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Job-Seekers, Cyclists Clash Over Rt. 34 Redo

by Neena Satija | Sep 29, 2011 10:49 am

(27) Comments | Commenting has been closed | E-mail the Author

Posted to: City Hall, Transportation

Justin Elicker’s measuring tape, workers’ bright green t-shirts and signs, and nearly four hours of passionate testimony couldn’t convince four alderman to make a decision on a resolution asking the city to remake its controversial design of the “Downtown Crossing” project.

East Rock Alderman Elicker and others were hoping that the Board of Aldermen’s Community Development Committee would support a plan submitted last month to convert the Route 34 connector into “a pair of two-lane urban boulevards” rather that the five-lane roads the city’s current “Downtown Crossing” proposal calls for. The city won $16 million in federal money to make over Route 34, long considered a huge mistake that divided the city and razed a neighborhood several decades ago.

Instead, at a meeting Wednesday night that drew close to 100 people, the committee decided not to decide. The committee will revisit the matter within next two weeks, announced committee chairman Marcus Paca after a short recess a little before 11:00 p.m.

The inconclusive ending didn’t reflect the meeting’s contentious debate, where sparks flew on both sides.

The debate was joined by proponents of a more walkable, bikeable Route 34 corridor. That group included Alderman Elicker, armed with a measuring tape to show just how far pedestrians would have to walk to cross the street. A woman who had been struck by a bus that broke her back in Washington D.C. offered passionate first-hand testimony about just how dangerous intersections can be.

City officials, meanwhile, argued that the Downtown Crossing design already incorporates many bike- and pedestrian-friendly elements. The city cannot afford to wait on getting the project going, they said. They were joined by a dozen construction workers in bright green shirts that read “Support Economic Development.” The workers spoke up in favor of new jobs associated with the project.

“Would you feel safe as a pedestrian walking all the way out those windows?” asked Elicker, his voice rising in volume as he walked away from the meeting table with a roll of measuring tape. He demonstrated that one of the pedestrian crossings envisioned by the city’s current plan would be longer than the length of the aldermanic chamber.

He called the appearance message of the green T-shirts a “misleading attempt to lobby this committee.”

Neena Satija Photo When Elicker was done, Downtown Alderwoman Bitsie Clark gave him a talking to for his “angry manner,” prompting gasps and mutters of “watch your mouth” from the audience.

“For God’s sake, both sides have got to stop this shit and starting talking to each other,” she said. “The last thing we want here is polarization. We can’t afford it.”

She wasn’t any happier with the labor group Elicker had blasted. Most of their testimony didn’t have much to do with the actual resolution, which calls for a prioritization of pedestrian and bike safety and doesn’t deal with jobs and economic development.

“I would like to have a job. And that’s all I want to say,” said a green-shirted Desmond Wilkes. Several more members of the group approached the committee with similar statements.

“Every single person in this room is for jobs. If they aren’t, they shouldn’t be here,” Clark answered. Eventually, as committee Chairman Marcus Paca continued calling up members of the group to testify, she asked him pointedly, “why do you keep calling the same side up?”

The group left en masse after they had finished testifying, about an hour into the meeting.

Asked afterward who organized the appearance at Wednesday night’s meeting, Wilkes was vague, responding, “I really couldn’t say that.” He said everyone in the group was a participant in the city’s Construction Workers Initiative, which was started years ago and that they decided to attend on their own. But he wouldn’t talk about who made or paid for the printed T-shirts.

At the beginning of the meeting, Paca had said he would first bring up 10 people who supported the resolution, followed by 10 people who didn’t. But when he announced the end of testimony for “supporters of the resolution” after the labor group left, someone shouted out, “Weren’t they against the resolution?”

Clearly, people were confused about who was for and against it, legislative staff pointed out. “It’s clear that they were in favor of jobs,” Paca responded shortly.

The city officials who testified next tried to assure the committee that they, too, were in favor of jobs—and of most of the bike-friendly resolution’s points. In fact, their plan already reflects most of what was in the resolution, they argued.

For instance, the re-built area will have “textured sidewalks” and “bike boxes” at intersections to help both pedestrians and bikers cross streets, as well as an off-street bike lane around the Knights of Columbus building.

