Help The City Spend $457,500

Allan Appel PhotoNew Haven has $457,500 to spend on new signs. Should we buy one, trend-setting big LED sign that reveals the exact number of free nearby parking spots?

Or a bunch of traditional signs for drivers at major intersections like Ella Grasso Boulevard and Route 34? Or on neighborhood thoroughfares like Grand Avenue?

Or newfangled maps to direct walkers, to let visitors know that it’s only a short walk to from downtown to Frank Pepe’s?

Mattnew Nemerson posed those questions to the members of the New Haven Development Commission at their regular meeting at City Hall.

Nemerson, city government’s economic development administrator, said in the best of all possible worlds he would favor the one-big digital sign, because that would make New Haven “cutting edge.”

But the available money would at best buy only one of those, he estimated.

The money comes from a cost-sharing grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation and administered by Connecticut’s Department of Transportation.

It requires a 20 percent city match—$91,500 on $366,000—according to Anne Hartjen, senior project manager for the City Plan Department.

Nemerson made his remarks after he guided the commissioners Tuesday through a tutorial on the process the city is going through to analyze its signage needs of the future, prompted by the grant. The city’s current signage is largely 20 years old.

He posed the question: “What are the navigational problems we’re trying to solve?”

His answer was prescient, with a warning: If we’re trying to make visiting New Haven a nicer experience, maybe signage has become less important over the years. “Experts tell us that’s changed because [people] have GPS. Some say maybe we’re upgrading to a system that is 20 years old,” Nemerson said.

Another big question: Should the new signs direct people to specific attractions, like the Shubert or the Yale University Art Gallery, or to a district?

Yet another one: How much of the signage system should be for people on the street once they’ve parked? Spend it on drivers or walkers?

Another: Should the signage be deployed downtown or in the neighborhoods?

And most of all, should they be traditional directional signs for drivers, or maps geared to walkers passing by?

“We’ve found with good maps, people will walk farther; if not, they’ll get back in the car. So how many of the dollars should we put in for local neighborhood signs?” Nemerson asked.

Commissioner Peter LeConte asked to see a mock-up of the proposed signs. More fundamentally, he wanted to know how the city knows this re-envisioned way-finding is a genuine need.

The Philadelphia-based design company Merje doesn’t have the mock-ups ready quite yet, replied Nemerson.

As to the need, he added: “We have the federal dollars but we haven’t surveyed people thoroughly.”

Nemerson, a former Chamber of Commerce president and parking authority board chair, said while people increasingly love to come to New Haven for its more than 100 restaurants and its culture, they often get confused or frustrated: “Parking’s expensive. And it’s a lot of one-way streets.”

Feedback Requested

Nemerson asked the commissioners for general feedback on matters ranging from construction to parking to restaurants.

“What about a New Haven app where you can get that information on your phone about constructions sites, restaurants” and parking? asked Commissioner Rob Bolduc.

“We have a wonderful app, Andi, but nobody knows about it,” Nemerson responded. (Click here to find out about that.)

Nemerson said the city also has a good relationship with the digital neighborhood-reporting tool SeeClickFix. “We’re going to bring this all together,” he said.

Back to Signage

Nemerson said that survey information currently available indicates that people love coming to New Haven. Yet they want better information to make it easier to navitgate. He cited Seattle as shifting to digital signs like the one he’d like to bring here.

The hitch is in part that L.E.D. (light-emitting diode) signs are expensive,. They also require vandalism protection, and the blessing of the state.

The state Department of Transportation “is squeamish about L.E.D. signs” in the city proper (as opposed to on highways), he added.

“For me urban signage is definitely digital. We want New Haven to be seen as cutting edge.”

But for now and with the current money available, “I’m leaning [toward] downtown pedestrians signs. We can solve that with this money,” Nemerson said.

The decision has to be made by May, and the project implemented by October, Nemerson said.

