Contra Flow Bike Lane Coming To Court Street

Allan Appel PhotoIf you’re riding your bike from the east side of the city toward the Green, you will no longer have to dodge oncoming traffic on the last leg of your journey.

You’ll be able to ride the last street in a bicycle lane dedicated to you as driver head in the opposite direction on.

That’s because the commissioners of the Traffic Authority of New Haven (who double as the police commissioners) Tuesday night approved a new bicycle “contra-flow” lane allowing you to ride against car traffic on Court Street between Orange and State.

Northside parking with all its regs will be flipped to the south side on this single short block. Then the contra lane will be striped for bicycles who will be riding in the opposite direction of the east-bound cars on Court.

When Transportation, Traffic & Parking’s Director of Engineering Operations Bruce Fischer finished his explanation, it elicited some skeptical responses from the commissioners.

Commissioner Stephen Garcia’s initial response was terse: “Weird!”

“This is a pet project of cyclists,” Fisher said. “They feel they need it go through” to the government center and beyond to the Green.

“Bikes are allowed in the government center?” Garcia persisted.

“Seems to go nowhere,” said Commissioner Greg Smith.

There was a general, if brief, discussion about signage. (It is all to remain the same, only shift to the south side of the street.)

“You’ll confuse people,” argued Garcia.

Fischer disagreed: “It works fine on High Street.” The city put its first “contra” lane on High Street. (Click here to read a story and passionate reader conversation about that.)

Other commissioners, in search of some reason to say no, asked if the alders in the specific area support the project. Fisher said a formal letter of support is forthcoming

With that, Garcia moved to approve the contra flow lane on Court Street. Commissioner Evelise Ribeiro seconded; it passed unanimously.

But the commissioners were not through with the subject.

Commission Chairman Anthony Dawson, having listened patiently, widened the discussion to bicycle riding habits and safety citywide.

“Can you please find some money for bicycle safety [education]? Because I see some bicycles in the middle of the street doing hand signals. And I’d like to do education and training for the police as well,” Dawson said.

Fischer: “I can’t guarantee we have the money.”

Dawson: “If you bring me one more [issue] on bicycles, I want to deal with bicycle safety [first]. I’m not going to be user-friendly unless you bring me some bicycle education. Find the money from the alders, or a foundation.”

“Good idea,” replied Fischer. Then he wrapped up his papers and the issue was concluded.

For now.

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posted by: Noteworthy on September 12, 2018  2:41pm

Who gives a damn if this is a pet project of a handful of bike riders? This is going to be confusing and it runs contra to good bike behavior which is to ride with the flow of the traffic. A one block run that is barely large enough to accommodate cars will now cost taxpayers money to re-stripe so they can have their little lane? Good lord.

posted by: t4nk on September 12, 2018  3:11pm

This is great! I have to choose between the sidewalk or oncoming traffic for that street.  If there are people on the sidewalk, then it’s the oncoming traffic I’m stuck with.  While I’m not a fan of people riding bikes the wrong way on one way streets it seems most drivers give more space to the parked cars than the cyclist riding the wrong way on this section of Court street.  There is more than enough room for parked and driving cars and a contra bike lane.

posted by: Wooster Squared on September 12, 2018  3:28pm

Great to see progress on this. New Haven is a great town for biking and getting better. Bike lanes and other such facilities are now expected by younger workers, and tech and media companies when looking at a city as a potential place to live or do business.

posted by: 1644 on September 12, 2018  4:05pm

t4nk:  Or, you could obey traffic laws only use that street in the direction you are allowed to go on it, instead of breaking that law and endangering yourself, pedestrians, and, to a lessor extent, drivers.  The cities I have visited with lots of bicyclists have bicyclists who obey traffic laws: stay in their lanes, stop for red lights, travel only with traffic.  New Haven bicyclists often ride like they have a death wish: darting in and out of traffic, riding on sidewalks, suddenly appearing from pedestrian only areas like the Green or the Government Center plaza,  running red lights, etc. This contra-flow idea is just dangerous.

posted by: Cove'd on September 12, 2018  5:13pm

This should all work out fine.  There is no striping on this block now.  Striping is cheap and motorists aren’t losing any ability to use or park on this block.  In fact, this might pick up a parking space or two since there is not a fire hydrant on the south side of the street.  Court street is good for biking since its relatively low speed and volume.  And don’t forget, more trips by bike = less automobile congestion.  Moreover, like Wooster Squared said, this kind of stuff retains and attracts young workers who are the ones that’ll keep our economy from sinking.

