Friday, October 29, 2010

Community Mediation and New Haven Police Department holding community safety discussions

Community Mediation, together with the New Haven Police Department, is organizing a series of community dialogues with Chief Limon called "Creating Community-Police Partnerships." We invite you to join us by participating in community dialogues that will allow citizens to meet the new chief of police and to express issues of mutual concern. These dialogues are intended to promote discussions about topics that are important to all of us, such as public safety, healthier neighborhoods.

All dialogues are open to the public, so SPREAD THE WORD! -- pass this information on to your networks and let people in your communities and neighborhoods know about this opportunity!

Barnard School, 6pm-8pm
170 Derby Ave, New Haven, CT
Districts: Westville, Beaver Hill & Dwight

Update: The New Haven Register and the New Haven Independent offer detailed coverage of the November 4th event.

Wilson Library, 5:30pm-7:30pm
303 Washington Ave, New Haven, CT
Districts: Hill North, Hill South, Downtown

Fair Haven Library, 5:30pm-7:30pm
182 Grand Ave, New Haven
Districts: Fair Haven, East Shore

St. Andrews Episcopal Church, 5:30pm-7:30pm
266 Shelton Ave, New Haven
Districts: Dixwell, Newhallville

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Dozens of Injured at Treacherous Rail Crossing: Providence and Worcester Railroad (PWX) Facing Potential Liability and National Media Exposure

Original Post, 7/13/10: The Providence and Worcester Railroad is directly responsible for the treacherous stretch of road (i.e., the tracks themselves) at the Tomlinson Bridge, which we have previously reported on here.

According to ConnDOT, which has been working on the problem for over a year, the Railroad refuses to take or allow the state to take any meaningful action regarding their tracks. This despite the large number of documented crashes and injuries – including several in recent weeks – on Forbes Avenue on the PWRR's unused and unmaintained track. The crossing has caused dozens of serious injuries since opening in 2002.

Local citizens have guaranteed that every minor or major injury caused by the tracks will be communicated to the local, regional and national press as well as to a number of attorneys' offices throughout the Northeast. These include those recently causing New Haven police officers, professors at Yale University, and several citizens to fall, including one very severely breaking his leg on the track two weekends ago.

The location, heavily documented with information about injuries at SeeClickFix, Design New Haven, and Wikipedia, among other online websites, was the focus of a recent citizen protest that brought light to the unacceptable situation. The New Haven Independent covered the protest:

“This is unacceptable,” said Juli Stupakevich. So she and other angry and worried cyclists Monday evening bestrode the dangerous rails curving bumpily crossing Route One at the entrance to the port just west of Waterfront Street. After years of documented accidents at the spot due to protruding and curving tracks that topple riders, the tracks’ owners, Providence & Worcester Railroad, came up with a graphic response. It put up signs urging riders to dismount and walk.

The City of New Haven's economic development administration also weighed in, in an email message to the Independent's reporter:

We agree that the warning signs are not acceptable,” Piscitelli wrote in an email message after the rally. “A constructed physical improvement is necessary. As you know, this is a state road. At our request ConnDOT convened a working group in 2009, but there has been no follow-up to date."

Widely referred to by citizens as a "death trap," the location has also inspired literally dozens of open public letters over the past weeks from local advocates. The bridge is designated as the primary "recommended cross-state" bicycle route by the State of Connecticut, and is also the city's recommended route as a route that "connects New Haven's neighborhoods while enjoying as many calm, wide, and scenic streets as possible."

Excerpts from a few of the more recent letters, responding to the potentially even greater level of danger at the location (caused by the narrowing of the road for a construction project), are posted below:

Alycia Santilli: "I also find Providence and Worcester Railroad's 'solution' and the lack of adequate response to this issue extremely troublesome. Like many others in the surrounding area, my husband and I cross this bridge two times per day during our bicycle commute to downtown New Haven. The signage -- besides being poorly placed -- is an outrageously insufficient and inappropriate solution. As Mr. Kurtz points out, it is impossible to dismount to cross the tracks. Dismounting would be just as hazardous -- if not more so -- as crossing the tracks."

