Residents push for better street safety

As plans for Yale’s two new residential colleges begin to take shape, some city and campus residents are saying “not so fast” — especially to motorists.

Despite planned and ongoing traffic-related improvements on campus, several members of the grassroots New Haven Safe Streets Coalition are pushing for Yale to do more to protect pedestrians and cyclists, particularly as the University prepares to erect residential colleges 13 and 14. The proposed steps — including upgrades such as road medians, raised crosswalks and lower speed limits — are a necessary response to a spate of traffic-related incidents over the last year, including one that killed a medical student last spring, coalition members say. University officials say they are working with outside groups, such as the coalition, and the city to ensure the safety of its students.

A coalition of local and campus residents is pushing Yale to implement stronger safety measures as it prepares to construct two new colleges.
Eva Galvan
A coalition of local and campus residents is pushing Yale to implement stronger safety measures as it prepares to construct two new colleges.

Mark Abraham ’04, who authored a letter sent to University President Richard Levin in July on behalf of 15 other coalition members, said he and the letter’s signers appreciate Yale’s current efforts but still see room for improvement.

“We respect the University’s commitment to its bus system and crosswalks at new intersections … [But] I think the community is saying that not enough is being done with so many students being hit,” he said.

In April Mila Rainof MED ’08 died after being struck by a car near the Yale School of Medicine, and in June 11-year-old Gabrielle Lee was killed in a hit-and-run on Whalley Avenue. Several individuals — including, last year, Andromahi “Mahi” Trivellas ’11 and then-visiting professor Youngsook Pak — have been injured in recent traffic incidents on and near campus, as well.

At Levin’s suggestion, Abraham and other members of the NHSS Coalition plan to schedule a meeting with Bruce Alexander, vice president for New Haven and state affairs and campus development, in the next month, Abraham said.

Alexander forwarded request for comment to Assistant Vice President for New Haven and State Affairs Michael Morand ’87 DIV ’93.

In their letter, the 16 members of the coalition who signed — all Yale alumni or students — called on Levin to create a University traffic-safety commission to oversee the implementation of its desired safety measures.

The NHSS Coalition, which consists of more than 1,700 individuals and 30 elected officials, as well as community businesses and associations supporting the New Haven Petition for Safe Streets, advocates a citywide plan to reduce traffic-related injuries and fatalities, Abraham said.

“The effort to engage the administration here [at Yale] is really growing out of [the coalition’s] city effort,” Abraham said.

In an Aug. 13 response to Abraham, Levin wrote that, in addition to overseeing upgrades to the Farmington Canal Heritage Greenway, which runs adjacent to the planned site of the two new colleges, the University will create full signalization at the intersection of Canal, Prospect and Trumbull streets in the coming years. Several undergraduates interviewed cited that intersection as a traffic spot where they feel particularly unsafe.

Morand said in an e-mail to the News on Friday that various offices within the University are collaborating to ensure traffic improvements throughout campus as well. The new Yale University Health Services building, set to open in 2010, will be surrounded by lighted pathways, he said, and the planned Yale Biology Building on Whitney Avenue will also be made accessible to pedestrians and cyclists.

“In every major project … the University incorporates pedestrian safety into the planning,” Morand wrote.

Abraham, meanwhile, urged the University also to include safer pedestrian crossing on busy streets such as Elm and Grove. Another coalition member, Jason Stockmann GRE ’10, whose focus is cycling safety and awareness, stressed the need for traffic education.

“Students show up on campus with a bike, and many of them don’t know how to ride safely in traffic,” Stockmann said, who recommended to the University to offer cycling safety classes for incoming freshmen and graduate students.

And, Abraham said, the letter’s recommendations for a 15- to 20-mile-per-hour speed limit as well as the creation of a traffic-safety commission still stand unanswered. He added that Cornell University, for example, has a full-time coordinator of pedestrian and bicycle traffic.

But, Levin wrote in his letter, University officials will work alongside the New Haven city government, which he said has “ultimate jurisdiction and authority” in matters of street design.

And traffic has become an urgent issue for the city government, Morand said. Spurred in part by the NHSS Coalition’s efforts, Ward 14 Alderwoman Erin Sturgis-Pascale and Ward 9 Alderman Roland Lemar recently submitted to the Board of Aldermen a proposal for the creation of a steering committee to develop a comprehensive, sustainable streets program for the city.

“It’s important that the city hear from both institutions like Yale and citizen activists in the coalition, and it’s clear the city is responsive and redoubling its own efforts to boost enforcement, education and engineering for even safer streets,” Morand wrote.

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