Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Note to motorists: put the brakes on

Safety coalition calls for increased enforcement and harsher penalties for violators

By Elizabeth Benton
Register Staff
­— A coalition of cyclists and traffic safety advocates are pushing for increased traffic enforcement with an eye toward a 90 percent reduction in injuries by 2015.
As of Tuesday evening, the Petition for Safe Streets had the signatures of about 150 people vowing to respect traffic laws and advocate for safer streets.
The online petition calls for strict immediate enforcement of the city’s 25 mph speed limit, as well as stop light, stop sign, bicycle lane, crosswalk and cell phone related infractions, and higher penalties for moving violations, aggressive driving and motor vehicle assault.
By the end of 2008, the petition seeks 15 mph to 20 mph speed limits in areas with dense concentrations of pedestrians and bicyclists, including streets surrounding Yale-New Haven Hospital, the Hospital of Saint Raphael and the Chapel Street shopping district.
Ultimately, the petition aims to achieve a 90 percent reduction in traffic-related injuries and fatalities by 2015, and asks for quarterly public reports on traffic enforcement and an annual evaluation of safety efforts.
“One of my big hopes is that this could become sort of a road map for the relationship that the new police chief will have to this topic of traffic safety,” said petition sponsor Alderwoman Erin Sturgis-Pascale, D-14.
“There is a prevailing regional attitude the streets in New Haven are lawless and you can get away with things … It’s like street anarchy. There’s no expectation you are going to be punished for bad behavior. It’s not acceptable,” said Sturgis-Pascale.
Petition supporter state Sen. Toni Harp, D-New Haven, said state lawmakers are considering legislation that would pass money generated by traffic enforcement into municipal coffers, rather than gathering it into the state general fund.
“There would be more of an incentive for municipalities to actually pay attention to traffic violations,” Harp said. “I do think that to make New Haven safe for bikers, we have to slow down a little bit.”
City Department of Transportation, Traffic & Parking Director Michael Piscitelli could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
But Officer Joe Witkowski, deputy patrol resource coordinator for the police traffic division, said officers issued over 9,000 traffic infractions in 2007 and made over 400 DUI arrests.
“Those are not piddly statistics ... I’d like to do more, I think we could do more,” he said.
The petition is the brain child of Elm City Cycling’s Mark Abraham, who drafted the online petition in recent weeks with the support of several community groups, including the newly formed Yale Traffic Safety Group. The petition will be submitted to Mayor John DeStefano Jr.
“The end goal is to build awareness about traffic safety,” Abraham said. “There needs to be a combination of better enforcement and better statistics.”
The petition can be seen at:
Elizabeth Benton can be reached at 789-5714 or at

Fair Haven slates Saturday meeting for pedestrian-friendly neighborhood plan

By Victor Zapana
Special to the Register
— After two years of pushing, Alderwoman Erin Sturgis-Pascale, D-14, may finally be able to calm her traffic jitters.
New Haven — or at least northeast Fair Haven — will have its first-ever traffic-calming neighborhood master plan meeting beginning at 9 a.m. Saturday at 195 Front St. At the meeting, local residents will help create a proposal for the Fair Haven area to add traffic measures such as speed humps and bump-outs to slow and reduce nearby traffic.
“It’s really about getting the people who know the streets the best to come up with solutions that will work best,” Sturgis-Pascale said.
The meeting, a full-day event, will be led by Dan Burden, director of the Florida-based Walkable Communities. Walkable Communities aims to provide neighborhoods with tools to create a more pedestrian-friendly environment, according to its Web site.
Sturgis-Pascale said she hired Burden to serve as an outside traffic engineer to guide residents in the proposal process.
The meeting is the first of two, Burden said Tuesday. He will use the residents’ suggestions from the first meeting to create a formal city proposal. At the second, which will be in two weeks, Burden will present the plan for community feedback. The entire process will probably take three weeks, he added.
Although the two meetings will focus on only the small Fair Haven area, Sturgis-Pascale said she would like the initiative to grow citywide. But she said there are virtually no funds to pay for physical changes for all 30 wards — or even the targeted neighborhood, which could require changes costing tens of millions of dollars.
“We’ll cross that bridge when we get there,” she said.
The meeting follows years of advocacy from Sturgis-Pascale for safer streets in her neighborhood. She said because the city had not responded to many community complaints concerning traffic, she led her neighborhood to raise money for a traffic engineer. “Easily 100 residents” were involved in the effort, she said.
City Chief Administrative Officer Robert Smuts, who worked with Sturgis-Pascale to hire Burden, said city officials welcome what Burden and residents will suggest.
But he also said that in order to make the plan more “realistic” for the city’s ailing economy, officials would fragment plans to make small steps over several decades. “The city is very supportive,” he added.
Christopher Ozyck, a coordinator for the Yale Community Greenspace program, an New Haven development initiative, said he would attend the meeting.
“Traffic is one issue that cuts across every neighborhood in the city,” he said. “I rarely go into any neighborhood that ... says our traffic is calm.”
Smuts said City Hall officials, including Traffic Director Michael Piscitelli and members of the city engineering department, would meet with Burden Friday. They will discuss economical tools to encourage citywide traffic calming.
Aside from the meeting, Sturgis-Pascale has sponsored a city petition to ask for legislation to immediately reduce traffic injuries by 50 percent by 2009 and 90 percent by 2015.
Last week, Sturgis-Pascale said she was working with Fair Haven School officials to apply for a federal Safe Routes to School grant that would fund nearby traffic calming measures. She said Tuesday that they plan to have the application ready by early next year.

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