Legion Avenue, Redrawn
| Mar 31, 2014 4:00 pm
Look how slowly these cars are driving, the architect said. Michelle Perez looked, and wondered: Where are the bikes?
Perez, a Fair Haven alder, was watching the architect, Christopher Bockstael of Svigals & Partners, present the latest vision for how a developer wants to begin rebuilding a 16.2-acre stretch of Legion Avenue and MLK Boulevard—dubbed “route 34 West”—that the government leveled two generations ago to make way for a highway that never got built.
Her exchange with Bockstael demonstrated that the vision of “calm streets” may depend on the vantage point of the beholder.
The developer, Middletown-based Centerplan, has repeatedly updated the details of its plan in response to concerns raised by New Haveners about pollution, traffic, and design. The developer’s team (including Bockstael) presented the latest updated version this past Thursday night at a City Hall public hearing on the city’s plan to sell him the 5.39-acre megablock bounded by Dwight Street, MLK, Orchard Street, and Legion for $2.65 million.
The developer promises to spend $50 million turning a surface parking lot there into a $50 million new home for the Continuum of Care mental health agency, a pharmacy, a restaurant, a parking garage, and a medical building or hotel. Click here for a previous story detailing the plan and the public’s concerns, and here for a story about the developer; and here for Mary O’Leary’s New Haven Register account of some of the arguments presented Thursday night about air quality and local hiring.
After hearing three and a half hours of public testimony on the project, with passionate voices for and against, the Board of Alders Community Development Committee voted to table the proposal until the next meeting rather than vote at the Thursday night meeting.
“There have been a lot of great [comments] tonight. A lot of paper,” said committee Chair Frank Douglass. “The committee needs time to digest it all.”
In response to critics, the developer and city officials presented some new tweaks to the plan at the hearing, in addition to previous revisions (like promises to use solar panels, install bike parking and cyclist-showering facilities, and have any restaurant on the block stay open at night):
• To make room for the project, the city plans to move the cars now parked on that block down to the surface lot at Sherman Avenue and Tyler Street. About 600 cars park on the current lot. The new lot will accommodate fewer cars, around 470, said city Deputy Economic Development Administrator Michael Piscitelli. And he announced that the city will agree to a sunset on that move—it will guarantee that the lot (envisioned for housing development as the Route 34 West plan advances) will no longer have cars on it in five years. Piscitelli called the sunset clause “a good thing” because it will pressure government planners to figure out how to promote alternatives to car travel.
• The developers will limit a new garage on the site to 600 parking spaces, not 800 as planned, if it turns out they end up building 120,000 square feet of new space rather than the full 120,000 to 160,000.
• They will include some 2,500 plantings to make the block greener.
Architect Bockstael talked about that as he presented a new drawing of what Legion Avenue might look like on the block including the new project and, across the street, Career High School. The drawing appears at the top of this story.
“It’s the right scale,” Bockstael told the alders. “It blends into the city. It’s going to be a great economic benefit.”
Sharing the public’s concern for safer streets for pedestrians and cyclists, the developers plan to put buildings close to the street. That, combined with trees and other plantings, makes the currently fast-moving wide avenue feel smaller. That in turns slows down traffic, Bockstael argued.
“I don’t see space for a bike there,” interjected Fair Haven Alder Perez, seated inches from Bockstael (pictured) as he presented poster-sized blown-up slides on two easels. “I’m going to get run over” cycling there, she said.
“This is an artistic rendering,” Bockstael responded, not an actual definitive detailed representation.
Perez asked as well if there’d be room to ride bikes on the sidewalk. Yes, she was told. But someone else informed her that it’s illegal to bike on sidewalks in New Haven.
Asked later, Bockstael said that the drawing reflects the builders’ intention to make it easier to bike and walk in the neighborhood, in part by slowing down traffic. That can be done in part by “softening” the streetscape and eliminating wide-open expanses, he said.
“When you bring the buildings closer to the road” and add the trees, cars slow down, he said. Psychologically, “the road starts to close in on you. When you’re out in the open, you floor it.”
After the hearing, Perez said the street in fact “looks too tight” for a bike-rider.
She likes to ride her mountain bike in Fair Haven, she said. But she doesn’t feel safe on the streets, anywhere in town. “There’s no room,” and cars zoom by.
“I ride on the sidewalk. They can arrest me for it. I’m not going to” risk personal safety in the street, she declared.
Perez was asked her reaction to the argument that a tighter-feeling street bordered by buildings and trees will make cyclists safer by slowing down cars.
“Yeah, right,” she responded. “A cop doesn’t make it slower. A building’s going to do it? I don’t think so.”