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on September 12, 2018  5:17pm

Noteworthy, contraflow lanes are a second best solution. Ideally, all of the streets downtown would be two-way. But converting this block to two ways would require eliminating on-street parking, which would be highly unpopular. Contraflow lanes don’t make sense for many one-way streets, e.g., Frontage Road. But they have worked on High Street and will likely work here.

posted by: cunningham on September 12, 2018  5:24pm

Next do Park Street!

posted by: __quinnchionn__ on September 12, 2018  7:16pm

Speaking of bike lanes — I think it would also be nice to have a cycle track that goes along the Crown Street corridor. (Between State and Howe Streets) Instead of Crown Street being two lanes it should be subtracted to having only one lane for traffic with the addition of a new cycle track being on the north side of the street. It sounds like a good idea in my opinion, but some of the parking may have to be eliminated across from where Gateway Community College is located.

posted by: Cove'd on September 12, 2018  7:39pm

Park Street would be quite feasible.  It doesn’t need two lanes for automobile traffic - one would work fine (with the extra turn lane at South Frontage).  Could even do 2-way cycle track.  Great idea.

posted by: robn on September 12, 2018  8:50pm

The one way street system is deeply prejudiced against cyclists who have as much right to convenience and reasonably short distances of access as motorists.

posted by: Westville voter on September 12, 2018  9:08pm

T4nk: 1644 is correct. You have a third option. Ride the extra block to Chapel Street where you can connect to the green legally. Instead, you insist on acting in an illegal and dangerous manner. Sadly, this kind of arrogant, selfish disregard for both the rules and the safety of others has become pervasive among the bike advocates. It is a principal reason that many of us who support cycling have had enough of your entitled whining and can no longer support any of your pet projects. I applaud commissioner Dawson’s skepticism. Allan Appel, you need to correct the first line of this story to acknowledge that the behavior you describe so sympathetically is flagrantly illegal and unnecessary. You might also benefit from reviewing the basic standards for objective reporting.

posted by: 1644 on September 12, 2018  10:19pm

Robn:  The one-way street system does not discriminate against bicyclists.  Provided they follow the laws, they ride no farther than motorists drive. Other than limited access highways,  bicyclists have equal access to every street and highway motorists can travel on, and need travel no further than motorists to get from origin to destination.

posted by: Res1 on September 12, 2018  10:28pm

It is nonsensical for the commissioners to simultaneously bemoan the illegal behavior of cyclists while pushing back against an initiative to provide more legal options to get across town. If the city had comprehensive cycling infrastructure that allowed individuals to get across downtown in a safe and efficient manner, the amount of illegal activity would decline.

That being said, as a frequent bike commuter to and through downtown, many of my fellow cyclists need to work on better riding practices that respect both pedestrians and motorists. But the issues shouldn’t be confused. We should be building better bike infrastructure AND encouraging/enforcing following the rules and basic safety.

posted by: BetweenTwoRocks on September 12, 2018  10:59pm

I will never understand the kind of people who become enraged when cyclists get even a single bike lane. They will not be happy until the entire city is a vacant lot for their precious cars. You =who want to get exercise and lower your carbon footprint, psht.

posted by: __quinnchionn__ on September 12, 2018  11:52pm


— Yeah, Park Street would be good for a 2-way cycle track too. Or maybe it could even become a 2-way street.

posted by: Bill Saunders on September 13, 2018  12:28am


Riding a bike is a trade-off. 
One benefit is that Cyclists aren’t taxed on their ‘vehicles’. The other benefits are at the discretion of the user.

Pedestrianism is the only mode of transportation that is ‘fair’ when you want to couch things in terms of accessessibility. 

