Urban advocates call for transportation reform

An unnamed group of concerned New Haven residents has organized to advocate for improved public transportation, specifically reforming the Elm City’s bus system.

This nascent group of “tactical urbanists,” as they call themselves, consists of urban planners, students and New Haven residents aiming to make New Haven a more resident-friendly city. Josh Isackson ’15 ’15, head of the Yale Urban Collective, explained that this tactical urbanism approach requires a combination of do-it-yourself architecture and urban planning to make small differences in the city. The group held a think-tank meeting to discuss problems and potential solutions to the bus system Monday night in the Bourse — New Haven’s coworking loft located at 839 Chapel St.

Robert Orr, a professional architect and co-organizer of the group, described tactical urbanism as an international group “spearheaded by the younger generation of people who are fed up with the ‘can’t do’ attitude.” The group’s current project is making New Haven’s public transportation more easily accessible.

“The bus system is too confusing — it’s impossible unless you’re a frequent user,” said Julie Flynn, a co-organizer of New Haven’s tactical urbanists.

According to Flynn, public transportation is intimidating for first-time users because there are specific hot spots that make some commuters feel unsafe.

“We’re looking at the hesitant,” Flynn added.

In an effort to better understand how to make the bus system more accessible, the group plans to conduct research by riding the buses from 15 different locations to Union Station and then comparing their experiences. They will assess the bus system’s efficiency, ticketing process, customer service and reliability. From there, the group plans to identify ways the bus system can be made more attractive to commuters.

One area of focus is educating people on how to use the bus system. According to Orr, while system information is available online, many users either do not understand route options or are unable to access the data altogether.

New Haven’s tactical urbanists identified other problems with the city’s bus system at the Monday meeting, including an inefficient “hub and spoke” bus route by which buses take indirect routes between key commuter stops. According to the group, some potential bus riders may be deterred because other methods of transportation, such as biking, are more efficient.

Tactical urbanist members said they do not yet have a plan on how they will increase public transportation accessibility. But they added that they will start with increasing awareness about the bus system.

“We’re still at a research gathering phase,” Flynn said.

After working on the bus system, tactical urbanist members said they may seek to implement the INSIDE OUT project, a New Haven art-installation initiative. INSIDE OUT is an international project that gives locals the opportunity to share their portraits in public art.

So far, tactical urbanists in New Haven have participated in Park(ing) Day, in which they rented out a metered space by Cross Campus to show how the space can be better used. They have also helped with bike lane installment and increasing the number of crosswalks available in the city.

According to Orr, the tactical urbanists work mostly with volunteers.

“It’s not about grants, it’s about doing things that get attention,” he said.

This Wednesday, New Haven’s tactical urbanists will be hosting Joe Minicozzi, an urban development consultant, to discuss finances and taxes in New Haven.

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