Cycling advocate Brian Tang (at front right in photo), testifying before the committee Thursday night, offered another idea for making the street safer for bikes: Building dedicated bike lanes, separated from car traffic, on MLK Boulevard.
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posted by: Bill Saunders on March 31, 2014 4:23pm
Slow traffic??—Cars in an architectural rendering generally don’t exceed 0 mph.
posted by: anonymous on March 31, 2014 4:27pm
Has any planner or architect involved in this project traveled to New York City lately?
Every other significant town and city in North America is building a massive network of cycling lanes, separated from traffic.
If we just want to have more giant strip malls fed by highway-like streets and huge parking garages, we should stay the course.
But if we want people to be able to walk to school, participate in community events , shop local, and grow the number of jobs in our local economy, we need to recognize that half of our city population doesn’t drive to work every day.
Why is New Haven 20 years behind the curve when it comes to providing the most basic infrastructure for its residents?
posted by: Dwightstreeter on March 31, 2014 4:38pm
Bravo Alder Perez and advocate Tang for raising concerns about the cars and lack of bike safety lanes.
600 cars more in an area rife with asthma borders on the criminal.
Public transit is the only sane alternative, plus separate bike lanes secure from speeding traffic.
Do the officials in zoning and economic development who approve these plans actually live in the neighborhood?
It’s invigorating to see an Alder stop to question a plan. This is the way things are supposed to, but mostly don’t. work.
Let’s see if changes are actually made.
posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on March 31, 2014 5:58pm
This massive 5.6 acre parcel should be subdivided into several smaller lots with a variety of zones. Same goes for the rest of Route 34 West. A single developer could still purchase several parcels and develop the entire block, but it would also allow smaller developers to participate in developing the city.
Zone a portion of each block for medical use, residential, retail and business with the center of the block designated for shared parking - office use during the day and residential use at night with on-street parking for the retail component.
It is a terrible idea to develop the entire block with office, medical and retail use - look how that has worked out in the Medical District where land use is extremely inefficient.
It is possible to zone and design mixed-use places that balance the needs of residents, visitors and businesses. Look no further than the former Scranton Street School, which houses medical offices on the same block as houses, a synagogue and a small retail market. Another example would be 419 Whalley, which also has medical offices next to a bank, restaurants and a mix of housing.
CenterPlan’s proposal merely extends, expands, and continues the medical district westward in its current form - bringing all of its associated issues with it such as pollution, car traffic, commutting, nighttime and weekend dead zones, inefficient land-use and large scale institutional blocks that act as barriers.
posted by: robn on March 31, 2014 6:07pm
CT Gen Statute 14-286 allows cities to decide whether or not its legal for bicycles (which are vehicles) to be ridden on sidewalks.
NH Code of Ordinances, Article 1, Sec. 29-10. makes it illegal to ride bikes on sidewalks.
NHPD has traditionally ignored it, recognizing automobile recklessness on our streets (which is relatively un-policed because the CT Legislature has made it uneconomical to pursue vehicular violations).
posted by: Dwightstreeter on March 31, 2014 6:22pm
Neighborhood meetings asked for much the same and will not get it.
As long as the City believes Yale and the Hospital are untouchable as far as being taxed, the same wrong programs will be approved.
posted by: Dwightstreeter on March 31, 2014 6:53pm
It is against the law to ride on the sidewalks and I too admit to doing it on chapel St. below Church for safety reasons. I do not want to be killed by a bus or a speeding car.
Until we have safe, protected lanes, this should be repealed.
The police are within the law to ticket violators.
We don’t need this unreasonable prohibition in place.
posted by: HewNaven on March 31, 2014 6:56pm
Perez asked as well if there’d be room to ride bikes on the sidewalk. Yes, she was told. But someone else informed her that it’s illegal to bike on sidewalks in New Haven.
Planners should consider this interaction public testimony of the necessity of cycle tracks.
Most people feel the same way as Perez. That is, it does not appear to be safe to ride in the street with cars. Yet, there is ample room on the sidewalk. ‘Common sense’ tells us that cycling infrastructure should be segregated from cars, as with pedestrians. When will development professionals recognize this all-too-common observation of laypeople?
posted by: Brian Tang on March 31, 2014 7:12pm
Correction: I did not ask for bike lanes; I asked for a strip of land to be carved out of the Land Disposition Agreement to widen the public right-of-way to reserve space for a future bike path connecting to West River Memorial Park, as envisioned by the City Plan Department’s 2008 Municipal Development Plan proposal. I also asked for a way to legally bike from Dwight St to the bike racks in front of Career High School, which are located in front of the school’s front entrance on Legion Ave. I don’t really care how that is accomplished; I just think it should be possible to get to and from the bike racks at a school without putting children riding to school, or the public attending public functions at the school, in harm’s way.
