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A guide to driving downtown

I spent some time looking at the map of downtown Meriden that appeared in the Record-Journal the other day. It ran with a story headlined “Road work causing headaches downtown,” and showed, according to the caption, “the streets where traffic flows will be altered following the completion of projects to repave streets and replace traffic signals at 10 intersections in downtown Meriden.”

There were blue lines with arrows going this way, and red lines with arrows going that way. There are also maps on the city’s website depicting how the traffic patterns are going to change. The idea is that downtown will be better served.

But, as Mayor Kevin Scarpati put it, “there’s confusion. We’re going to have to do a lot more educating on what it’s going to look like and what the final result will be.”

For some reason, that got me thinking of a summer job years upon years ago for which I was writing a user guide for a videogame. The game didn’t look all that much more sophisticated than Pong or Asteroids, just to give you an idea of how long ago I’m talking about, and involved flying missions over enemy territory.

It's a good thing I didn’t have that in mind as a career, because people don’t learn how to play videogames that way. They don’t learn by reading a manual, they learn how to play a game by playing the game. And at least some of the quality of a game can be determined by how well it handles teaching you how to play while you play.

Now, of course, re-engineering a city’s downtown is a lot more serious than playing a game. You don’t have to look further than the comment from Meriden Public Information Officer Darrin McKay in that R-J story: “We were having issues with people stopping on the railroad tracks.”

But there was something in the mayor’s comment that brought to mind the videogame analogy: “It’s more confusing to explain it than to drive it,” he said. “It’s certainly going to be a learning curve for people getting downtown.”

Associate City Engineer Emile Pierides did a good job of explaining the changes, but it also points to what the mayor was talking about: “So Cook Avenue is going to be a two-way. Butler Street is going to still be a one-way, but will be a reverse direction — one way heading north,” he said. Also, “South Grove is going to be changed to two-way. Hanover from South Grove to Cook is going to be two-way as well.”

This is going to take some getting used to. An editorial in today’s paper says patience ought to be rewarded, and Pierides points out that “… when we’re done it should be a lot easier to get through downtown.”

Which is the point. “The more we can get people to come downtown the better for our businesses,” said Scarpati.

Installing new traffic signals is also a big part of the plan. As the R-J’s Mary Ellen Godin reported in that story, “the lights will first be activated under the existing traffic configuration. Then they will be converted to new traffic flows.”

A check on the city’s website Friday indicates the project awaits signal control delivery. That should leave time for the “more educating” the mayor was talking about. For such an important project, a user manual isn’t going to hurt.

Reach Jeffery Kurz at jkurz@record-journal.com.









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