Would narrowing the Frontage roads to two lanes save the lives of cyclists, pedestrians and asthmatics—or pose a deadly traffic jam when ambulances need to get through?
Such life and death prospects were the subject of an hour and a half of tense agonizing Thursday night as the members of the aldermanic Community Development Committee discussed a non-binding resolution urging the city to produce a less car-centric design for its Downtown Crossing project to overhaul Route 34.
By a vote of 4 to 3, the committee approved the resolution, which now heads to the full board for deliberation later this month.
While there is widespread approval for an evolving plan to link downtown to the medical district and the Hill turning the Route 34 corridor into “urban boulevards” and connecting streets, critics say the city’s plan is too committed to wide roads that carry vehicles, causing serious safety concerns for cyclists and pedestrians.
The resolution (read it here) was penned by East Rock’s Justin Elicker and co-signed by, among nine other aldermen, the Hill’s Dolores Colon and Beaver Hills’ Claudette Robinson-Thorpe, who are also committee members. It calls for narrowing the Frontage Roads from four to two lanes, which has become the most controversial aspect of the request.
Thursday’s approval came after a four-hour-long public hearing last month, where job-seekers and safe streets activists clashed over the merits of the plan. At that meeting construction workers warned that delays in design for Downtown Crossing might result in job losses and Elicker whipped out a tape measure to show that the proposed Frontage Road crossings in sections were not safe.
In the end, the committee decided on Sept. 29th not to decide.
Thursday’s continuation was a deliberation only among the aldermen, with no more public testimony allowed, except those messages that could be conveyed by signs.
The dozen sign carriers represented the Urban Design League, Elm City Cycling, the Safe Streets Coalition, and the Yale Graduate Student Assembly’s Transit and Safety Committee.
As sign carriers filed in and took seats on one side of the Aldermanic Chamber, City Hall staffers huddled on the other side.
The hall became hushed as it became clear there was a sense of deep urgency on both sides.
Dolores Colon: “I’m up to my neck in buildings and garages. We need to bring down the number of cars and put in residential [too]. We’re not stupid. We want developers coming in. But in a way for a new century.”
After gently chiding Colon by asking her if she wanted to put all that into an amendment to the resolution, the committee’s chairman Marcus Paca said the resolution’s specific reference to a two-lane Frontage road was highly problematic.
“If I’m rushing in an ambulance, and it’s only two lanes . . . we have Gateway College,” he added, indicating that congestion would be the consequence of urging the city to down-size the number of travel lanes.
“I’m not comfortable with this resolution,” said East Shore’s Arlene DePino. “I really want to get this right. I know we need more than two lanes. Cars are coming in. We need to deal with them,” she said.
Paca asked if Elicker would be willing to alter the language of the resolution. Elicker said that accompanying the resolution but not included in it were other specifics, but as to the two lanes, he held to the importance of that to the language. “I urge you: it’s a resolution, guys. It’s not a contract. It’s a statement of a vision. It’s not the end of the world.”
“Are you willing to change language?” Paca repeated.
“I think the current plan is dangerous, so I’m not taking that word out [either]. Short answer: No,” Elicker said.
“You put me in a bind,” said Paca.
“You put me in a bind,” said Elicker.
Downtown’s Alderwoman Bitsie Clark noted the tension between the two sides—one that feels deeply that public safety and more human-size development are at risk, and the other concerned about missing historic economic opportunity if funding and other submission deadlines are compromised by re-designing. She posed the central question before the committee:
“How do you get from a win-lose to a win-win? What can this committee do to get to a win-win?”
To table or to vote?
“Maybe we need to bring in Community Mediation?” she said. She wasn’t joking.
“From [Economic Development Administrator] Kelly [Murphy’s] memo, it seems like they [the two sides] are not so much on different pages. The dialogue has started. There should be more,” said Dixwell Alderman Greg Morehead.
So the question became to table or to vote. Paca said, “Maybe the people who support this resolution should have a formal role in the process.”
By that he meant be at the table when the city meets with developers and with the state. “I am willing to amend to call the lobbying group for the resolution to be a part of the process. Maybe attend the Community Development Committee staff meetings,” Paca added.
Clark wondered if tabling would guarantee each side would listen to the other and give a little. She also rued that she did not have the facts from the city if a delay for re-design would jeopardize funding. “We’re being asked to make a decision without all the facts,” she said.
Paca’s idea did not gain traction.
Elicker urged a vote be taken. “It’d be disappointing to the public if a decision isn’t made tonight,” he said.
Although East Shore’s Arlene DePino was against the resolution, she was against delaying it further in committee. She made the procedural suggestion to vote and it was agreed to.
In the end Colon, Robinson-Thorpe, Morehead, and Clark voted for it. Paca, DePino, and Fair Haven’s Ernie Santiago voted against.
Economic Development Administrator Murphy said, “We share a lot of tonight’s [concerns, but] two lanes is too prescriptive.”
She said meetings with Elicker and the critics have been ongoing and intense and she expected they would continue. Would tonight’s vote have an impact on the scheduling of final design submission deadlines for the state, which are required by 2012? Would it affect other pressures on the process such as getting ready for the construction season?
“I’m not sure it will have an impact at this point.”
As to going back to the drawing board for a two-lane Frontage Road, deputy economic development chief Mike Piscitelli said that they are working with Elicker and others to address concerns, but added, “Our technical analysis now doesn’t allow us to pursue a two-lane structure.”
Elicker said the vote was a very positive development. “It’s at 30 percent. It’s important to move it ahead and to move our vision ahead and get these things in now. Look at the state of the economy. There might not be more [federal] money, so why not move the city to get these things in now.”
