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Traffic Tsar Travers Will Step Down

by Thomas MacMillan | Dec 18, 2013 11:36 am

(44) Comments | Commenting has been closed | E-mail the Author

Posted to: City Hall, Transportation

Thomas MacMillan Photo Thanks to Jim Travers, New Haven’s transit landscape now has new bike lanes, a bike corral, a “parking terrasse,” a “street smarts” campaign, and plans for the state’s first cycletrack. It won’t have Travers himself much longer.

Travers (pictured)—the city’s director of traffic, transportation, and parking since 2008—told Mayor John DeStefano and Mayor-elect Toni Harp this week that he will step down from his post in late January.

Travers said he’s leaving to join the United Way of Greater New Haven as vice president of resource development. Amid the uncertainty of an impending change in mayoral leadership, Travers had begun looking for other job possibilities, he said. He found a good one. He’ll be working on fundraising at United Way, along with community engagement and outreach to New Haven businesses.

“I really wish he would have stayed. He’s someone I would have kept,” Harp said Wednesday. She said she does not yet have a successor in mind for the job.

Travers began his time as traffic director just as the city was reeling from two pedestrian deaths in car crashes. In the years since, he has has focused on traffic safety through education and infrastructure, oriented the department toward “place-making” and taken a data-driven approach to problems. His efforts have earned him plaudits from pedestrian and cycling advocates citywide. The last few months have seen him on a tear, rolling out long-planned initiatives to steer New Haven in a new urbanist direction.

On Tuesday in his basement office in the Hall of Records, Travers, who’s 49, looked back at his time as director, and shared his advice for the next traffic tsar, whoever that might be. Wearing a blue striped shirt and a yellow tie, he sat behind a desk piled with papers and in front of maps of city traffic signals.

Travers, whose background is in business administration, spent years working for clothier Ann Taylor’s corporate office, commuting from New Haven to Manhattan. After he was “rightsized” out of a job in 2006, he ended up doing development work for Aids Project New Haven. That position helped him realize he wanted to work for the city itself.

“I wanted to make change,” Travers said. He started angling for a City Hall job, and ended up as deputy traffic director in 2008. In 2010, he moved up to director.

In 2008, 11-year-old Gabrielle Lee was run down by a car on Whalley Avenue, and medical student Mila Rainof was struck and killed on South Frontage Street.

“Those issues really galvanized the community,” Travers said. Travers said he worked to gather people together to try to harness a movement that was already mobilizing.

“We needed an education campaign,” he said. New Haven’s roads hadn’t changed in 50 years. People’s driving habits had.

After working for six months with a variety of community and business groups—including Yale, Elm City Cycling, and the hospitals—Travers and company emerged with the Street Smarts Campaign. They hired a marketing consultant to design a logo and launched the campaign in the fall of 2008.

Travers said the campaign worked because it was “not just the city saying, ‘Hey, do this.’” The campaign emerged from a network of relationships; the community owned it.

“Street Smarts became the backbone of the department,” Travers said.

Also in 2008, the city began working on its “Complete Streets” program, overhauling the way it approaches infrastructure development and repair. The Complete Streets approach places a new priority on the safe movement of pedestrians and cyclists. It was officially adopted by the Board of Aldermen in 2010 and “further solidified the movement in New Haven,” Travers said.

In the past, when a street needed to be repaved, the city would simply mark the freshly paved street as it had always been marked. Under Complete Streets, a repaving became an opportunity to ask questions, to make changes, Travers said: “Can we fit a bike lane? What’s the pedestrian movement?” 

Thus, when Elm Street was repaved this summer, it suddenly included a bike lane. All together, the city has gone from four to 40 miles of marked bike routes in the past five years, Travers said.

The Complete Streets program also included a new way for New Haveners to request traffic improvements. When people began asking for a redesign of the intersection of Audubon and Whitney, Travers’ traffic department began asking questions. The result: A plan (pictured) for a raised intersection, partially funded by Yale, branded with a thermal-injected plastic seal in the center to mark the Audubon Arts District, and featuring a new outdoor seating area outside Gourmet Heaven.