I think the cyclists should ‘pay up’ for their little special convenience, or ride down to Chapel Street.

Maybe a GoFundMe!

It wouldn’t surprise me….

posted by: robn on September 13, 2018  5:31am


The “entitled whiners” that you call cyclists, are taxpayers that have a right to fair and convenient use of the roads. Making wide circles around downtown is either fair nor convenient.

posted by: NewHaven18 on September 13, 2018  5:48am

Nearly every aspect of city organization and traffic infrastructure is built around the car. Driving will always be faster and less physically strenuous than walking or biking. It’s sad that whenever bicyclists and pedestrians want more rules or road design to safely and quickly travel, there is such a huge resistance from drivers.
@Westville you say to take the the extra block on Chapel, which is something any cyclist would prefer not to do. Chapel has a significant amount more of traffic and no bike lane, so there is that much more of a chance for a biker to either get swiped by a car or doored by a parked vehicle. It’s so ironic that measures to decrease illegal biking (more bike lanes) are met with resistance by people who defend their position by stating that cyclist are a nuisance and break too many rules.

posted by: Cove'd on September 13, 2018  7:23am

Res1 hit the nail on the head.

quinnchionn, I agree.  Both should be looked at.

Bill S., just realize that the gas tax and other taxes that motorists pay that are tied to drivering only cover a portion of what it costs the build and maintain transportation infrastructure.  In other words, these streets are paid for by every tax payer regardless of how one gets around.

posted by: HewNaven on September 13, 2018  8:30am

This is insane! 2 yellow lines!! Outrageous!!!!!

posted by: cunningham on September 13, 2018  8:37am

1) @Cove’d, re Park St.: I live at the corner of Chapel and Park. If I want to ride my bike at all east, it means I either have to go down Chapel and swing around Howe then back up toward Broadway, or down Park, then up George and cut across High or Church. Either option is extremely inconvenient and puts me way out of my way. Even just one contra-flow lane connecting Chapel and Broadway on Park would make a big difference.

2) Riding the extra block down to Chapel Street, as NewHaven18 points out, isn’t as easy as it sounds. That stretch of State Street has a lot of traffic, including the entrance/exit to the 360 State parking garage. Not to mention copious bus traffic on Chapel. If you’re going to the Green via State Street on a bike, this lane makes perfect sense. (And it’s not “illegal” if they adapt the law to accommodate cyclists.)

In other words, as robn is suggesting, what is “fair and convenient” to a person sitting in a car isn’t necessarily the same as what’s “fair and convenient” to a person on a road bike. (See point #1)

3) Investing in a robust, usable cycling infrastructure in town isn’t going to cost the city money but save it in the long run. Encouraging people to bike rather than drive reduces the number of cars on the road. Fewer cars on the road means less wear and tear, fewer accidents, less demand for police and traffic courts, less pollution, etc.

posted by: Paul Garlinghouse on September 13, 2018  8:45am

What could Anthony Dawson have meant by “I see bicycles in the middle of the street doing hand signals “?? Was he misquoted? Riding in the street with the flow of traffic and signaling your turn is an example of legal rider behavior.  If the plan commission doesn’t understand that it may be time for s new commission.

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on September 13, 2018  9:29am

1644, do you have any data to back up your assertion that contraflow lanes are dangerous? Has the accident/injury rate on High Street increased since the lane was introduced there? Many large cities, including NYC, Chicago, and D.C, have introduced contraflow lanes - has any jurisdiction reversed course upon finding that they cause harm? Also, why do think that the Green is pedestrian-only - are there signs to that effect posted on the Green?

Certainly there are idiot cyclists, just as there are idiot drivers. And you are correct that one-way street system does not discriminate against bicyclists. But as Res1 notes, adding contraflow lanes actually encourages cyclists to conform with the law.

NewHaven18, driving is not always the fastest way to get around town. I used to volunteer at New Haven Reads on Bristol Street. It was consistently faster for me to bike home than to drive. Sometimes walking was the fastest choice!

posted by: anonymous on September 13, 2018  10:44am

It’s amazing when the same people who complain about the cost of housing or lack of jobs for youth in New Haven also complain when we spend 0.5% of the infrastructure budget to make it safer for people to bike.