William Kurtz: "I know you have been made aware of the many serious crashes that have taken place at your railroad crossing, and that you have so far failed to take any meaningful action about this treacherous situation, despite more-than-adequate knowledge of the hazard you have created and allowed to exist. Just two weeks ago, there was yet another crash there and yet another experienced cyclist was seriously injured and now we are told that according to Russ St. John, who is P&W's representative on the Connecticut Public Transportation Commission that a "cyclists-dismount-and-walk" sign is the solution that is "acceptable" to Providence and Worcester. Please hear me clearly when I state that your sign is not an acceptable solution to the many residents of greater New Haven who cycle across that bridge regularly. For one thing, there is nowhere to dismount. The west-bound side is currently reduced to one lane because of the Q-Bridge construction. There is neither a sidewalk nor a shoulder and traffic on that stretch regularly reaches and exceeds 50 mph. It should be clear why any so-called "solution" which calls for a streets user with all the rights of any other vehicle operator to stop moving in the middle of 50 mph traffic is unacceptable.... I eagerly await your reply outlining your rationale for this clear disregard for human life and safety."

David Streever: "I have almost crashed there--I met a police officer tonight who crashed there due to the tracks--New Havens CAO crashed there--and dozens upon dozens of cyclists have crashed there. This is quickly turning into a huge liability for you as the crashes mount up and people are talking about civil suits & lawyers. To continue to callously ignore the crashes is your option, but I think you know that you have a responsibility to make this right."

Elaine Lewinnek: "Here is the U.S. Dept of Transportation's Federal Highway Administration plan for bicycles crossing slanted railway tracks: It is the best solution I know of to this basic and well-known challenge of traffic engineering. Here is the full website from which I pulled that illustration, figure 14-16: I believe the reconstructed Tomlinson bridge cost $120 million. The percentage of Americans who bike to work is 0.5%. Far more Americans bicycle for exercise and pleasure and occasional commuting, but, even leaving all those other bicyclists out, if you simply spend 0.5% of your budget on bicyclist concerns, that means $60,000 for bicyclists. It is only fair."

Joe Jeffery: "Two weeks ago, I was somewhere around my 96th mile of a 100 mile ride in and around New Haven. To return to my New Haven destination from Connecticut's beautiful shoreline, my only direct route was to cross the Tomlinson Bridge. Among the many hazards on this bridge is a set or railroad tracks that cross at an angle dangerous to cylists and motorcyclists. Angled rail crossings catch thinner tires and throw cyclists. Negotiating that angled rail in summer weekend traffic was one of the most dangerous things I've done on a bike-- and I bike commute daily from New Haven to Bridgeport in all weather."

Commenters on the New Haven Indy story point out the level of danger and the need to do more to make the Tomlinson a "Complete Bridge". Though the Tomlinson, like its neighboring Q-bridge, is part of ConnDOT's billion-dollar New Haven Harbor crossing mega-project, it has very little in the way of usable bicycle or pedestrian infrastructure:

In no way am I absolving the P&W Railroad from their responsibility to implement acceptable safety measure on this crossing, but I want to point out that the miserable design of this roadway is a contributing factor. ConnDOT also has a responsibility to respond with funding to complete this street by designing and rebuilding it to include safe and accessible options for all users: pedestrians, cyclists and motor vehicles.

It is grossly unjust to spend billions of dollars on a bridge expansion project that is legally limited to motor vehicles, while leaving other users to risk their lives for access to downtown New Haven. P&W must come up with a short term solution, but in the end, the buck stops with ConnDOT.

