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Monday, June 2, 2008

Walk in Fair Haven targets traffic woes

By Mary E. O’Leary
Register Topics Editor
NEW HAVEN
— Between the dollar bill lying in the street and the Biblical quote, it all seemed like a message from on high.
“It is wise to walk with someone who knows the way,” was the quote from the New Testament, John 14:6, on the sign board in front of Cathedral of Higher Praise on Grand Avenue across from the Fair Haven Middle School.
Several dozen walkers, mainly from Fair Haven, but also from the West River and East Rock neighborhoods, stopped their tour of Fair Haven streets to quickly pose in front of the church and tuck the dollar away for the project that had brought them out early on Saturday morning.
The man leading the way was Dan Burton, director of Walkable Communities, a guru of traffic calming and sustainable urban neighborhoods who has helped develop 600 plans across the country that move traffic safely and efficiently, while putting pedestrians back in the picture.
“This is the first neighborhood in all of North America that raised its own money for traffic calming,” said Burton, as the group lined up for its walk along Front Street, Grand Avenue, East Pearl and Exchange streets. “That’s a good sign.”
Once they raised $5,000, with help from the Community Foundation of Greater New Haven, the city matched it and a traffic calming master plan for the northeast quarter of Fair Haven that prioritizes projects will by produced by Burton by mid-June.
Streets that encourage speeding were the main concern.
“This morning, when I was walking here, a garbage truck must have been doing 40 mph down Front Street. It’s ridiculous,” said Gerda Genece. She added that speeding vehicles on Lombard Street, where she lives, are even worse. “There are so many accidents,” Genece said.
Genece was one of the people who went door to door in Fair Haven to get some $400 in donations for the project and talk it up with her neighbors. It was she who spotted the dollar bill on Grand Avenue. “That’s your down payment,” Burton said for any future engineering changes.
“For the past 60 years, developers have designed neighborhoods more for cars than for people,” said Burton. “The result has been a drop in property values, a lack of socialization and an increase in crime,” he said, all of which have been reversed when people reclaim their streets.
He generally recommends 9-foot travel lanes for cars, with medians full of plantings on larger streets and roundabouts or mini-circles at intersections, both for safety reasons and to cut congestion.
He rejects speed bumps, which he said just shift a problem to other streets, and he recommends replacing stop signs with yield intersections.
He also assured them that the narrower traffic lanes have worked for fire equipment and snowplows in other cities.
Burton said these kinds of fixes reduce injury causing crashes by 90 percent, cut the noise level and lower air pollution levels.
“By using the right tools, you give yourself more parking, you reduce speed and you get your improved street networks. We’ve only been applying the wrong tools up to now,” Burton said.
As the group reached Burton said even though there are sidewalks and marked crossings over to a park along the Quinnipiac River, “the system is set up punishes you for being a pedestrian.”He said the corner of Front Street and Grand Avenue, should have an automatic walk phase, while he recommended bike lanes across the Grand Avenue Bridge and a narrower travel lane.
“We like to build intersections into a place, and really make it a dramatic place with an outdoor café, whatever … rather than only try to move traffic,” Burton said of Grand Avenue and Front Street. Anything that slows traffic “can only add to the safety, the place-making and ultimately smoothes out the problems you are having with the traffic,” Burton said.
Cars now jam Grand Avenue at the bridge ever since the nearby Ferry Street Bridge was shut for repairs. Improvements on the Ferry Street Bridge are ahead of schedule, but once it opens, the city plans to close the Grand Avenue Bridge for an upgrade. Burton said all this would have to be taken into consideration.
An important change on Grand Avenue was recommended at Fair Haven Middle School, where Burton suggested a median island and curb extensions on both sides so children crossing deal with only one-active lane of traffic, 10 feet at a time.
Burton showed examples of improved streets across the country, some made safer by just putting down brick, or other materials, or different color paint, with the most expensive involving raised intersections and new drainage.
The 40 people broke into smaller groups and offered specific suggestions for intersections in the neighborhoods, which included the needs of the businesses, and then prioritized them for Burton.
The driving force behind the project is Alderwoman Erin Sturgis-Pascale, D-14th, who was happy with the turnout Saturday. She said Burton helps people develop a common language and “start to build that vision about what is possible. Now we know it is done all over the place. That is the key,” she said.
Mary E. O’Leary can be reached at 789-5731 or moleary@nhregister.com.

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