19 September 2017

Could The Insurance Capital Help Cycling Bloom In The Rosebud City?

Bicycling is good for business.

Cities large and small are discovering how this is true, and not just for bike shop owners.  Obviously, we are good for coffee shops, bakeries and such.  But we--cyclists--use most of the same products and services as everybody else.  Thus, we will patronize the same sorts of businesses.

But we are also good for business, especially in urban downtown areas and on Main Street-type shopping strips in smaller towns, in the same way that pedestrians are.  Stores in such environs--whether they sell books or craft supplies or serve babkas or craft beer--are more likely to find customers among those who walk or pedal in front of them than from drivers who pass by because they can't find a parking spot.

That, I believe, is a reason why more cities here in the US are trying to make themselves "bike friendly"--or, at least, are doing the things they believe, rightly or wrongly, will make them so.  Chambers of Commerce or Business Improvement Districts will install bike racks (good) and nudge their cities into painting bicycle lanes on the streets (sometimes not so good).  They perceive that making their shopping areas more attractive and convenient for cyclists will do more to help business than squeezing more cars into already-crowded streets could.

Apparently, some folks in Hartford, Connecticut had the same idea.

Now, when most people think of Hartford, the insurance industry comes to mind.  It still is known as "The Insurance Capital of the World", with good reason.  Those with a sense of history might recall Connecticut's state capital was also a major industrial center.  In 1850, a native named Samuel Colt invented a precision manufacturing process that enabled the mass production of revolvers--which, of course, bore his name--with interchangeable parts.  His method would be adopted by a couple of guys named Richard Gatling and John Browning who made their own firearms, and the Weed Sewing Machine company, which dominated the market at the time.

Weed would also produce the first bicycles manufactured in the United States.  Albert Pope, another Hartford native, saw British high-wheeled velocipedes at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition and bought the patent rights to produce them in the US.  Since he had no manufacturing facility, he contracted Weed, who would produce everything but the tires.  Soon, production of bicycles--Columbias-- overshadowed that of sewing machines, and Hartford became one of the leading centers of bicycle-making in the US.

Lest you think that the city's energies have been devoted entirely to commerce and industry, some very creative individuals in the arts have called Hartford home.  In fact, a couple of books you may have read--A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's Court and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn were written in a house that is today a museum dedicated to their author. (I was there once, years ago, and thought it was interesting.)  And one of America's most innovative poets, Wallace Stevens, was an executive with the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company!

Anyway, it seems that creative thinking lives on in Hartford. For years, the city's Business Improvement District has run a "safety ambassador" program.  The "ambassadors" patrol downtown streets, acting as security escorts, providing free help to stranded motorists and acting as additional sets of eyes and ears for the police.  In May, the BID added bicycle maintenance and repair to the work done by the "ambassadors" in order to encourage bicycle commuting and assuaging some of the fears associated with it, according Jordan Polon, the BID's executive director.

Eddie Zayas, a Hartford "safety ambassador",

Ambassadors give their phone numbers to people who ask for them.  Maureen Hart was one of those people. Just a few days after getting that number, she was riding home from a concert when she got a flat.  She called that number and became one of 42 cyclists who have received roadside assistance since the program started. 

"It's such a cool service," she said.  "I know people who live in Portland and that's a really bicycle-friendly city.  They don't have anything like this.  This is amazing."

Well, you can't have bicycle-friendly cities without bicycles.  And Hartford was making them long before most people ever heard of Portland.  Now the capital of the Nutmeg State looks ready to teach The City of Roses how to make it even easier to ride in their city.

(Here's another fun fact about Hartford:  It's also home to the oldest continuously-published daily newspaper in the US.  The Hartford Courant has been in print since 1764, making it 87 years older than the New York Times--and 12 years older than the United States itself!)


  1. Wallace Srevens was amazing in many ways. I recall a journalist interviewing a collaegue of Stevens' at Hartford Insurance, and at one point the confused man, when told Stevens was a major poet, said "Are you talking about WALLY???". Wally didn't mix the two sides of his life.

    But I do seem to remember that Portland is "The City of Roses", and that "Rosebud" is a city in Texas as well as Citizen Cain's nemesis..\


  2. Leo--I often think of Wallace Stevens as one of my "formative" poets: Reading him when I was young taught me so much about what poetry is, and can be!

    I, too, find it interesting that he never mixed the two sides of his life. What does the fact that he was able to do so tell us about him--or his Hartford insurance colleagues?

    I'll correct the Portland nickname. Far be it from me to confuse the City Of Roses with Citizen Cain's nemesis...

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