Unfortunately [especially with the narrowing of the road from 4 lanes to 2], this isn’t just a problem for cyclists—if a cyclist flips on the tracks (highly likely, in fact has happened again just in the past week), they are likely to hit an oncoming car. That car may swerve in avoidance or surprise, striking several oncoming cars or trucks. We’re talking about the possibility of a half dozen driver deaths here, to happen in the very near future, not just the death of one or two cyclists.

Update 7/14/10: The issue of the bridge is covered in the New Haven Register. Excerpt:

Cyclists are “gravely concerned” about the area where the Providence and Worcester rail line crosses the road just before the bridge, going west toward downtown, Connecticut Bicycle-Pedestrian Advisory Board member Jason Stockman said. Bike tires are routinely stuck in the angled rail grooves and riders are injured; Stockman, who lives in New Haven, said he saw a cyclist break his thigh bone there two weeks ago. "The conventional wisdom is, there are two types of (riders): The ones who have fallen (there), and the ones who are going to,” said William Kurtz of West Haven.

Update 07/15/10: Channel 3 TV news covers the large number of protestors out today, some holding large placards reading "ConnDOT Cares Not." Despite the ongoing number of injuries, no actions have yet been taken.

Update 7/21/10: The New Haven Register continues to cover the story, highlighting yet more recent injuries at the tracks, including a report of a woman breaking her pelvis. A reply on Elm City Cycling focuses on the comments made by ConnDOT's spokesperson in the article, and the lack of progress on the issue:

The latest critics to weigh in on a strip of Route 1 where cyclists have been tripped up by an angled rail line are a surgeon who has treated more than one person hurt there and a Yale professor. Dr. Connor Telles, the orthopaedic surgery chief resident at Yale-New Haven Hospital, warned: “This is a lawsuit waiting to happen,” in a letter to state and rail line officials.

Update 10/27/10: Despite a number of meetings involving literally hundreds of hours of volunteer citizen time and the time of city and state officials, no real progress has been made on improving safety in the area.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

New Haven Halloween Traffic Safety: A Message from Keep Kids Alive

According to a study over a 20-year period by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, four times the number of elementary and middle school-aged children were killed by a car or truck on Halloween when compared to all other evenings.

Please sound and send out the Halloween alert in your community to "Be Aware! Drive With Care," and to "Stop! Take 3 To See" at every stop sign, and every point in the road where children are, or might be, crossing. Slow down and scan the roadways and sidewalks for children of all ages out and about. The life saved may be that of a neighbor child. And remember, "Don't let the 2 minutes you 'save' be the last 2 minutes of someone's life." - David Townsend (Tia's dad).

Tom Everson, Keep Kids Alive Drive 25, 402-334-1391.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Crumbling State Street Bridge to Close for One Year: Questions Linger on Pedestrian Access

The crumbling State Street Bridge, one of the first issues ever reported on SeeClickFix (Issue #10 out of over 60,000 now reported), is now just beginning to go into construction. The bridge - a major conduit of vehicle and pedestrian traffic - will remain closed for an entire year.

However, as indicated on the issue, major questions remain regarding pedestrian access during construction.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Why were the sharrows installed recently throughout Downtown New Haven not added on the route to New Haven Union Station?

While bicycle racks are now apparently in the works for one of New Haven's most critical economic assets, Union Station (see SeeClickFix issue here, and Design New Haven article here), actual biking access to the station remains a serious challenge.

Union Avenue, the road to the station is currently a 4-lane road with no bicycle facilities, high speeds, and parked vehicles on either side.

Vote on the SeeClickFix issue to begin to resolve this here. (Short answer to the question above: The area is a state controlled stretch of road and did not authorize sharrows).

Sharrows or bicycle lanes, like those recently placed throughout Downtown, would be a good first step towards bringing the street into line with the city's and state's new laws that require complete streets accommodations. However, ultimately providing access to the train station for road users of all ages and abilities will require a protected/buffered bike route or extension of the greenway (perhaps to be built in the space between the rail yard and the station property itself). Design New Haven previously reported on this issue in an article last year.