Bridgeport, the largest city in Connecticut, is located on Long Island Sound in the southern part of the state. The harbor had been a trade port and shipbuilding center in the 18th century and the city was named for the first drawbridge over the river.
The agrarian society shifted to mercantile endeavors and, with the opening of the railroad in 1840, a booming manufacturing town. As with many American cities, the later part of the 20th century brought loss of businesses and loss of investment in the community.
Referred to as “Park City” because of Seaside Park and Beardley Park, Bridgeport is looking back to its green past. Redeveloped brownfields, expanded green spaces and an increase in transit are some of the opportunities the city is focusing on.
At the helm of the Greater Bridgeport Transit Authority (GBTA) is Chief Executive Officer Ron Kilcoyne, who’s been passionate about transit all his life…and then some. “My mother said when she was pregnant with me, the only time I ever kicked was when the train was going by,” Kilcoyne laughs. “I guess it’s prenatal.”
Kilcoyne grew up in an older suburb of San Francisco and, with parents that didn’t drive, transit was second nature. “I actually started riding a city bus on my own at age six, to school every day.” He adds, “I wasn’t the only one that was doing it then, either.
“It’s just been sort of in my blood all this time. Where we lived, by the San Francisco airport, there are the trains, the buses, planes, the whole thing,” he says.
While going to college and after college, Kilcoyne worked in retail management until he found the right job. That job was with AC Transit in Oakland, Calif.
“Actually it was the MTC, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, called rent-a-planner at AC Transit.” He explains, “It was like an entry-level planning position and they would hire people that they felt would show promise and then they would place them with a particular transit agency.”
After nearly two years, Kilcoyne was hired on at AC Transit where he spent 12 years, and then managed Santa Clarita Transit for 10 years. And then he spent some time on the private side. “I dabbled in consulting for two years for Corvo Engineering, which is now part of DMJM.” It was the appeal of working at multiple agencies and having an impact on multiple projects that drew him into it. He says, “That still appeals to me, but what didn’t appeal to me about consulting was the business development.” He felt the management side was the better fit, so four years ago came to manage GBTA.
Managing Mobility in Bridgeport
As the city has finalized its Final Master Plan of Conservation and Development, Kilcoyne has been working to involve transit in various aspects of the city’s plans. “We’ve been working to develop, for the city to adopt a transit-first policy, and that could incorporate a lot of different things,” Kilcoyne explains. “We’ve also been advocating that rather than focusing on parking, that we should be focusing on thinking of more comprehensive work of transportation mobility, parking being a component of that.”
GBTA has also been looking at universal passes as well as car sharing. Talking to city staff, developers and other stakeholders and holding parking workshops, GBTA has been educating the community on the potential options. “We’ve talked to builders where they have plans for some development, where they want to get exemptions on the parking requirement, so they’ve been very much interested in buying universal passes for their tenants, as well as possibly going the car share route,” Kilcoyne says. “I think our biggest problem is educating, and that’s what we’re really in the process of. We haven’t really encountered any opposition; you encounter a lot of blank faces.