Murphy said her team has already achieved exceptions to state Department of Transportation and even some federal design standards to accommodate the cycling and other critics. She pointed to the inclusion of bike boxes as one example.
As to the number of lanes on North and South Frontage roads, she said the plan establishes curb to curb distances, but they might not always be travel lanes, depending on how conditions develop in future phases.
Murphy said the city had just engaged another engineering/design firm, Nelson Nygaard, to explore whether absent big hunks of new money, “we can break out smaller pieces” that the city can do its own.
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posted by: streever on October 14, 2011 9:20am
This isn’t about bikes.
I’m grateful for the bike lanes and bike boxes, but the sheer quantity of foot traffic is staggering, and needs to be accommodated.
The current city plan uses traffic projections which have failed in every other place we’ve used them—Whitney, Whalley, and the original Route 34 project. The projections they are using use outdated models and assume huge increases in vehicular traffic along Route 34.
They prioritize this POSSIBLE increase over the CURRENT volume of walking traffic and increase the crossing distance to over 60 feet for pedestrians wishing to cross the street.
Ambulances: Ask an ambulance driver if they often take Route 34. They’ll tell you no—because it requires multiple left turns and there is no direct access to the hospital along it. The only people who routinely take Route 34 are suburban employees of the hospital. Ambulances more commonly take the 2-3 lane side roads which directly lead to YNHH.
I applaud the community development committee for supporting a broadly shared vision, articulated by thousands of residents over four years, at public meetings, in op-eds, and in over one hundred phone calls made in the last week alone.
I would like to particularly applaud Dolores Colon, Claudette Robinson Thorpe, Bitsie Clark, and Greg Morehead for embracing a bold vision of a strong city with a vibrant economy and safety for all citizens.
With great leadership like this, I am confident that New Haven can move forward toward a safer, economically stronger city.
David Streever, Board of Directors, Elm City Cycling
posted by: THREEFIFTHS on October 14, 2011 9:49am
David Streever, Board of Directors, Elm City Cycling
It is about bikes DUDE!!!
How about the rights of us who ride motorcycles.
posted by: Our Town on October 14, 2011 10:01am
[...] I’m near Route 34, and ambulances constantly use Rt 34. And to say they use the side streets now, well one the consequences of two lane roads would be traffic diverted to those very streets Streever claims the ambulance now use. What then? This idea will result in gridlock throughout the area.
posted by: Curious on October 14, 2011 10:04am
More people need to be involved in this.
Just like the empty fronts on Howe Street are being used to display outfits on mannequins from local shops, the Planning Department could put up diagrams, blueprints, maps, and models of the Downtown Crossing Project on display.
That way more people would be engaged, and get to see what is being proposed.
posted by: Curious on October 14, 2011 10:07am
So, we’re stuck at two lanes or four lanes, is that the issue? Am I getting that right? Because I am pretty sure that there is another whole number between two and four. It’s called three.
Why not three lanes?
As to traffic projections, I am sure that whoever built I-95 back in the day thought that it was going to be pretty awesome, but we’re expanding it now because of the bottleneck right here in New Haven. Sometimes bigger projections are better.
posted by: robn on October 14, 2011 10:33am
Its really clear what’s going on here. Its a classic case of double dipping…city hall wants to score political points by building anything and the suburban construction unions want workers building anything, even if its bad for the local community. There’s no guarantee that money will be there for Phase II. Please BOA, don’t do something stupid. Build the right thing now.
It would be interesting for NHI to get every member of the union aldermanic slate on record on this issue BEFORE the general election.
posted by: westville man on October 14, 2011 11:01am
I’ve used the connector all of my life. Now that i live in Westville it is the main route to get me home. Ambulances use it frequently coming in from the suburbs. While i am sensitive to the needs of pedestians and their safety, my opinion is that 2 lanes of travel is inadequate at the inital juncture. We have 3 now and it’s barely enough. Perhaps keeping it at 3 and then narrowing to 2 (like it is presently) further down legion makes sense. Making this more residential is a difficult task given that it’s the main access to the city.
posted by: Carlos Galo on October 14, 2011 11:25am
I completely agree: this is so not about bikes!
It is about building a city that is more livable for New Haveners. Period.
posted by: robn on October 14, 2011 11:27am
In the community proposal (as well as the citys Phase II proposal) the several thousand rush hour peak vehicles going to the Air Rights Garage take a separate road in the middle of the existing trench (below future air-rights development). That allows the side frontage roads to shrink and congestion is mitigated by spilling traffic out gradually along its length (adjacent 9th square roads would be changed from one-way to two-way.)
posted by: streever on October 14, 2011 11:34am
Our Town The CURRENT lane configuration is 2 with a turning lane—as we request. There have been no delays for ambulance vehicles to date.
What you refer to as “congestion” is referred to as “dispersion” by Norman Garrick (professor of urban planning and oft-referenced source of urban planning ideas for the City) and the Tri-State Transportation Coalition, a group of professional planners and engineers also invoked by the City.
Both Garrick and the TSTC have identified that the surrounding streets are vastly under capacity and in no danger of becoming congested. Using a professional engineering method (dispersion) we can easily accommodate the actual traffic volumes which this area will see.
Curious In an ideal world, this would be like Orange Street in East Rock. We accept that the current traffic volumes make that impossible, and in the spirit of compromise, are offering 2 lanes in one way with a 3rd lane for turning.
