Yale starts new traffic committee

A new University subcommittee aims to make students’ lives safer by improving conditions on New Haven roads.

After a report released in 2009 by the Yale College Council and the New Haven Safe Streets Coalition, Yale initially added the issue of traffic safety to the agenda of the University Safety Committee. But two weeks ago, to relieve the workload of the Safety Committee, Yale created the Yale Traffic Safety Subcommittee to evaluate the ongoing pedestrian safety situation of the University, especially as Yale expands geographically to encompass the two new residential colleges. Kirsten Bechtel, associate professor of pediatric emergency medicine, who will be chairing the committee, said she hopes that the committee, which has still not met, will meet by the end of April.

“It took a long time to set it up, we’re happy that the University finally did that,” said Mark Abraham ’04, co-coordinator of New Haven Safe Streets Coalition and member of the committee that released the 2009 report.

Bechtel said that changing the mindsets of pedestrians, bikers and drivers in New Haven to foster safer road-sharing was the committee’s priority. The committee should be able to make the area around Yale’s campus safer for everyone, she said. “I think if we can change our mindsets that we all need to share the road with others, whether we are driving, walking or biking, that will be a big first step in making the roads safer,” Bechtel said.

A key part of doing that is reducing jaywalking. The 2009 report recommended that the police should warn or perhaps even ticket pedestrians and cyclists who ignore right-of-way laws.

The law states that jaywalkers do not have the right of way unless they have the light, Bechtel said, adding that most pedestrians tend to incorrectly assume that they always have the right of way. She said public service announcements were the best way for the city to educate New Havenites about the dangers of jaywalking.

“Jaywalking is a finable offense and we discourage it,” said Personnel & Labor Relations Coordinator Lieutenant Steven D. Woznyk. “Periodically we do focus on crosswalk violations in various areas. Typically we use this as an opportunity to educate offenders and usually issue a written warning.”

Abraham said that the new committee is necessary to address traffic safety issues in a more systematic way.

“The number of students who have been injured is disturbing,” Abraham said. He said that many intersections have been identified as dangerous by traffic safety experts, and he hopes they can finally be addressed.

One example of a dangerous intersection, both Abraham and Bechtel said, is the intersection of York Street with North and South Frontage Streets. The intersection is both an exit from Route 34 and the route from the center of campus to the medical school. Drivers exiting from Route 34 are often going way too fast, Abraham said, and until recently, there were not even crossing signals to tell pedestrians when to cross.

Yale School of Medicine

According to the Yale Office of Public Affairs and Communications, the release of the report was motivated by the death of Mila Rainof MED ’08, who was struck and killed by a car in April 2008 when crossing the College and Frontage intersection.

Bechtel said that even though crosswalk lights were finally installed in 2009, the intersection could still be made safer. The problem now, she said, is that pedestrians don’t wait for the light and drivers go fast, which is dangerous given the pedestrian density of the area.

“If the intersection safety camera bill (red light camera bill) passes this year, I would advocate installing them along the Frontage Roads to deter motorists running the red light,” Bechtel said.

Peter Reinhardt, the director of the Office of Environmental Safety, who was responsible for setting up the committee, said that the traffic lights at College and Frontage had been a good example of improving traffic safety. He also said that traffic calming measures such as speed bumps and narrower streets were good ways to force drivers to slow down and be more alert while driving.

Abraham said that traffic safety would be an ever-greater issue as the University expanded. With the addition of two new colleges, students would be walking farther away from central campus. To keep the new colleges from being isolated, he said, the routes will need to be easy and safe.

“We’re pretty excited about this,” Reinhardt said.

The committee has no plans for a report at this time.

Correction: April 3, 2011

An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the 2008 traffic accident involving (or: that killed) Mila Rainof MED ’08 took place at the intersection of South Frontage and College St. The accident happened at the intersection of South Frontage and York St.

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