Intersection “Repaired” Where Mila Died

by Allan Appel | July 20, 2009 7:39 AM | | Comments (28)

nhimedcalm%20004.JPGMike Gaipa admitted he came by to sunbathe and check out women. Kim Nguyen, a third-year medical student, wanted to honor Mila Rainoff.

They ended up painting side by side helping to beautify an intersection near the medical school and make it safer for pedestrians and bicyclists.

They were among 25 people who painted large blue and green elm leaves at Cedar and York streets right in front of Yale-New Haven Hospital on a sun-filled Sunday afternoon. It was the city’s first-ever grassroots “intersection repair.”

It took place a block away from South Frontage and York, the intersection where a driver struck and killed Yale Medical School student Mila Rainoff last year, helping to set in motion a citywide “traffic-calming” movement.

Even before Rainoff’s death, said Erica Mintzer, “everyone had their story of how horrible the intersection was.” Mintzer was one year behind Rainoff in medical school. She’s a principal with the Yale Medical Traffic Safety Group, which organized the intersection repair event.

nhimedcalm%20002.JPG“She was such an amazing and inspiring person,” said Mintzer (pictured with West River activist Kevin Ewing), “people wanted to do something.”

The something they settled on turned out to be a technique, “intersection repair,” pioneered in Oregon, said Jon Romanyshyn, another of the organizers. People come together to beautify an intersection. One of the corollary results is to slow cars down: Drivers pause, wondering what that big design is.

One of the day’s painters, Fair Haven Alderwoman and traffic-calming leader Erin Sturgis-Pascale, described the colorful “repair” as less confrontational and more sanctioned than the “witching” event she pioneered in Fair Haven. “Our witching engaged drivers more,” she said. At that event she approached drivers and offered them cookies over a discussion of sharing the road.

nhimedcalm%20005.JPGNo cookies for drivers were evident at Sunday’s event. The painters made sure to don safety vests (provided by city transportation czar Mike Piscitelli), grab cans of #5 exterior latex green and blue, and brushes. There was some discussion whether “intersection repair” was primarily a community organizing or a traffic-calming tool.

This afternoon it was academic, as passersby such as Mike Gaipa and medical students pitched in, along with a group of kids from a local summer program.

Mintzer was at pains to point out that the event was meant in no way to exploit the memory of the much loved and admired Rainoff. “It’s not a memorial,” she said. “We wanted to do something positive, constructive that really has an impact.”

nhimedcalm%20001.JPGThe group picked the intersection at Cedar and York because it’s the heart of the medical school campus where people hang out and eat lunch.

Rainoff’s death in traffic on South Frontage Road, combined with the death of 11-year-old Gabrielle Lee on upper Whalley Avenue, catalyzed grassroots traffic-calmers’ campaigns. They in turn convinced the Board of Aldermen last October to pass a Complete Streets Order. A safety education program called Street Smarts is part of that initiative.

Kim Nguyen at first came by Sunday because she thought the intersection she was to work on was Frontage and York, where Rainoff had been killed. Might that intersection one day be grassroots repaired?

That was on the mind of Kevin Ewing (pictured with Mintzer). His intention was to come by York and Cedar often in the coming weeks to see if the intersection was indeed slower as a result of the artistic efforts.

“If it can work here,” he said, “there are other spots where we can make a change.” He said that grassroots intersection repair was at least theoretically a good approach “if the city can’t afford something permanent.”

Ewing said he’d like to see some intersection repair where the Ella Grasso Boulevard meets Route 34 and also near the Barnard School.

Piscitelli and the city, said Romanyshyn, had been tremendously helpful, providing vests, cones, barricades, and lots of support.

The exterior latex paint and design by Lisa Anamasi should last about six months, said Kim Heard, of Yale University’s Office of Environmental Health and Safety.

nhimedcalm%20006.JPGThat’s fine with organizers. Repainting every half year or so would bring the community together once again. That, they said, was as much the point as the calming.

As he personally calmed some traffic near the activities, the city’s Mike Piscitelli had nothing but praise for the Yale students. He didn’t rule out similar projects even at busy state roads, as Ewing had suggested.

Some cars were already slowing down as the first coat of paint was applied, according to Kim Heard. A few drivers paused to ask what was going on. Would they continue to slow down, she asked rhetorically, “when we’re out of the road? I think so.”

Piscitelli said, “We’ll look at other intersections on a case by case basis.” He pronounced the city’s first intersection repair “a good first step.”







Share this story

Share |

Comments

Posted by: Brian | July 20, 2009 9:31 AM

Yay!

Nice work everyone!