This is a huge concession in terms of the vision articulated by the people attending the community input meetings since 2007. It is an enormous compromise, so to modify it from 3 total lanes (2 direct and one turning) into 3 direct and one turning (4 total) seems wrong. I can’t make that decision for the thousands of individuals who have spoken up on this project.
posted by: NHTownster on October 14, 2011 11:38am
Wow… How does years worth of hard work by so many to accomplish a positive economic development project the likes this city has never seen before all go down the drain by this small group, and one swift, ill-conceived vote? Who knows about the funding…? I mean by time this does get to the full BOA and they take their time to deliberate this- the developer might just pack up and decide that he doesn’t want to deal with the city’s ‘drama’ when it comes to getting things done and letting the minority influence the majority in New Haven who truly support this project, its vision, and its design. And guess what people? That means zero job creation, zero added tax growth, and zero new bike and ped improvements to the Route 34 area. So then we’re back to square-one, same old, same old New Haven. What does this say about our leadership in this city, and why… why is city hall letting bike riders, a couple of politicians, and a lot of people with simply too much time on their hands, push a great project, which would grow jobs, grow taxes, and elevate New Haven’s blossoming bio-med sector? This is a political game now- not about what residents really are worried about, not about the width of the crosswalks, or how many lanes… it’s about the dirty game of politics in this city today, and frankly it is disgusting. Will Downtown Crossing ever happen now…who knows?
posted by: westville man on October 14, 2011 11:40am
Thanks Robn. But most of the traffic I’m in isn’t using the garage- people are going to York, Howe, etc and turning off into the city or heading to the Boulevard.
posted by: streever on October 14, 2011 11:51am
westville man Notably, the streets you reference—and Route 34 as it approaches them—are what we are asking the city to maintain. We aren’t asking the city to reduce the current lanes but keep them as is.
As I said above, there have been no level of service issues or problems with the current lane configuration, and the ambulances have not been impacted at all over the last 60 years of the current lane number.
Using dispersion, we can easily accommodate the traffic you are referencing.
posted by: Stephen Harris on October 14, 2011 11:53am
We should keep in mind that the City has multiple points of entry. Everyone needn’t take Rt. 34.
This development is welcomed but it shouldn’t be built using a suburban model - large office park just off the highway quickly accessed and egressed by multi-lane roads taking employees back and forth from their bedroom communities in the suburbs. New Haven is a city, not an office park.
Transportation modeling needs to be retooled. The idea that traffic will only increase is outdated. By 2040 or so we will be living in a less car-centric world as our prime energy resource, oil, declines. This is something I keep saying, but it needs to be said again and again because it has profound implications for our economy and built environment. Here’s a reference.
In the future New Haven will be a dense, economically diverse city because business and people will cluster together to save on escalating energy costs. There are opportunities for new housing and businesses in Long Wharf, the Coliseum site, Union Station to Med. District, and Rt. 34 West. Plans for dense, multi-modal neighborhoods should be on on everyone’s mind for these areas.
Planning only for the immediate need is short sighted. Suburban style planning is a mistake. The future lies in dense, diverse, multi-modal cities and towns.
posted by: streever on October 14, 2011 11:58am
Harris is right on—and a very talented urban planner himself. I encourage anyone reading this thread to carefully read his posting and then do some independent research.
The city largely is reactive—not proactive. They do not have clear visions articulated for the future, and this hurts our development by making us ineligible for grants as they arise. We often throw plans together with little thought because time lines are so tight.
The city needs to invest in long-range planning, strategy, and thoughtfulness. When you are not proactive, you let others dictate your future, and this is the situation we currently face.
posted by: Our Town on October 14, 2011 12:18pm
Streever -I wasn’t planning on getting into a back and forth on this, however, you are totally wrong, this project is to reduce six eastbound and six westbound lanes to three or four lanes in each direction. Yes, six to three or four (depending on the block) in each direction. Additionally, three of the current lanes in each direction are expressway lanes, capable of carrying almost twice the volume of the adjacent surface streets, making their capacity the equivalent of six surface lanes. That would be a total of ten surface lanes in each direction. This project proposes to replace the equivalent capacity of ten lanes in each direction with three or four lanes in each direction.
I know Norman Garris, and his opinion is just his opinion, not fact. I, for one, do not place much credence in his opinions. I doubt ole Norman has spent much anywhere near as much time on Howard, York and Park Streets as I have.
posted by: westville man on October 14, 2011 12:36pm
@ Stephen Harris i agree there are multiple entries to NH and they do get used. My observations are based upon today’s traffic- not increased traffic. However, I will not subscribe to a theory we will become less car-centric- only time will tell on that. Nor do I agree that we will become more dense in our residential living based again upon the theory that energy will so dictate. Only time will prove that wrong or right. There are simply too many unknown variables.
@ Streever- thanks for the clarification. I thought the plan was for the 3rd lane as turn only. What we presently have is 3 lanes for 3 blocks and then down to 2. The 3rd lane becomes turn only at the last block right now so if we’re keeping it that way, that’s fine w me.
posted by: New Haven Taxpayer on October 14, 2011 12:40pm
You say your two-lane plan is a “huge concession,” but Elm City Cycling last year asked in writing for a three-lane road. Something doesn’t add up.
I agree with many of the posters here. A two-lane road just doesn’t work, particularly so close to a hospital. And I really want to see this project move forward.
posted by: streever on October 14, 2011 12:42pm
NHTownster I’m sorry you’ve missed the dozens and dozens of public input meetings on this, where incredible number of citizens came out in support of the vision articulated in the resolution.
I think that must be why you’ve misunderstood so greatly the individuals involved (most of whom do not bike) and the actual aims of the Resolution, which seeks to see Route 34 redeveloped.
Those of us who are part of the Resolution were also part of the early community outreach for the City, reaching out to diverse stakeholders and convincing them to support the city in the Downtown Crossing project.
The only “political” aspect of this process has been the dramatic changes to the project after we convinced neighborhood groups and medical center employees and students to support the project.
