Yost: Get serious about safe streets

In 2008, Yale medical student Mila Rainof MED ’08 was fatally struck while crossing York Street. Also in that year, 11-year-old Gabrielle Lee was killed in a hit-and-run case while crossing Whalley Avenue. In addition to these well-publicized tragedies, other members of the New Haven community have been seriously injured or killed since then.

Having worked as an EMT in emergency rooms, including a regional trauma center, I have seen more intense injuries and fatalities from roadway injuries than I care to remember. You don’t need to have a medical background, though, to imagine how a two-ton vehicle colliding with a human being might turn out. Whether bicyclists, joggers, kids walking to school or people walking to work, the types of accident stories most us have heard are all tragic and sad. What’s worse is that many of these deaths and serious injuries are preventable.

In recent months, New Haven has received a TIGER II grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation. The $16 million grant, out of a requested $21 million, will underwrite a $31 million project to convert Route 34 into a series of multimodal boulevards. The TIGER grants are proving instrumental in achieving “Complete Streets,” a nationwide and increasingly bipartisan effort to create more livable streets that accommodate walkers, joggers and bicyclists. The effort aims to make roads safer by addressing roadway configurations that are unsafe for pedestrians along with implementing appropriate signage and striped walkways.

According to a 2009 report from Transportation for America, more than 76,000 Americans have been killed in the past 15 years while walking along or crossing a street; more than 3,906 children under the age of 16 have been killed in the past decade alone.

Here in Connecticut, the dangers are high. According to a 2010 study by the Alliance for Biking and Walking, nearly 11.5 percent of all trips in Connecticut are made by bicycle or on foot, nearly 2 percent higher than the national average; yet only 0.8 percent of the state’s federal transportation funding is spent on bicycling or pedestrian-oriented projects. Meanwhile, 13.3 percent of traffic fatalities in the state are pedestrians or bicyclists, which is higher than the national average. According to 2009 rankings by the League of American Bicyclists, Connecticut ranked 44th out of 50 states in terms of bike friendliness.

Fortunately, the City of New Haven and community organizations, such as the New Haven Safer Streets Coalition, have made plans to develop safer streets for pedestrians, including a plan passed by the Board of Aldermen in September. Certainly, support from community stakeholders will help in achieving the goals laid out in the plan. Clearly, Yale University would greatly benefit from the safety benefits Complete Streets would deliver its campus community.

Let us call on Yale’s leadership to act as a responsible community member, as it has in the past, and collaborate on mutually beneficial efforts with the City of New Haven to expedite the Complete Streets projects. Specifically, the University’s leadership should help to finance these projects, especially through loans or expenditures that could be reimbursed by grant money within several years. Yale should also use its influence to call on the legislature to allocate more state and federal dollars to safer and more complete streets. While scarce capital dollars often have a lot of competing demands, recommitting to safety and the prevention of traumatic injury should be a key priority for Yale — another way to serve New Haven and invest in its own interests.

Jason Yost is a first-year student at the School of Public Health.

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