Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Whitney Avenue Paving: "Everything you’d want out of a local access highway"

Original Post, 6/24/09: Local elected officials and city officials recently announced that the section of Whitney Avenue into Downtown New Haven will not be rebuilt as a "complete street."

The street runs adjacent to the main Yale University campus, and is one of the busiest pedestrian, bicycle and vehicular corridors in the entire city. Reporting from the New Haven Independent can be found here, along with a previous story from January about the initial announcement (which also attracted numerous comments) here. An excerpt from today's piece:

At a meeting of East Rock neighbors, some said the project falls short of the city’s new policy of creating “complete streets” that encourage transit by bike, foot or bus. “It’s everything you’d want out of a local access highway,” quipped East Rock Alderman Roland Lemar at the neighborhood management team’s monthly meeting Monday evening. He said while cars and bikes alike will welcome relief from the treacherous bumps and cracks, the improvements will result in allowing vehicles to zip by at 45 miles per hour. “Only 45?” replied a skeptic in the crowd. “That’s a conservative estimate.”

Plans for repaving Whitney Avenue had been in the works for several years, but had been delayed until this year. In the intervening period, the amount of pedestrian and bicycle traffic on the Avenue has dramatically increased.

On the earlier NH Independent piece, a writer from the CT Energy Blog commented:

In addition to agreeing with Tom Harned's points, I would add that one of the goals of improving bicycle infrastructure would be to protect the lives of the cycling population that already exists. New Haven has the second highest percentage of bicycle commuters in the Northeast. These include not only Yuppies and Yalies (no offense), but children and countless people who can not afford the staggering expense of owning a car in the city. With the exception of highways and freeways, our roads were never intended to be used only by motor-vehicle traffic. Many existed well before the automobile was invented. We've had too many preventable traffic-related deaths and injuries here involving people who were just trying to get from one place to another. It's high time we got our priorities straight and started taking deadly traffic conditions seriously. Again, thank you New Haven for taking this seriously, but we still have a long way to go.

Today, "Truthtopower" writes:

When will the DOT realize that the age of the auto is over? Spending valuable tax dollars to replicate outmoded roads shows that no lessons have been learned from $4.00 gas, air pollution levels, the increase in obesity and the consumption of land by parking lots. People want to be able to walk, bike and take public transit, but money continues to be funneled into projects that continue the old car culture rather than a new 21st century vision. Clearly the people are again ahead of the government on this.

The Independent contains a bit of good news about a new traffic calming project right around the corner, at Livingston and Edwards:

Lemar reported that the city has money in hand to repave Edwards Street between Whitney and Orange Streets. As part of the road reconstruction, the city will incorporate traffic-calming measures at Edwards and Livingston Street, a hairy intersection where a combination of high speed and poor visibility around turns has led to recent accidents.

A member of the CT Livable Streets committee sent an open letter to the City of New Haven's engineer, Dick Miller, on February 23, 2009. Local elected officials also have met tirelessly with key city and state officials, but little progress was made.

Hopefully, further improvements to the bustling street can be installed after paving is completed.

The open letter to Mr. Miller is reprinted here:

Dear Mr. Miller,

Thank you for presenting to the East Rock Management Team tonight about Whitney Avenue and the various bridge reconstruction projects in East Rock. It is excellent that you would take the time to update the East Rock neighborhood with your department's progress, and I applaud you for the significant amount of work that your office has been able to push through state reviews in the past year. Thank you again for your tireless efforts to keep our transportation system in good working order.

As you suggested at the meeting, I would welcome an opportunity to stop by and review the repaving and restriping plans for Whitney Avenue, which are scheduled to begin construction in a month or two. I've copied a few individuals who have been following the design plans for Whitney Avenue for a few years. I am not speaking for them, but I think some of them may be interested in reviewing the plans as well. What times might work best for you?

Please do not take my concerns as criticism of your work to date. Whitney Avenue is an urban corridor through an extremely densely populated area, and I am encouraged to know that you are doing as much as possible to ensure the safety of the community through which it passes. My concern about speeding on the avenue stems specifically from the extremely high volumes of families, young children, elderly and disabled residents, mass transit users, and K-8 public school students who cross the avenue on a daily basis. The avenue has more pedestrians than almost any other street in the city. My concern has been highlighted by the fact that, on two occasions just within the past few months, I have witnessed pedestrians crossing the avenue at dusk (in areas where I think there should be a crosswalk), and have watched helplessly as they were nearly killed, just very narrowly avoiding speeding vehicles in both cases. In one case, a speeding car swerved illegally to try to pass a car (on the right side, not the left side) that had slowed in order to yield to the pedestrian.

Also, the avenue is also one of the busiest cycling routes in the city, connecting Hamden commuters to Downtown New Haven. Anecdotally, I work in an office of just 10 people, and at least three of them use this route to bike to work from Hamden. All three of them believe that the road is inadequate as a cycling route in its current configuration. In an era where people can afford to drive less and less, perceived obstacles like these threaten New Haven's ability to be the economic and social hub for the region.

If the latest design for Whitney Avenue allows the current average traffic speeds of 30-35MPH to persist (or increase following repaving), it is almost certain that there will be additional injuries along the avenue. A few years ago, a prominent Yale University faculty member in the Neuroscience Department was killed by a driver along the Hamden section of Whitney Avenue, and numerous other pedestrian injuries have been reported along the road as well. As has been pointed out in many public meetings in New Haven over the past year, designing a street for 40MPH travel, while expecting drivers to obey the 25MPH limit, creates a massive demand for traffic enforcement which will be an unnecessary future burden on the city's taxpayers.

In the case of Whitney Avenue, I believe that there is overwhelming public support for designing a street that contributes to property values, walkability and safety for road users of all ages and abilities. Based on standards used in other cities, such a street would be designed for strict maximum travel speeds of 20-25MPH, with very narrow travel lanes, and contain a highly progressive system of pedestrian refuges, crosswalks and cycle facilities, particularly in the most urban sections of the street between Edwards Street and Downtown. Given that the new paving standards you have ordered are meant to last 20 years, there may be limited opportunities to reconfigure the avenue once the pavement is poured.

I appreciate all of the time and energy you have put into this project over the past few years, and realize that there are a number of restrictions at play as well. I realize that the project starts soon, but am wondering if there is anything that can be done to create modest safety improvements now, or to ensure that they can be easily added as soon as possible following the completion of paving. Even measures designed to be temporary solutions would be an improvement over having a street perceived as dangerous by walkers, cyclists and transit users of all ages. If nothing can be done at this point, please keep these concerns in mind for future projects.

Best regards,
Mark Abraham
New Haven, CT

Update 7/10/09: Dozens of East Rock residents attend a community meeting to propose changes for the avenue.

1 comment:

Fleur said...

It is painful to watch this very expensive and time-consuming repaving in progress and know that when it's completed, cars will be flying up and down Whitney even faster than they already do. I'll probably avoid the walk on Whitney in favor of Livingston or Orange instead, which is a shame as Whitney is a more direct route. It's just not going to be a pleasant pedestrian experience, basically walking along a highway.

I hope that your letter to the City Engineer is as well-received as it is written.