Again, I think you must have missed the meetings where these discussions were held and where 1000s of residents voiced their concerns with the current plan. As Alders Paca and Morehead state, they received over a hundred phone calls in the last week alone from individuals—largely not cyclists—who want to see this project proceed per the cities original planning and stated direction.
posted by: streever on October 14, 2011 12:46pm
@NHTaxpayer Exactly—while we would PREFER the vision I’ve articulated, we know that isn’t feasible from this city. As such, we have asked for far less than we want, and see our request as a compromise between what the city is seeking and what the individuals who live around the development are seeking.
The people who live near Route 34 and who cross it for work and school would like to see an East Rock style Orange Street—this has been the most voiced desire at every input meeting I’ve attended. The City has stated since day one that it was absolutely out of the question, so our written requests have been made in the spirit of compromise, knowing the limitations the city has set on the project.
posted by: New Haven Taxpayer on October 14, 2011 1:03pm
I’m sorry, but I’m still confused Streever. Do you want a three lane road or a two lane road? The resolution says two travel lanes, but Elm City Cycling last year said three travel lanes. It seems like the request has become more hard-lined, not less.
posted by: Eddie on October 14, 2011 1:12pm
@streever- I have to agree with many posting on this one actually. I drive from Hamden down to St. Rays where I work everyday. There are many many more cars and people who use the Rt 34 area everyday to commute to work, to school, to home in other parts of the region- than just Downtown New Haven. I think many more than the small number of cyclists in New Haven as well. Although your point is well taken, and there are many who care about the safety of these new streets for all- which I’m glad for, and they should- roads are for cars first and foremost. Sorry, but you can’t really change that. I don’t think anyone disagrees with your stance that these strees should be safe for those walking or riding. They should. So I guess I’m unclear on why this whole thing is a debate between this group and the city to begin with? Seems like they have the same thoughts on this whole deal.
posted by: Stephen Harris on October 14, 2011 1:46pm
@ Westville man.
I understand that detailed predictions of the future can be dicey, but trends can be spotted with a high degree of certainty.
My comments about how and why to plan for the future is based on energy trends that the IEA, U.S. Dept. of Energy, German and U.S. Military, TOTAL French Oil Co., and many independent researchers (most of them former oil company geologists) all agree upon. The Peaking then declining of oil is very soon and will have profound impacts on every facet of modern economies.
According to most estimates we should be seeing a deepening oil crunch by 2015, give or take couple of years. In fact we are already in a conventional oil production plateau. An all-liquids plateau will follow, then an outright decline of 2-4% per year. This is readily available information for anyone who looks for it. Why isn’t it on the nightly news? Cognitive dissonance it would guess.
The only naysayer is Cambridge Energy Research Associates, a research group funded by the oil industry. Since they’re the only ones saying don’t worry, I worry.
Any economy needs to perform work to make and move things. Work requires energy. The dominant energy source in the world is oil. A tightening of supply followed by declining production will ratchet up the price. The global economy will contract in order to save transportation costs. The cost of gasoline will force people to cut back on long commutes; they will seek to live close to where they work. Auto traffic will decrease. More compact living/working arrangements will become the norm. Australian Planner Magazine published a paper on this topic as did the University of Canterbury, NZ.
Here are the two sources:
“Petroleum Depletion Scenarios for Australian Cities” (Australian Planner, Vol. 47, No. 4, December 2010, 232-242).
“Urban form and fuel shortage risk assessment: A method to investigate the impact of peak oil on travel demand. (Andre Dantas, Susan Krumdieck, Shannon Page, Departments of Civil Engineering and Mechanical Engineering, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, 8140, New Zealand).
While the details of Peak Oil will vary from place to place, the overall effect can be predicted.
It is in light of this fact that I think the City would be wise to ditch the planning model of the past and plan for the future.
posted by: westville man on October 14, 2011 2:05pm
thanks Mr. Harris for your studied opinion and the references. I do understand. My skepticism comes from hearing this mantra about oil and natural gas for 40 years now- that we will run out soon. But i dont disagree with the strategy of assuming it’s true.
posted by: Icarus on October 14, 2011 2:15pm
Don’t electric cars already exist and are viable? If oil does indeed start running low and prices rise, an increase in demand for electric cars would spur charging stations, reduced prices, and create additional oil based alternatives keeping people on the roads. Furthermore, cars running off of other sources of energy such as algae has been discussed as possible.
I understand what you are saying and agree that increasing access to public transport and improving pedestrian lifestyle is important and necessary. That being said, I believe you might be a bit aggressive about how fast and why our dependence on cars will be reduced going forward
posted by: Stephen Harris on October 14, 2011 3:59pm
I don’t meant to sound aggressive. I’m just passionate about the energy/planning problem so sometimes I shout.
While I think electric cars are a good thing and they have a place in the future transportation mix they still need to plug in and charge up. Most electricity comes from coal and natural gas and both of those also are finite - and as an aside, the high quality coal is gone (which is why we’re blowing up mountain tops to get the lower grade coal) and we’ve taken to hydraulic fracking to get gas (and the USGS, in a recent report, significantly downgraded the potential amount of gas in Shale formations). That suggests those reserves are also close to hitting the wall. Also, how much would the electric grid need to be upgraded to handle the extra load of charging millions of cars? I don’t know but it won’t be cheap or happen overnight.
I don’t think electric cars can substitute on a one-for-one basis for gas powered cars for the same general reasons. And given the size of the auto fleet it would take about 15 years to change over to electric vehicles and even then assuming there’s a crash course to do so.
It’s more economical and uses less energy to move most people and things by train and streetcar. And that will take a crash course as well. And although there is some movement towards trains, it seems tepid to me.