Travers said he got a vision for that intersection’s possibility when he saw a similar one Portsmouth, New Hampshire. On another trip, to Montreal, stumbled across another great idea, another way to contribute to “place-making” efforts.

Kendra Baker Photo In Montreal he saw how the city had taken over a parking spot and converted it to an outdoor eating area. Travers pitched the idea to 116 Crown’s John Ginnetti, who this year opened a sandwich shop called Meat & Co., also on Crown Street. During the summer, Meat & Co. featured a “parking terrasse,” an outdoor seating area bounded by potted plants—in a parking spot.

Travers said the terrasse helped Meat & Co. make a splash in its debut year. Ginnetti saw 50 percent more business than he had been expecting, and had to hire five new employees, Travers said. With that kind of return on investment, Travers said, parking terrasses as the number-one thing his successor should expand on.

As he sees it, Travers said, his department’s work is not simply about making traffic flow and keeping cyclists and pedestrians safe. It’s also about making New Haven an attractive place for people to visit, to linger, to shop. He said his goal has been to contribute to New Haven economic development, not by increasing parking meter and ticket revenue, but by using his office to help New Haven businesses succeed.

Melissa Bailey Photo Shortly after the parking terrasse, Travers took over another downtown parking spot with a “bike corral,” a place to lock up 16 bikes. Within a couple of days, after people realized what it was for, the corral was filled to overflowing. It was so popular, Travers said, that the city decided to keep it outside over the winter, not in the parking spot, but in the plaza in front of the Shubert Theater.

Meanwhile, Travers has been overhauling not just bike parking but car parking, too. He introduced pay-by-credit card meters so that people can pay to park even if they don’t have change. The goal, Travers said is to have more people paying for parking, rather than paying for parking tickets. He said meter revenue is up, and ticket revenue is down.

He said he’s trying to avoid leaving visitors to New Haven with a bad impression, when they come back to their car to find a ticket. “People don’t like to get a ticket. That’s what they remember.”

Most recently, the city has introduced pay-by-cellphone to the city’s 3,000 meters. Travers said that program has taken off, with the fastest growth of any city working with ParkMobile, the company that provides the service.

The city’s new high-tech meters have allowed the city to collect all sorts of data about parking usage in town: How long people park in different areas, where the demand is highest, how people pay. That information allows the traffic and parking department to respond to conditions as they change.

Travers has taken that same data-driven approach to other problems, like installing bus-stop shelters that people want to use. He said the city had previously assumed that people want fully enclosed bus shelters. Upon further observation, however, his department found that people were standing outside them, not inside. Travers said the city took down the front wall on an enclosed shelter at Temple and Crown streets, and found it suddenly full.

Travers is leaving the office with some ideas he hasn’t had time to try out. For instance, the city’s new fiber optic traffic signal system has a lot of free bandwidth, that could be used to create a citywide wi-fi network, Travers said.

That may be one project Travers’ successor will take up, along with all the others Travers has already set in motion.

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posted by: TheMadcap on December 18, 2013  11:46am

Noooooooooo. It’s gonna be hard for anyone to fill those shoes.

posted by: robn on December 18, 2013  11:50am

Too bad. Jim’s a great guys and was very creative. When seeking a new candidate, hopefully Mayor-elect Harp will consider that Jim’s success was born of creativity and motivation rather than a background in traffic and parking. New Haven needs more episodic creative solutions and fewer big Orwellian concepts.

posted by: Brian R on December 18, 2013  11:55am

Wishing Jim the best in his new position, and lamenting his loss as one of the most effective city staffer’s New Haven has seen in a while.

posted by: anonymous on December 18, 2013  12:01pm

Thank you to Jim Travers for serving the city.

We need to bring in a truly visionary transportation director from some place like Cambridge, the nation’s most walkable city, or Portland Oregon, which is known for progressive transportation of all kinds. 

Cities like these are on a tear - large companies like Pfizer have been fleeing Connecticut to move to Cambridge, and Portland has transitioned from a bottom of the barrel, beat old mill town into an above-average economy. 