Posted by: TrueBlueCT | July 20, 2009 10:13 AM

Piscitelli is great. We all need to keep coming together as a community to improve traffic safety in New Haven, particularly in our pedestrian heavy downtown.

Posted by: Lisa K | July 20, 2009 11:05 AM

Lisa Anamasi deserves a medal! Great work everyone!

Posted by: Edward_H | July 20, 2009 12:06 PM

I am eagerly awaiting ANON's post on how painting these leaves all over the city will reduce accidents,save thousands of lives, reduce crime, increase property values overnight,cause people to move back to New Haven from the suburbs,reduce unemployment, end global warming,jumpstart the economy ,end the recession and initiate the Second Coming of Christ.

Posted by: Lifer | July 20, 2009 12:30 PM

"One of the corollary results is to slow cars down: Drivers pause, wondering what that big design is."

That might also be called a distraction - one that could potentially *cause* an accident.

Posted by: anon | July 20, 2009 12:59 PM

Great to see the community come together around this!

These designs are painted in cities all over the world, Lifer. I don't think there's any evidence to support your claim. I agree with Mike Piscitelli - a nice first step and a fun event, but nowhere near enough.

For example:

1. How come it has been nearly three years since hundreds of local residents and employees signed a petition requesting traffic signals on all of the bustling pedestrian crossings along Route 34 (with many injuries and several deaths since on that one tiny stretch of road), but the Cancer Center is about to open and they still have not been installed?

2. How come almost every one of the the most recent 20 roads to be paved and striped within our city (with permanent paint, not stuff that will wear off in a couple months) has been striped and designed to encourage people to drive 50 miles per hour through the center of the city?

3. Why are there no bike lanes or re-painted crosswalks on Howard Avenue, Kimberly Avenue and Dixwell Avenue, even though a large city committee assembled and agreed to restripe and paint bike lanes on all of those streets back in 2003?

Keep up the good work - and please get some of these more permanent improvements on a real schedule.

Posted by: JSJ [TypeKey Profile Page] | July 20, 2009 1:17 PM

My lab overlooks this intersection, but the damn trees are blocking my view. I do, however, feel an inexplicable sense of calm...

Posted by: nfjanette [TypeKey Profile Page] | July 20, 2009 2:04 PM

Mintzer was at pains to point out that the event was meant in no way to exploit the memory of the much loved and admired Rainoff. "It's not a memorial," she said. "We wanted to do something positive, constructive that really has an impact."
Let's honor her memory and acknowledge her tragic death by being more honest and upfront about how she died - the facts of which are completely missing from this article, as they have been missing from some other NHI articles and comments about traffic issues. From all public information I have seen, she died because she illegally ignored the pedestrian traffic signal and tried to run across the road into incoming traffic. This scenario may have also been at work for other area pedestrian deaths as well.

I have not yet seen any of the pro-traffic-calming groups place pedestrian compliance with traffic signaling onto their public agenda, to the detriment of my ability to take seriously their efforts at improving safety for everyone that uses the roads. There is no conflict between the different areas of focus on this subject: we need both better road designs (details to be debated) in the future and better compliance (and enforcement) NOW of existing laws by everyone - pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists. To understand just how bad the problem of both drivers running red lights and pedestrian non-compliance can be, one needs only spend a few minutes around YNH Hospital area intersections observing an almost complete disdain for both the law and human life as hospital workers and Yale University students and employees constantly ignore crosswalks and signals and walk out into traffic.

Posted by: anon | July 20, 2009 3:09 PM

I agree with your general point, NFJ, but your pro-motorist agenda is once again clouding your view of reality. First of all, google "traffic safety new haven" and virtually every link on there has something to do with the safe behavior of all users, not just motor vehicle drivers. Second of all, your information about Mila Rainof's death is inaccurate.

If you want to talk about the best tactical approaches for improving pedestrian safety, you might want to meet with the City's transportation department. They've had internationally-renowned consultants come in and explain exactly what does and what doesn't work, and what steps are most effective at improving safety on a dollar-per-dollar basis, using concrete examples from hundreds of other American cities.

They also recognize that mistakes are inevitable (and vary in likelihood depending on physical design, socioeconomic, cultural, demographic and other factors), but that those mistakes shouldn't automatically cost someone's life. Children shouldn't automatically die every time that they take a second too long to cross the road.

Also, there's a difference between your ideal fantasy world (e.g., everyone follow the traffic laws starting now!) and reality (e.g., how to actually eliminate risk within the system so we stop seeing hundreds of serious, excessively costly injuries within our city each year).