The last thing I want to see is our country stuck behind the eight ball because we didn’t act fast enough. I know this is well outside the Rt. 34 discussion about 2-3 lanes v. 4-5 but I think the bigger picture should be driving our development decisions.
posted by: anon on October 14, 2011 4:03pm
A few facts may help:
1. Currently, the crossing at College & North Frontage is 3 lanes. The last rendition of the city’s plan widens this to 4 lanes.
2. The crossing at Church & North Frontage is currently four lanes. The latest rendition of the city’s plan widens this to at least five lanes.
3. Currently, local residents call both of these areas a “death zone” and Chief Limon says to avoid them because they are so dangerous.
4. Everyone supports new development, but building a death trap that will result in dozens more deaths and injuries per year is simply not going to be tolerated by residents. For example, the Board of Aldermen voted 30-0 to pass the city’s complete streets law in 2008. That law required the “prioritization of walkability, inter-modal transit, traffic calming and pedestrian-based urban economic development over competing goals,” and stipulated that the city’s “standards will require that the target speed for streets around schools, hospitals and business districts that depend on pedestrian traffic be a maximum of 15 miles-per-hour.” A similar bill at the state level passed by a wide margin as well and was signed into law in 2009. These laws were passed following the urgent requests from more than 3,000 residents including many currently on City staff.
Why does the City propose to make all of these roads even more dangerous? Why are all the streets being widened into 50 mile per hour highways?
The sorts of changes suggested by Economic Development are simply unacceptable for a dense urban environment, unless other mitigating measures to reduce speed (like those used in London) are deployed. Reducing speeds just during the peak hour doesn’t cut it - what about Saturday afternoons?
To be frank, city staff should be ashamed to propose measures like these. If pressured to actually move forward with them, should consider resigning from office in solidarity with the overwhelming voice of the community.
The Economic Development office talks a great game about compromise, but the fact is, they have not listened to a single recommendation along these lines from the hundreds of people who have come out in droves to public meetings. Very few of them are “cyclists.”
posted by: Morris Cove Mom on October 14, 2011 7:14pm
Streever’s right. It isn’t about bikes. It’s about basic safety and common sense. I hope that New Haven can redo itself so that it is more pedestrian friendly, like Manahattan, Hartford, or even Stamford are.
Peak traffic capacity is achieved at travel speeds of 27.5 mph.
Multiple travel lanes that are wider than 10 feet encourage travel speeds in excess of 30 miles per hour. With each additional lane, the effect is magnified.
At 20 mph, there is a 5% mortality rate for pedestrians who are struck by a car. At 30 mph, the mortality rate is between 37-45%. At 40 mph its 83-85%.
The Average Daily Traffic (ADT) of Route 34 (both directions combined) between the I-95/91 Interchange and Exit 1 is 75,000. Between Exits 1 and 2, it is 50,000. And between Exits 2 and 3, it is 37,000.
There are a couple of ways to proceed when presented with the task of redeveloping a highway. You can view the current volume of traffic and the projected traffic volumes as conditions that must be responded to and accommodated for, or you can view those driving habits as something that can be influenced through design and planning. In the same way that the creation of the Interstate Highway System influenced how people navigated the landscape and made housing choices, the redesign of that system or parts of that system, like the Oak Street Connector, can influence how people interact with the city. The city could move forward with the project as currently designed, where the highway is brought at-grade with little reduction in carrying capacity. This plan favors the system that has prevailed over the last 40 years where workers commute into the city from surrounding bedroom communities, park, go to work and then leave at the end of the day. If we’re lucky, they buy a coffee at Dunkin Donuts, of which most of the profit goes out of the local economy to corporate owners. The staggering number of annual automobile-related accidents, the urban asthma epidemic, the aesthetic nightmare, and the enormous increase in the cost of living are a result of this system.
The other approach to this task that the city could pursue would be one in which the city is once again thought of as a place for people, for families, for enjoyment, and for civic pride. In order to achieve this, the city has to think of its organization in terms of complete communities rather than districts. People should be able to access basic daily needs, like employment, shopping, recreation, civic forums, and interactions with people of different ages and incomes by foot from their homes. This is realizable when the city stops being divided up into single use districts like medical campuses, industrial zones, office parks, and commercial strips. The segregation of uses promotes commuter culture, which demands ever increasingly infrastructure size and cost. This transition is a long, slow process, however, and land ownership, financing instruments and the public process present difficulties in executing a reorganization of the city. The redevelopment of Route 34 does, however, offer an opportunity to step in the right direction. By connection Orange Street across Route 34, there is a potential to get 15-20,000 cars off the highway earlier, thereby reducing the “need” to widen the Frontage Roads. Turning the cross streets back into two-way streets would also allow for the easier and more practical accommodation of bike lanes while increasing driving options and decreasing on the traffic generated by people looking for parking - a behavior that translates into 30 percent of total traffic. By continuing to build our habitat in a way that encourages commuting, we will only ensure that our cities are less desirable places to be. However, if we can design a better connected, more modestly scaled and wonderfully detailed urban environment, we’ll quickly discover that cities can be great places to live, and having the option to walk to daily needs or within a short transit ride of world-class amenities makes for an extremely high quality of life.
