Carolyn Bradley can drive her Lincoln Navigator to Gateway Community College, or take a bus. Over 8,000 students and staffers will make similar decisions as they descend on the new downtown campus in two weeks—decisions that will in turn determine how clogged streets become.
Bradley (pictured), of North Branford, is one of 7,800 students expected to attend Gateway in the fall semester, which starts on Sept. 4. Students and 240 full-time staffers will report to a new $198 million campus at Church and George streets.
In Bradley’s case, that means trying to squeeze a Lincoln Navigator into a low-ceilinged garage, or driving to a suburban lot, then walking to a bus stop.
Gateway moved downtown from a campus on Long Wharf, right off Interstate 95, as well as from a North Haven campus.
As students stopped by to enroll in classes and pick up books Friday morning, college staff and city officials outlined efforts to encourage Gateway commuters to walk, bike, carpool or take the bus instead of driving alone.
The college has 1,300 parking spots—600 in a new parking garage and 700 in the adjacent Temple Street Parking Garage. Students and staff are allowed to park there for free.
The college will bring thousands of drivers to downtown streets, some unfamiliar with the area.
“It will be hectic when it opens. I don’t want anyone to think there won’t be traffic,” said city transportation chief Jim Travers.
The students won’t pour in all at once, assured Gateway spokeswoman Evelyn Gard. The commuters will arrive at different times of day to the campus, which offers classes from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., six days a week. About 30 percent of students live in New Haven, she said.
To lessen traffic, Gateway worked with the city to make sure classes don’t start or end during morning or afternoon rush hour, Gard said. And the city has helped Gateway promote mass transit and other environmentally friendly methods of transportation other than cars.
Gateway students will get free CT Transit bus passes for the first 30 days of school, according to mayoral spokeswoman Elizabeth Benton.
To encourage students to arrive by bicycle, the college included 90 spots for bicycles in its new parking garage, which has 600 spots for cars. The building is secure: a New Haven Parking Authority security guard make sure only to students and staff with Gateway IDs get inside. The bike racks are inside the basement and ground floor of the garage, sheltered from the weather.
Students who get sweaty on the ride to campus can freshen up in the college locker rooms below the garage. The men’s and women’s locker rooms each have 10 lockers and three showers.
Gateway’s Gard led tours of the bike-friendly amenities Friday morning, when the college hosted Elm City Cycling’s monthly Bike To Work Day in its courtyard.
In Gateway’s new garage, new spots are reserved for fuel-efficient cars. There are also spots reserved for those who carpool, which is “a huge, hunking deal for us!” Gard said.
Gateway worked with a state program called CTRides to help staff set up carpools.
“We’re encouraging alternate methods of transportation” in an effort to go green, Gard said. The building was designed to be LEED gold-certified, a standard of environmental friendliness; that certification won’t take place until a year after the building opens, she said.
Gateway’s old campus on Long Wharf sat in an industrial strip, a quick stop off the highway. Few people biked or walked there. Now, as the college relocates, opportunities are opening for green commuting.
Transportation czar Travers said he has already spoken to teachers from Wooster Square and East Rock who plan to walk to work. Gateway never had a transportation staffer, and there’s no baseline data on how commuters arrived on campus, so Travers said he does not have an estimate of how many bikers, walkers, drivers and bus-takers there will be.
Students polled in an informal sidewalk survey at Gateway Friday had a variety of ways of getting there.
Amanda Martin of West Haven said she got a ride to campus to pick up her books for classes in psychology, biology, communications and U.S. history. When classes start, she plans to take a taxi or a bus, she said. “I don’t have a car.”
Asked if she would be interested in bicycling, she said: “I’m thinking about it.” But she lives on the Boston Post Road, and it would take at least half an hour to pedal in.
Destiny Fields (pictured), who’s 21, plans to take CT Transit’s C Bus from her home “off Exit 8” of I-91 in New Haven.
Marvin Browning, who also lives off Exit 8 in New Haven, said he plans to drive.
“I’m not a biker. I don’t have a bike,” he said.
An older student named Carol said she drove from East Haven. Asked if she’d consider other modes of transit, she said no, because after school, she has to travel to work.
Carolyn Bradley (pictured at the top of this story), who’s 36, is making a mid-life career switch. She currently operates heavy machinery like “rock trucks” and “rollers” for a construction company. She plans to continue doing that work by day as she starts to study nursing at night.
Bradley, of North Branford, said her husband gave her a ride Friday. In the future, she plans to drive her Lincoln Navigator SUV to Gateway—if she can fit it into the parking garage. The clearance on Gateway’s new garage is 7 feet. That is just the height of her vehicle, she said.
“I’ve gotta make sure the car fits in the lot, or else I’ll have to take the nearest bus,” she said. The Temple Street Garage is no help. It has a 6-foot clearance.
In order to take a bus to New Haven, Bradley would have to drive to Stop ‘n’ Shop in Branford and walk to the bus stop outside the Chowder Pot restaurant, she said. She lamented that the garage was not built to accommodate either of her cars—the SUV or her Ford F350 truck.
“The school’s nice,” she said of Gateway, “but the parking is going to be a problem.”