And two-lane roads weren’t necessarily the answer to slowing down traffic, said Mike Piscitelli, the city’s assistant director of economic development and former traffic czar. He cited the Merritt Parkway and Ella T. Grasso Boulevard as examples of “extremely high speed” streets with only two lanes. The plans for the urban boulevards at Downtown Crossing, Piscitelli, said, reflect “the next generation of urban downtown streets…and they tend to be larger.”

Click here to see a report on the city’s plan, presented to the Community Development Committee.

Not to mention, the design isn’t finalized yet—and there’s more to the project than just Phase One. “Phase two will introduce newer sidewalks and that sort of thing,” said Bob Talbot, a project engineer with Parsons Brinckerhoff, the Boston-based firm in charge of the project design.

It was the message of the ticking clock which really seemed to hit home with the committee members. The $16 million federal Tiger II grant funding will only be “obligated” to the project once it’s put out to bid for construction—and that has to happen by September 2012. 

“We don’t want to lose the money,” said the city’s economic development director Kelly Murphy. “[The plan] might not be perfect…but we want to keep moving and keep growing.”

After that point, Clark started asking questions about the timetable of every person who testified in support of the resolution. “Isn’t there a deadline?” she pressed. “Money is coming at a certain point. How do you deal with that aspect?”

Cycling advocate David Streever’s answer: It may already be too late. The city’s current plan is so far from the original proposal it submitted when it applied for the federal grant that the feds might have an issue with such a big change, he said. “The city may have already shot itself in the foot on that.”

After the meeting, Murphy dismissed his concerns. “He should put in context for the grant proposal,” she said. “It was for a lot more money…that vision is going to be constrained by funders, approvals, time frames.” (The city originally applied for $21 million and only got 16; before that it had been denied an application for nearly twice that).

State Rep. Roland Lemar, who co-signed the bike-friendly resolution along with 11 city aldermen, said he doesn’t think the state or the feds would pull the funding simply because the plan had changed from its original form. But the problem, he said, is that “the city has never designed a plan that reflects its priorities.”

In his testimony Wednesday night he repeatedly called the urban boulevards the city proposes “a local access highway” or “highway substitute.”

Despite hours of argument during the meeting, there was no consensus. While Parsons Brinckerhoff may move ahead on the design of Phase One in the next month, the committee will revisit the resolution within the next two weeks on a date to be set by Paca, and community groups will continue to suggest new designs. (Click here to read about the most recent public workshop on the project, organized by the New Haven Urban Design League.)

“September 2012 isn’t tomorrow night,” pointed out former Dwight Alderwoman Olivia Martson, vice-president of the Urban Design League, after the meeting ended. “The city’s just saying, ‘we need to make a decision by January 1 when the new alderpeople come in. Rush, rush, rush.’”

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posted by: robn on September 29, 2011  11:42am

You can have jobs and good design at the same time. It just takes elbow grease and political will.

posted by: Politics as Usual on September 29, 2011  11:49am

Classic bait and switch here.

1. The City sells a project to the public based on the idea that we’re going to redevelop the Route 34 area and expand downtown by replacing the freeway with well-designed walkable streets.

2. The project gets broad support.

3. Using this support the City then proceeds to borrow $7 million dollars at the same time that they’re laying off police officers.

4. The public supports this action because it’s worth borrowing money even in tough times for projects that are truly great and benefit everyone.

5. With money in hand, the City proceeds to design what is basically a five-lane private driveway to the air rights garage.

6. The City wonders why people are upset that they’ve been deceived, tries to put Chanel lipstick on this pig of plan and gets called out on it.

posted by: Downtowner on September 29, 2011  12:03pm

@ Politics as Usual-

This indeed is not a case of bait and switch… In fact, the city hosted numerous public meetings to solicit input from the citizens who were interested in this project. On top of meeting with nearly 50 community groups and stakeholders- as presented last night… The 2 issues here are 1.) not every person on a computer or riding a bike somewhere in New Haven who thinks they’re a “urban planner” or a “traffic expert” is, and 2.) the misinformation that this is a “5 Lane Highway” is not true… at all. This actually is a 3-4 lane urban street with turning lanes, and a 5-lane, 20-foot span coming into the city off of the highway.