As for Peak Oil and other fossil fuel depletion, I find those arguments less compelling than social and aesthetic issues that have emerged as a result of industrialization and suburbanization. I am not completely sold on the theory of Peak Oil, nor do I totally accept the tenants of man-made global warming, but I tend to subscribe to the notion that its better to assume both are true. Personally, the other arguments for good urban design are more relevant and stronger. As for electric cars, if oil recovery does go into depletion, we won’t be paving any roads with asphalt, or making any rubber tires. We also don’t have the infrastructure in place to switch our operating systems from liquid fuel to renewable and/or coal/natural gas. Most likely, entirely new systems will emerge that work with the new energy sources and we can surmise that these new systems will be much closer to those of pre-industrialism than to our current systems.
posted by: Stephen Harris on October 15, 2011 9:04am
I completely agree with the plea for good urban form. I lived in Europe for five years so I have first hand knowledge of its benefits.
My argument about energy is that since the car centric world isn’t sustainable anyway a transition back to good urban form is inevitable, whether anyone likes it or not. It’s just another reason to ditch the suburban development model.
posted by: westville man on October 15, 2011 9:34am
Anon perhaps i wasn’t clear in my remarks but I am more concerned with the traffic that exits at the york/frontage corner. If your facts are about the streets before them, then my comments aren’t directed there. (though i do wonder how many have died at these “death” intersections). Mr. Hopkins, Actually, over half of my clients come from the suburbs and need adequate road access to our office (true for many small businesses). They allow me to hire staff and contractors from New Haven and put money into the local economy. That is why i’m concerned about reducing the above named interchange which streever has indicated will remain the same under the present plan.
posted by: Actually Streever, on October 15, 2011 10:07am
You speak of the staggering amounts of foot traffic, but in comparison to the massive amount of automobile traffic, there is hardly any foot traffic at all. For every person who crosses on foot, there must be 50-60 autos that drive by. Give it a break Dave. [...]
Building for what you have is a sure way to get more of it. Have you been to LA?
When you build for high volumes of auto traffic, it is demonstrable that higher volumes arrive, reducing level of service and increasing congestion.
Seville, Spain, recently built 84 miles of bike lanes.
In Seville (population 700,000) only 0.2% of all trips in 2000 were made by bicycle.
That didn’t stop the PROACTIVE and VISIONARY planners—they spent 43 million to build almost 90 miles of interconnected bike lanes with a stated goal of enabling elderly cyclists to shop by bike.
Car trips decreased by 15,000 per day—per day. Bicycle use soared to 7% of ALL trips.
The bike network cost a fraction of any of the big road projects New Haven has completed in the past several years, and yet has brought about a massive shift in the city, improving conditions for everyone.
New Haven’s current leadership lacks vision, ambition, and foresight. Because of this, we have no long-term plans for such a network, and can not compete for the federal money being spent on transit and ped oriented projects in Washington.
Folks, we’re talking about taking 1000s of cars off the road because we’ll create opportunities for the drivers that will be better than their current ones. We’re talking about building projects that have been proven in study after study to increase economic development and build a better, more sustainable tax base.
We’re talking about reducing senseless deaths and life-changing accidents.
How can the City (and their anonymous supporters) actually oppose this, at a time when urban planners and the Federal Transportation administration are actively embracing it?
The money for Economic Development is coming from Washington, and it is aimed at progressive, transit and pedestrian oriented projects. We’re literally turning it down because we lack the sensibility to just add up the numbers.
Westville man, I am not denying that people do currently commute into the city to access services, go to work and all sorts of other things. What I’m suggesting is that there are two fundamental ways to move forward. Either the city can continue this relationship and system by implementing their current design of 4-5 lane one-way roads, or we can imagine an alternative future that is much different from today’s conditions. The impact of the first option can be easily accessed and predicted because it is similar in many ways to other types of projects that have been implemented in New Haven, and in other cities, over the last 50 years. If we build infrastructure for commuting, people will commute. The infrastructure for commuting, which consists of massive, high-speed roadways and large parking garages, causes asthma to develop in young children in the city, results in numerous fatal and injury-inducing automobile-related accidents, erodes the value of land, wastes space with car storage, and makes suburban living a more desirable option for living than cities. This has proven to be extremely destructive for New Haven’s culture and economy. The impact of implementing the second option can also be easily predicted because many parts of the pre-WW2 city remain and function quite well without large roads or ample parking. The goal of implementing this second option is to create a vibrant urban environment that can be a desirable place to work, shop, enjoy recreation and even live. So its perceivable that those clients of yours who now currently live in the suburbs may instead choose to live in the city and walk to your office.
No proposal is calling for the elimination of Route 34, people will still be able to come into the city from surrounding communities, but we have the chance to redesign the highway into a more hospitable, diverse and beautiful place.
What I and many other people are proposing is that there are multiple ways to respond to any given task. In this case of highway redesign, there are two basic responses that can be made. The first is to look at current traffic demand and projected demand as the area is developed with bio-medical facilities and decide that we need to accommodate this traffic by widening or maintaining the road capacity. The other response is to say that we can design a better place to live so that the increased demand for access to bio-medical facilities is accommodated for by creating a neighborhood that is desirable for clients, professionals and the workers that will be accessing this area. It may also be able to attract some of the people who currently commute into the city who will decide to become permanent residents.
posted by: AnnexMom on October 16, 2011 6:10am
Get one thing straight, bikers. If you push this developer out of New Haven—and you will, then your misguided attempt to force your lifestyle on society will be your ... legacy. We have one small chance to get rid of this nightmare in our midst—the Rt 34 connector. How does your silly bike roll along on that connector now? I’ve heard you say that you don’t want to build a road with enough lanes to accomodate “suburban” commuters—Well WAKE UP! There are tens of thousands of New Haveners who live outside of the center city—including the East Shore. It’s OUR town too! We take that road every day and we pay way more taxes than you do! I don’t want to sit in traffic so that you and your frinds can peddle your toys along your bike lane—and frankly—it’s time to reveal just how many bike/pedestrian accidents occur every week-and are never reported. You are ticking off lots of people with your arrogance. It’s time for the pendulum to swing. NHI-stop censoring the comments that oppose your personal bike mission!
