The Board of Alders City Services and Environmental Policy Committee voted to approve both plans Tuesday night, advancing them to the full board for a final vote.
The proposed bike share program would resemble New York City’s CitiBike system. The city has been weighing neighborhood input in the past few months. The plan to convert the former Farmington Canal rail line into a paved trail began in the 1990s, and is now in its fourth and final phase — stretching from Hillhouse to Canal Dock Road on Long Wharf.
The committee expressed excitement for both proposals and was eager to smooth out bumps along the way.
“With the canal coming up, and the bikes, we might need traffic lights on the canal!” East Rock Alder Anna Festa joked.
Both City Plan staffer Anne Hartjen and city attorney John Ward were present at Tuesday night’s meeting to lay out the details of a deal struck with private property owners that will enable the city to wrap up the last leg of the Farmington Canal trail’s construction. The city has been negotiating easements with nine property owners since 2013. (Read more about the envisioned stretch of the trail, including this easement, here.)
Per the proposal, the city would enter a permanent easement agreement with Grove Parking, which would allow the city to construct part of the trail under a garage owned by the company at 55 Grove St. New Haven would pay up to $25,000, secured through bonding, to Grove Parking in legal and engineering fees.
Westville Alder Adam Marchand picked up on the $25,000. Ward stressed these are professional fees — to “make sure what we’re building is not going to knock the building down.”
Regarding a clause that allows the city to hold up to four cultural events at the site per year, Hartjen said that the city envisions programming similar to the current food truck festival on Long Wharf, or other arts events.
Aaron Goode (pictured) of the New Haven Friends of Farmington Canal Greenway spoke in support of the proposal. He estimated that some 75,000 trips will be taken on the current trail over the course of the year — a number he anticipates will be even higher with the completion of the latest phase.
“The Farmington Canal is not the High Line yet, but it is a regional asset,” Goode said. “It’s a regional destination.”
Yet on the easement agreement itself, Goode was critical. “With respect to the easement, ideally this would have been concluded three years ago,” he said. “Ideally we wouldn’t have to pay $25,000 to a company that has, as far as I can tell, done nothing but obstruct our property since 2013 and endanger the completion of this trail.”
Ward and Hartjen swept back in front of the committee later, stressing the $25,000 is not a payment to the property owner: “We are not getting charged for use of the easement,” Ward said.
Rent To Ride
After an initial hearing last month that generated questions regarding the placement of bike stations, city transit chief Doug Hausladen returned to committee with a revised contract for a short-term rental bike share program that would make at least 300 bicycles available at 30 stations citywide. The proposed contract is between the city and outside vendor Smart Mobility.
Changes includes cutting the initial term of contract from 10 years to five. Bike stations would be guaranteed at or near Lincoln-Bassett School, Roberto Clemente School, Columbus School and Hillhouse High.
The proposal would mandate the roll-out of the program within 15 months of the alders’ approval and signing of contract.
Marchand called the contract “much improved,” but sought finer details on terms of advertising.
Smart Mobility will be allowed to advertise on “big-belly” trash cans and city bus shelters or selling that ad space, Hausladen said. (A 10 percent cut of ad revenue could then go back to expanding the program or otherwise furthering city economic development initiatives, per the proposal.) The city would also be entitled to some of that ad space. Other advertising would require board approval.
“Take the mobility survey!” Marchand suggested, as to what ads New Haven could put out.
Fair Haven Heights Alder Rose Santana was more concerned with the board’s role in overseeing the program.
“It’s saying in the contract … that ‘the Director of Transportation Traffic and Parking shall certify to the Board of Alders by way of a written memorandum that the contractor is in material compliance.’ I don’t agree with that,” Santana said to Hausladen. “I think it should be a five-year contract and the five-year contract should be brought to us. Not you signing off on it.”
Hausladen stressed that the revisions were supposed to include this change, pointing to language further down in the proposal that would require explicit board approval for contract renewal.
As Smart Mobility managing partner Carlos Pujols sat silently next to Hausladen, alders and Hausladen played out a hypothetical situation in which the vendor breaks the contract and abandons the project. What would happen to the bike stations, bikes, the infrastructure?
“The city would be in a windfall of a couple thousand dollars of personal property,” Hausladen said. “That would be a detriment to the vendor but a gain for us. … And we’d have a fleet of bikes. It’d be fun. I think I would ride them!”
Only one member of the public spoke on the proposal: Michael Lemuel, a 2012 National Bike Challenge champion now living in New Haven (pictured).
Lemuel praised the plan, but picked on an issue Newhallville Alder Delphine Clyburn raised at the last hearing: that the initial stations will be centralized in a two-to-four-mile radius, leaving out other parts of the city.
“If nobody has the opportunity in an area to show they can use [the bike share program], metrics will always show they aren’t interested in using it,” he said.
After the hearing, the committee voted unanimously to move the item with some streamlining of the proposal’s language to Santana’s suggested standards.