Wider campus footprint demands transit overhaul

In forums beginning tonight, Yale College students will be given the opportunity to discuss the possible creation of two new residential colleges. Together, the colleges would significantly increase the size of the student body — to 6,000. There are a number of issues that administrators will discuss, particularly whether Yale needs to be expanded in the first place, but the principal components of the building program have already been determined.

If the Yale Corporation approves the construction project next year, the colleges will be built as a pair in the triangle of land between Prospect Street, Sachem Street and the Grove Street Cemetery — the current location of the political science and sculpture departments. This spot, which has been the administration’s choice for years, is not up for debate, and that is a disappointment.

There is no other site near central campus large enough for two connected residential colleges. Adequate consideration, however, was not given by the site selection committee for the added benefits of building two separate colleges in other, more suitable settings, such as at the current location of the DMCA and in the parking lot behind Hendrie Hall. Those sites would have been more convenient for the students who would live there. They would have also solidified Yale’s core of Old and Cross Campus that has recently been magnified by the renovation of CCL. The spots chosen, on the contrary, are isolated and will increase the perceived size of Yale’s campus for most undergraduates, notably those not interested in the sciences.

That said, since the location and the construction of the colleges as proposed is essentially assured, students might as well consider how these new buildings ought best be added to the New Haven cityscape. One issue is especially important, considering where these structures will be built: transportation.

Yale’s shuttle service is currently an anemic operation, with ancient buses and a few old and poorly labeled bus stops. Routes, though permanent, are not satisfactorily marked, and the consequence is few students jumping on buses because fewer know exactly where the vehicles are going. There is little information provided at bus stops or in the buses themselves. The traffic on the system’s main corridor, Prospect, is so slow that it is often faster to ride a bike or even walk up to Science Hill — the location of the new colleges.

Today, the majority of undergraduate students — none of whom live on Science Hill — do not rely on the buses to get around, nor do they need to. Yale has such a small campus that most of us are content with non-vehicular mobility.

But the construction of the new colleges past the cemetery would be likely to drastically increase the number of students who rely on the bus network. More will take buses to get to classes, the library and campus events. More significantly, though, the construction of new residence halls, simply because of inertia, would encourage Yale to continue its focus on building up Science Hill, as the recent Rose Center and UHS and social science buildings — now under construction — demonstrate. All this while the University expands significantly in population, morphing from what was once a mid-sized school to a large one. The traffic to and from the area around the new residential colleges, increasingly important in this new Yale, is likely to explode.

Yale, then, has a responsibility to make a substantial investment in upgrading its public transit facilities before any new residential college is completed, because the current offerings leave a lot to be desired.

In the near future, it would be logical for the administration to underwrite major transportation improvements in the Prospect-College Street corridor, from the Divinity School to the medical center. Such a system would include well-marked stations with benches and heated canopies to protect students from the elements. Each stop would provide legible, lit maps of the system’s route and include automatically updated signs informing users how long before the arrival of the next vehicle. The new buses — or perhaps even streetcars — would have low floors to ensure that handicapped individuals entering would be unencumbered and increase the speed of boarding for everyone else, both resulting in a decrease in overall travel times.

The University’s transit system today provides none of these amenities and is therefore both inconvenient and unpleasant to ride. But there is nothing revolutionary about the technologies I propose; they have been implemented successfully in cities and at universities around the world and could be applied in New Haven relatively easily.

The development of an improved mass transportation system would be expensive, surely more than the University currently spends on the measly operation it provides now. But the increasing size of campus as illustrated by the new colleges, as well as the related explosion in student, faculty and staff populations, means that it is critical to re-envision Yale not as the small, pedestrian-friendly campus that we experience, but rather as an expanding miniature city that requires public transportation on a new scale.

Yonah Freemark is a senior in Saybrook College.