Thursday, August 7, 2008

NH Register: Traffic-safety efforts gear up across city

Photo at Left: An in-street crosswalk sign used in a highly successful retail district in Downtown Norwalk, Connecticut, July 2008. It's combined with a textured crosswalk and curb bumpouts, creating a welcoming pedestrian environment and slowing traffic to a reasonable 15-20 mph pace. A group of New Haven residents observed a high rate of compliance with crosswalk regulations here, similar to the experience in dozens of other towns in the New Haven region where these signs are present. Public health authorities and traffic engineers have extensive data showing that in-street signs are highly effective at increasing pedestrian safety.

Traffic-safety efforts gear up across city
By Mary E. O'Leary, Register Topics Editor, 08/07/2008

NEW HAVEN — A push is on to slow down traffic in the city with in-street signs that would remind drivers they must yield to pedestrians in crosswalks.

Separately, Yale alumni have petitioned the university to incorporate traffic-calming measures as plans solidify for two additional colleges off Prospect Street, while across town, Fair Haveners will gather Saturday to continue discussions on dangerous streets in that neighborhood.

These are just a few of the many pieces of a movement to make city streets safer for pedestrians in light of several fatal accidents, as well as the increasing number of cyclists sharing the streets with motor vehicles.

The Yale Medical Campus Traffic Safety Group, Elm City Cycling and members of the New Haven Safe Streets Coalition are asking that the city consider, on a trial basis, placing yield-to-pedestrian signs in crosswalks.

Generally, the signs stand several feet high on a platform and incorporate a walking figure, a reference to "state law" and a yield sign. The devices, which are approved by the Federal Highway Administration, do not include traffic signals.

Placing the signs directly in the road is intended to get drivers to reduce their speed and alert them to the crosswalk, according to advocates, who said they have been used successfully around the country, including larger cities such as Milwaukee and Baltimore, while there are 4,500 throughout Pennsylvania. The signs also are in use in area communities, such as Milford and Branford.

Advocates said the city has been reluctant to use the signs because of potential liability if a driver hits one and concern they would simply be ignored.

Tom Harned of Elm City Cycling and Rachel Wattier of the Yale Medical Campus Traffic Safety Group believe these reasons don't hold up, in light of safety studies conducted by Pennsylvania and, particularly, if city police enforce the traffic laws at the pilot sites.

"We believe this will maximize the efficacy of the device and increase driver awareness of its use," they wrote. They would like to see a minimum of 20 such signs throughout the city by November.

On Saturday, Fair Haveners will chalk improvements, such as islands, curb cuts and roundabouts, on the streets, as discussed in an earlier workshop with Dan Burden, the director of Walkable Communities. They will meet at 10 a.m. at Chatham Square on Clinton Avenue.

The neighborhood has already prioritized which streets it would like to see improved first; this will be their third meeting on the issue.

More than 1,600 residents and 10 community management teams have signed on to a safe streets petition being circulated in New Haven which endorses measures to cut citywide traffic-related injuries in half by 2009 and by 90 percent as of 2015.

The letter to Yale requested that streets be posted at 15 to 20 miles per hour where pedestrian traffic is heavy around the campus, as well as incorporating other physical changes.

"Curb extensions that improve pedestrian visibility, medians, narrowed, raised or marked crosswalks, in-street signage and other traffic-calming measures are desperately needed," the 16 alumni wrote.

Among them are Alderwomen Rachel Plattus, D-1, Gina Calder, D-2, and Dolores Colon, D-6.

Mary E. O'Leary can be reached at or 789-5731.

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