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New changes to traffic signals and circulation throughout the city may help relieve traffic and pedestrian congestion endangering New Haven citizens.

At a meeting at City Hall on Tuesday evening, the Department of Traffic and Parking unveiled new plans for technological advances in traffic signals, pedestrian crossings, bike lanes and traffic flow. The city has contracted with Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc., a local consulting firm, to address traffic concerns in the Whalley Avenue, Fountain Street, Forest Road and Fitch Street areas of New Haven, said Vahid Karimi, manager of traffic engineering at VHB. The affected zone is northwest of central campus, near Yale’s athletic fields.

Karimi said the project’s objectives include improving traffic flow and safety, addressing handicap accessibility at intersections, computerizing traffic signals, installing detection video cameras on traffic posts and updating bicycle lane technologies. One of the most innovative new measures involves the creation of signal communications for emergency vehicles, which would allow the flashing lights of an approaching ambulance to activate a path of green lights immediately, decreasing transit time.

“This city has always been at the forefront of new traffic technologies coming to Connecticut,” Karimi said.

The plans also call for the expansion of countdown-equipped pedestrian crosswalk lights throughout the city, Karimi said.

Traffic Operations Engineer Bruce Fischer said changes for bicyclists will include a video detection system at traffic lights that obviates the need for bicyclists to dismount and physically press a crosswalk signal. But Fischer said the current plans and funding do not specifically allow for new bike lanes to be constructed, as the project does not include plans for any road widening.

“Just through the normal process of restructuring traffic flow, the city will become more bicycle-friendly,” Director of Traffic and Parking Paul Wessel said.

But while these video technologies may contribute to the reduction of traffic congestion by providing the city’s Department of Traffic with real-time data, state law stipulates that detection technologies may not be used for law-enforcement purposes such as catching motorists running red lights, Wessel said.

The first phase of the program is slated for completion in the spring or summer of 2007, while the second phase may not be finished until spring 2008, Karimi said.

The upcoming changes in traffic technologies will begin the fourth phase of an ongoing restructuring of city transportation, Wessel said. The improvements were funded by a $7 million federal grant for reducing air emissions and traffic circulation in the city, he said.

The Federal Highway Agency granted New Haven funding for the changes through the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement program, which aims to cut down on vehicular emissions by decreasing the idle time cars spend at congested intersections. In 2004, New Haven had the second largest amount of urban air toxic emissions in New England, according to an EPA National Air Toxics Assessment.

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