I think the developer genuinely wants to create a bikeable, walkable environment. However, the issues they are up against are much larger than what they, on their own, are equipped to handle. Instead, what we should be seeing here is a replication of the commendable effort happening around the Coliseum Site development: a coordinated effort between the Economic Development Administration, the Transportation, Traffic & Parking Dept, the developer, and the mayor to obtain funding commitments from the state DOT to design and implement a package of streetscape improvements (on-street parking would be particularly helpful here), traffic calming, bicycle infrastructure, new traffic signals and crosswalks, and investments in stormwater infrastructure to enhance the public space and make viable the proposed private investment.
posted by: TheMadcap on March 31, 2014 8:11pm
In regards to parking whether it’s here or any other project in the works, I’d like to point out this article just came out
Study: Hartford, New Haven Hurt By Abundance of Parking
Regardless of how hard it can seem to find a parking spot sometimes, Hartford and New Haven have built a lot more parking over the past few decades. But that can be a bad thing.
Potential tax revenue that could have been collected is in the millions.
A team of researchers at the University of Connecticut recently investigated the impact of parking policies in six cities across the U.S.
Parking garages tend to be taxed less than other developments. The studies concluded that cities are basically forgoing tax money by requiring a certain number of parking spots with new developments.
For cities like Hartford and New Haven, which have increased their parking space by a lot, potential tax revenue that could have been collected is in the millions.
posted by: citoyen on March 31, 2014 10:37pm
“Architect Bockstael talked about [making the block greener] as he presented a new drawing of what Legion Avenue might look like on the block including the new project and, across the street, Career High School.”
Look carefully at that drawing and you can see that it is shown from an angle that makes a patch of grass in front of Career High School look like a wide and long verdant lawn. How marvelously green!
And as he himself says, “This is an artistic rendering,” not an actual definitive detailed representation.
So which is it?
What it is is deceptive.
posted by: JustAnotherTaxPayer on April 1, 2014 3:57pm
To rely on the development of the area to cause traffic to slow down is hard for me to understand. And if there are any who believe this, I suggest they take the time out to go stand on Chapel St, in front of Union League at #1032, between College St and High St. The street was narrowed; signage was increased; all in an attempt to cause traffic “slowing”. The majority of vehicles do not abide by the speed limit, and a good number come through at speeds that create what feels like a “shock” wave of air turbulence. All this done in a very narrow, two lane street, which has a level of pedestrian traffic that is heavier than the motor vehicle traffic. Watch the pedestrians when they stand on one of the corners waiting to cross. It amazes me that many stand right on the curb, or onto the road surface, bringing them within inches of cars and trucks passing at 35 mph or greater. How a person could endanger themselves in that manner, is more due to some form of benign trust that every driver and vehicle is sound, and a mishap, like a tire blowout, or human nature, like a drunk driver, will never pass into their existence, when they place themselves in harms way. Better yet are the young mothers that will place a baby, in a baby carriage, that they are pushing, into the street, closer to passing vehicles, while they impatiently wait to cross. Just go onto that one block, get a coffee at starbucks, get comfortable and watch.
Now think about Legion Av. It was supposed to be changed to a connector for Route 34, 54 years ago. That to keep commercial traffic outside the downtown area, as they originally used Chapel St, to get to Derby Av. Why make this connector? To move traffic away from the Yale Campus.
As the connector was never made, due to Yale’s objections, traffic will always be going “too fast” on Legion Av. No matter what is done. Just think of the number of people struck by vehicles in that area to this day.
posted by: Bradley on April 1, 2014 7:44pm
Brian, thanks for the correction.FWIW, I think your ideas make a great deal of sense.
HewNaven, I’m all in favor of cycletracks. But they cost money, and even the cities that have actively promoted them (New York, Montreal, etc.) have only installed them on a limited number of streets.
posted by: Bumphus on April 2, 2014 1:09pm
I still don’t get it. Legion Ave and North Frontage Rd are both high-volume speedways. What is the strategy to reduce the speed and volume of traffic? Are they considering re-routing Rt. 34? Without building an alternative route won’t this plan will result in gridlock?
posted by: Anstress Farwell on April 2, 2014 3:08pm
In addition to pollution and traffic safety issues, excessive parking harms the economy of cities. An ongoing study by the UConn Transportation Institute uses New Haven as a case study of how parking maxiums have harmed the city’s economy and opportunities for jobs. Over the past 20 years, the City of New Haven has crashed from one economic crisis to another. We know that the development pattern of the former administration has left the city economically unsound and difficult to live in. We have a chance to change this pattern now. Many residents attending the meetings have asked for more housing in this area to promote a “walk-to-work” mixed-use environment for Route 34 West. The Centerplan project does not provide this. The parking and big-box-on-a-lot plan will do irreparable harm to three neighborhoods which suffered losses and destruction 40 years ago.
