BY HUGH BAILEY
Hearst Connecticut Media
When planners promote what is known as transit-oriented development, it is situations like this week’s winter storm they have in mind.
In some Bridgeport neighborhoods, where a growing number of people are able to live a life less dependent on cars, events that severely limit options for everyone else can be more or less shrugged off.
“With the bodegas and small grocers every couple of blocks, it’s easy to bundle up and head down the street if your fridge needs replenishing,” Becca Bryan, who lives in the South End and works downtown, said in an email. “The colder the weather, the cozier the neighborhood becomes.”
As described by the Regional Plan Association, transit-oriented development “is a strategy for growth that produces less traffic and lessens impact on roads and highways. Households located within walking distance of transit own fewer cars, drive less and pay a smaller share of their income on transportation-related expenses.”
With roads out of the city not an option during the height of the storm, most people not living in a dense neighborhood were stuck. The state told people not to drive after 9 p.m. Monday and bus and rail service were suspended. But that didn’t mean downtown was closed.
Adam Wood, chief of staff to Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch, said a number of downtown businesses were able to weather the storm.
“This is why we have such a focus on transit-oriented development in the city,” he said. “You don’t have to own a car, buy gas, move your car and all the rest if you want to live here.”
Wood mentioned Tiago’s Bar and Grill, Barnum Publick House and the Holiday Inn among downtown businesses that did not close.
“Many places stayed open, and people were able to get there by walking to them,” he said.
For those who do have cars, Wood said the city was pleased they followed instructions on keeping roads clear.
“The opposite-side rule was pretty well-enforced and people did a good job adhering to that,” he said. “It made it easy to clear arteries downtown.”
He also praised the Downtown Special Service District for helping with curb cuts and keeping fire hydrants clear.
Transit-oriented development has gained favor at the local and state levels, with the city of Bridgeport promoting the conversion of abandoned buildings downtown into apartments in part based on the appeal of a nearby transit hub.
In 2011, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced the approval of the state’s first transit-oriented-development assistance grants. Most of the awards, which ranged from $250,000 to $850,000, were used to help plan around existing transit.
Another round approved last year was geared toward future transit plans, including the New Haven-to-Springfield, Mass., rail line and the bus-rapid-transit system between Hartford and New Britain.
The Holiday Inn on Fairfield Avenue was one of the Bridgeport businesses that stayed open Monday night, providing a respite for people who had no way to get home on storm-blocked roads.
“We did have a lot of people stay here,” said Michele Hudson, Holiday Inn’s general manager, describing the crowd as typical for a winter storm. “There were a lot of area businesses that had people who couldn’t get home and needed to be here the next day.”
She said utility workers also stayed at the hotel in case the power went out in the city.
Hearst Connecticut Media includes four daily newspapers: Connecticut Post, Greenwich Time, The Advocate (Stamford) and The News Times (Danbury). See ctpost.com for more from this reporter.