When the city converts George Street into a two-way road next week, deli owners Sean Saxton and Charles Ingram will be cheering.
The city plans Monday to convert two blocks of George from a one-way to a two-way street, according to Mike Piscitelli, the city’s transit czar-turned-economic development officer.
It will be the first time in years that the city has converted a one-way street into a two-way—something the city plans to start doing a lot more, as it launches a broader redesign of downtown streets.
The George Street change is also part of a broader effort called Downtown Crossing, which aims to transform 10 acres of automotive wasteland in the Route 34 corridor into vibrant new developments.
Work has already begun on the first step of Downtown Crossing, turning a stretch of mini-highway into a new 13-story home for Alexion Pharmaceuticals at 100 College St.
In coming weeks, the city is planning a series of traffic shifts downtown to complement that project and make way for future development.
The first change will take place Monday, or later in the week in case of bad weather. The city will shut down traffic on George Street between State and Church, paint yellow lines, and reopen the street to westbound and eastbound cars.
The following week, on or about June 16, the city plans to close the “hair-pin turn” that drivers currently make to get off of Westbound Route 34 at Exit 1 and make a hard right onto Water Street. A lot of drivers use that route to get to Union Station from out of town, Piscitelli noted. He offered four alternate routes to the train station: Get off at Route 34 Exit 1, take a left onto Church Street, and then another left onto State Street. Get off at Route 34’s Exit 1, take a right onto Orange St., right onto George, and a right onto State. Or avoid downtown by getting off at the Hamilton Street exit on Interstate 91 and taking Water or Chapel streets to State Street. Or take Exit 46 off of I-95, then go over the underutilized Church Street Bridge.
During the week of June 30, the city plans to close Exit 2 on westbound Route 34. Drivers will be able to get off at Exit 1 and choose from three lanes that go toward downtown, or one that turns right onto Orange, Piscitelli said.
The conversion aims to ease traffic congestion caused by cars heading to Route 34 from Orange Street, by giving them an alternate way to get there through George Street, said Piscitelli. It also aims to free up the intersection of Orange and Water to make way for the elimination of the hair-pin turn, said traffic czar Doug Hausladen.
The changes to George Street will be a big deal, Piscitelli said, because the city hasn’t done any such conversion in decades. The last major street conversion took place on College Street between Elm and Chapel, by Yale’s Phelp’s Gate, in the 1990s, he said. (He’s not counting the recent mini-conversion of one block of Church Street, just south of George Street, into a two-way road.)
Some neighbors expressed apprehension about the change.
Ron Bray (pictured) said he’s concerned about the 79 drivers who park their cars at the 1 Church St. office building, where he serves as assistant property manager. They currently exit the parking lot and turn left onto George. As of next week, they’ll have to cross two lanes of oncoming traffic in order to do so.
“I’m a little nervous about how people are going to exit, and the habits they’ve developed over the years,” Bray said.
Hausladen said the city plans to put up temporary signage to remind people leaving George Street parking lots and garages to look both ways.
Saxton and Ingram, meanwhile, applauded the switcheroo. The duo just opened a deli called Ninth Square Market Too at 89 George St. Turning George Street into two directions will bring more eyes on their shop, they figured. Their business partner, Ed Jabbour, owns the building as well as an associated shop around the corner on Orange Street called Ninth Square Market.
Before Saxton and Ingram opened up a few months ago, the shop was vacant for a year, Saxton said. It used to house Coliseum News, which was named after the New Haven Veterans Memorial Coliseum. After the city blew up the legendary monster-truck, hockey and concert venue in 2007, Coliseum News closed. It became a shop named Fat Sandwich, which also subsequently closed.
Saxton and Ingram eyed the vacant space and saw a business opportunity: While the spot was pretty dead at the time, they saw a potential influx of business in the developments planned nearby. Just down the street, Montreal-based developer LiveWorkLearnPlay is planning a 700-unit $395 million mixed-use project on the grave of the Coliseum. The project promises to bring thousands of construction workers to George Street.
Saxton and Ingram plan to greet them with breakfast sandwiches and steak-and-cheese subs.
“We’re specifically coming in because we knew what was going to happen” at the Coliseum lot, Saxton said. “The whole neighborhood’s going to change.”