“Munchies” Solve Streetlight Snag

Lucy Gellman Photo A dark East Rock underpass is about to get brighter, thanks to a few rounds of happy hour drinks.

That outcome emerged from the fifth-ever “Munchies & Mingle,” a community happy hour organized by Cedar Hill activist Camille Ansley.

Held at Dashi on upper State Street, the regular happy hour brings together New Haveners from different neighborhoods together to talk through municipal hurdles they’re facing, from school enrollment and the Board of Education to illegal dumping in their driveways.

Ansley said she never knows who will show up at Munchies & Mingle. She sends email notices to friends, organizers, and city officials a few weeks before each event, then hopes some of them will show up. As city transit chief Doug Hausladen (pictured), Youth Services Director Jason Bartlett, and Mayor Toni Harp rolled in to the latest convening this past Wednesday evening, the conversation turned to a nearby concern: the dearth of streetlights on the I-91 underpass between Trumbull and Bradley Streets, which falls into complete darkness after dusk.

That underpass, along with six others just like it on State Street, has been a concern for over a year, said Hausladen. He sees it as a public safety hazard. Pedestrians and cyclists walking beneath it can’t see what’s happening around them, and cars barrel through. But the city’s Department of Transportation, Traffic and Parking can’t do anything about it. I-91 is a state road, and updates or renovations are overseen by the state’s Department of Transportation. Hausladen has been making requests to them “for a year and a half” without result, he said. 

 Until Wednesday, that is. Welcoming Harp over platters of shrimp and avocado sushi and half-priced mixed drinks (Harp stuck to fizzy water), Ansley spoke about her concerns about underpass lighting as a concerned citizen and as a mom. Her son attends Hooker School in East Rock, and she sees how many of his peers walk under other I-91 underpasses to get to and from school in the morning. She, meanwhile, drives under the Trumbull-to-Bradley underpass on her way home from work each day, and doesn’t think it’s safe for the drivers or walkers who use it.

“It’s dark and dangerous,” she said. 

Harp turned to squint at the underpass directly behind her.  “We really should have lights under there,” she said, casting an eye toward Hausladen. “Is there an opportunity to light up that bridge?”

Hausladen had just gotten off the phone with Paul Holmes, who manages New Haven with the Connecticut Bureau of Highway Operations and Maintenance, for another transit issue. At the mayor’s urging, he pulled out his phone, and sent an email off to Holmes.

“I was with the mayor today at Dashi, and the staff complained about the lights under the bridge for Exit 3,” he wrote. “Can you prioritize the bridges over State Street lighting? The employees were mentioning that all the bridges from Hamden to Downtown are dark,” he wrote.

He added an image of the underpass in relation to Dashi. 

Just a little over two hours later, Holmes had responded with news that a work order has been opened to get the job done.

Once lights have been added to the underpass, Bartlett said, he’ll try to find resources for youth to paint the underpass, a request that would require another work order. Having watched how the Humphrey street mural brightened that neighborhood — and helped tie together State Street and Jocelyn Square — he said it’s an exciting idea. And while “we [Youth Services] don’t have the capacity to lead this,” he’s totally on board. 

“There’s a lot of kids who have real talent, and it really allows them to show it,” he said.

Thomas McMillan File Photo One of the reasons Hausladen is so keen to light the underpass is public safety, he said. But if an art project — like Bartlett’s loosely proposed youth mural, or another crowdfunded underpass campaign — were to follow, there’s no promise that it wouldn’t be vandalized. It may be reason enough to pause and think about how best to deter vandals, said Ansley. But it’s not reason enough not to try.

“We’ll reach for the stars, and we might get some of them, though maybe not the whole constellation,” she said, noting her own plans for a graffiti wall where I-91 heads into Cedar Hill.

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posted by: Dwightstreeter on June 12, 2017  12:44pm

The re-election campaign has started with a feel good story and photo op.

posted by: OutofTown on June 12, 2017  1:14pm

Good story about concerned folks doing good in the community.  We need more of this.

posted by: BetweenTwoRocks on June 12, 2017  3:44pm

Yeah, Harp shouldn’t bother doing anything good for the rest of the year, since we’ll all know she’s just trying to get re-elected. It’s only right after elections that we know your heart is truly pure.

posted by: Noteworthy on June 12, 2017  9:19pm

Rename the NHI: The Harp Voice.

posted by: Hill Resident on June 12, 2017  10:19pm

I am pleased to hear about the Munchies and Mingle that Camille Ansley was able to pull together. Seems like so much was accomplished. So when I contacted the Mayors Office last year and was told that the ‘Mayors Night Out’ was going to begin again in January and the Hill was going to be the first one on the list ... no one told me it needed to be happy hour with 1/2 priced drinks and sushi, send an open invite and see who shows up! What happened to ALL departments represented (not just who shows) being in attendance in one place (other than a bar/restaurant) one night a month or every two weeks in each of the districts where ALL interested district residents (not just the invited) to talk about issues in their district/ neighborhood/street/ block and get answers/directions/referrals? I thought those worked pretty good before… guess I better call City Hall to find out when Mayors Night Out changed to Meet Me At The Club! But if I don’t have $ to pay the cover ... can I just bring a copy of my voters registration or my paid tax bill?

posted by: BenBerkowitz on June 13, 2017  9:21pm

Kevin Nursick at DOT used to get those turned on for us every time we would send them the issue from SeeClickFix. The I did not want to force DOT into notifications from SCF but it sounds like it’s time too. Will work with Doug on it.

posted by: Nadine H on June 13, 2017  9:59pm

@Hill Resident I guess my invitation got lost in the mail too because I didn’t know this was happening and would have taken the time to show up if I did. I don’t have money for sushi and drinks but could have afforded a glass of water (aren’t those free?). Thanks for putting into words what I was thinking.

posted by: BenBerkowitz on June 14, 2017  12:47pm

I created this watch area for DOT for the State Street and Middletown Ave properties: https://seeclickfix.com/watchers/88035
Two DOT officials are now receiving emails when issues are reported on those underpasses.

posted by: New Haven Taxpayer on June 16, 2017  4:03pm

WOW!
Both Doug Hausladen AND Ben Berkowitz working on this!
Together they might just figure out how to turn on that light bulb, I will sleep better tonight.

posted by: Bill Saunders on June 17, 2017  11:26pm

New Haven Taxpayer,

The political justice in this is, if the Light Bulb doesn’t go ‘on’, you can report it on SCF, and have it wind up in Hausladen’s email box…..!!!!