Urban Parking at Any Price?
Study: Hartford, New Haven Hurt By Abundance of Parking
posted by: Anstress Farwell on April 2, 2014 3:53pm
The first illustration in this story needs some explication:
1. The stucco and brick building in the right front of the drawing is the chain drug store (Rite Aid). The drawing has been framed to omit the front of the building with its signage. Also not seen is the drive-through window—another element of the plan which has been shaped for drivers, not people on their feet or in the neighborhood.
2. Bike advocates have rightly noted the lack of bike lanes or cycle tracks. Pedestrian comfort and safety is likewise neglected. The narrow sidewalks are not protected by a planting strip or on-street parking—both of which are important reducing driving speeds
3. The next few bays of brick-faced buildings on the right (up to about the school bus) are the different facades covering a proposed medical office building. The building has no entrance from Legion Avenue, deadening the street, and again, making it clear that this is a place for cars.
4. The pale building just beyond is the new 800 car parking garage. The facade is only that, a facade on an inappropriate addition of parking in an area super-saturated with parking, and in need of transit improvements. Their are no active uses in the garages ground floor, on either Legion or MLK BLVD. The garage forms a strong street wall along a narrow sidewalk on both Legion or MLK BLVD. While the developer claims that this will slow down traffic, we know that this is unlikely. The design simply maximizes the amount of land available for parking, without providing any active uses. It does not put “feet on the street”—the tried and true way of making safe and enjoyable urban places. This will be a dangerous dead-zone at night, like the Lot E garage across Dwight Street from this development. The cumulative impact of this series of big, faceless, single use, “empty calorie” buildings the environment is harmful to the live of the neighborhoods and the Medical District’s image.
5. Just at the upper right edge of the draw
posted by: Dwightstreeter on April 2, 2014 5:08pm
The Urban Design League members and Anstress Farwell were present, as was I, at numerous meetings where the residents were asked what they wanted and now it is all being ignored.
Every broken promise creates one more cynical citizen who hates government, politicians and zoning boards that roll over and play dead on command.
No one believe government is there for the citizen. Whether it’s big donations to political campaigns or tax breaks to developers, the people know the system runs on money and not the wishes of the people who actually live in the Dwight, West River and Hill neighborhoods.
Plus ca change, plus la meme chose.
The more things change, the more they remain the same.
posted by: Anstress Farwell on April 2, 2014 6:01pm
I need to offer an important clarification of the history because the City has tried to claim that people were afforded adequate opportunity for involvement.
The meetings you refer to took place in 2008 at Immanuel Missionary Baptist Church. After a plan prepared by the City was rejected by neighbors, an alternative process was created to evaluate the area. All three neighborhoods, representatives from the Hospitals, environmental and bike advocates and City officials worked with the Yale Urban Design Workshop to create concept plans for a mixed-use, highly-connected urban place. The League found funds to have measured drawings created, to allow a Tax Increment Finance (TIF) analysis to be done. Despite this good start and solid foundation, the City was resistant to continuing work on the project together. Over the ensuing 5 years, I’ve bought the issue up with City officials, to no avail.
In the last year, the City worked exclusively with some members of the West River community. Other stakeholders were excluded. Serious conflicts of interest shaped who was at the table. This poor and unfair process has lead to a poor and defective plan.
Not only were many stakeholders excluded from the meetings this past year, the City recently presented the Board of Alders with a report full of photos of me and other people, supposedly at planning meetings for this project. The photos where all from the process for the rejected 2007-2008 City plan. This is misleading, at best. And really insulting to people who have been excluded to then be used in such a ham-handed fabrication.
Due process is important in all public projects - this project uses public land and public money.
posted by: Dwightstreeter on April 2, 2014 6:57pm
Thank you for the clarification and update.
I was among many who saw the writing on that wall that the neighborhood needs be damned, bio-technical would take up the vacant land on Rte 34 and Legion Highway with no consideration for what the people wanted.
The Harp administration was supposed to represent the opportunity for change.
posted by: Doctor Who on April 3, 2014 8:49am
These vast boulevards leading into a highway, abutting a large concentration of medical buildings, just is not an area that screams residential neighborhood. Fitting a square peg in a round hole is not going to fix that. This area is being developed for further biomedical needs. The pedestrian and bicyclist fairy tale that keeps being repeated needs to end.
Why doesn’t New Haven concentrate on improving the woeful bus system? Cities with cyclists have great public transportation systems so that the normal people can get around, rather than the small fraction of the hipster fixie generation that pretends cycling during scary rush hours and poor weather days is really a viable answer.