Posted by: JSJ [TypeKey Profile Page] | July 20, 2009 4:07 PM

Anon, as I was admiring this beautiful street art a couple of hours ago, people constantly streamed across York street on the corner without the crosswalk- or in the middle of the block between Cedar and Frontage- dodging oncoming traffic. I can only conclude that people can be morons- and the only way to calm traffic enough to keep them safe from themselves would be to close off the street to traffic.

Just an aside: acknowledging the reality of automobile traffic in New Haven is not a "pro-motorist agenda".

Posted by: nfjanette [TypeKey Profile Page] | July 20, 2009 4:20 PM

I agree with your general point, NFJ, but your pro-motorist agenda is once again clouding your view of reality.

I am not pro-motorist to the exclusion of other transportation - I don't believe there are always contentions between proponents of the various auto/cycle/pedestrian advocacy groups. I believe safety can be engineered and enforced for all users of the infrastructure.

First of all, google "traffic safety new haven" and virtually every link on there has something to do with the safe behavior of all users, not just motor vehicle drivers

Perhaps, but my statement was clear and correct, and a check of NHI articles proves it, as does a check of the email from some of the groups I mentioned.

Second of all, your information about Mila Rainof's death is inaccurate.

You need to put forth more information than that for such a claim. The original stories about her tragic death were fairly clear about the circumstances involved in the accident.

If you want to talk about the best tactical approaches for improving pedestrian safety, you might want to meet with the City's transportation department. They've had internationally-renowned consultants come in and explain exactly what does and what doesn't work, and what steps are most effective at improving safety on a dollar-per-dollar basis, using concrete examples from hundreds of other American cities.

They also recognize that mistakes are inevitable (and vary in likelihood depending on physical design, socioeconomic, cultural, demographic and other factors), but that those mistakes shouldn't automatically cost someone's life. Children shouldn't automatically die every time that they take a second too long to cross the road.

Also, there's a difference between your ideal fantasy world (e.g., everyone follow the traffic laws starting now!) and reality (e.g., how to actually eliminate risk within the system so we stop seeing hundreds of serious, excessively costly injuries within our city each year).

I don't disagree in principal, but design can be debated. Enforcement, however, which you have failed to mention, can dramatically improve the safety of existing situations. Before the creation and enforcement of the intersection "boxes" in New York City, gridlock was a common situation. Few would have predicted that it would be possible to enforce the "don't block the Box" law. In fact, through massive enforcement and high fines, the behavior of city drivers was changed dramatically in a short period of time.

The same dynamic could happen TODAY - no more studies needed, no construction needed - in New Haven if we declared a public policy of zero tolerance for non-compliance of traffic signaling by pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists. A half dozen police officers stationed just around YNH Hospital handing out tickets all day to (no doubt shocked) people would get the word out rather quickly that no longer will such dangerous behavior be allowed, just as the message regarding no cycling on sidewalks downtown was sent. No matter what the design of the roads, compliance by the users is the ultimate factor in safety.

Posted by: Streever | July 20, 2009 4:24 PM

Anon:
Look, the majority of what you've spewed on this article is true, but do not turn Mila into a martyr. I am glad to see level-headed comments from Erica and the others involved.

It was a tragic death & a horrible accident, and would have been prevented if Mila had not run in front of a car which was traveling the speed limit, according to the police who reviewed the video.

Great work in the community on this project--and let's not doubt that a better designed street could have prevented her death--but let's also know that crossing properly would have prevented her death too, and excercise as much personal caution as we can.

Posted by: anon | July 20, 2009 4:45 PM

I disagree, Streever. Road users' first obligation is not to kill other road users. Drivers, cyclists and pedestrians all need to take that into consideration and modify their behavior accordingly: including the law about drivers and cyclists yielding to pedestrians located within a crosswalk. Vulnerable road users are protected for a reason; whether those laws are enforced or simply written off by our police department is another matter.

As an example, I'm guessing that you probably don't drive or bicycle down narrow residential streets in Fair Haven at 25 miles per hour, due to the likelihood of a 5-year-old child (perhaps one whose parents are not involved in her life on a daily basis due to socioeconomics) running out into the street. Similarly, when many people I know are driving downtown, they try to stay well below the speed limit due to this simple consideration -- if not because of the law itself. I know of many cases where "accidents" were prevented because of the care and caution of the driver, including their decision to travel at 15mph within a dense pedestrian zone.

Clearly, the laws and design of the street failed us in this and many other cases: as Erica and other community leaders involved in this project themselves pointed out in the Hartford Courant. How about a Section A op-ed for a "level-headed" quote?

