New Haven cyclists and pedestrians may soon have to learn to conduct themselves better on the road.
Sunday afternoon in Edgewood Park, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. launched Street Smarts, an educational campaign to enforce traffic laws and promote safety awareness. The event, attended by about 50 residents, featured a live band, face painting for children, giveaways and a cornucopia of information on safety regulations. The program reflects the city’s increased focus on upholding traffic regulations.
Though the kickoff was touted as a fun event for residents of all ages, city officials emphasized Street Smarts is to address important safety issues. Proposed by two New Haven aldermen, the Street Smarts program addresses and attempts to solve what residents at the event called a serious problem with obedience of traffic rules. In addition to promoting education among citizens, Street Smarts will also advocate tougher enforcement of the law, according to William Kurtz, a member of the board of directors for ElmCityCycling, a New Haven-based cycling advocacy group.
The program aligns with New Haven Police Department Chief James Lewis’ increased focus on traffic issues, exemplified by his doubling of the traffic unit to 20 police officers. The move aims to reverse New Haven’s reputation for disregarding traffic rules. Since last year, the number of tickets for violations has increased by 35 percent, city estimates concluded.
Matt Finer, owner of The Devil’s Gear Bike Shop, one of the event’s sponsors, said that the many new bikers on the road have not been properly educated in traffic regulations.
“In the past few years, the amount of bicyclists on the road has gone through the roof,” he said. “A lot of them don’t know the rules of the road.”
Finer, another board member for ElmCityCycling, handed out flyers about safe biking with tips on how to correctly wear a cycling helmet, how to ride alongside traffic and how to dress for biking in different weathers.
“Street Smarts” urges change in the traditional divisions of the road — among motorists, cyclists and pedestrians — into a division between safe and unsafe road users, Kurtz said.
“New Haven has had an unfortunate reputation for lawlessness,” he said. “I think with this campaign, people will start to realize that they are unconsciously breaking road rules.”
In interviews, several Yalies said they agree that in New Haven, traffic rules are little more than a formality, and that most students jaywalk to and from class without thinking much of it.
Lukas Colberg ’12 said that Yale’s campus is built such that it is convenient to break traffic rules, such as on the stretch of Elm Street filled with students weaving between cars to get to class.
“The most frequented places on the campus usually are really inconvenient to get to without jaywalking,” he said. “It’s just faster.”
But with the mayor’s new initiative, both Yalies and New Haven citizens may have to think twice before breaking rules again, Kurtz said.
“There are a lot of laws that haven’t been enforced,” he said, adding that the NHPD is sparking new initiatives to crack down on safety and traffic violations.
Lewis’ new unit, headed by Sgt. David Syndnor, has pledged to take proactive approaches to enforcing traffic regulations, including the use of undercover cyclist and pedestrian officers to test whether motorists respect rights of way, for example.
However, some students said the program has yet to affect their behavior.
Kate McDermott ’11 said she has not heard of the program and was ambivalent about it.
“I don’t want to get ticketed for jaywalking,” she said. “But I don’t want to see people getting hit by cars either.”
The Edgewood Park event was the first of the Street Smarts series, and the Mayor’s Office promises more to come.