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.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Student Hit By Car While Biking to School: Are Road Injuries "Minor"?

Original Post 6/16/09: The crash was reported in the New Haven Independent last week:

A 17-year-old student was struck by a car while riding a bicycle on the way to Wilbur Cross High School Tuesday, police said. The crash took place on Willow Street near the I-91 exit ramp at 7:35 a.m.

The press piece indicates that the boy suffered "minor injuries," thankfully, and was able to continue to bike to school before an ambulance was called to take him to the hospital. We hope that the student will fully recover as soon as possible.

However, in the broader scheme of practice, the word "minor" is often misused when describing traffic collisions. Many studies like this one from Oxford University (Psychological Medicine (2002), 32:4:671-675 Cambridge University Press) show that the impact over time can actually be much greater than initially realized. An excerpt:

Replies were received from 507 (66%) subjects. Although 76% of injuries were medically minor bruises and lacerations, 132 (26%) reported symptoms of psychiatric disorder and 104 (21%) moderate or severe pain at 3 years. There was little evidence of improvement in prevalence between 1 and 3 years, with continuing physical symptoms, psychiatric disorder and reported consequences for everyday life.

Home to Interstate 91 on-and off-ramps, the stretch of Willow Street where the student was hit is known as an extremely hostile, high-speed environment for bicyclists and particularly pedestrians, despite the fact that it is one of the only road connections between the East Rock and Fair Haven neighborhoods of New Haven (it is not exactly like one of the bridges in Portland). The condition of the road prevents thousands of children in the Fair Haven neighborhood from easily using East Rock Park, effectively creating a wall between two directly adjacent neighborhoods. Unfortunately, ConnDOT would have to approve any changes to the current configuration of the roadway.

Apparently, ConnDOT doesn't believe that "minor" road injuries are that big of an issue, considering that they have done nothing to install a simple fix to the situation on the Tomlinson Bridge even after dozens of cyclists have reported being seriously injured crossing its 30-degree railroad track crossing.

Does it take a few deaths before they take action?

A few reactions posted on the Independent article:

Yet we have a responsibility, a moral obligation, to ensure the safety of those students who do walk or bike to school.... The Willow St bridge was constructed in anticipation of the (thankfully scrapped) East Rock Connector. This is a perfect example of excess road capacity leading to unsafe conditions. THIS ROAD NEEDS A DIET.... Anybody want to help me write the Safe Routes to School grant?

It is a good thing the driver was going under 25. When I drive in an urban environment, I try to keep my speed at about 15 mph or below..... I have had several close calls with pedestrians, but luckily have never hit one, and I attribute this in part to driving at a speed that isn't likely to kill.

Making East Rock school more accessible from Fair Haven, via a better pedestrian connection, is crucial. Willow + Blatchley Street, between the school and Erector Square, is currently an unattractive pedestrian "no go" zone, even for able bodied residents. Ask people who live in the area. To say nothing about how a handicapped, blind, elderly or disabled person would feel.

Update 6/18/09: According to reporting in the NH Independent, another student near Fair Haven, this one an 11-year old child, was hit by a car on Tuesday. The crash gave the child "abrasions." According to other reporting the driver was not "at fault."

Monday, June 15, 2009

Candlelight Vigil for Baby Killed in Hit and Run Crash on Mansfield Street

The New Haven Independent reports here on the candlelight vigil for Montez Turner Jr. and Mauricia Stanley, which was attended by over 100 New Haven residents, and lasted well into the evening. An earlier, much more detailed story about the hit-and-run crash can be found here. The deadly collision occurred at the intersections of the Newhallville, Dixwell and Prospect Hill/East Rock neighborhoods, right next to the northeast corner of Science Park.

On the New Haven Independent's main report, there are a number of public comments which have to do with safety. Here are a few:

I am very familiar with that intersection and there definitely needs a mechanism that slow down traffic on that long somewhat winding block of Mansfield between Division and Munson Streets. Drivers speed both ways on that street, and, as walkers could attest, the drivers seem surprised, rushed and even irritated that there are even stop signs at each end.

