West Rockers are trying to tweak the B bus’s route through their neighborhood and make their streets safer for cyclists and pedestrians — before another one gets hurt.
The latest traffic-calming ideas come from the students and staff at Common Ground High School, who for a decade have endured the difficulty of trying to get to their Springside Avenue campus by means other than a car. Their ideas were incorporated into an application the school filed with the city’s transportation department “Complete Streets” program.
Their efforts assumed a new sense of urgency after the recent injury of a staff member who bikes to work from Westville.
Joel Tolman, Common Ground’s director of impact and engagement, said that for the last decade students and teachers could rely on the B1 bus, which daily winds its way from Whalley Avenue to Southern Connecticut State University’s campus and out to a stop right in front of the campus, to get to school on time.
That all changed last year, when CT Transit changed the route.
“I think it is part of the change of bus service, which is awesome, that brought service to Rockview” housing development, Tolman said.
But now students are given a choice by bus drivers: get dropped off just across from the Wintergreen Avenue bridge, which is not a bus stop, and walk over to school without the benefit of a sidewalk. Or ride the bus for an extra 20 minutes through Brookside and Rockview, past the New Haven Job Corps Center, and finally down to the bus stop in front of Common Ground’s campus.
Worried about safety, the school has asked CT Transit not to let students off the bus to make the trip across the bridge on foot. But the staff understands the problem. When the parking lot is full on campus, staffers who drive to school must park at the Hamden Transfer Station and take the same route and risk.
Tolman said CT Transit attempted to address the problem by creating one special bus that comes straight past the school’s campus. But the reality is every student and staffer coming from every corner of the city can’t catch that one bus. And that means they’re going to be late to school.
“A lot of students take the bus to the Green and transfer to the B1,” he said. “So it’s Fair Haven kids, Newhallville kids, kids from the Hill riding a couple of city buses in the morning.”
The Complete Streets application that was submitted to the city’s Transportation, Traffic and Parking Department asks CT Transit to restore more coverage directly to Common Ground’s campus. It also asks for signage that lets drivers know to look for bikes and pedestrians; traffic-calming infrastructure on Springside Avenue between Hard Street and Wintergreen Avenue; and maintenance of the overgrowth on the limited shoulder of Springside Avenue.
The long-term goal would be connect an isolated neighborhood to all of its major institutions including SCSU, Job Corps, and Common Ground, as well as to nearby West Hills and Westville.
The application proposes the following:
• A paved pedestrian and bike path, or a sidewalk, that connects the public housing developments in our neighborhood (Brookside, Rockview, Wilmot Crossing, and Westville Manor), Southern Connecticut State University, Common Ground, Jobs Corps, Brennan Rogers School, the Westville neighborhood, and city and state parkland;
• The redesign of the intersections at Wintergreen and Springside, and at Hard and Springside, to improve safety; a pedestrian bridge, or replacement of the bridge where Wintergreen Avenue crosses Wintergreen Brook to allow for safe pedestrian access;
• Safe overflow parking for public programs at Common Ground—potentially including diagonal parking along Springside Avenue or safe pedestrian access to overflow parking at the Hamden Transfer Station;
• Banners, signage, cameras, and other creative solutions to illegal dumping and break-ins in the neighborhood that improve a sense of neighborhood connectivity and identity.
• Additional traffic calming strategies along lower Springside Avenue.
Many of the ideas for that transformation came from students who used their senior projects, and their own challenges getting to school, to investigate solutions. The students also raised money from the recent Rock To Rock mass bike ride to help buy school signs.
“I had no idea seniors were doing that senior project until they’d been up to it for a month or so,” Tolman recalled. “And so that’s also clear evidence to me that ‘OK we need to move this to the top of the priority list. We need to figure this out.’”
City transit chief Doug Hausladen said the city received the application two weeks ago. He noted that the portion about sidewalks would be taken up by a separate city resource allocation committee.
Really, Really Lucky
Common Ground had just begun to initiate a conversation with Transportation, Traffic and Parking Deputy Director Mike Pinto, and hadn’t put its Complete Street application in yet, when disaster struck this summer. The school’s farm director, Deborah Greig, was struck by a hit-and-run driver on winding Springside Avenue during her commute from Westville.
Accidents are pretty common in the area, Westville/West Rock District Manager Lt. Manmeet Colon said during September’s management team meeting.
“It was during summer camp,” Greig recalled. “Camp drop-off mornings are like really crazy. They have a great system ... It’s just a lot of traffic.”
“I was biking up Springside, which I’ve been doing since February, and I was about 20 feet away from the driveway,” she said. “I was slowing down but I wasn’t turning yet and I heard a car speeding behind me, which was unusual because most cars are slowing down.”
The car hit Greig from behind, pushing her under the front of the car for about 20 feet. Then the driver drove off. Camp parents and staffers saw what happened and sprang to her rescue including the school’s grounds and facilities manager, who also happens to be an EMT. Greig said she was conscious during the whole thing.
“I was really, really lucky,” she said. “I have no idea how I didn’t have more injuries, or how I didn’t get run over.”
Greig, who recently returned to her job, was out of work for six weeks recovering from a broken vertebra in her spine, during which time she was in a back brace. For the first three weeks of her recovery, she had to have full-time care, relying on her husband, her parents and her in-laws for help.
“After three weeks I was modal,” the native New Yorker said. “I had a walker and started trying to work through the stress of it. It’s just like a funny experience for somebody who is just like a farmer being able to farm, and with school starting not being able to meet students. It’s been a difficult thing. And for someone who is used to being active, to never being alone, is a lot.”
Greig said she still has a lot of soreness. She doesn’t feel as fit as she used to, which is hard given that farmers have to lift seed and soil. She’s not yet biking, she said, because of her recovery as well as because of the unexpected emotions that arise whenever she makes the trek to work, even in a car. Though the man who hit her turned himself in, he has failed to make his court date, she said.
She said she hopes the ideas that have been offered to make traversing the neighborhood safer will be the good that comes out of it all.
“I’m going to be OK eventually,” she said. “I feel like maybe this is a great way to push forward on some of the ideas that people have had.”
“If this can be a safer place and like a place to connect some communities that are not connected right now, I think that would feel really good for everyone,” Greig added. “I know there’s a lot of work being done around bike lanes, but I feel like it’s a lot more than that. There’s not even a sidewalk. I don’t know how the residents do it around here.”
Tolman said Common Ground needs a solution that keeps all the people in the area safe.
“It feels like getting a corner store in our neighborhood, getting Hill Health Center into our neighborhood, getting the fence down—those all feel like such big moves for West Rock,” he said. “And we want to make sure that our neighbors who live in Rockview and Brookside and Westville Manor feel really welcome here and part of that is providing safe access.”