Those opposed to the city’s plan, or the administration or whoever here need to get the facts right first. Just like Alderwoman Clark told us all last night “let’s just all work together here”. This is a good project for everyone in our city.

posted by: anon on September 29, 2011  12:52pm

Downtowner, if we want people to support developments, let’s first stop promulgating the outright lies. The fact is, over 100 residents testified that the area is currently known by everyone who lives and works around it as a “death zone.” Increasing speeds and widening the crossings so that more people can be killed here certainly won’t help that. It will just perpetuate another 50 years of a desolate abyss with no economic development other than one private building. There’s no “gray area” when it comes to a) death zones or b) the clearly expressed public interest in a walkable project.  ...

A hundred other cities have gotten things right when removing highways. Why can’t we? Clearly, because the city and DOT are trying to rush through this job rather than do it the right way. 

Also, very few people mentioned bicycles, although I’m sure the city is now trying to paint the clear public interest as a “small group.” It’s hard to think about anything as progressive as that when people are getting killed, are not employed, and are completely cut off from the city and from jobs.

Stick with the facts and we’ll see a much better outcome here.

posted by: streever on September 29, 2011  1:55pm

Downtowner
Why the divisive tone? You seem eager to call Clark’s words, so let us look at her words.

She said that 5 lanes is not a done deal, and that she thinks the city can compromise. She questioned the notion that the city and the activists are in disagreement at all, and stated that everyone is working together, in their own way.

Why do you seem intent on criticizing the volunteers (which include licensed traffic engineers, architects, urban planners, and other professionals in the field)? That runs entirely contrary to Clark’s wishes and statements from last night.

I feel like you and I were at two different meetings. I saw broad agreement and support, both on the board and among the volunteers. The city was unwilling to compromise on a design that they have admitted prioritizes suburban residents over New Haven residents, which puts New Haven residents in actual physical danger.

No one is trying to vilify or demonize suburbanites. We are just asking why not build a project that places New Haven residents FIRST?

This project has an enormous transformational potential for the City of New Haven. The city has bungled it and made some mistakes, and they’ve frustrated activists by asking for input and then refusing to make any of the changes called for.

The city has long told us that they will need our support to see this through—that part of the plan requires them to demonstrate broad community approval and support. I think one has to ask Kelly Murphy, if she is correct and my opinion is without merit, why did the City lobby so hard to kill this very mild-mannered resolution?

What are they afraid of? While she tells Clark & the reporter that this project is safe and secure, she is actively working to block citizens from commenting or sharing their input.

Mike Piscitelli requested that the resolution NOT go to the Board of Aldermen. Why? What is he afraid of? This is simply a letter from the Alders asking the city to design this in accordance with the cities own policies.

Piscitelli and Murphy may say that the project is safe and in no danger, but their assertions are not backed up by their actions.

posted by: Open Mind on September 29, 2011  2:05pm

@Anon:

Why do you suggest that the current plan would increase speeds? The speed limit on the new road will be 25 mph. With the new exclusive pedestrian crosswalks cars will be lucky if they can drive that fast through the area. I don’t know the speed limit on the highway now, but I am certain is it much faster than 25 mph.

I was there last night, and everyone who testified, including City officials, seemed to share the same vision for enhanced pedestrian and cyclist safety. Where there was some disagreement was on the specific engineering designs needed to get there. There were a number of traffic calming suggestions made last night, and I don’t understand why there needs to be a “my way or the highway” attitude about a two lane road. Why shouldn’t the city consider other traffic calming measures?

I share Bitsie Clark’s frustration about the “us vs. them” attitude that some displayed last night. We all want this road to be safe and we’ll come to a much better outcome by working together than by fighting each other.

I’m willing to have an open mind here. Who else is with me?

posted by: streever on September 29, 2011  2:14pm

@Open Mind
The new design speed of the roads will, in fact, be higher per the cities plan. Higher design speeds == higher speeds. Wider lanes == higher speeds. Increased lanes == higher speeds.

Having an open mind should not preclude reading and understanding the plan and the basic conventions behind traffic calming. One may be open-minded while also understanding the science and research behind the ideas Anon has put forth.

You should read the letter by Ryan Lynch, senior planner from Tri-State Transportation Campaign, or the remarks by Norman Garrick, a fulbright scholar and professor in urban planning at UCONN.

Both individuals are recognized experts—in fact, Garrick was invoked by the city last night and Lynch has been lauded by City Plan staff numerous times. Both individuals come to the same conclusion that anon lists.

