North Frontage Is “MLK Boulevard”

Thomas MacMillan PhotoTwo years ago, Alderman Yusuf Shah had a dream in which he searched unsuccessfully for Martin Luther King Boulevard among the streets of New Haven. When he awoke, he set about putting the slain civil rights leader’s name on the map.

Saturday, he celebrated his success, with the city’s official dedication of North Frontage Road as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The West River alderman was joined by a host of local and statewide elected officials, as well as aldermanic and mayoral hopefuls, at a noontime ceremony near the corner of Frontage and Tyler Street.

It was the culmination of a process of over two years. In May 2009, Alderman Shah proposed renaming Whalley Avenue after Dr. King. That street, and second-choice Dixwell Avenue, were both rejected due to their significance to New Haven history. Finally, North Frontage was chosen, and approved by aldermen in September 2009.

Saturday’s sunny ceremony was attended by Mayor John DeStefano, Aldermen Shah, Marcus Paca, and Charles Blango, state Reps. Pat Dillon and Roland Lemar, state Sens. Martin Looney and Toni Harp, community management team heads Curlina McDonald and Florita Gillespie. Aldermanic hopefuls Tyisha Walker and Frank Douglass were there, along with mayoral candidates Jeffrey Kerekes, Clifton Graves, and Tony Dawson. U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro was present in the form of a letter read by Alderman Paca. Former Secretary of the State—and U.S. Senate hopeful—Susan Bysiewicz was also on hand.

“This day came to me in a dream,” said Shah as he opened the proceedings. In the dream, someone asked him where MLK Boulevard is. Shah replied, “I don’t know, but it has to be around here somewhere.” He woke up as he was poring over a map of New Haven, unable to find MLK Boulevard.

Shah said the area around the newly named boulevard is poised for a renaissance. “We know it is fertile.” The Rt. 34 corridor will be reborn as a “flagship” for the city, he said.

“I was blessed by Allah—God—to get the votes that I needed” to rename the street, Shah said. “I have goosebumps.”

After an invocation read by Dr. Abdul-Majid Karim Hasan of the eponymous Islamic center, the gathered dignitaries spoke about the significance of the day.

“Street names not only tell us where we are; they tell us where we have been,” DeStefano said. The first three streets to be named in New Haven were Church, Chapel, and Temple, a result of the town’s Christian roots, he said. One of the next named was College Street, marking the arrival and significance of Yale. Then Whalley and Dixwell and Goffe, the three regicides, took their places on the city map.

The new MLK Boulevard is one of the longest streets in the city, stretching from State Street to the Boulevard, DeStefano noted.

Eyes On The Sign

Saturday’s ceremony included an unveiling of a large new street sign. It was placed on Tyler Street for the ceremony but will be moved to a spot near the Air Rights Garage sometime this week, said Bruce Fischer, a traffic operations engineer with the city. That large sign will greet people coming off the highway onto MLK Boulevard.

Other signs will change over more gradually over the next year, Fischer said. “It’ll be dual signage for a while.”

“We don’t have the money to change them all,” he said. The renaming did not come with an allocation of money for changing signs, he said.

New illuminated street signs are going up in the next six months at 10 intersections on MLK Boulevard where traffic-light work is set to begin, Fischer said. Other signs may take longer to change over.

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posted by: THREEFIFTHS on June 18, 2011  9:59pm

If Dr.king was here today He would have held a protest march on these sell out judas politicians and Judas Goat sell out leaders starting with the union buster Mayor King John DeStefano.Look at how King John wants to privatized school custodians and outsource school janitorial services,Dr.King would be against this.

Check this you tube out It speaks the truth.

posted by: anon on June 19, 2011  12:27am

North Frontage is a street that was designed by traffic engineers in the 1960s to kill as many people as possible (as a tradeoff to funneling drivers to the suburbs a few minutes faster).  Many have died or been maimed as a result of the street bring way too fast for an urban setting. 

Forget about the indirect health impacts and envionmental justice issues that this road represents.  This tradition of destroying neighborhoods continues among our traffic engineers even today.

Almost all of the other streets in New Haven were not built by traffic engineers, were completed before the 1950s, and are much safer.

Couldn’t the city have picked a more fitting place to memorialize Dr. King’s incredible legacy?

posted by: Livesinfairhaven on June 19, 2011  10:25am

MLK Blvd. is synonymous with ghetto, blight, despair, etc. etc. etc. in any other city in this country.  Now New Haven has yet another negative to overcome - based purely on perception not reality.  Couldn’t Shah have used his brain and pushed a more original and intelligent agenda?

posted by: Mark on June 19, 2011  10:31am

They should have renamed Columbus Ave. Its a shame city with a majority Hispanic(Part native too) population has a street with a name of a person who killed millions of people.

posted by: anon on June 19, 2011  1:14pm

Renaming this MLK is a great way to gloss over the fact that hundreds of poor families’ homes and dozens of great streets were razed in order to build this death trap, apartheid-creating and asthma-inducing highway. I agree Columbus would have been a better choice.

posted by: Anstress Farwell on June 20, 2011  11:03am

As is, the roadway is everything anon says it is - a dangerous, accident prone, polluted, no-man’s land created by the annihilation of homes, businesses and a vibrant neighborhood. All destroyed for a highway that was deemed unnecessary and impossible to build. This vacant divide has undermined the quality of life and stability of the neighborhoods around it for over twenty years. My hope is that renaming the road for Dr. King will serve as a challenge to all of us to make sure that this no-man’s land becomes a place that will honor his name and fulfill the dream for peace, justice, and opportunity for which Dr. King gave life.