Whalley Redo, Part II

Leonard Honeyman PhotoThe villagers said they want traffic to flow more smoothly.

Those at the east end, by downtown, sought crosswalks, sidewalks and parking.

Those in the middle saw the “speedway” as the biggest problem.

They all were talking about Whalley Avenue on Thursday night—and how to make it better.

The South Central Regional Council of Governments (SCRCOG) has had Boston-based consultants PB studying the road from Emerson Street to Broadway for much of the past year. They’re planning a major re-do of the Avenue—part two of a job now underway west of Emerson to the Woodbridge town line.

The consultants had come up with their appraisal of the road: who lives and does business on it, its traffic patterns, its strengths and weaknesses as a major artery. They prepared maps and charts of the Whalley Avenue that is.

It was now up to the group of about two dozen city officials, business people and advocates of one stripe or another to fill in the blanks about what they want the Whalley Avenue of their dreams to look like.

They gathered Thursday night at the Beecher School, a short walk from Whalley between Fitch and Jewell streets, near one of the bottlenecks identified by the consultants.

Three working groups were formed and soon buzzed with suggestions and complaints, some feeding off each other.

The $70,000 study, paid for with federal, state and SCRCOG funds, is meant to present the visions of people who walk, drive, shop, do business and commute along Whalley. The study reached from Emerson Street because that’s where the currently underway $9.3 million renovation of Whalley stops.

The consultants will take the feedback they received Thursday night and write a report to be presented to the group in early June.

The report will then be presented at a public hearing and, by the end of June, be sent to the state Department of Transportation for its study.

The state, of course, has no money for the new project and doesn’t expect to have any for perhaps five years. But that doesn’t negate the value of the study, said Stephen Dudley of SCRCOG. “Most project take from five to 10 years from study to actual work,” he said. “We don’t know what will happen,” he said.

Most of the people were crowded around public-school-sized cafeteria tables talking about the west end – from Emerson to Fitch – or the east end – from Broadway to the Boulevard.

The central part is mainly residential and cemeteries, so fewer people were interested in that part of the road, said Kathleen Krolak (pictured) of the Economic Development Corp., who ran the meeting along with consultant Stephen Rolle of PB, shown in photo.

Some of the suggestions by the villagers included changing about the confluence of Whalley and Fountain Street, including possibly a roundabout.  Advocates Thea Buxbaum and husband Gar Waterman suggested reversing the flow of Tour and West Rock avenues.

The east siders heard consultant Bob Talbot say traffic flowed at an acceptable rate but its intensity varies depending on the hour.

John Vuoso (pictured at the top of the story), chairman of the Whalley Avenue Special Services District, said many businesses at the east end of the road have no off-street parking available. He said the negative perception many people who are not familiar with the area have is “improper” and said they might have been put off by what he called the deplorable condition of the sidewalks and the lack of adequate lighting.

Some pointed to a long-vacant lot on Sherman Avenue between Whalley and Elm Street as a possibility. But Vuoso pointed out that it was sold to a church for congregant parking.

They also talked about the recent closing of Shaw’s grocery and the hardship that will have on residents, especially those living in nearby elderly housing or people without easy transportation.

Vuoso was upbeat, saying after the meeting that he is “confident” that there will be a “super” market in that space “hopefully within six months.”

Farther west, parking also was the subject of discussion, with business people calling for better marking of parking spaces, more streetscapes, and traffic calming, with one person saying it looked like the start of an auto race when the light turned green at Whalley and Fountain heading east.

Displays and some of the takeaways from the meeting will be up on the SCRCOG website, by the start of next week, Dudley said.

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posted by: Pat from Westville on April 9, 2010  3:37pm

“...one person saying it looked like the start of an auto race when the light turned green at Whalley and Fountain heading east.”

