Residents discuss route 34

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Photo by John Stillman.

New Havenites welcomed the beginning of the end of the Route 34 connector, separating the North and South regions of the city, at a meeting Tuesday, but were wary of what will replace the six lanes of concrete.

Downtown Crossing, the plan to replace portions of Route 34, aims to reconnect the Hill to downtown New Haven and spur economic development in the area.
Downtown Crossing, the plan to replace portions of Route 34, aims to reconnect the Hill to downtown New Haven and spur economic development in the area.

Kelly Murphy, deputy mayor of economic development, introduced the project, which will replace Route 34 with two urban boulevards that will connect to Ella T. Grasso boulevard, to residents at the New Haven Free Public Library Tuesday evening. During the discussion that followed, attendees voiced concerns about how the project would provide sustainability, alternate transportation, and pedestrian-friendly destinations.

Speaking to a crowd of about 40, Murphy started by outlining the project’s goals of new job opportunities, improving traffic flow and safety, generating tax revenue and beautification. She then had the audience break up into smaller workshop groups to discuss the proposal further.

Murphy said that the purpose of the project was to build on New Haven’s strengths in education, healthcare, medical research, advanced manufacturing, arts, culture and design. The project will do this by providing a mix of retail and commercial, residential and bio-medical uses, in addition to more parking structures.

Audience members sat around four tables where they shared their input about environment and sustainability, streets and connectivity, place-making and economic issues.

Most suggestions conveyed the public’s desire for a greener, more sustainable New Haven, where bicyclists and pedestrians can access public spaces and retail destinations.

“Everyone here is trying to see connectivity between different modes of transportation, recreational interests and activities, and business activities,” Ethan Hutchings, a resident of New Haven, said.

Hutchings fears that the potential of the project will be squandered in favor of more parking lots and monolithic businesses.

“New Haven has a lot going for it, and you really don’t want to see another fence, another barrier growth,” he said.

Moses Boone, another New Haven resident, also voiced the fear that the new development will be unapproachable, except by car.

“The way that they’re trying to do it is to bring in more cars and more parking,” Boone said. “We need a bigger space and less cars.”

Boone’s concerns align with those expressed in the workshop for destination development. Residents emphasize the need for more plazas and public spaces, an uninterrupted walking experience, attractive views of the cityscape, and reduced speed limits. Especially eager audience members even expressed a demand for food carts and dog parks in the city center.

Environmental worries were also abundant. Residents communicated a hope for green roofing, access to shuttles, trees along the walkway and explicit air quality standards.

Proponents for street improvement spoke up for park-and-ride locations, separated bicycle lanes, and creative names for the new streets.

The economic workshop cited concerns about contracting a single, powerful developer, instead of many smaller developers and about which parts of the development will be taxable and which will be tax-exempt.

Organizers of the event said they welcomed the input of the attendees.

“You live here, you work here, you are the best source of information,” Bob Brooks, the project manager, said to the audience.

Suggestions from New Haven residents will play an important role, as the project is still in the beginning stage said Karyn Gilvarg MARC ’75, the City Plan Director.

“These are very early, preliminary plans concept plans,” Gilvarg said. “That’s why you hear people talking about goals…this is the beginning of the design process.”

Gilvarg says her ambitions for this project are high.

“My dream is that you can’t tell there ever was a highway there, and that the streetscapes are so compelling and so rich with amenities and experiences that you wouldn’t dream of taking your car, because you can do so many necessary and interesting things on the way.”

The project received a federal TIGER II grant in October of about $16 million and is slated for completion in 2016.

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