This type of infrastructure can save teenagers and families so much money, which is why most cities around the United States are building hundreds of miles of it. 

Instead of sending their hard-earned cash on Saudi Arabian gasoline, residents who have the infrastructure that allows them to take even a handful of additional walking & biking trips each day spend it locally instead, which supports local jobs. 

Most of the people who bike are teenagers, unemployed adults, immigrants—people who don’t seem to be represented on this “Commission”, sadly.

posted by: HewNaven on September 13, 2018  10:57am


When you’re dealing with car drivers, you’re essentially talking to addicts. They don’t see an alternative to their way of life. It’s essential, however harmful.

posted by: William Kurtz on September 13, 2018  11:33am

Ex-cellent . . . ex-cellent . . . another victory for the all-powerful bicycle lobby. No one can stop us now! Resistance is fut—hey, is this thing on???

In all seriousness, great news and another small but significant step towards equity in transportation choices.

posted by: 1644 on September 13, 2018  11:55am

Kevein: Any head-on collision is more dangerous:  the force of impact is addition, rather than subtraction.  Moreover,  as a motorists are conditioned to look in directions cars may be coming.  If as bicyclists travel as motorists do, they will be seen.  Again, the rules of the road say bicyclist should follow the same rules as motorists: sidewalks are for pedestrians.  Since no motorists are allowed on the Green, no bicyclists should be, unless its a marked bike trail.  Bicyclists and pedestrians make a bad mix.  Especially in New Haven,  bicyclists and motorists should be traveling at about the same speed, making for a better mix.  Bike lanes are preferable, but should travel in the same direction as other vehicular traffic.
  If one wants to allow bicyclists to travel west on Court, close the street to motor traffic and put dual bicycle lanes in the middle, or make it one-way the other way.  I am all for bicycle travel, but bicyclists need to travel in a way that is safe for them and others.  New Haven’s one-way streets are inconvenient for motorists, too.  I generally park once a few blocks from any downtown destination, and walk about to various destinations, say, the court house, Hall of Records, Apple Store, etc.  Sure, bicyclists expend more of their own physical energy going around the block, but isn’t that the point of bicycling?

posted by: TheMadcap on September 13, 2018  12:31pm

“Dawson: “If you bring me one more [issue] on bicycles, I want to deal with bicycle safety [first]. I’m not going to be user-friendly unless you bring me some bicycle education. Find the money from the alders, or a foundation”

Wtf even is this?

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on September 13, 2018  2:02pm

1644, I understand the theory. Do you have any actual data to back up your assertion?

The city needs to be careful in siting contraflow lanes, but they can increase safety by slowing cars. The idea of bikes and cars going about the same speed is nice, but implausible. In urban areas, bikes typically go 10-15 m.p.h.; barring congestion, cars are going at least twice as fast.

And the rules of the road explicitly allow for contraflow lanes (CGS Sec. 14-286b(a)(6)). There are several other provisions of the rules of the road that are specific to bikes. For example, bikes can ride on the far left side of a one-way street.

posted by: Pat Wallace on September 13, 2018  9:01pm

There is a great need for bicycle education. Yale should be asked to pay a major share and to do a campaign with students. Students ride on the sidewalks to avoid riding on one-way streets, especially when they want to go counter to traffic. They don’t care to walk their bikes on the sidewalks. I have nearly been hit, including when helping my husband into or out of his wheelchair when he is transitioning to or from the car. More signage that tells people it is illegal to ride on sidewalks could help. What happened to bells on bikes to let a pedestrian know you are coming?  City and Yale PD officers ride on the sidewalks too often too, not just when in pursuit. The City needs to take this seriously.

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on September 14, 2018  6:17am

Pat, many of the Yalies are coming from suburbs where biking on sidewalks is legal. And many suburbanites here don’t know the laws regarding bikes (drivers routinely yell at cyclists to go on the sidewalk). I’ve suggested to Doug Hausladen that the city stencil signs on the sidewalks downtown to educate cyclists and drivers on the law.