Does having an open mind mean “ignore the advice, warnings, and information from recognized experts in the field”?

If so, call me close minded.

posted by: Philly24 on September 29, 2011  2:33pm

@ Open Mind-

Totally agree with your position on this… I think we can all be proud of the fact that we’ve come this far with such an innovative project, and together have crafted what could be one of the biggest changes in our city’s history… But we need to continue to look for ways to do it together- at the same table- in the interest of safety for all.

posted by: jt75 on September 29, 2011  2:45pm

@Open Mind

Have you ever been on Whitney Avenue? Guess what the speed limit is there: 25 mph, but everyone is driving 35-40 mph. Riding a bike is downright scary on Whitney Ave, and good luck crossing the street except with the crosswalk signal. I don’t want to see a repeat of this for the Rt. 34 project.

Everyone who has asked for less lanes and safer street is open to compromises and working together. As Streever pointed out, the City has asked for input but then decided not to implement many of the suggestions. I’d simply like to see a plan that at least gives equal priority to pedestrians and bikers as it does to cars. The currently proposed design does not do that.

posted by: fed up resident on September 29, 2011  2:49pm

Whats up with hiring a Boston company you mean to tell me not one design company in New Haven or the state could have done this. ...

posted by: Icarus on September 29, 2011  3:39pm

This whole thing is a joke. The plans I saw for this project are totally reasonable. For me personally, the project does not satisfy all of my wants and desires but is overall positive for this city. It does provide bike lanes, pedestrian areas for walking, crossing, and hanging out, as well as new lights and signs. What is so negative about that?

Clearly, most of the folks who so violently oppose the plan have not worked in organizations and therefore do not understand legal, political, and economic constraints that large projects have. Not everyone can get everything they want. But, alas, a select few must hold back to majority with their constant disapproval of anything they did not personally design or plan.

Also, I am increasingly suspicious of this “Urban Design League”. At the talk I attended one member of this organization was persistent in asking questions about 10 year old boys being able to hang out in the street. There website mentions no credentials of these folks. Are they engineers? Planners? Do they hold certifications or degrees or are they just bloggers?

posted by: anon on September 29, 2011  3:58pm

Icarus: Mr. Winstanley presented his plan for College Street Phase 1 today. His College Street project needs state approval, and that approval is based on what happens on the rest of Route 34.

College Street is being completely reconstructed at taxpayer cost of over $10 million dollars, yet no bike lanes whatsoever were shown in Mr. Winstanley’s drawings of the street. Winstanley showed a fancy new 55 foot wide one way street where the College Street bridge exists today.

How is that in keeping with the city’s own stated policies?  These are policies that every single city staff person claims to be following.

posted by: amen on September 29, 2011  4:00pm

@ Icarus… Amen.

This project to most citizens, tax payers, and alike in this city is perfectly fine the way the city has presented it and worked to craft over years. What do these folks expect with this area? It’s been a waste-land for 50 years, a highway which ripped right through the heart of our city, and no one has cared about it- not for a second. Now that the city/state is actually taking it into consideration for changes, those opposed are up in arms because they want more, more, more. You have a bike lane, and so many other things that most of these projects never get a chance to see the light of day. Isn’t that enough?

Its time for change here folks. Let’s get this done- and done the right way. Together.

posted by: amen on September 29, 2011  4:04pm

Dear anon,

Are you referring to the “artist’s renderings” that have been shown at meeting of the 100 College Street building?

They’ve stated all along that the bike lanes go directly past and are a part of the development there. Its part of the “Complete Streets” deal… Why would you believe differnt? Come’on, its an artists rendering after all?

posted by: Icarus on September 29, 2011  4:15pm

anon,

Not sure I saw bike lanes on college street or not. There were bike lanes on the Frontage roads which look comparable to ones I ride on in West Haven (Ocean Avenue). I feel safe on the bike lanes in West Haven and therefore my gut says they are acceptable. The taxpayer money is also from all citizens of the state, not just New Haven…

All I am suggesting is for some perspective here and less doom and gloom. Initially upon obtaining a job here, I had been considering moving to New Haven (in the long term). However, it is not the schools or crime that makes me second guess this thought, it is the negativity permeating every aspect of everything done anywhere in New Haven.

Folks need to relax. Carter Winstanley seems sincere and his other projects have been successful.