Also, it's worth pointing out that an "accident" is something that happens once, not a deadly event repeated every few seconds for which battle-tested prevention strategies exist, whether you are in Ghana or Goatville.

Posted by: gyp the red | July 20, 2009 10:46 PM

it would be nice to see a picture of the finished product...

Posted by: WIMBY! | July 20, 2009 11:26 PM

I hate to step into this debate, as I believe everyone who has posted here is essentially on the same side of wanting to build a better New Haven and a stronger community. However, I have also seen some quite reputable recent public health studies that have reached the unexpected conclusion that enforcement of jaywalking laws did not actually have any effect on rates pedestrian fatalities. I believe streetsblog.org has some more info on this if you'd like to see for yourself. Even before the publication of the more recent studies, two cities with which I am intimately familiar--Seattle, WA and Portland, OR--in the mid 1990s both reversed long-standing policies of rigorously enforcing jaywalking laws, and instead issued very public directives explocitly stating that jaywalking laws would no longer be enforced within the downtown areas. To my knowledge, none of the NW cities that jumped on this bandwagon back then saw any spike in pedestrian fatalities as a result. In fact I'm not sure whether the jaywalking policies, one way or the other, ever had any significant effect on pedestrian fatality rates. So, my point is that we certainly could step up enforcement of the rules of the road for pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists alike--I don't think it would do any harm--I would just caution that evidence acrued in cities where jaywalking laws were rigorously enforced over the course of decades has led many of us urban planners to conclude that enforcing such laws is not in itself an effective strategy for bringing down pedestrian fatality rates.

Posted by: WIMBY! | July 21, 2009 12:28 AM

One of the messages of Street Smarts, which I think perhaps has not been emphasized enough, is that downtown New Haven is, always has been, and hopefully always will be, an extremely chaotic place, where completely unexpected things are bound to happen, where people are going to come from all sorts of backgrounds and may or may not follow every rule of the road, where one could very easily encounter a foriegn exchange student from rural Kenya bycycling the wrong way down the street, a kid who runs into the street, or you or me, locked in academic debate and temporarily oblivious to our surroundings. Whatever the situation, it is up to all of us to be mindful of each other and forgiving of all our mistakes and foibles. In preaching Street Smarts, we should keep this in mind. Practicing Street Smarts is not about calling out every impatient driver who insists on passing me just because I'm on a bicycle; nor is it about lecturing "spandex-wearing liberals" bicycling on the sidewalk or "Yalies" wandering into the middle of Elm Street. At the end of the day, nobody is perfect. Even I will occasionally bicycle against traffic on a one-way street or cross against the signal, in open and deliberate defiance of the law. The important thing is to look out for each other, sometimes that means waiting an extra extra second, even when you know you have the right of way; othertimes it means easing your foot off the gas, even though you know that you could technically drive 10 mph faster without exceeding the speed limit. Street Smarts is about takin' it easy. So who's going to join me in the slow lane? At least in this economy, nobody can claim to be too busy, so why don't all us road users try to take a moment every day to just chill out and enjoy the scenery and each other's company? You slip up and do something totally moronic? No worries. It's all good, just so long as nobody gets hurt. The rest of us are looking out for you.

Posted by: Ned | July 21, 2009 8:28 AM

nfjanette:

Do you even ride a bicycle? Both hands are required to steer and brake. Do you drive your car with one hand on the wheel (unless you're shifting - you do know how to drive a standard shift - right)? Try to maintain control of your bicycle, while riding in traffic on potholed streets, with one hand. Most drivers, as far as I can tell, don't even know what a hand signal looks like. Many times I've signaled a right turn, only to have the driver behind me think that I'm flipping them the bird. What's so special about cars anyway, that they enjoy such privilege above all other road users? Oh that's right, it's the American dream of being forced to drive everywhere to do anything, or the freedom to live in the suburbs and bring your polluting vehicle into other people's neighborhoods, use their roads, destroy their environment and not pay for the privilege... Thank you GM and Exxon/Mobil...

Posted by: William Kurtz | July 21, 2009 9:05 AM

Wimby,

That might be the best comment I've read yet about Street Smarts and 'Share the Road' philosophy. Thanks.

Posted by: anon | July 21, 2009 11:36 AM

Great comment, Wimby.

Posted by: JSJ [TypeKey Profile Page] | July 21, 2009 1:02 PM

Wimby- please don't cycle the wrong way down one-way streets!!!!!

I live on a one-way street with parking on both sides. Cyclists riding the wrong way down the street tend to stay to their right, meaning that if there are cars parked on that side of the street, I will not see you when I am backing out. Even though I am extremely cautious, I've had too many close calls. Never mind breaking the law, you could end up breaking your neck.

