City considers converting streets to two-way

The New Haven Department of Transportation is considering converting 10 downtown one-way streets into two-way streets.

The Department of Transportation has brought on Fuss & O’Neill, an engineering consulting firm, to create a new road grid to reflect a pedestrian, bike and car-friendly transportation system. After the firm conducted initial research, it held several charrettes — intense periods of architectual planning — last week at the New Haven Public Library to present its plan and invite comments from New Haven residents. The charrettes opened on Monday with a presentation on the firm’s initial proposal, held several input sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday, and closed on Thursday with a modified plan that incorporated feedback from local residents.

The plan will involve repainting roads to indicate lanes going in opposite directions, painting in bike lanes and posting new signs — a process that will take one to three years, according to Jim Travers, the city’s transportation chief.

“New Haven has a wonderful block street-grid system, and setting that up as two-way makes it a whole lot easier for visitors to navigate for the first time,” said Ted DeSantos, senior vice president of Fuss & O’Neill. “The city becomes more walkable and more enjoyable for those who live downtown.”

For years, the Transportation Department had received numerous complaints about the city’s system of one-way streets, DeSantos said. Motorists voiced frustration at having to take indirect routes to get from one point to another. Bicyclists complained that they did not feel safe opposing the direction of traffic. Pedestrians were concerned that one-way streets promoted speeding.

After new federal dollars became available, the Transportation Department sought ways to address some of the complaints. That effort resulted in a plan to convert ten streets downtown, including Park, York and College Streets from one-way to two-way.

Hundreds of New Haven residents attended the input sessions last Tuesday and Wednesday. Some talked with the seven-member engineering team and learned about the project. Others participated in Open Design Studios — hands-on sessions where they drew and marked up suggestions of conversions on maps of the city.

Though the proposed plan identifies several significant changes, many New Haven residents pushed for more streets to be included in the conversion plan. Many pointed out Elm St. as an example not addressed in the plan.

However, many streets in the city connect to multiple streets, meaning that converting them would require engineers to convert all secondary streets, as well. For example, Elm, Edgewood and Chapel Streets would need to be simultaneously converted, DeSantos said. The team explained that more complex changes would be addressed — funds permitting — after phase one recommendations were implemented.

DeSantos said the amount of community support for the idea was surprising, and dramatic. Locals interviewed at the charrette favored the proposed changes. Many residents expressed optimism that driving, biking and walking would become a lot easier and safer.

However, Yale students interviewed expressed indifference to the proposed changes. Jesse Li ’17 said, though she did not hold a personal opinion, she could see how the conversion might benefit drivers in the city.

Bernard Stanford ’17 said that streets on Yale’s campus were dangerous enough to cross now, so converting them to two-way streets would make little difference in pedestrian safety.

“I don’t think this change will affect my life at all, because I’ve mostly just been rushing out into traffic blindly with full confidence that God will protect me from harm anyway,” he said.

The plan proposed identifies 10 streets to be converted: Dwight, Howe, Park, York, College, Church and Hillhouse Streets on the north-south axis, and George, Crown and Grove Streets on the east-west axis.

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