New Haven ‘Low Line’ to celebrate regional history

The trail envisioned by architect Dean Sakamoto ARC '98 will run from Temple Street to Whitney Avenue, enabling Yalies to use alternative forms of transportation such as bicycles.
The trail envisioned by architect Dean Sakamoto ARC '98 will run from Temple Street to Whitney Avenue, enabling Yalies to use alternative forms of transportation such as bicycles. Photo by Natasha Thondavadi.

Yalies will soon have another reason to bring their bikes to school.

The Farmington Canal Trail, an approximately 84-mile path between the waterfront in New Haven and Northampton, Mass., will soon carve its way through Yale’s campus. Though New Haven and neighboring communities have been converting the Farmington Canal Railroad into a walking, jogging and biking trail for over a decade, architects are only now turning their attention to the portion that runs through Yale’s campus. On Tuesday, October 25, architect Dean Sakamoto ARC ’98 presented his final conceptual design for this portion of the path at a New Haven public meeting.

Sakamoto, who taught at Yale’s School of Architecture from 1998 to 2011, said he specializes in the architecture of public spaces. Milone & MacBroom, the regional planning, landscaping and engineering firm that has led the trail project, hired Sakamoto to work with them on the New Haven segment of the trail. Though construction began elsewhere on the path in the early 2000s, the part of the Farmington trail that runs through Yale’s campus was left until the last phase of the project because of the complexity of building underground in a highly developed downtown, said Karyn Gilvarg ARC ’75, Executive Director of the New Haven City Plan Department.

Sakamoto said his plans fall into three distinct subsections. A tunnel approximately the length of a football field will stretch from Temple Street to Whitney Avenue, Sakamoto said, and will feature the Farmington Canal’s original 19th-century stonework, as in the stone arch of the Whitney Avenue bridge. The second subsection will add a developed public space below the Park of the Arts on Audobon Street. Pedestrians will be able to access the subterranean park via a ramp from the street.

At Orange Street and Whitney Avenue, the underground trail will widen beneath the Grove Street Parking Garage, creating a large space intended to accommodate community events from farmers’ markets to art fairs, Sakamoto said. The sloped walkway that will join the trail to a plaza at the Orange and Grove intersection, also designed by Sakamoto, will feature a commemorative steel arch honoring the trail’s completion.

Gilvarg said that plans for this phase of the trail were 30 percent complete at the time of Sakamoto’s presentation. The final design, which is conceptually complete but still needs to be fleshed out with technical details, will be finished within a year, Sakamoto said. The city expects construction will begin in about a year and is projected to be finished by 2014, Gilvarg added.

This is the final increment of the “rails to trails” project, an initiative to convert the Farmington Canal Railroad into a public space after the railroad fell out of use in the 1980s, Gilvarg said. The railroad was originally constructed along the Farmington Canal built in the 1820s.

After the railroad was formally abandoned, the city bought most of the land the New Haven portions of the track lie on, Gilvarg said, though Yale also purchased several blocks. Inspired by a national movement in the late ’90s to convert transport routes into public recreational spaces, the city decided to pool local and federal resources to make the large-scale community trail, Gilvarg added.

Sakamoto said his designs will create an exhibit of the trail’s unique history. Plans for the underground Temple-Whitney tunnel, the first of the three subsections, involve an illustrated time line charting the history of the space and its transformation from waterway to railway to greenway, Sakamoto said.

“I believe that spaces can tell stories,” Sakamoto said. “The space is an archaeological site, since some of the railroad track is still there, and we can highlight that through the use of subtle design elements like lighting.”

Two points on the path intersect with the Connecticut Freedom Trail, a collection of sites around the state that document the abolitionist movement in the state, Gilvarg said.

Elements like the timeline may add to New Haven’s growing heritage tourism industry, Gilvarg said. The trail could also bring economic opportunities beyond construction jobs since businesses that cater to commuters might spring up along the path, she added. For example, a bike rental store and ice cream shop that have already opened along a completed section of the trail in Hamden.

Officials in New Haven and Hamden said they believe that the trail will also bring together adjacent Connecticut towns.

“As far as Hamden and New Haven are concerned, we are communities that have all too often neglected to appreciate our similarities,” Frank Cooper, superintendent of the Hamden Parks Department, said. “Hopefully, traversing between the two will help residents of both towns make a positive connection.”

New Haven and Hamden collaborated on the project’s finances, Gilvarg said, reallocating funds so that Hamden, which began construction first, could access funding earlier.

The two towns are working together, along with Yale, to organize a patrol system that will ensure the safety of pedestrians and bikers on the trail, Gilvarg said. Currently, blue lights dot the completed portions of the path and officials are discussing lighting the entirety of the underground segments. Sakamoto said he has also designed steel gates for the Temple-Whitney tunnel that will lock during evening hours, forcing nighttime users of the trail to take an above ground detour.

The first master plan for New Haven’s portion of the Farmington Canal Trail was presented in 1998.

CORRECTION: Nov. 10, 2011

An earlier version of this article did not include Karyn Gilvarg’s ARC ’75 class year.

Comments

  • streever

    New Haven needs to decide if this trail is for recreation of transporation–considering the large number of Hamden residents who use it to commute to work in New Haven and the woefully inadequate road infrastructure for cyclists, I would argue solidly that this trail NEEDS to be left open 24/7 to allow for safe and convenient bicycle commuting. It is very odd that this is not the “default” mode.

  • btcl

    um, someone just got punched on this