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posted by: anonymous on February 11, 2014  5:41pm

Matt’s instincts are correct.  Downtown pedestrian signs are definitely the way to go.

posted by: JustAnotherTaxPayer on February 11, 2014  5:46pm

Forget the signs, find a way to use the money to remove the snow from the downtown area. Clean out the bus stops, clean the sidewalks to the curbs, clear the corners so the handicapped can get around, and teach the director of public works when to send out the plows so the streets don’t become ice ruts. Signs? How about a school to teach the adults who drive the city snow plows, how to plow so the results make life easier for residents, and people who work here, instead of unsafe. What a joke.

posted by: Thomas Burwell on February 11, 2014  5:47pm

1 big electronic sign high up across the green where New Haven Fitness is. Chapel street can look like times square now.

posted by: TheMadcap on February 13, 2014  1:57pm

My gut instinct is to go with the downtown signs, but, I need to disregard my gut. Using the money on places like Grand Avenue should happen, because both Harp and Elicker campaigned on focusing development in the neighborhoods and their main streets of commercial activity and not just downtown.

posted by: RHeerema on February 13, 2014  1:58pm

Those LED lights have no charm, do not fit with New England city. I prefer the idea of bus maps at all the bus stops. And pedestrian maps. Orienting walkers & transit users makes New Haven much more livable and friendly!

posted by: getyourfactstraight on February 13, 2014  2:13pm

Grab it and use it for snow removal because by now I would think the budget is pretty well used up! I like the idea of many signs but considering potential financial burden to the taxpayers, put your heart in the right place.

posted by: amaryllis on February 13, 2014  4:58pm

Implement that earlier proposal to turn some one-way streets into two-way streets downtown, and then use the money for the necessary signage.

posted by: elmBook on February 13, 2014  5:04pm

We should spend the money on signs that point out the historical and cultural beauty of our neighborhoods. There are great examples of such signs on Park St. There should be similar things done to point out less familiar parts of town like Beaver Hills, Edgewood, and the Whalley Corridor. These parts of town could really use a boost of energy and something new and vibrant to attract people.

posted by: Pat from Westville on February 13, 2014  6:00pm

JustAnotherTaxPayer, I’m with you on this. This is a bad time to announce nearly $500,000 to spend on signage. Please! Another story here claims less than 50 Parks workers will be assisting in clearing snow from bus stops, crosswalks, etc. Probably the highly visible bus stops and crosswalks in downtown by the Green, a photo op at best. Real snow removal is far more important than any fancy new signage.

posted by: TheMadcap on February 13, 2014  6:48pm

I don’t think some you guys understand how federal/state grants work, you get the money to spend on a specific thing. That’s it.

Also if you guys want better snow plowing than make your neighbors actually move their cars onto one side of the street.(and make a weather machine so we don’t have 3 snowstorms in one week)

posted by: robn on February 13, 2014  6:53pm

I have an idea. Lets plant 4575 trees….and then let United Illuminating cut them down.

posted by: robn on February 13, 2014  7:01pm

But seriously the solution to “(visitors)  often get confused or frustrated…..\it’s a lot of one-way streets.” is a half million dollar digital sign?

Wouldn’t it be AWESOME if someone came up with a plan to change New Haven’s two way system to a one way system so that visitors wouldn’t get confused? Too bad that plan hasn’t been sitting on our new mayors desk for the last 40 days.

posted by: MatthewNemerson on February 13, 2014  8:04pm

Always great to see everyone’s ideas and opinions…

yes, this is a use it or lose grant for way-finding signs…deadline to get designs approved by Feds is this spring, we then need to have committed to spend all the money by September 30. We don’t make the rules, write Congress if you have a better system!

When I say LED, I don’t the black and yellow highway signs in the picture, I mean a programmable network of HIDEF TV-like signs similar to what you’d see at a stadium or airport. These could “look” like a normal sign most of the time but could highlight festivals, shows, weather, tennis, commencements, etc. as needed. 

As for snow, the Mayor was not happy at all with the situation we have had over the last few days.  So Doug working to help property owners figure out how to get the snow off the sidewalks and to encourage people to not let ice or snow block major sidewalks or downtown curbs again. We have been looking at how “real” snow-belt cities property owners do this; what is their equipment and what are their procedures?

With the help of the Town Green District, Public works, the police depart., parks depart & others look for new processes to be tested over the next few days to move more snow from sidewalks to the parking lanes where the city or contractors can scoop it up and put it in dump trucks. Eventually we will need new systems, new equipment and new levels of coordination…but we will get it figured out.

Next we will look at the major neighborhood arterials to see how we can help encourage and improve property owner’s removal of snow there as well.

We have been here 6 weeks. The Mayor is setting a very high bar for operations and customer satisfaction - and we always have the comments in the NHI to keep us on our toes.

We know that delighted citizens and visitors is a key to all the Mayor’s economic development growth strategies.