No matter how many bike lanes are striped, Connecticut cities are still several decades behind the curve when it comes to creating streets that contribute to local jobs & economic development by being safe for walking, biking, wheelchairing, or taking the bus.

Hopefully the new Mayor will see job creation and safety as priority issues.

posted by: kmnh on December 18, 2013  12:04pm

What a loss—Jim did such a great job!  Congratulations Jim!  I wish you the best and am glad that we’re not losing your talents completely.

posted by: Mike Slattery on December 18, 2013  12:09pm

Thanks for your efforts, good luck in the new slot.  Maybe you can play a role in the hiring of the new person?    You will be missed.

posted by: Win Davis on December 18, 2013  12:26pm

A heart-felt thanks to Jim from the Town Green Special Services District - He and his department have been wonderful partners and everything in the article is true - he’s business friendly, open to new ideas and a fun person to work with.  Mayor elect Harp has extraordinary shoes to fill.

Lets face it - Its something special when the guy giving out parking tickets will be missed by his coworkers and the community.

Thanks for the countless hours, Jim.

Win & Town Green Team

posted by: DingDong on December 18, 2013  12:30pm

What a shame.  I was ready to support Travers for mayor!

posted by: Stylo on December 18, 2013  12:31pm

That’s a real setback for the city. Is Harp really this polarizing that no one wants to work for her?

posted by: Gretchen Pritchard on December 18, 2013  12:47pm

Amazing that he came to this as a thoughtful, creative generalist with no specific traffic or planning background.

Those will indeed be hard shoes to fill.

posted by: TheMadcap on December 18, 2013  12:50pm

Stylo, you seem to be only the polarizing one, by desperately seeking it.

“All together, the city has gone from four to 40 miles of marked bike routes in the past five years, Travers said.”

I think that line is a bit misleading, because I’m pretty sure that includes sharrows, which are basically useless paint. The actual amount of bike lanes is probably more near 10 miles.

posted by: Anderson Scooper on December 18, 2013  12:55pm

@Stylo—

Travers would have been happy to work for Mayor Harp. And she might have been happy to keep him there.

But with her team so mired within the patronage-wing of the Dem Party, Travers was correct to fear for his job.

Taking this new position with the United Way might suck for the rest of us, but it was a good decision for Jim. We all need job security, and without a promise from Harp, there was none with the City.

posted by: DingDong on December 18, 2013  12:58pm

But actually this reminds me:  The Independent’s story on the Audobon-Whitney intersection redesign said:

“All that will come to pass by the end of the year, said city traffic tsar Jim Travers.”

Well, it’s the end of the year.  What happened to the project?

posted by: David Backeberg on December 18, 2013  1:02pm

Thank you very much, Jim Travers, you will be missed.

Mayor-Elect Harp, please continue the vision of Piscatelli / Travers making New Haven a place for people who actually live here, not just the out-of-towners who drive in with a single-occupant car, occupy a parking space during the day, and drive out with their paycheck.

Narrower streets, slower automobile speeds, sidewalks and crosswalks for children to be able to walk to school, and for workers to be able to bike to work. These are the things we need in the 21st century.

posted by: Erin Gustafson on December 18, 2013  1:13pm

I am sorry to Jim go! We need more people like him in city government, not less! Jim spent much of his time out of his office and thinking outside the box, listening to new ideas and exploring options that New Haven might never have considered. He had the creative fearlessness to tackle the tough challenges facing an old city with modern needs. THANK YOU Jim for making a difference and changing New Haven for the better.

posted by: Joe City on December 18, 2013  1:41pm

Travers is a very nice guy, however, let’s get facts straight. Both the Complete Streets policy and Street Smarts campaign were started under Mike Piscitelli’s directorship, and the policy of adding bike lanes to newly paved roads where possible was started while Paul Wessell was the Director. I know everyone likes Jim, but you need to give credit where credit is due.

posted by: cedarhillresident! on December 18, 2013  1:50pm

I think we can all agree that Jim was one of the ones you fight to keep. Thank you Jim for all you have done over the years. Good luck in your path.

posted by: RedMaple on December 18, 2013  1:50pm

Thank you, Jim Travers, for the indelible improvements you have made to New Haven. You have made such a difference, and as you can see, many in the city applaud your hard work. You have done a great public service through this role over the last 5 years.

