Intersection near campus to undergo makeover

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Photo by Yale Daily News.

A busy intersection on the outskirts of Yale’s campus is getting a makeover in the interests of pedestrian safety and commercial retail, and the University is pitching in to help foot the bill.

What began as a plan to ease vehicular traffic at the corner of Whitney Avenue and Audubon Street has grown into a full-fledged architectural overhaul of the intersection. Elevated and textured paving, curb extensions and new trees and lights will ease pedestrian crossing and reduce the speed of traffic, while a new sidewalk seating space will transform the intersection into a destination for outdoor dining and other commercial activity, said Jim Travers, the director of the city’s Department of Transportation, Traffic and Parking.

At a price of $320,000 — of which Yale is paying $150,000 — the construction is scheduled to begin as early as October and could be finished by Thanksgiving, Travers said. The Hartford-based architecture firm CDM Smith designed the plans for the intersection, which are currently up for bidding by contractors.

Announcing the designs Monday on the corner of Audubon and Whitney, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. said the project would lend the area a unique sense of place, marked by the seal of the Audubon Arts District in the center of the intersection.

“New Haven is a place that really loves its sidewalks,” DeStefano said at the news conference, adding in a press release that the work is “part of a larger effort by the City to make downtown easily navigable, more attractive, appealing and safe for everyone — pedestrians, motorists and bicyclists.”

The designs employ “complete streets” principals — which emphasize pedestrian, bike and public transit access to roadways — to address longstanding public safety concerns stemming from a makeshift pedestrian crosswalk amid swift northbound traffic on Whitney flowing toward the I-91 freeway. New Haven is the only city in Connecticut to have its own complete streets ordinance, Travers said.

Jane McMillan, the owner of Moe’s Southwest Grill on the corner of Whitney and Audubon, said she is grateful for the planned redevelopment. By forcing drivers to slow down, she said, the city is enhancing the area’s retail potential, making window shopping and outdoor dining more enjoyable. She said the result is “pleasant city living.”

Brandon Gallego, an employee at Koffee on Audubon, said a major problem with the intersection is visibility when trying to cross the street on foot. He said parking on the side of the road, especially for large trucks making deliveries to local businesses, often blocks his view of oncoming traffic.

Visibility problems go both ways, Travers said, as a hump in the road caused by the Farmington Canal blocks drivers’ view of pedestrians. He said the solution is to raise the entire intersection, a proposal that comes with a considerable price tag. As the designs became increasingly complex, he said, they were also tweaked to reflect the character of the surrounding neighborhood.

“The idea of safer crossing morphed into helping Whitney become a real destination in the city,” he said. “We’ve made the designs reflect the unique identity of that area, with the older buildings to the West and newer architecture to the East, and of course the feel of the Audubon Arts District.”

Travers said the plan would not have gone forward without financial assistance from Yale.

“The University saw the benefits they would reap from this and the benefits merchants in the area would reap from this, and they quickly jumped on board,” Travers said.

Yale Spokesman Mike Morand ’87 DIV ’93 said Yale has been a strong force in the renaissance of New Haven’s downtown.

He said Yale chose to invest in the project “on behalf of the merchants located in the neighborhood …”

“These improvements should increase pedestrian traffic in the area, and so will add to Yale’s economic development initiatives by lending support to local merchants,” Morand added.

Ward 7 Alderman Doug Hausladen ’04 traced the project back to 2008, before he represented the district that includes the Whitney and Audubon intersection. At the time, he worked near the intersection and witnessed people “risking life and limb just to cross the street.”

In May of 2008, Hausladen joined 15 other Yale affiliates — including alumni, undergraduates and graduate students — in writing a letter to the former Yale President Richard Levin asking the University to pay more attention to pedestrian and bicycle safety.

“It took four and a half years to get here, but we’re here,” Hausladen said. “The big difference and change of why this is actually happening is because Yale is footing the bill for $150,000 of it. I can’t thank Yale University enough.”

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