Keep your ideas coming to us through SeeClickFix, the NHI and NHR. Thanks!

posted by: SLP on February 13, 2014  10:20pm

It’s good that Mr. Nemerson is aware of the Arts Council’s ANDI app, but it covers primarily arts events and venues—not driving, parking, construction detours, or restaurants, which is at least part of what Mr. Bolduc was asking about. In addition, there seems to be no up-to-date and comprehensive parking map of New Haven—what a useful reference that would be! ParkNewHaven’s website ( shows only the lots and garages owned by the New Haven Parking Authority, and none of the other privately owned lots or garages that are open to the public (e.g. Audubon Court garage, Grove St. garage). This is an unfortunate (and misleading, to visitors) omission. A 2001 map that includes both public and private parking options is on the city website, but it is buried several levels inside the Transportation, Traffic and Parking site (click on Parking Desk, and then Downtown Parking Map). It’s useful, but quite outdated.

posted by: SLP on February 13, 2014  10:21pm

Sorry, ANDI does have restaurant info.

posted by: NewHavenTaxTooHigh on February 14, 2014  2:36am

JustAnotherTaxPayer is right. This is a total waste of money. Signs only last 20 years? What a %&*(*&^ joke. And people wonder why the Fed Gov’t is broke and why New Haven is right behind it. What a joke.

And why are they spending the money with a company from Philly????....The Philadelphia-based design company Merje. 

This is what happens when you elect career politicos

posted by: Pat from Westville on February 14, 2014  6:37am

Glad to see someone in the new city administration reads the Independent!

Re snow removal right now the problem is not so much snow that fell on sidewalks but plowed snow from last week’s storm that has become rock hard. What seems to be the standard snow “removal” procedure is plowing the street and push it into curbside mountain ranges and just leave it.

My suggestion is to have the carting away become part of standard snow removal. Push it curbside, then cart it away while it is still reasonably soft. I don’t imagine that can be done for every single city street but the main arterials/snow routes would be my recommendation. That would also solve the problem of bus passengers access to buses as most of the bus routes use those those roads(Whalley, Dixwell, Whitney, Goffe, Edgewood,etc). Surely the construction company that did the carting away in last year’s epic February snowstorm would have records of how much snow was trucked away, how much equipment, how many drivers were needed, as a base for planning.

Just a few thoughts.

posted by: elmBook on February 14, 2014  10:27am

Spending the money on something else is not the issue, like others have already pointed out. The government earmarks certain funds for certain programs, so we are receiving money that has been earmarked for signs. The issue is What Kind of Signs Would Benefit Our Community. Personally I think we should do something to show how much we care about our neighborhoods. Downtown and Yale steal all the focus and the rest of New Haven languishes. Many studies have shown that the best way to make a community liveable is to spread the wellbeing all over rather than putting all the focus on a single celebrity project. Let’s use the money to bring beauty to all the corners of our fair city!

posted by: Christopher Schaefer on February 14, 2014  1:12pm

Get rid of all the “No Standing Anytime” signs currently at most street corners and replace them with “No Parking Anytime”. The former type of signs are universally ignored (by drivers and police), but a sign reading “No Parking” is generally more effective. Perhaps “No Parking” sounds more foreboding or more likely “No Standing” is unclear and not part of the driving-public’s vocabulary, e.g. is No Standing synonymous with No Loitering? Does No Standing imply that sitting—including sitting inside your car—is OK?

posted by: HewNaven on February 14, 2014  5:11pm

Or newfangled maps to direct walkers, to let visitors know that it’s only a short walk to from downtown to Frank Pepe’s?

I don’t know if LED signs are the answer. But people really do need to know how easy it is to walk around this town. EDC should market a ‘Walk New Haven’ campaign toward residents and tourists.

posted by: Jill_the_Pill on February 15, 2014  11:14am

Electronic signs = more to break.  Wait ‘til a plow knocks one over.

posted by: Bradley on February 17, 2014  8:09am

Two thoughts. Going to Robn’s point, I think the city could combine this initiative with the conversion of one-way streets. It could use its spending on the directional signs that would be part of the conversion as part of its match for the federal grant. Second, I suspect that the existing LED sign on the Gateway College skybridge could be programmed to provide public information in the way Matt Nemerson describes. These messages could alternate with the changing faces that are currently displayed on the sign.