Ella Smith showed up to Stetson Branch Library to share her thoughts about how to improve the bus system. She wondered where her neighbors were.
Smith attended the second of two community meetings Wednesday evening held to get input from residents for the city’s new transit and mobility study called “Move New Haven”. The study launched in late September; the first community meeting was held at the main library branch downtown in late October. The city is conducting the study to help guide the state in its promise to fix the maligned, broken CT Transit bus system.
Organizers held this meeting at Stetson, right on the D line in the Dixwell neighborhood — where many more people actually ride the bus — in a part to get input from a broader sample of New Haveners than the crowd that usually shows up downtown.
The Stetson meeting attracted about 50 people. But many were retirees from other parts of the city, or working people with schedules flexible enough to allow them to come out in the early evening.
Smith, a retiree who takes the D bus, guessed that many Dixwell neighbors were still trying to get home from work. A relative of hers, who is a regular bus rider, clocks out at about 5 p.m. in Hamden and doesn’t get back before 5:30 p.m. most days.
“I think it’s great,” she said of the reason for the meeting. “But there are a lot of people missing.”
The study has the lofty goals of not only providing better connections to jobs, education and other communities in the Greater New Haven area, but also increasing CT Transit ridership and transforming public transit for the next generation. It’s funded by $1 million in city, state and federal money.
Lisa DiTaranti, Northeast director of transit and rail for VHB, the firm heading up the study, said that his was the last in-person community meeting for the first phase of the study. But there will be other opportunities over the next 16 months for public input including through virtual workshops. People can also continue to fill out this survey about their bus riding habits and submit comments here.
Smith said she didn’t have any complaints with the D bus routes, which runs through the heart of the Dixwell neighborhood. But she was concerned about the long routes that many who work outside of New Haven have to traverse to get to work (it can take hours to reach cross-border jobs a few miles away) and the lack of bus shelters outside of the city.
“It’s that time of year where it’s getting dark early,” she said. “But people do what they have to do to get to work.”
East Rocker Marc Strickland came to Wednesday’s meeting to share his thoughts about how the bus system could be better connected to the train station. He said for those people in the city who can’t afford a car, a good bus system connected to the train helps people get better jobs outside of the city.
Strickland also said a bus shuttle would make living in New Haven more attractive to people working in other areas by making it easier for them to commute to work without having to drive in rush hour traffic.
“It’s a win-win,” he said.
Former Westville Alder Nancy Ahern said it’s time to move the bus transfer points from the Green, particularly at Temple Street, to wider, more transit-oriented street like State Street. A member of Center Church on the Green, she complained about blocked access to church parking, noise and the general chaos of that particular transit point.
“There are other places to transfer besides Temple Street,” she said.
DiTaranti and her team, which conducted a similar effort for the state, sought such impact to help get a picture of transit in the city with an eye toward needed short-term and long-term investments in the city.
City transit chief Doug Hausladen said that while the city is working to get a lot of buy-in from New Haveners, the study isn’t about just their transit habits and needs, but those of the entire region. In addition to public meetings in the Elm City, project consultants will meet with elected leaders in the region and hold public sessions in Hamden, West Haven, and East Haven, because the bus system serves 20 other municipalities.
“This is a regional system that needs to have a regional solution and dollars funding those solutions,” Hausladen said. “This [issue of transportation] has been mayor’s priority since the day she was inaugurated. Every conversation about transit always leads back to this study. It’s our generation’s opportunity to transform our transit system.”
But they’ve got to get people to participate. Luckily in Dixwell, they have people like Stetson Branch Librarian Diane Brown pushing on the city’s behalf. She said the turnout might have been a bit higher if the meeting had been held on a Saturday, when the library is often full of patrons.
Brown said she has a great relationship with CT Transit and keeps her library stocked with bus schedules. People know Stetson as a place where people can get them. She said she plans to put surveys in patrons’ hands along with those schedules. She said she will also pass them out during non-transit related events at the library.