Thank you too, NHI, for covering Jim’s good work over the years. It has always been so heartening to read about logical, reasonable, efficient, and effective improvements to the way we all navigate the city.

This article is a great testament to the work that Jim has done. The only thing it left out is how reliable and responsive Jim has been. I’ve never met him, but he always responded to my emails within just a day or two. Take that, bureaucracy.

This is a HUGE loss for New Haven. I can only hope Mayor-elect Harp has the vision to fill this position, and others, with people who can energize and improve New Haven like Jim Travers has done.

posted by: anonymous on December 18, 2013  2:38pm

Joe City is right. Hopefully Harp will keep Mike Piscitelli.

posted by: hillbillyhaven on December 18, 2013  5:07pm

im sure he will represent the black comunity well at united way

posted by: Nan Bartow on December 18, 2013  5:41pm

Jim, It is very sad that you are leaving.  Thanks for the wonderful work that you are leaving behind and for the exuberant spirit with which you performed the work. We will all miss you.

posted by: Walt on December 18, 2013  6:08pm

Hope-someone less pro-  bike gets the position

When Elm City Cycling succeeded in taking over Parking and Traffic, placing bike enthusiast Travers in charge,  its goals to work for aid to Downtown commercial interests by controlling and developing solutions to parking and traffic problems quickly changed to mostly bikists ’ programs instead,  of the taxpaying interests in the central City

Bad moves, especially for merchants, banking and other commercial activities

posted by: Threefifths on December 18, 2013  6:29pm

“I really wish he would have stayed. He’s someone I would have kept,” Harp said Wednesday. She said she does not yet have a successor in mind for the job.

Wake up.You voted them in.I keep tell all of you.The Old Guard will be back.The Harp has no one to bring in.They are digging up the old Fossils.Like I said come Jan 2 2014.The Shxx hits the fan.

My bad I forgot Vanessa Burns.Remember Her.Think she will be Back?

posted by: Threefifths on December 18, 2013  6:31pm

My Bad again.Taken Bets.I think Chief Dean M. Esserman will be on his way.Maybe to New york to work for Bratton?

posted by: Paul Wessel on December 18, 2013  6:32pm

Jim deserves a lot of credit for a number of projects: 5 years is a long time to last in that job.  I’m glad he’s going to continue his work for the city.

posted by: ohnonotagain on December 18, 2013  8:07pm

Jim, you will be missed by many residents if not all residents in New Haven. You must be so proud of the short years you have been serving this city compared to others and have accomplished so much. It is not easy to please people in this city but you did so at every turn. Your honesty when meeting with community groups was part of your success along with never making idle promises, always open to listen and explore suggestions. I wish you much continued success with your future endeavor at UW. They are getting one talented and committed person, lucky them, sad us!

posted by: Claudia Herrera on December 18, 2013  9:25pm

Jim
You always return my calls and emails, but what’s it make it better is that you make things happen!
Thank you so much for your great attitude and being a such a cool guy! wherever you go I am sure that you are going to make a great thing too and they will be lucky to have you.

You will be missed.

posted by: SLP on December 18, 2013  10:37pm

Memo to Harp Transition Team: This is someone you want to keep. Please do so. New Haven respects him and he will push you to think differently and engage citizenry. Change his mind about resigning!

posted by: William Kurtz on December 19, 2013  8:22am

Congratulations, Jim, on the new position with United Way. And thanks for all of your work towards making city streets safer. You’ll be missed for sure.

posted by: darnell on December 19, 2013  12:44pm

Sorry Elaine, but NO, not all of New Haven. This guy spent $4000 on a bike corral that could have been purchased for less than a $1000, if anything. This is just one of his pet projects that WE taxpayers funded. You can’t have it both ways, either you want to stop this out of control spending funded by US to pay for a city workforce that primarily lives out of town, or not. Just because he is a likable guy shouldn’t stop you and other budget watchdogs from questioning this type of spending. I actually ate breakfast one day across the street from the corral, so I paid it a visit. If you did the same, you would agree that $4000 for 6 pieces of cheap metal screwed together borders on criminal.

posted by: anonymous on December 19, 2013  7:50pm

Darnell, half of the city does not drive, but we still spend millions of dollars per year paving and maintaining parking spaces (95% of which are not metered) for the residents who do, on almost every street in the city.

