Slow Roll by following the Facebook page for BiCiCo, Hartford’s new community-oriented bike shop.
Satellite view of the Park River southern branch tunnel from Google Maps
Tony Cherolis launches the Slow Roll with a portable sound system.
Alex Perez, a Hartford bike advocate and Trinity College student, interviewed me for his blog, Two-Wheeled Hartford, and my responses are re-posted below, with additional photos.
Why do you choose to commute to Trinity by bike?
“There are so many different reasons to bike to work. One is that I’m always trying to lose weight, since I spend so much time in front of a computer. My time is limited, so it makes more sense to exercise on my way to and from Trinity, rather than driving somewhere else to exercise. Another reason is that parking a car at Trinity can be a nightmare, but there’s always room to park my bike. Even on those days when someone else has taken “my” favorite bike parking spot, I’m smiling inside because it means travel by two wheels is becoming more popular. It’s always easier to make more room for parking bikes than cars on campus. Still, another reason to bike is that you see and hear so much more around you than from inside a car. Biking sets the right pace for me to notice what’s changing as I pedal through different neighborhoods, or to say hello to kids and crossing guards along my route. But the most important reason is that I’m having fun. For me, the best way to end a long day at Trinity is to hop on my bike, zip down the hill, and silently shout ‘WHEEEEE!’ to myself as I ride away from campus. Makes me feel like a kid again.”
2) How long have you been commuting to Trinity by bike?
“For me, biking to work has been a gradual process that changed with my family responsibilities. A decade ago, I rode only occasionally to work during the summer months. As my children grew old enough to ride on my bike’s child seat (or trailer bike, or the back half of our tandem), I began cycling more often when the weather was good, because I could drop them off or pick them up at child care and elementary school. Now that my youngest is a teenager, I ride to Trinity about 3-4 times per week during most of the year. But I don’t ride every day. When the forecast calls for heavy rain, or tall snowbanks block my visibility, I drive my 1998 Honda Odyssey minivan, which has over 190,000 miles on the odometer. Riding your bike to work also cuts down on car payments.”
3) What are your thoughts on getting around Hartford by cycling? Any major obstacles during your commutes?
“To comfortably ride your bike, you need to feel safe about traveling on two wheels. To some degree, safety comes from creating bike lanes and passing laws to protect riders, which we’re seeing more from local governments and bike advocacy groups. (For example, cyclists from West Hartford and other suburbs often are surprised by the growing number of bike lanes in the City of Hartford.) But your personal sense of safety also increases by trying new routes and expanding your comfort zone. I’ve learned so much about cycling around the Hartford region from official tours (such as the BikeWalkCT Discover Hartford and Discover CT series) and informal group rides (such as the wonderful HTFD Slow Roll events). Exploring new paths by bike, especially with more experienced friends, helps us to grow and learn what’s possible. And it’s a hell of a lot of fun.”
4) What suggestions do you have for making the campus and/or the city more bike friendly?
“I’m impressed by the energy of Hartford’s brand-new bike shop, BiCiCo, a Spanish abbreviation for Bicicleta Comunidad (or Bicycle Community). This non-profit organization recently opened its doors at 95-97 Park Street, and currently provides do-it-yourself workspace and build-a-bike training, with retail sales/repairs to come. Thanks to its parent organization, the Center for Latino Progress, and their youth program coordinator, Tony Cherolis, BiCiCo has raised thousands of dollars through grants and affordable memberships. Plus, it’s a happening place. Over the past week, my daughter Eva and I visited three times to build her next bike from used parts, and we met more than a dozen members (including Trinity Professor Dario Del Puppo, who taught us how to replace the fork of a bike). With the growing number of riders on campus, I wonder if the Trinity community would be interested in a one-hour basic bike repair workshop on campus, or student memberships at BiCiCo.”
“PS to Alex: A few years ago, there was a left-turn green arrow at the northbound stoplight on Zion Street at Hamilton Street, near the base of Summit Street. For some reason, someone turned off this arrow, which makes it much harder to turn left on a bike, when facing oncoming traffic, to head toward Pope Park. Do you know anyone at City Hall who can bring it back?”