Lastly, when I started reading this site (about a year ago) the general tone was positive and information based. Now, I am sure I will get lambasted by a number of folks about how this is only about New Haven residents and I should go pound salt.

posted by: anon on September 29, 2011  4:49pm

Amen: Interesting that you bring up artist renderings. Here’s the background on that: The city has shown “Phase 2” drawings at all of its public meetings. You are correct that those drawings do look different. Unfortunately, “Phase 2” has no funding - the drawings you have seen are hypothetical artists renderings or design sketches for things that most likely will never be built.

Just like the original Route 34 project in the 1960s, we will most likely be left with whatever is built in “Phase 1” for the next 50 years.  The city’s exclusive focus on “Phase 2” in all public hearings is a classic move that is designed to confuse the public and allow the project to move forward unencumbered by any public input.

If the public had been happy with the 60 foot crossings and 50 mile per hour streets with no bike lanes that surround the new College Street development, then 100 people would not have spent four hours testifying in favor of changes to bring “Phase 1” in line with the city’s own, very well-defined policies.  Our State Representative Roland Lemar made this point far more eloquently than anyone posting here.

posted by: Jason Stockmann on September 29, 2011  4:53pm

I think this debate could best be framed by looking at what’s going on in other cities around the world.  The fact is that cities realize that in order to remain economically competitive, they need to offer a high quality of life, and that vibrant street life and pedestrian safety are truly indispensable in achieving this goal.

Job creation in New Haven is being driven by professionals such as those at the Yale School of Medicine who bring in over $400 million per year in research grants.  (And this doesn’t even include capital flowing into start-up drug companies that spin off from the med school).  This money trickles down into many facets of New Haven, including all the folks who work at the med school, the contractors who put up new buildings, maintenance crews, etc.  The benefit of this money to the local economy can not be overstated.

New Haven is in a fierce competition with cities across the country for this research money.  Winning grants requires that Yale and other research groups (like Haskins, Pierce Lab, and start-up drug companies) to attract the most qualified researchers possible, people who want healthy lifestyles based around walking, cycling, transit, and mixed-use urbanism.    I know this because I work with these people every day, and this is what they say they want, almost without exception.

My reason for saying all this is because the places highly educated professionals want to live—San Francisco, Berkeley, NYC, Boston, D.C.—all have one thing in common: vibrant pedestrian streetscapes and, increasingly, bicycle lanes and amenities.  Not incidentally, they also enjoy astronomical property values.  These cities don’t attract people by offering the best freeways or the shortest delays for drivers at traffic signals.  They offer neighborhoods and downtowns with a distinct sense of place, mixed use buildings, and pedestrian-oriented infrastructure.  They still have a long way to go, as all cities do, to ensuring the safety of all road users, including cyclists, children, and the elderly.  But they have figured out what makes cities vibrant, and their planners are using traffic calming, bike lanes, wide sidewalks, etc. wherever possible to further this goal.

New Haven is not going to outcompete these places by building nice roads.  I can guarantee you this.  New Haven will flourish by building on its urban core of walkable streets, by connecting downtown to the train station, and by growing the walkshed around downtown.  This means subordinating driver convenience to the safety of diverse street users. 

The Route 34 project is being planned around the worst-case projections of traffic growth.  Use of pedestrian-hostile design elements like the turning lanes at Church and MLK, which will force pedestrians to cross five lanes of traffic, are based on minimizing driver delays during the 15-minute peak of rush hour.  Compromising the entire project in order to avoid delays during a few minutes each day is a steep price to pay.  New Haven needs to be bold and envision a future in which drivers confronted with delays they don’t like will make other arrangements, such as carpooling, cycling, walking, taking transit, or moving closer to work.

History goes to the bold.  Those who go with the status quo are forgotten. 
It’s time to push back against the DOT and anyone else who tells us we need to prioritize motor vehicles in the heart of a 400-year old city.

posted by: Ben Berkowitz on September 29, 2011  5:45pm

Things I like about the New Haven Independent these days:
If I wait long enough to post RobN will speak my thoughts exactly.

posted by: Stephen Harris on September 29, 2011  6:10pm

Replacing the connector with a real street is a great thing and if this project goes forward, even as presently planned, the City should be applauded for doing it. But I think an opportunity to build the street in light of future realities is being missed.