If we didn’t have to maintain all this free infrastructure for the elite few, we could lower taxes pretty significantly, open new preschools, or have librarians in our schools, parks maintenance workers, and elderly centers again, like we used to.

Cars are expensive. If we could get just five percent of our commuters to take the bus, bike, or walk, we would pump literally tens of millions of dollars into the economy each year.

posted by: Bobbe Bellamy on December 19, 2013  8:10pm

Jim Travers - you are an awesome person.  Always so polite ..... “darling”.  Great knowing you.  Best wishes in your new career and, by the way, if you should need clerical or administrative help, call me.

posted by: TheMadcap on December 19, 2013  11:55pm

How many times do you and others need to be proven wrong about the bike corral before you stop complaining about the bike corral.

posted by: darnell on December 20, 2013  8:35am

@Madcap, how do you prove me wrong? I know, show me the manufacturing cost of that corral, I dare you.

@Anon - what millions do we send on “free” paring spaces? First off, there are no free spaces downtown. Second, any biker is welcome to park in the parking spaces downtown, just throw some quarters in the meter like car owners (yeah right). Parking is one of the items in the budget that actually makes money for the city, so this concept that we spend money on parking to the detriment of other social activities is just dead wrong.

posted by: darnell on December 20, 2013  8:41am

And, by the way, they are all parking for “FREE”. So before you all get on your high horses, let that parking space produce as much income as the others surrounding it before you start spending $4000 a pop on more of these monstrosities.

posted by: anonymous on December 20, 2013  4:00pm

Darnell, most neighborhoods do not have a single parking meter. Thousands of cars are parked for free. Those tens of thousands of free parking spaces cost a whole lot of money to pave and maintain each year.  Yes, property tax pays for some of it, but not everyone drives. Property tax also pays for sidewalks, bus shelters, wheelchair ramps and other infrastructure that is needed for people to get around, but infrastructure for drivers (80% of whom are suburban) eats up the vast share of millions of dollars in funding, and much of it is simply unnecessary.

posted by: darnell on December 20, 2013  4:44pm

Anon,

I paid for my car, yet every year I get a bill from the city to pay them again and again. Do bike owners do the same? This idea that car owners have it made and have other taxpayers subsidizing parking spaces in front of their homes is rubbish. When you guys start advocating for an annual property tax on bikes, then I will do two things: 1) I’ll start seriously listening to your made up argument that car owners “eats up the vast share of millions of dollars in funding” (almost fell on the floor laughing at that one); and 2) I will fight tooth and nail any such proposed tax. All you bike owners combined $2 per year wont pay for that bike corral and it;‘s maintenance, and the last thing I want to do is give you all skin in the game (and of course I oppose any new taxes until we find a way to better control our spending).

posted by: robn on December 20, 2013  5:25pm

DARNELL,

Enlightened self interest? More people on bikes means less car congestion. That’s good for you right?

posted by: darnell on December 20, 2013  7:39pm

Robn,

When does my argument against overspending on a flimsy piece of metal ($4000, which could have been easily purchased for less than a $1000), becomes an argument against more people on bikes and less cars on the streets?

Folks losing or unable to debate against valid points always try to shift the issue to something else.

The corral is OVERPRICED. I’ve already in a previous story provided a link to less expensive corrals that were similar. If the corral downtown is not OVERPRICED, then someone prove me wrong and I will shut up.

posted by: Jim Travers on December 20, 2013  7:51pm

Thank you all for those who offered support. The comments are heart-warming and appreciated. I am humbled and honored to have been your public servant. I am proud of the work that we have done together and the team that I leave behind in TT&P. Joe City is correct, credit must be given to Mike Piscitelli who laid the foundation for change and who has been a wonderful mentor and friend.

