Drivers used to speeding through Westille Village on their way to downtown or back out to the suburbs had a slower commute Monday — because traffic calming on Whalley Avenue has finally arrived.
After six years of community wrestling with the state Department of Transportation, construction of new medians on the eastern and western edges of the Village got underway Monday.
A number of the people who helped fight to make it happen gathered at the corner of West Rock Avenue and Whalley Avenue to note the milestone.
Cars could be seen approaching the intersection of Whalley Avenue and Fitch Street with a lot more caution than before. Bright signs and traffic cones narrowed the roadway down to one lane. Big construction trucks could be seen hauling dirt and digging up the center of the street.
Mayor Toni Harp called it “kind of cool” to see the $600,000 project finally begin. Harp was still a state senator when Westville business owners like Gabriel DaSilva of Da Silva Gallery Custom Framing & Fine Art and Lyric Hall owner John Cavaliere and neighbors started lobbying to slow down traffic along the stretch of state-owned roadway, a highly traveled main artery of the city.
She said the joint city-state initiative will improve the safety and vitality throughout the village and is just the latest example of New Haven’s efforts to make the city more pedestrian-friendly.
Harp and State Rep. Pat Dillon teamed up to get the project on the state bond agenda, securing about $424,000 from the state to pay for the project. The rest will come from the sale of city bonds. (Read earlier stories about the project here, here and here.)
Dillon, who has been a champion for the project from its inception, said it took about six years to try to get the state DOT to see Westville not as a drive-through for people from the Valley headed to downtown, but as a place where people walk to local businesses. She credited the business owners in the village for continuously pushing for traffic calming even using their own money to hire consultants to study the issue and come up with solutions.
“I’m thrilled its happening,” she said. “This a new beginning for Westville Village.”
The construction is expected to last about 30 days—weather permitting, said City Engineer Giovanni Zinn. The slowed-down traffic that people are starting to experience will be the new normal going forward.
Though there are no bike lanes in this first phase of the project, the city has reserved road space on the shoulders of Whalley Avenue to add protected bike lanes in the future. But first it has to convince the state DOT to sign off.
A second phase of the traffic calming project also is in the works to address a more complicated intersection, where Fountain Street and Whalley Avenue meet.
Phase one construction includes the installation of new crosswalks at the intersections of Whalley and West Rock avenues and Whalley Avenue and Philip Street. It also includes the construction of medians with trees and decorative lighting starting at the intersection of Harrison Street and Whalley Avenue and also at West Park and Whalley Avenue. Zinn said the decorative lighting might have to wait for the spring.
“The philosphy here is to create these two gateways that will calm traffic as you’re coming into the Village,” he said. “People like to speed when the street is very wide and they feel they have an open right of way. The median will cut the apparent size of the street in half.”
Zinn said the changes help make the street safer for all users of the street, including pedestrians who are not only getting new crosswalks, but also refuges in the median to help them more safely cross the wider parts of Whalley Avenue.
“We really cannot overemphasize how important it is to serve all the users of the road,” he said. “Our pedestrians are our most vulnerable users of the road right here at West Rock and Philip Street.”
West Hills/Amity Alder Richard Furlow, whose district includes a sliver of the village, said that project is instrumental in not only the revitalization of the village and efforts to bring more foot traffic into the village, but also in efforts to partner with Southern Connecticut State University to provide more amenities that would be attractive to students and faculty there. He said there are hopes that the university will wonder consider the village its main street.
“It’s an exciting time for Westville Village,” he said.