Olive Street will be the beneficiary of a new mobile, radar speed sign next year as the result of an annual exercise in “participatory budgeting”: a democratic decision-making process that empowers a neighborhood to decide how to spend a small share of the city budget.
During its monthly meeting at City Hall this week, the Downtown-Wooster Square Community Management Team (DWSCT) voted to dedicate $5,000 of its annual $10,000 in “Neighborhood Public Improvement Program (NPIP)” allotment towards traffic calming on Olive Street.
For the past three years, the Livable City Initiative (LCI), the city’s anti-blight agency, has distributed $10,000 in NPIP money to each community management team in New Haven to spend as it chooses. The program allows community members themselves to debate and decide on which quality-of-life issues they would like to address in any given year.
As the fiscal year draws to a close, some teams are leaning towards using the money to combat nuisance graffiti, others towards buying poles to hang banners that would advertise neighborhood events above major city streets.
At their monthly meeting Tuesday night, Wooster Square/Downtown neighbors decided that their top priority for this annual allotment of city funds is traffic safety on a street plagued by high speeds and automobile collisions.
“We’re voting on spending the money on traffic safety measures in Wooster Square, a radar speed sign on Oliver Street, and five in-street pedestrian signs and a planter,” DWSCT president Peter Webster said. “As you know, Olive Street is the street of death, literally. We lost one of our neighbors there. And even with the flashing lights at crosswalks, we still have people going 50mph down there to get to the highway.’
The proposed radar speed sign would display a car’s speed as the driver approaches. The signpost itself will also be mobile, allowing the community to try it out at different locations depending on need and efficacy.
The community management team vote on Tuesday night was also as much about hyperlocal democracy in action as it was about traffic calming or any other particular cause.
As DWSCMT Secretary Aaron Goode explained, the annual decision-making about NPIP funds allows New Haveners to participate in a truly democratic debate about community priorities and distribution of resources. He pointed to similar “participatory budgeting” procedures in bigger cities like New York and Chicago as models for what he hoped community management teams would achieve through this process in New Haven.
“Despite the relatively small dollar amount, our management team takes the allocation of this small amount very seriously,” he said. “We kept hearing from all of you that there was a desire for traffic calming in the neighborhood, particularly along Olive Street. So, after considerable discussion amount our executive board, a public deliberation session in February hosted by our development committee, more discussion among our executive board, negotiation with the Department of Transportation, Traffic, and Parking, we have come up with an agreement.”
The team members present voted unanimously to approve a resolution that authorized the chair to direct LCI to transfer $5,000 in NPIP funds to the city’s transit department to install a radar speed sign along Olive Street, and five in-street pedestrian signs and one sidewalk or parking lane planter on or near Olive Street.
The resolution states that the city’s transit department must implement the specified traffic calming measures within six months of receipt of the NPIP funds.
The other $5,000 included in NPIP’s annual allotment to the DWSCMT had been voted on and spent earlier in the fiscal year, and had been used towards funding movie screenings in the park, the installment of bike corrals and bike racks in the neighborhood, and a new bench in Wooster Square park.