posted by: westville man on October 16, 2011 1:00pm
In your “either/or” scenario, I would choose to keep traffic capacity as is, with designing safer and better pedestrian and bike routes in that plan. My concern is that if traffic congestion get worse due to reduction of lanes, then not only will businesses fail but many business owners such as myself will be forced out. 2 other thoughts. European models for living and driving habits are limited in their relevance. Living in a dense environment invites transience- it’s not as desirable to raise a family that way here in America. And our lifestyle with activities require the use of cars more so than anywhere else. If you are hoping to change those priorities, that will be a long haul to achieve.
posted by: anon on October 16, 2011 2:55pm
AnnexMom: This project has very little to do with biking. ... As to your other point, cyclists injure 500 people yearly in New York City, while cars injure 70,000 people each year. It’s a similar ratio elsewhere. And in considering this, it is important to remember that as the number of cyclists increases within any given neighborhood, cities and towns see far fewer injuries and deaths for everyone (drivers included).
posted by: HhE on October 16, 2011 3:15pm
I am so glad this is moving forward. I hope it will pass the BoA as well.
Bikers ride motorcycles, cyclists ride bikes. The reason that so many cyclists are behind this is because they have an awareness that most drivers never have: the streets of New Haven are incredibly dangerous. I learned much the same lesson in Greenwich when I had a Mazda Miata; SUV drivers had no situational awareness, and would sooner kill me than hand up their cell phone. If we pedestrians were organized as well, one would no doubt see “Families with Prams” and “The Safe Constitutionals Society” backing this.
(When I taught as GHS, I needed (contractually, as well as emotionally) a club to advise, and the would be Mountain Bike Club needed an advisor. So I became their advisor, which is to say I learned a lot from them. I found cyclists to be as a rule, more mature, more self possessed, and friendlier than the average student. Unfortunately, I have done very little cycling since. So it has been 14 years since I have done any serious riding, and that was almost entirely on trails. I don’t think I have ridden a bike since I moved to New Haven.)
I share the concern of losing this opportunity, I doubt Carter Winstanley is going to pack up any time soon. I have seen him hold his own at Newhallville CMT meetings. He is made of sterner stuff, and with the socially responsible position claims, I doubt he really wants blood on his hands from dangerous roads.
“If you build it, they will come” can mean more cars, more health problems, more accidents, and more impermeable surfaces. Or we could build for a future that is more likely and more friendly.
posted by: Kevin on October 16, 2011 3:18pm
God forbid sitting in your car for a few more minutes, IF that’s even the case which I doubt. You’re making this into an “Us verse Them” or “Bikers verse Car Commuters” when it’s not, or at least shouldn’t be.
What only matters is improving the city with this area being the focal point. Although there would likely always be some opposition, the city is most responsible for whatever happens and may ought to compromise here given the large amount of disapproval. New Haven should be a visionary and generally “selfish” to actually improve itself from within and solidify itself as a cultural urban center. I’ not sure of all the exact details between plans, but the results of reducing the lanes and changing traffic patterns will really not be as big a deal as people think and will surprisingly be more pleasant for all.
The city is putting in bike lanes and bike boxes. This has nothing to do with bikes, and if you’d come to the meetings, you’d have met the hundreds of people who do not bike but who work and live within a few blocks of this project.
You’d also see that they aren’t tearing up Route 34, but widening it.
I’m sorry that you haven’t learned about the project first hand, but even more sorry that you are railing against individuals inaccurately. I’d love to talk to you about this in person.
Please send me an email and I’d be happy to meet with you, show you the alternative plans (which are closer to what Winstanley would like to develop—he said he wants to make a Kendall Square here), and explain the motivation behind this work.
posted by: HhE on October 16, 2011 8:20pm
I agree that making American cities more “European” will take some doing, but I think it is still well worth doing. What activities do we do, besides go to the range, that Europeans do not? What is so wonderful about raising a family in a raised ranch on two acres? I know it is very popular, but having grown up first in a dense suburban area, and then latter in a picturesque town with 2 1/2 acer zoning, I know which one I would pick. The former allowed for walking, safe biking, driving, and rail. The other required a car to do much of anything. For anyone without a driver’s license and a car, such living arrangements become anti social.
As much as I may use the Interstates, I moved here because I could walk and would have access to rail service. When I think of neighborhoods I rather live in than mine, it is because they are more walkable.
The interstate system was viable for 150 million people with one care per family, not 300 million, with often two or more cars per family. Petrol will continue to be harder and more expensive to get, and the world wide demand is going up. Electric cars are of limited utility, and will tend to remain so. Consider the true efficiency of a light bulb: after factoring loss of energy in production and distribution, it is about 1% efficient. An electric car would probably not be much better. A conventional auto is 30% or better. As much as I love cars (I am seriously thinking about buying a Lotus Evora, and Top Gear is my favorite TV show), they are a doomed technology.
posted by: Icarus on October 16, 2011 9:03pm
I have also spent considerable time in Europe (Florence, IT mostly). It is important to realize that comparing European cities to American cities is not comparing apples to apples. For one, European cities have been evolving for centuries and citizens of these countries have different values. Also, as pedestrian friendly as some cities are, try riding your bicycle on the cobblestone streets of Florence…
My point, lets develop a pedestrian friendly environment that works for America. This could include streetcars in New Haven. By the way, while I was in Florence, citizens did not even want public transportation because it would have to run near the historic sites in the city (they protested). Also, Italians had a huge drinking and driving problem like the U.S. did.