To follow up, The Map Cap, you and I will have to disagree on the use of sharrows. I believe they serve many purposes, particularly as an interim solution until more restriping can be done as well as to assist visitors in navigating through the city. DingDong, you do not know how much I wanted this project done before I left this office. It is currently out to bid and will be completed in the Spring. Walt, across the nation cycling continues to increase dramatically. I can assure you that I am no more a bike enthusiast than I am a parking meter enthusiast. I am simply responding to the changes in culture and the growing demands. I have always tried to respond to the transportation needs in the city in an equal and cohesive manner. Lastly, darnell, the bike corral costs less than a bus shelter and I believe that we should respect this form of transportation in a similar manner. We did investigate all the options and I am a firm believer that you get what you pay for. While I did not find a comparable bike corral for $1,000. as you claim, I do believe that anything of a lesser quality would require frequent replacement and cost more in the long term. As we move forward I would foresee a joint venture between the city and local business to fund future installations. And again, to give proper credit it was Zack at SeeClickFix that first engaged me to consider a corral. 

I am happy to discuss any of these concerns, or any other issues with anyone. Please feel free to contact me at 203.946.8067. And thank you again for the wonderful privilege in serving the residents of this great city.

posted by: EdgewoodResident on December 20, 2013  11:59pm

Oh, and Darnell—More bicyclists riding to downtown means more *open* parking spots for you! And I own a car and a bike so yes, I also get a bill from the city yearly.

Do the research—bike and pedestrian friendly cities are actually a boon to local economies. One tends to buy locally if one is not driving out to strip malls in North Haven, Orange, Milford. So one parking spot downtown that the bike corral “takes away” manages to accommodate far more downtown shoppers than a single car driver and benefits the local economy at a higher rate than income from that one parking meter.

posted by: anonymous on December 21, 2013  8:28am

Darnell, what is rubbish? Free parking spaces are massively subsidized. We spend little on maintaining infrastructure for the other half of the city, most of whom are too young, too poor, or too old to drive.  The sidewalks still aren’t plowed and in many cases they do not even exist. As far as a $4,000 rack goes, it pays for itself overnight if 100 families park there in one day. instead of driving to Guilford, and each spend $40 at a downtown store.  Before you criticize what other people need, consider what we are providing to families like you, and what it really costs. Would you support parking meters on every street in the city?

posted by: darnell on December 21, 2013  6:28pm

Edgewood and Anon:

One more time. I don’t know if you folks are deliberately misrepresenting mu position, or are really confused, so I’ll state my position one more time.

I DO NOT oppose biking. Stated another way, I DO support biking. In fact, I plan to do more biking with my family next spring and summer, mainly for the exercise aspects.

I DO NOT support a tax on bikes.

I DO support making biking safer in the city.

I may even support a bike corral at a reasonable price.

I DO NOT support spending 4000 in taxpayer dollars for a fancy collection of cheap metal that we could have purchased for a quarter of the price. I actually visited the corral and touched it, I know the quality; how many of you have done the same?

And BTW Anon, you ARE NOT providing anything to me and my family, we certainly do not receive services from the government equal to what we pay in taxes.

posted by: Burbel on December 21, 2013  8:15pm

“- large companies like Pfizer have been fleeing Connecticut to move to Cambridge, and Portland has transitioned from a bottom of the barrel, beat old mill town into an above-average economy.”

Portland is one of my favorite cities in the US, but comparing New Haven to Portland is so far off the mark it is difficult to know where to start, so I’m just going to point out doing so is nonsense.

Pfizer didn’t flee Connecticut. It’s corporate strategy failed horribly and it had to retrench, as did a number of other pharma companies. Cambridge made more sense than Groton for the surviving operations, and to the extent that Pfizer’s new strategy requires the type of facilities it has in Groton, it is maintaining its presence there.

Meanwhile, New Haven, Connecticut continues to be a destination for biopharm, the UConn venture with Jackson Labs is already bearing fruit (and the place isn’t even built yet) and Boehringer continues to expand its US headquarters and operations in Ridgefield & Danbury, CT.

People need to get their facts straight.

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