Cyclists gathered to support a more bike-friendly New Haven at a Board of Alderman Community Development Committee meeting held at City Hall Thursday night.
The city’s plan to redevelop Route 34, called the Downtown Crossing project, will replace the end of highway Route 34 with urban boulevards and commercial real estate. At Thursday’s BOA meeting, members of Elm City Cycling and the Safe Streets Coalition came together to support a resolution urging stronger bike and pedestrian-friendly features for the new design. The group asked specifically for a road of no more than three lanes, and after an evening of debate, it adopted the resolution with a vote of 4-3.
“We object to the over-building of the road and the main concern … is how quickly they get people off the highway,” Board Member of Elm City Cycling, David Streever said.
Streever added that the primary issue was cutting down the number of lanes on the new road. As the plan currently stands, the street would be 60 feet long, making one of the widest in the city, Streever said. A new development, however, would bring more cars into New Haven which may necessitate wider lanes in the future, committee Chairman and Ward 24 Alderman Marcus Paca said.
Since 2007, cycling enthusiasts and organizers have met with city officials in over 100 meetings dedicated to the Route 34 project. Cycling groups have also organized meetings between engineers and architects to propose alternatives, Streever said.
Paca opened the discussion saying that city officials are working to ensure the project stays within its economic limits, adding that the infrastructure development is essential for New Haven’s economic growth.
The project consists of two phases. The construction-oriented first phase already has $33 million of public funding. The second phase of the project, which is dedicated to pedestrian and bike safety, is currently unfunded, said Mark Abraham ’04, coordinator of the New Haven Safe Streets Coalition.
Even though they could not testify, ten bikers demonstrated their support at the meeting by holding signs in the Aldermanic Chambers, advocating “Make it walkable bikable livable” and “The city’s best streets have the calmest traffic.” Many of them, like William O’Grady and Juli Stupakevich, had stories of their own bike accident — O’Grady was involved in an accident with a truck and Stupakevich was injured in a hit-and-run while biking.
The biker-proposed resolution recommends that the city prioritize safety above other concerns, said Abraham, adding that city law already requires this prioritization.
“Bikes are an indicator species for the street environment,” said Anstress Farwell, president of the New Haven Urban Design League. “When conditions are safe for bikes, conditions are safer for all users of the streets — walkers, drivers included.”
Despite these claims, the city’s Office of Economic Development has expressed concerns that the resolution will limit planners and may delay the design schedule of the project, the office staff wrote in a joint letter to Paca.
“Just because we have the time crunch as a variable does not mean that we should rush through and have to live with poor infrastructure,” Stupakevich said.
The Office of Economic Development supports the resolution’s intentions, but its members felt the resolution’s specification for 2 to 3 lanes was too specific, said Kelly Murphy, the city’s economic development administrator.
The city will continue to meet with concerned citizens in the coming weeks, Murphy said.