On board a bus tour of New Haven, two dozen visionaries stopped by colorful murals on Howard Avenue, checked on a reverse-spiraled parking garage, and visited two-way MLK Boulevard, where a town trolley rides on rails.
Those sights don’t exist. Yet.
But they were visible to the bus’s passengers, who were looking into the possible future of transportation in the emerging “Hill-to-Downtown” neighborhood.
The bus tour was part of a “mobility study” organized by the New Haven parking authority, to imagine a brighter parking and transportation future as the city moves forward with development between the Hill neighborhood and downtown.
That development includes a host of projects: LiveWorkLearnPlay’s planned construction at the Coliseum site; Downtown Crossing, the infilling of the Rt. 34 corridor; plans for improvements at the train station and Church Street South, the housing project across the street under a broader “Hill-to-Downtown” plan.
Amid all of these changes, the parking authority wants to ensure that people have a chance to shape the system by which they get around, said David Panagore, acting head of the authority.
The authority contracted Nelson\Nygaard consultants to collect that input, analyze the situation, and create a report with recommendations. Thursday’s bus tour was the first step in that process.
The tour began Thursday at the parking authority offices on the second floor of the train station. Participants—neighbors, activists, and representatives from Yale, Yale-New Haven Hospital, and the city administration—gathered in a conference room for donuts and coffee and a pre-tour chat.
At 10 a.m., the group piled into a chartered shuttle bus waiting at the curb on Union Avenue and shoved off.
Reverse The Flow!
The first stop was on Church Street outside Gateway Community College. The bus pulled over and Nelson\Nygaard’s Jason Schrieber (pictured) asked people about any problems caused by the new college.
A chorus responded: “The traffic!”
Chris Soto, a Livable City Initiative staffer, explained how cars coming on and off the highway have to cross lanes of traffic to get to and from the school’s parking garage.
“Oh, they’re trying to do a weave in the traffic,” Schrieber said. “That’s nuts.”
Anstress Farwell, head of the Urban Design League, said that the entrance to the school garage is “flipped.” Cars entering from one-way Crown street have to drive past the exit to get to the entrance. That creates a conflict every time cars are entering and exiting at the same time.
“They just goofed,” Farwell said.
Doug Hausladen, New Haven’s transit chief, said he has had meetings with Gateway asking the school to “reverse the flow of the garage,” to make the entrance the exit and vice versa.
“Students are very malleable,” Schrieber said. “Malleable in that I can get them out of their cars easier.” It’s easier to convince students to take other modes of transportation, he claimed.
Connect The Sidewalks!
The shuttle stopped next on MLK Boulevard between College and York streets.
“All right, we’ve got construction,” Schrieber said, pointing to the skeleton of the new 100 College St. building, the future home of Alexion pharmaceutical company and the first phase of Downtown Crossing. What will this area be like after that building is complete? he asked.
If it had housing, it’d have been great, said Hill Alder Dolores Colon from the back of the bus. “It’s going to be another box that’s going to be desolate after 5 p.m.”
The key will be the “pedestrian experience” determined by what happens on the ground floor, piped in Chris Heitmann, head of the Westville Village Renaissance Alliance. With stores and pleasant sidewalks, people will get out of their cars and claim the space for pedestrians.
Schrieber asked about the future of the now-vacant space between 100 College and the Air Rights garage.
Another parking garage, passengers groaned.
“We saw that as a real failure in planning,” said Farwell. “We fought to have sidewalks along the garage” but the pedestrian connection to the Air Rights garage remains to be determined.
Bring On The Trolley!
On the way to the next stop, Hausladen and Heitmann chatted about the importance of small cross streets connecting larger thoroughfares.
“The more corners the better,” Hausladen said.
When the shuttle stopped on Tyler Street, between MLK Boulevard and Legion Avenue, West River activist Stacy Spell discussed those small connectors with Schrieber.
“These streets used to go all the way through,” Spell said. He pointed out the oft-overlooked dead-end Porter Street, now severed from its counterpart north of MLK and Legion.
“You’ve got to have the connectivity,” said Schrieber.
Spell pointed out the area to the east, earmarked for a new headquarters for Continuum of Care and offices and stores. And he pointed out the residential area envisioned to the west.
Schrieber asked about converting the one-way MLK and Legion to two-way streets.
“Most people would be responsive to two-way streets,” Spell said. He said the one-way streets force him to drive well out of his way to take his wife to the train station for her commute to work.
Jim Staniewicz, the parking authority’s engineering director, offered another solution to that problem: a trolley. A dedicated streetcar could connect people easily to the train station.
You could even have a rubber-wheeled trolley, Schrieber said.
Better to have one on rails, Staniewicz said. A true streetcar would add “charm” and “sense of permanency” to the neighborhood, he said.
Move In The Workers!
The tour doubled back on Legion Avenue and turned down Howard Avenue. After passing through the busy are around Yale-New Haven Hospital, the shuttle pulled over just south of Congress Avenue.
The hospital is good because it means jobs, Schrieber said. But it also “crashes into neighborhoods.”
“Where is the city of New Haven actually benefiting from it?” asked one woman.
“Here they create jobs for the suburbanites,” said the woman sitting next to her.
When it comes to the medical industry, “live/work is huge,” Schrieber said. When people live close to work “that kills parking demand.” How can the city attract more people to live here?
The city should “take a look at what other hospital districts are doing,” said Farwell (at center in photo above).
Hospitals have an incentive to have workers living nearer, Schrieber said. “They don’t want to be in the business of building parking garages.”
And workers “arrive to work with less stress” if they’re not fighting traffic on the highway, Farwell noted.
Rodney Slaughter, the hospital’s head of “parking and sustainable transportation,” later said that the hospital takes comprehensive and award-winning measures to encourage workers to live nearby and to cut down on the impact of commuting. The hospital has a homebuyers program. It offers subsidies on bus and train passes, shuttles to commuter lots and to Union Station, reserved parking for high efficiency vehicles, and 22 free spaces for van-pools. Slaughter said over 1,200 employees are enrolled in the hospital’s transportation demand management program.
Pull Out the Paint!
Schrieber (at left in photo) turned the conversation to traffic calming. He said murals can slow drivers who press the brakes to take a look.
“New Haven is ready for an explosion of public art,” said Hausladen.
(A group of neighbors are currently working on a public art project on Humphrey Street.)
New Haven could be covered with murals. Like Philadelphia, said Donna Greene (at right in photo), sitting with Helen Bennet-Dawson at the front of the bus.
As she got off the shuttle back at the train station, Greene, who lives on Salem Street in the Hill, said she’s most concerned about pollution from “all the parking lots their building.” All that exhaust just increases rates of asthma, she said.
“People would prefer to use a trolley,” which would mean fewer cars on the road and less pollution in the air, Greene said.
Spell called the tour a good way to “make sure everybody is at the table early.”
“I learned the community is more on board with the right things to do than they’re given credit for,” said Schrieber. He said the neighborhood isn’t afraid of change, of development; it just wants to see returns. “They want to see people living here,” to reconnect the Rt. 34 corridor, to have a walkable neighborhood.
All of that will lead to a neighborhood with more economic vitality, less traffic, and healthier lifestyles, Schrieber said.
Schrieber said that while it was too soon for him to have any specific development recommendations, there’s “no question” that the area could have “more live/work going on here.”
Another tour is scheduled to take place next Thursday, with focus groups to follow in April, workshops in May, and a final public meeting in June.