Harriet Douglas lives on Olive Street. She now gets more visits and safer ones from her daughter-in-law Connie Ellison-Douglas than ever before. That’s thanks to the city’s first solar-powered public lighting that is now illuminating the formerly dark and dangerous Court Street Bridge.
More than 100 people came out Saturday night to christen the new lights and to applaud what the Wooster Square community had accomplished.
According to Court Street resident Ted Brady, who demonstrated with his pinkie in the peephole, less than a year ago there were bad guys using this hard-to-notice aperture located at the northeastern end of the bridge.
Peering through the hole, lookouts signaled to their confederates in order to set up the mugging of people as they walked across the dimly illuminated span that links downtown with Wooster Square.
An aroused community led by Brady’s wife Karri publicized the rash of muggings on SeeClickFix. They organized community meetings and mobilized the many young families with children. They collaborated with city officials such as Rob Smuts and local cop on the beat Pete Krause.
Officer Krause (pictured with Andy Ross) arrested the bad guys. And the city engineer’s office put in a temporary spot light.
However, keeping up the pressure alone was not sufficient.
A more permanent lighting solution ran into what might have been a legal train wreck: The ruling authority on what could be done on the bridge was in the hands not of City Hall but of Metro North Railroad.
And that entity allowed no installation of electricity above their tracks.
City Engineer’s office lighting specialist Sebouh Asadourian came up with the solution: A set of three solar power lights that store energy in battery packs and without a wire in sight click on and off with the rhythms of the sun.
Saturday night, just after the sun dipped below the building line in the west, right on schedule, the three lights on overhanging poles flipped themselves silently on high above.
The dark bridge was suddenly the light bridge.
Then city Chief Administrative Officer Rob Smuts and Karri Brady christened the lights with a bottle of champagne. Brady thanked her neighbors. So did Smuts. They also thanked Asadourian and Barack Obama. Funding for the lighting came out of federal stimulus funding made available through an energy efficiency block grant via the U.S. Department of Energy.
As raffles, face painting, pizza eating, and kid games unfolded on the bridge, and the Lonesome Sparrows played a rousing version of “Louie Louie,” Court and Olive resident Janna Wagner (pictured with Ward Nine aldermanic hopeful Matt Smith) offered that the new lights and bridge safety potentially changed her life.
“There were muggings almost every night. And it made me think of leaving New Haven,” she said.
No longer. According to Ted and Karri Brady, people have told them they are feeling much safer.
The stats prove it as well. “We have not had a mugging in Wooster Square since Christmas Eve day,” said Ted Brady.
Although she terms life in New Haven not without its problems, “that possibility [leaving New Haven] has gone,” added Wagner.
Karri Brady called the nine-month journey from a community besieged by crime to one celebrating a newfound sense of safety and solidarity nothing short of “miraculous.”
While thanking Asadourian and eliciting a round of applause for the president, Smuts called the lights are first and foremost “a physical manifestation of an active community.“
The solar powered system has been working well, according to Brady. Since the lights were installed in mid-August, one went out briefly. The problem was not at the solar end, that is, not enough light to power up the system. The problem was in the battery pack, which was replaced immediately, Brady said.
After the christening and applause, Andy Ross and Wooster Square Alderman Michael Smart presented Karri Brady with a plaque acknowledging her leadership.
The four local groups plaquing Brady were the Court and Wooster Street block watches, the Historic Wooster Square Association, and the Downtown/Wooster Square Management Team. All helped mobilize the community.
For Connie Ellison-Douglas walking across the bridge in the pre-lights era had been like “being asleep and walking half invisible. Now it’s [that is, the experience] open and awake,” she said.
Money raised from Saturday’s party is earmarked for the neighborhood’s next event: a free family movie night in Wooster Square Park for a showing of Disney’s Ratatouille. The date is Saturday Oct. 16 ; show time is 6:15. For more info or to help, the contact is Andy Ross: 203-641-4666