While New Haven’s Community Development Committee met last week to discuss a redevelopment plan for Route 34, New Haven bikers, car owners and environmental activists held their breaths.
The project will remake an area of the city bounded by Dwight Street, Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, Orchard Street and Legion Avenue, partly filling the void left by Route 34 West, which was never built. The project — coordinated by developer Centerpoint Companies along with nonprofit Continuum Healthcare — will include facilities for the nonprofit such as a pharmacy, an office building, a restaurant and a parking garage. The project is an attempt to correct a 1959 decision to build an expressway directly through the center of lower-class housing. However, at the meeting last Wednesday many New Haven alders and city residents expressed concern that the project will be deleterious for bikers, car owners and for the environment.
Ward 16 Alder Michelle Perez said she noticed how little space is given to bike lanes in the artist’s rendering of the development. As an avid biker herself, Perez said cyclers would need something more than just wider street lanes.
“Right now, if you ride your bike on the street, you’re going to get run over by a car,” she said.
Currently riding a bike on the sidewalk is illegal, a law that Perez said she is in favor of changing.
Ward 18 Alder Salvatore DeCola, chair of the City Services and Environmental Policy Committee, said that given New Haven’s narrow streets, the roads are often not wide enough to make the access for everyone to ride safely. DeCola added that New Haven does not have enough public transit acess, including opportunities for bicycles.
Ward 2 Alder Frank Douglass said he would agree to bike lanes or other bike accommodations, even if they come at a higher price. Douglass added that bike lanes are worth the cost to keep both bikers and motorists safe.
Some alders are also concerned that the project will create greater traffic, leading to air quality problems. However, Centerplan Companies CEO Bob Landino said the vote to build the highway passed unanimously— adding that this proved environmental concerns are mostly unfounded.
Centerplan Companies CEO Robert Landino said he and his company are in constant communication with the city so that they will not repeat the mistakes of urban renewal. Urban renewal was a movement in the 50s and 60s that leveled city neighborhoods by building roads that led to the suburbs.
“I would support bike lanes, but I need more information,” DeCola said. However, he said that as long as it was both within state and city saftey parameters, he would vote for expanded bike access. Regardless of potential new bike lanes, the development proposal will include a signficant reduction in parking spaces for New Haven drivers — an intentional break from urban renewal that would encourage driving. According to Mark Abraham ’04, executive director of Datahaven, driving rates among younger workers started to decline well before the recession hit in 2007, and have continued to drop ever since.
Abraham also indicated that a new highway will not help lower-income families in need of jobs, citing a 2012 DataHaven Survey, which showed that only 77 percent of low-income families in the greater New Haven area have regular access to a car, compared to 98 percent of families making over $50,000 each year.
Yale School of Management professor Douglas Rae, who served as the city’s chief administrative officer from 1990 to 1991 under Mayor John Daniels, added that though he supports the project, he hopes the city will not lose steam on other initiatives such as improving the school system, keeping the city safe and bringing more jobs to New Haven.
“I think by now, the predominant issues are not so much bricks, mortar and cement as soft tissue,” he said.
The current phase of development covers 5.39 acres of land and is expected to cost approximately $50 million to complete.