The City’s report read that CTDot had forecasted traffic out to 2015 and 2035. The proposed road geometry seems to be based on the faulty assumption of continued long distance commuting from the suburbs by private auto long into the future.

In a time when oil was cheap and abundant transportation planners were correct to assume that auto traffic would increase over time: And it always did. That assumption is no longer valid. Oil is no longer cheap and its abundance is starting to wane. In fact, the International Energy Agency has reported that conventional oil production peaked in 2006.

The long term trend is for the price of oil to steadily increase as demand outstrips supply. Unconventional oil such as tar sands, shale, deep sea or the heavy oil found in the Orinoco belt can’t be developed in quantities that can keep up with ongoing depletions in conventional oil. So while it’s safe to assume that the traffic count in 2015 will be pretty much the same as today, in 2035 it will be less. 

This will have consequences for our economy, built environment and transportation. The global economy will shrink because of the increasing costs to ship goods around the globe. A more localized economy will force changes to the built environment. More people will live and work in the same town because the cost to commute by car or even own one will be too high. More people will be using public transportation, motor scooters and bicycles to get around town, saving cars for the occasional pleasure trip. Pedestrian activity will also increase for short trips.

A study conducted by the University of Canterbury, New Zealand (“Urban form and fuel shortage risk assessment: A method to investigate the impact of peak oil on travel demand”) found that long distance, and even medium distance commuting for some income groups, isn’t a viable option.

But won’t fewer lanes just create traffic congestion right now? Planners feared the Embarcadero conversion in San Francisco would snarl traffic. That fear never materialized as drivers found other ways to get around. New Haven has multiple points of entry from both North and South. Fears of snarling traffic won’t materialize here either as drivers discover other ways to get around, just like the drivers in San Francisco. People find routes that work for them.

And, in time, as more people move into the city to be near their place of work, having a less auto-centric street system will be of value to the City, especially downtown. More people living in and near downtown means more people walking about and supporting local businesses.

I know this is a long post but I think the long term planning implications of the project are important and I needed to explain them in some detail.

So, to wrap it up: Build the project, but seriously consider reducing the number of lanes. Plan for the future, not the present. Let’s not miss this opportunity.

posted by: Paulette Cohen on September 29, 2011  6:45pm

The New Haven Urban Design League held a two day Community Workshop this summer on Route 34, Downtown Crossing.  Architects, traffic engineers and other design professionals from the New Haven area, and from cities as far as Boston and California, donated their time.  New Haven Architect and New Urbanist Robert Orr donated the use of The Bourse, his Chapel Street workspace.  Numerous community groups and interest groups, as well as City Hall professionals, Alders, and a representative from Rosa De Lauro’s office attended.  Two days of intensive talking, listening, and designing, in groups large and small, generated many ideas for ways to really reconnect and revitalize the area that a misguided “urban renewal” project tore asunder over half a century ago.

The workshop culminated in an exciting graphic and verbal presentation by the design professionals of many of the ideas for the development of this area and its surrounds that had been discussed over the two-day “mini-charrette”.

I think there is a broad consensus Downtown Crossing/Route 34 is a huge opportunity for New Haven, as well as a tremedous desire to get it right this time.  The sketched out ideas that emerged from the workshop spoke to the need for economic development; connecting and revitalizing neighborhoods; the requirements for a pedestrian inviting environment; what makes for usable and safe streets; and the importance of the quality and aesthetics of the built environment.  (It is interesting to note that there were even innovative ideas for parking for the Carter Winstanley biotech building that would use existing infrastructure and wouldn’t involve hulking new garages.)

Many of the ideas from the Community Workshop will be presented again at the New Haven Urban Design League’s annual meeting.  Please join us so that the dialog can continue.

New Haven Urban Design League Annual Meeting
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 6TH
5:30PM—7:30PM
NEW HAVEN PUBLIC LIBRARY

Light refreshments. 
RSVP: 203/624-0175

posted by: Paulette Cohen on September 29, 2011  10:31pm

The New Haven Urban Design League held a two day Community Workshop this summer on Route 34/Downtown Crossing.  Architects, traffic engineers and other design professionals from the New Haven area, and from cities as far as Boston and California, donated their time.  New Haven Architect and New Urbanist Robert Orr donated the use of The Bourse, his Chapel Street workspace.  Numerous community groups and interest groups, as well as City Hall professionals, Alders, and a representative from Rosa De Lauro’s office attended.  Two days of intensive talking, listening, and designing, in groups large and small, generated an array of ideas for ways to really reconnect and revitalize the area that a misguided “urban renewal” project tore asunder over half a century ago.