Streets in front of the Capitol in Hartford have 10 MPH limits and pedestrian safety refuges. Streets in wealthy towns like Darien and Greenwich have 15 MPH speed limits and barriers in the street that make these kinds of crashes almost impossible (unless perhaps you are a trained stunt driver). Kids play out on them.

A speeding car through a stop sign is alarming and this time, tragic; however, how about all those citizens who do the "California roll" and just slow down enough to quickly look both ways and then roll on through. It seems to be the New Haven attitude toward stop signs.

No one expects to get hit by a car speeding through a stop sign. No one expects to their car roof supports to be tested by rolling down a hill. That's why you take EVERY PRECAUTION to protect these precious babies.

The Federal TF Highway Research Center quotes a study of 181 intersections converted to roundabouts which showed a 95% reduction in car crashes with injuries and an 89% reduction in pedestrian crashes with injuries. A single, correctly designed road facility can eliminate 100% of crashes. When you look at the figures of 95% injury reduction on 181 new roundabouts, for example, it is quite likely that at least half of those new roundabouts prevented 100% of injuries, while the other half had more mixed safety records (e.g., a 90% reduction).

Look at this bad community. A hit and run is always happening. But what they need to know is that these streets are dangerous.

And our city celebrates DOT widening Whalley. [see here for details on that]

Saturday, June 13, 2009

City Places In-Street "Yield to Pedestrian" Sign

Original Post, 10/17/08: The first in-street "yield to pedestrian in crosswalk" sign in New Haven was installed this week on State Street, and another "test" sign is reportedly planned for the intersection of Lincoln and Trumbull today. New Haven Independent coverage and photo here, and New Haven Register coverage is posted here.

Additional signs have been purchased, and many neighborhood groups have sent in recommendations for where they should be placed. Potential locations include Orange & Wall, Edgewood & West Rock, College & Wall, Mansfield & Sachem, Dixwell & Bristol, various intersections along Howard, State and Orange, and many others.

Click here (Word DOC file) for a copy of the original request letter, which was sent in by Elm City Cycling and the Yale Medical Campus Traffic Safety Group and CC'ed to the New Haven Safe Streets Coalition.
Update: The signs have received great preliminary reviews by local residents:

Update 6/13/09: The signs have now been placed in crosswalks all throughout the City of New Haven. Contact the City's transportation department to request more.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Ask Connecticut's Senators to Co-Sponsor the Safe Routes to School Reauthorization Bill

On May 21, 2009, Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA), Richard Burr (R-NC), Bernard Sanders (I-VT), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Susan Collins (R-ME) joined together to introduce the Safe Routes to School Program Reauthorization Act (S. 1156). S. 1156 would expand funding for SRTS to $600 million per year, include high schools, simplify regulatory compliance to improve project delivery, and strengthen research and evaluation. All of these changes will make SRTS grants more widely available, and help more schools and communities across the country make it safer for children to walk and bicycle to school.

This is an exciting step forward, as these five diverse Senators have agreed to champion the program. Now, Connecticut's Senators need to hear from more constituents about the importance of strengthening the Safe Routes to School program in the next transportation bill.

Please take a few minutes to contact Senator Lieberman and Senator Dodd to ask them to show their support for the Safe Routes to School (SRTS) program by co-sponsoring the legislation. If you do not already have personal contacts within their offices or do not wish to make a direct phone call, one way to do so is to follow this link: A list of national supporters can be found here.

It is a good idea to personalize your message with a sentence or two about Safe Routes to School needs in Connecticut. Connecticut's school districts have participated in the program in a fairly limited way so far, but interest has been growing over the past two years, and an application for the program is expected to be submitted for New Haven in the coming year.

For more details on the legislation, including a summary of the bill’s provisions, a list of supporting organizations, and the text of the legislation, please visit

Hat tip to Keep Kids Alive Drive 25, one of New Haven Safe Streets Coalition's partner organizations, for information that this post was adapted from.