Posted by: nfjanette [TypeKey Profile Page] | July 21, 2009 2:29 PM

Do you even ride a bicycle? Both hands are required to steer and brake. Do you drive your car with one hand on the wheel (unless you're shifting - you do know how to drive a standard shift - right)? Try to maintain control of your bicycle, while riding in traffic on potholed streets, with one hand. Most drivers, as far as I can tell, don't even know what a hand signal looks like.

I'm a very occasional rider and I understand your point about the challenge of hand signaling while riding a bike. The counterpoint might be that if one was riding a motorcycle, one would more likely use the signal lights; should we consider that same approach for the non-motor cyclist? I've noticed it's much easier to see cyclists when they are wearing the blicking LED lights. In the same way that we've learned the daytime running lights for autos help avoid accidents, so to perhaps we should update our understandings and expectations for cyclists. I'm going to be shopping for a helmet and checking out the latest technology available to give me all the help I can get while on the road cycling.

Posted by: Yaleworker | July 21, 2009 5:32 PM

The thing has already washed away from today's rain. A healthy debate though.

Posted by: anon | July 21, 2009 6:32 PM

I thought it was supposed to last 6 months?

Posted by: Bob | July 22, 2009 8:44 AM

This is just another worthless feel good activity that liberals love.

Posted by: Ned | July 22, 2009 9:42 AM

Nfjanette: "The counterpoint might be that if one was riding a motorcycle, one would more likely use the signal lights."

I do ride a motorcycle. The use of the turn signals does not require removing one's hands from the grips. All motorcycles, except BMW's have a button, on the left bar that that turns the signal on and off, with a press of the thumb.

My bicycle has a built in generator that powers a headlight and taillight (with standlights); however, to run turn signals and the required switch gear is a bit much for a bicycle. The lights that power batteries (and other small electronic devices) are a huge environmental problem.

Posted by: nfjanette [TypeKey Profile Page] | July 22, 2009 1:57 PM

Nfjanette: "The counterpoint might be that if one was riding a motorcycle, one would more likely use the signal lights."

I do ride a motorcycle. The use of the turn signals does not require removing one's hands from the grips. All motorcycles, except BMW's have a button, on the left bar that that turns the signal on and off, with a press of the thumb.

I know, I used to occasionally ride a Yamaha Enduro motorcycle. My point was using such signals would address your concern about one-handed control of a bicycle.

My bicycle has a built in generator that powers a headlight and taillight (with standlights); however, to run turn signals and the required switch gear is a bit much for a bicycle. The lights that power batteries (and other small electronic devices) are a huge environmental problem.

I'll use rechargeable batteries if I judge the safety benefits to be worth the environmental impact.

Posted by: NH resident | July 23, 2009 9:27 AM

Maybe what needs to happen to improve pedestrian compliance with current law within the City of New Haven is the installation of faster crosswalk signals.

The signal installed on fast-moving Skiff Street in Hamden at the Farmington Canal Trail crossing is a prime example. When a pedestrian pushes that crosswalk button, the light immediately turns yellow. There's a countdown timer on the signal which, in my experience of being a walker/biker/rollerblader/stroller pusher, provides more than enough time to get across the intersection. Of course, this being Connecticut, the wise folks always wait a second or two to ensure that traffic has actually stopped at the red light but all in all, this is probably one of the safest pedestrian crossings in town.

If pedestrians got a little "instant gratification" at marked, signaled crosswalks in the city, perhaps they would then be more apt to use them. I drive down Whalley Avenue frequently and fear for the safety of the folks crossing that street - especially those innocent infants strapped into strollers and carriages being pushed across in the middle of the block after dark by parents who couldn't be bothered to walk another 20 yards to the crosswalk and traffic signal.

Another trouble spot is the Fountain St./Dayton St./Forest Rd. intersection in Westville. A little recalibrating of the traffic lights would go a long way to making that intersection safer for pedestrians AND for motorists. We have many folks living in that area who are elderly or developmentally disabled and who desperately need to have a safer place to cross the street.

Posted by: Richard | July 25, 2009 4:04 PM

Recently,I recently purchased directional turn signals for my bike and the 1st day I used them they saved my life at an intersection where a truck was making a right turn.
It's a no brainer. I purchased mine at www.safetybikesignals.com
Why aren't more riders using them. I don't get it. Do you?

Special Sections

Legal Notices

Some Favorite Sites

Government/ Community Links


Flyerboard

Sponsors

N.H.I. Site Design & Development

NHI Store

Buy New Haven Independent Stuff

News Feed

Powered by
Movable Type 3.35