Yeah, they are speeding on their way to the intersection of Whalley & Fitch, at least 2 each day to blow through the red light.
I know because I cross Whalley there weekdays,thankful for the 4way walk & only after making sure all the drivers blowing the red light have done so.
If they are looking for likely intersections for red light cameras, I would nominate Whalley & Fitch.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on April 9, 2010  6:19pm

On Whalley Avenue, traffic congestion is extremely bad a certain spots at certain times of the day and the streets seem to not be wide enough; at off-peak times, the street seems far too large and deserted to be enjoyed by the people who use them. The problems of Whalley and of many streets in this city create stress in people who are stuck in traffic trying to commute, they create stress in neighborhood children who don’t feel safe using the street, they create stress in adult residents who worry about their kids using the street and they create stress for the people who have to think up the solutions because problems like what occur on Whalley are not easily addressable.
The zoning and codes that New Haven has create for awful environments in the city in general and on Whalley specifically. Between Sherman and Dwight most of Whalley as an unbearably oppressive environment to inhabit on foot because of the awesome corrosive power of our zones in creating auto-oriented developments full of curb curbs, seas of asphalt and single story single use boxes of absolutely no character or quality; not mention what an enormous waste of space occurs.
The first thing we must realize about Whalley is that it was developed as a route from New Haven to the west through Westville; it was essentially the boondocks originally. By the late 1800s, it was developing as a trolley-line suburb lined with mixed use, dense buildings with frequent residential side streets. Whalley was made to wide because it had trolley’s running down the center of the street. It was very much a pedestrian oriented neighborhood thoroughfare that had a transit connection to downtown.By the 30s most of the New Haven had become packed with automobiles, so many street improvements were taken on at this time to make car circulation much easier in the city. By the 50s, large amounts of federal subsidies were being supplied to cities for mass demolition and road upgrades, which New Haven took full advantage of. An incredible number of new bridges and highways were built in the 50s and 60s, which allowed car usage to soar to greater capacities. Unfortunately, the bridge building boom has failed to continue to today, which leaves us with ever increasing demand with little ability to supply since a large portion of our capital and resources are going to repairing and rebuilding the 60s era roads (I-95 bridge anyone?). Whalley became a strip mall essentially will the help of the newly adopted 1930’s era zoning. This made traffic much much worse.
Without getting into too much detail the central problem with Whalley is derived from our current use of it, which is in direct opposition of its original function. We are using a road primarily designed in the 19th century for pedestrians and trolley as a car-oriented street that has have minor paving upgrades over the years. Whalley did not used to have any traffic signals, we imposed signals onto a road not designed for them. Whalley was designed without lanes or directions, we imposed lanes and traffic laws on the road. Whalley was designed as a modest scale neighborhood shopping, living and working center, we imposed onto it suburban-oriented zones and codes that developed drive-through businesses and anti-urban design.
There are pretty much 3 places to go from here.
1. We use Whalley the way it was designed to be used.
2. We bankrupt ourselves by continually trying to turn Whalley into something its not.
3. We make extremely intelligent decisions that are moderately expensive to calm traffic, improve transit and establish a more walkable neighborhood in a way that is more modern than option 1.

Option 1 is the easiest because all it takes is for New Haven to adopt form-based codes and transect-based zoning, which can happen next week if we pressured them.
Option 2 would take an amount of resources, capital and time that we simply don’t have. Unfortunately, this is probably what will be done. Essentially option 2 calls for the changing of Whalley into the Boston Post Road, which is about halfway done already, but that was accomplished during a time when our country had nearly infinite resources and capital, which is no longer true.
Option 3 is a good one too, because it would likely call for some medians, curb bump outs, more street trees and form-based codes. I like modern urban planning but I prefer traditional planning aesthetics to the more complicated modern stuff. It takes an enormous effort to solve traffic, transit, street and building problems simultaneously, but it’s not impossible.

posted by: HewNaven?? on April 12, 2010  11:50am

Hey Jonathan,

It looks like maybe you took my suggestion to share your files using an online file hosting site, which is awesome because it always seems like you are referencing interesting studies, articles, etc.

One thing though, the URL attached to your name is just a generic gateway into MediaFire so a person other than yourself doesn’t get to see your shared files when they click that link, it just goes to their own account if they’re signed in. I just joined so I’m not too sure, but it seems like you might only be able to share files individually by url or e-mail.

I look forward to seeing what you have to share!