Aldermen hear Safe Streets plan

The New Haven Safe Streets Coalition’s vision for a redefined pedestrian city moved one step closer to reality Monday evening.

The Board of Aldermen held a public hearing last night on the proposed “Complete Streets” plan offered by Safe Streets Coalition’s founding members, Ward 9 Alderman Roland Lemar and Ward 14 Alderwoman Erin Sturgis-Pascale. The plan by the Safe Streets Coalition — a New Haven organization that lobbies for safer streets — calls for reducing the number of traffic-related injuries and fatalities by 50 percent by 2009 and 90 percent by 2015 “while promoting streets that are more liveable, walkable and economically vital.”

In the next month or two, the Board of Aldermen will vote on creating a committee — comprising three board members, three city employees and three residents — to study the Complete Streets plan. If approved, the committee will present its findings to the board within a year.

This April, Mila Rainof MED ’08 died in a collision with a car near the School of Medicine, and 11-year-old Gabrielle Lee was struck by a car and killed as part of a hit-and-run on Whalley Ave.

Monday night’s hearing, held before the Board’s Legislation Committee, drew over 50 New Haven residents, including about 20 of Yale undergraduate and graduate students in support of the Complete Streets plan. Lemar and Sturgis-Pascale introduced the plan to the rest of the committee and were followed by representatives from several city agencies and members of the public in a meeting that ran for nearly three hours.

Residents’ calls for a reform of the city’s transportation and traffic infrastructure have not fallen on deaf ears.

“We are listening,” said Michael Piscitelli, director of the New Haven Department of Transportation, Traffic and Parking.

Piscitelli said the first stage of New Haven’s response will start Oct. 19, when the city, working with over a half-dozen community groups, rolls out a new education strategy.

“We want to sensitize drivers that they are driving in an intermodal community,” he said. “At the same time, we want to sensitize cyclists and pedestrians to sharing the road and obeying traffic regulations.”

City Chief Administrative Officer Robert Smuts ’01 said the city’s plan to make streets safer involves a three-pronged approach consisting of education, enforcement and engineering. Smuts announced that the New Haven Police Department will be doubling both the size and hours of its traffic-enforcement division.

Smuts and Piscitelli pointed to two developments this year — a 5 percent decrease in the number of accidents reported and a 35 percent rise in traffic violations issued — as signs of the city’s commitment to improving street safety.

Sturgis-Pascale indicated that the Complete Streets plan will revolutionize the way New Haven residents think about the streets on which they drive, bike and walk.

“Instead of thinking about the number of lanes, we will think about having our streets bring us together as a community,” she said.

But some members of the committee questioned the city’s ability to undertake such a program during a time of economic upheaval. Smuts said while testifying in front of the committee that immediately making all of New Haven’s roadways Safe Streets compatible would cost the city billions of dollars. The Coalition’s plan calls for a gradual implementation, by updating the streets when routine maintance and other developments are undertaken.

Safe Streets proponents argue that the program will promote economic opportunity while raising property values.

“[Complete Streets] will upgrade our infrastructure to meet the needs of a new New Haven, and in the long run, will net the city money,” said Mark Abraham ’04 the founder of the Safe Streets Coalition.

As for the meeting, Abraham was impressed by the turnout.

“It shows that a lot of people are passionate about improving the safety and quality of our city life,” he said.

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