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August 4, 2014 SUMMER SERIES: HARTFORD IN 2024

Will cars really be less used in 10 years?

Photo | HBJ File I-84 remains one of the main arteries to get workers and residents to and from downtown Hartford.
Donald Poland, senior vice president of planning, Goman + York Property Advisors

A main philosophy shared by many economic development officials shaping Hartford's transportation future is that cars and trucks will not be as important to people's mobility as they are now.

That reasoning, however, may be flawed, according to Donald Poland, senior vice president of planning at Goman + York Property Advisors in East Hartford.

“We can't eliminate the automobile from the future,” Poland said. “They have to be considered as viable options.”

Officials at the state Department of Transportation and the Department of Economic and Community Development see cars as being less important in the future because of the rising cost of fuel; the desire of Millennials to live a more urban, transit-oriented lifestyle; and congestion and parking becoming bigger headaches than people want to deal with.

“Gas at $4 per gallon changes how people think about their commutes,” said Tim Sullivan, DECD state director of waterfront, brownfield, and transit-oriented development, “and gas is likelier to be $6 a gallon rather than $2 a gallon any time soon.”

But Poland said he doesn't think fuel costs will be as big of a concern to drivers because: cars are becoming more fuel efficient every year; electric, fuel cell, and natural gas alternative-fueled vehicles are becoming more prevalent; and technological developments like self-driving cars catch the attention of the younger generation.

“All this has the ability to revolutionize the automobile,” Poland said.

As Hartford moves forward with plans to make the city more walkable, parking will become less available as well, causing the cost of available parking spaces to rise.

DOT also is studying the idea of adding toll lanes to Greater Hartford's interstates, possibly to the carpool lanes so people willing to pay a premium could drive around congestion, said Michael Sanders, DOT public transit administrator.

Toll lanes may or may not be a reality, but they could add to the cost of driving into the city, as opposed to public transit.

“I've done enough strategic planning in my career to know that plans today can change tomorrow because we are talking about a lot of variables,” Sanders said.

These plans, though, create the economics of exclusion, Poland said.

Once driving into the city becomes more expensive — through tolling, more expensive parking, or costly fuel — the people that will no longer see Hartford as a viable driving destination will be poorer populations, Poland said.

That is why it's important to have a robust transit network, not just in and around Hartford, but connecting all the major cities in Connecticut, and to the rest of the Northeast, said Sullivan. That increases mobility for everybody, and once the pain of using an automobile becomes too high, transit becomes a more viable option.

“The more networked the state's cities can become, the better it is,” Sullivan said.

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