The workshop culminated in an exciting graphic and verbal presentation by the design professionals of many of the ideas for the development of this area and its surrounds that had been discussed during the two-day “mini-charrette”.

I think there is a broad consensus that Downtown Crossing/Route 34 is a huge opportunity for New Haven, and that it is tremendously important to get it right this time.  The sketched out ideas that emerged from the workshop spoke to the need for economic development; the need to connect and revitalize the neighborhoods; the requirements for a pedestrian inviting environment; what makes for usable and safe streets; and the importance of the quality and aesthetics of the built environment.  (It is interesting to note that there were even innovative ideas for parking for the Carter Winstanley biotech building that would use existing infrastructure and wouldn’t involve hulking new garages.)

Many of the ideas from the Community Workshop will be presented again at the New Haven Urban Design League’s annual meeting next week.  If you missed the Community Workshop, or if you just want to continue the dialog, please join us.

New Haven Urban Design League Annual Meeting
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 6TH
5:30PM—7:30PM
NEW HAVEN PUBLIC LIBRARY

Light refreshments.

posted by: HhE on September 29, 2011  10:36pm

Let me first say I am very glad the New Haven Independent covered this meeting.

I was also very happy to see a number of people I hold in high regard:  Justin Elicker, Matt Smith, Mark Abrams, and many other people who care about this city.  I was also happy to finally meet David Streever.

I arrived in time to here a few of the green shirted objectors speak.  Their only concern seamed to be about jobs.  Granted, this is one of the big three issues in our struggling city, along with crime and taxes.  However, there is nothing in the resolution that was anti job.  Indeed, we have often read in posts here about people who work in New Haven (often it is alleged in city jobs), but do not live here, and thus pay no taxes.  The priority for this project, as envisioned by the Mayor, is clearly about allowing people from outside New Haven get into New Haven to work without ever having to stop to get something to eat, do some shopping, or slow down for pedestrians.

I did not see how Alderwoman Clark treated Alderman Eliker, and I also arrived after she apparently used words that do not belong in polite society, but I take great issue with the way she treated Mark Abraham.  I found her insistence on “compromise” dogmatic.  There are times we ought to compromise, and there are times we ought not to.  Mr. Abram was right to say we ought not compromise our principles.  My respect for Ms. Clark was greatly reduced that night.

Alderwoman Clark was right when she said there had been a sea change in pedestrian and bicycle safety in so far as, there is now some effort made in street calming.  However, she is very wide of the mark in that New Haven remains a very dangerous place for pedestrians and cyclists.  I invite Ms. Clark to speak to the families on pedestrian fatalities on the merits of “compromise.”

I heard from the International Festival of Arts and Ideas about “Internationalism.”  Funny, I have been to a number of cities outside the United States, and what she said made no sense to me.  For my Brother’s wedding, I drove with two friends to Montreal, and had no problem driving to the hotel; on streets that were very European, not at all like an Interstate.  After parking the car, I was able to enjoy this city for three days entirely on foot.  By foot and public transport, I have enjoyed London, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Inverness, and Paris.  I have also been to a number of cities in China.  While the Chinese do not enjoy the same level of private car ownership as we do, they are not ones to let pedestrian safety get in the way of motor transport.  Scary.  We would do well to learn from their train system, but not their road system.

While Alderman Paca and Alderwoman Clark seamed to be falling over themselves to accept whatever the city’s panel said, I think it is quite reasonable to be skeptical of the expressed views of experts.  A Forensic Engineer I met said he never wanted to know which side he was working for so his work would not be tainted.  Most people know where their pay cheque comes from.  Fair bet, these experts are going to defend their work.