I do, however, remember Munich and Vienna having features that would fit in an American city. They had 2 to 3 lane paved roads (with wonderful bike paths) and with small side streets that were convenient for walking. New Haven should be developing this way. Development like this would provide adequate driving conditions as well pedestrian ones.
Also, Europe does have major highways and suburban/rural areas that are similar to the U.S. We tend not to see or visit them because travelers from the U.S. go to major cities and take the train or fly.
Westville man, Maintaining current traffic capacity and designing safe streets wasn’t one of the two options I proposed. This “3rd option”, however, is the one that the city is currently pursuing where 4-5 lane one-way streets are created from combining the existing highway with the frontage roads and bike lanes and bike boxes are added to this. Unfortunately, this option is only a theoretical exercise that, if actually implemented, would be disastrous. I am a 22 year old male that bikes frequently to get around to my daily needs. Personally, I don’t particularly like bike riding - its difficult, I have a terrible bike, I get sweaty, and its extremely dangerous in many places that I am required to bike in - but I don’t have enough money for a car or to take the bus everyday, and walking is unrealistic for some of my destinations. Biking where it is mandated by law, which is in the street, is usually very comfortable on streets that have only one travel lane going in one direction or plus a turning lane. Dixwell Avenue, as an example, in the New Haven section of the street (south of Goodrich Street) is very comfortable for me to ride on because there is on-street parking and a wide travel lane that allows cars to drive by me without getting too close and without swerving into the oncoming lane. The width of Dixwell (one lane in each direction and a turning lane) allows me to fairly easily turn onto side streets by crossing over into the turning lane. However, in the Hamden section of Dixwell where the parking lane is replaced by another travel lane and curb cuts to parking lots are frequent, it is extremely difficult to comfortably bike because cars travel much faster, the shoulder is narrow, and the turning lane is too far from the shoulder to easily make turns onto side streets. I like to think of myself as a fairly athletic person, so if I feel uncomortable next to two lanes, I can only imagine what a child, elderly or other less-able-bodied person faces on that street and streets like it. Its so difficult, in fact, that I often find myself riding illegally on the sidewalk where I often have to slow down and move for pedestrians just to avoid the oppressive nature of the Hamden section of Dixwell Avenue. This same condition exists elsewhere in the city. So, just because bike lanes are painted on the road, like what is proposed on a 4 lane North Frontage Road, doesn’t mean that it is actually a bike-able and safe place to be. In fact, it will most likely give a false sense of security to cyclists and we will see far more accidents in this area if the current plan is implemented. In order to deal with this, the city has proposed to put some of the bike lanes on the sidewalk to create a cycle track, which is great for legally accommodating cyclists on sidewalks, but they are discontinuous and move on and off the sidewalk into the street at various points because the width of the street right-of-way doesn’t allow for a cycle track in some sections since of the number of lanes that is being called for takes up that space. Pedestrians face a similar problem when it comes to wide streets. It is very difficult to cross wide streets for elderly residents and children. Most likely what will happen if the current plan is implemented is that people will not walk here and accidents will increase, similar to what currently happens.
It might be nice to be able to maintain both high traffic capacity and safe infrastrucutre, but high capacity roads are inherently unsafe by design, so its not a realistic desire, which is why the city’s current plan falls short of being acceptable. Furthermore, by narrowing and reducing travel lanes, cars will drive slower and thereby allow higher capacity on the existing roads. Like I stated in my original post, peak travel capacity is acheived at travel speeds of 27.5 mph, which means that the greatest number of cars can travel the greatest distance in the shortest amount of time when travel speeds are 27.5 mph. On highways, cars travel extremely fast and need much more room in between other cars (4 seconds minimum at 65 mph), but on city streets far more cars can be accommodated in a smaller space because people drive slowly and have much more time allowed to react to stopped cars and pedestrians.
While I disagree about the relevance of European cities, I would say that it’s unncessary to rely on them for examples because we have plenty of excellent precedents right here in the New Haven region that showcase all the qualities that people like me are advcating for. People live in walkable, transit-connected neighborhoods and towns that are still accessable to cars, without the enormous infrastructure that causes disease, death, and an ugly environment. I don’t think that anyone wants to get rid of cars - they are one of the greatest technological developments in human history - we just simply want to realistically incorporate alternative means into the equationa as well. In order to do that, car infrastructure has to be reduced so that people feel comofortable walking, biking, shopping, socializing, and living in the Route 34 area. The Westville Village doesn’t have enormous roads, in fact, Whalley Avenue narrows in the central village which helps make it a more desirable place to walk, work, shop and live. Pedestrians, buses and cars all exist together somewhat harmoniously and its because no single transportation option overwhelms the other.
posted by: westville man on October 17, 2011 9:19am
Actually, Jonathan Hopkins, your 1st choice says “widening or maintaining road capacity”. I replied that my opinion is to maintain-at the juncture of York and Frontage to the Boulevard, the way it is now. You can make improvements for safety in that context. Westville Village is not a main artery into the city from the highway. BTW, i agree we dont need 4-5 lane roads on College and Church streets. My focus is on the above interchange
Its extremely difficult, if not impossible, to design pedestrian and bike infrastructure with three lanes of one-way traffic and limited sidewalk space, let alone create an environment people will want to live in or near. 4-5 travel lanes is the city’s attempt to maintain the current highway capacity on the forntage roads, once the connector is turned into service roads. So if you do not support 4-5 travel lanes, then you support the idea of reducing the road’s carrying capacity (at high speeds) in the eastern section of Route 34. If we could get the cross streets of Orange and Temple built in Phase 1, that would help elliviate traffic a lot and allow us to narrow the road to two lanes + turning lane fairly easily, which is a more realistic situation for cyclists, pedestrians, and residents.