For all the talk of needing to move quickly in order to not lose this money and opportunity, Alders Paca and Clark have added another two weeks before deciding to let the Board of Aldermen decide on this resolution.  I shall endeavor to make the next meeting, but I fear it will be no less frustrating.

posted by: Mark Aronson on September 30, 2011  6:45am

Puzzles me much that the Board of Aldermen should schedule such an important meeting, to include public testimony on the evening Rosh Hashanah commences.  Shame on them all no matter the issue.

posted by: anon on September 30, 2011  8:09am

HhE, the City’s consultants are paid extremely well to say what they are told.  In private, and off record, they will say very different things from what you heard.  Even some engineers who are not on the city payroll will not speak on the record about the merits of this project.  They say this is because they fear losing their bid for the next multi-million dollar contract to fast-track the expansion of a deadly roadway in order to build a private driveway and sugarcoat it with pretty renderings of what the area might look like in 50 years. City staff who express a point of view about this Federally subsidized private development are fired.

The confusion caused by the sugarcoating of “future phases” (like all of Lee and Logue’s projects), combined with the failure and fear of a significant minority of the public to speak out, is the reason why a project like this can move forward quickly even though, according to every single unbiased review, it is in serious violation of multiple city and state public policies and will directly result in dozens of deaths.  Let’s hope Marcus and other leaders can set this straight.

posted by: Mr. Schwinnstanley on September 30, 2011  10:26am

The existing plan should be changed to a ONE LANE access for gasoline powered vehicles and FIVE LANES for human-powered vehicular traffic.

Hello??? Has anyone brought up the most obvious point?  Biking is GOOD for people! Its a proven fact that after Chemo you just need to get outside, breath in a little fresh air, and engage in vigorous exercise - and its sure way to put that smile back on your face!

posted by: Paulette Cohen on September 30, 2011  3:48pm

[This is a repeat of my post from Wednesday’s hearing]

The New Haven Urban Design League held a two day Community Workshop this summer on Route 34/Downtown Crossing.  Architects, traffic engineers and other design professionals from the New Haven area, and from cities as far as Boston and California, donated their time.  New Haven Architect and New Urbanist Robert Orr donated the use of The Bourse, his Chapel Street workspace.  Numerous community groups and interest groups, as well as City Hall professionals, Alders, and a representative from Rosa De Lauro’s office attended.  Two days of intensive talking, listening, and designing, in groups large and small, generated an array of ideas for ways to really reconnect and revitalize the area that a misguided “urban renewal” project tore asunder over half a century ago.

The workshop culminated in an exciting graphic and verbal presentation by the design professionals of many of the ideas for the development of this area and its surrounds that had been discussed during the two-day “mini-charrette”.

I think there is a broad consensus that Downtown Crossing/Route 34 is a huge opportunity for New Haven, and that it is tremendously important to get it right this time.  The sketched out ideas that emerged from the workshop spoke to the need for economic development; the need to connect and revitalize the neighborhoods; the requirements for a pedestrian inviting environment; what makes for usable and safe streets; and the importance of the quality and aesthetics of the built environment.  (It is interesting to note that there were even innovative ideas for parking for the Carter Winstanley biotech building that would use existing infrastructure and wouldn’t involve hulking new garages.)

Many of the ideas from the Community Workshop will be presented again at the New Haven Urban Design League’s annual meeting next week.  If you missed the Community Workshop, or if you just want to continue the dialog, please join us.

New Haven Urban Design League Annual Meeting
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 6TH
5:30PM—7:30PM
NEW HAVEN PUBLIC LIBRARY
Elm and Temple

Light refreshments.

posted by: HhE on October 1, 2011  9:15pm

Thank you anon.  Your comment tends to confirm what I already suspected, that the experts hired by the city and a certain developer are going make claims based upon pay not integrity.

I do not have much faith in Marcus Paca doing the right thing.  As near as I can tell, he was one of two Alders who were opposed to advancing this resolution.  We shall, as not only will I continue to watch this development, but I also intend to attend the next hearing.

Mark Aronson, I don’t know why the Board of Aldermen should schedule such an important meeting on the evening Rosh Hashanah.  The cynic in me think maybe because Jews tend to be very well educated and civic minded, and thus more likely to object to this development as planned.  More likely, me thinks, Gentiles do not know how to read a lunar calendars.

Mr. Schwinnstanley, I love your name even more than I like your ideas.  One of the things I like about New Haven is how walkable it is. (It’s just crossing the streets that is so problematic.) Just today, after have a meal with a friend on Whitney Ave, I walked over to the CBD, made a purchase, and then walked home.  How much better our city would be if biking were safer.  (As it was, I had to duck two cyclists on the sidewalk.)

I do hope the Rout 34 connector is replaced with some much better, instead of being replaced with another mistake.

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