Today, a group of alumni and current students, who are residents of New Haven and supporters of the New Haven Safe Streets Coalition, submitted the following open letter to President Richard Levin regarding Yale’s expansion.

The letter calls on President Levin to improve campus-wide traffic safety and walkability prior to the construction of any new buildings, and urges the University to establish a high-level traffic safety commission charged with taking steps to eliminate traffic-related injuries and fatalities on and around the campus.

Dear President Levin,

As current Yale students, alumni and residents of New Haven, we are writing to offer our congratulations on the approval of Yale’s expansion to fourteen colleges.  We were particularly impressed by the thoroughness of the Study Group report, which is perhaps the finest planning document ever produced by a university administration.

If our company of scholars and friends wishes to preserve the intimacy of Yale by ensuring that the new residential colleges feel less remote from the traditional campus center — one of the key goals of the Study Group report — the number one priority must be for the streets of New Haven to be made safer, more walkable and bikeable.  The distances involved in this project, though significant in their own right when compared with the unique density of the central campus, are primarily psychological — particularly to students who must cross extremely dangerous streets such as Elm and Grove several times per day on foot.  This problem has been exacerbated by recent construction sites across the campus that do not make express accommodation for pedestrians, with blind corners, concrete bollards and fencing that endanger lives and lack appropriate signaling, signage, traffic calming or other progressive traffic safety measures.

Particularly in light of 11-year-old Gabrielle Lee, who was killed in a hit and run on Whalley Avenue in June, and the astonishing (but largely unpublished) number of Yale students severely injured in traffic-related incidents in New Haven just within the past two years, including Mila Rainof MED ’08 who was killed near the Yale School of Medicine in April, it is clear that now is the time for urgent action on this issue.

If our city and campus streets were designed for our community’s health and enjoyment, rather than for moving the greatest number of automobiles as rapidly as possible through them, the entire dynamic of our city and the Yale campus — socially, culturally, economically and environmentally — would change.  Hundreds of traffic-related injuries could easily be prevented.  Distances would feel shorter due to the expansion of the average walking radius.

The problem of perceived distance was referred to many times in the Study Group report, but the specific importance of traffic safety issues was not adequately addressed as part of it. Within the immediate vicinity of the Yale campus in particular, where pedestrian traffic (and therefore, risk) is very high, most speed limits should be reduced to a 15-20 m.p.h. pace – the highest speed at which a pedestrian-motor vehicle collision is not likely to be fatal.  Curb extensions that improve pedestrian visibility, medians, narrowed, raised or marked crosswalks, in-street signage and other traffic calming measures are desperately needed.

Although Yale deserves significant praise for promoting sustainable transportation systems, for developing an excellent relationship with the city of New Haven, and for important infrastructure improvements (including, near the site of the new colleges, cash commitments for additional pedestrian signalization, commuter lockers and showers, bicycle/pedestrian infrastructure and the completion of the Farmington Canal Greenway), additional measures must be taken by all parties involved — and as the Study Group recommends, completed prior to the construction of any new residential colleges.  The University should consider creating a high-level traffic safety commission with the broad powers, resources and responsibilities needed to immediately improve the safety of our community around all areas of the Yale Campus and at the new West Campus. One of the greatest legacies of your administration could be ending the epidemic of serious traffic-related injuries and deaths that occur on and around the University every year.

Beyond the immediate purview of the Yale campus, all levels of local, regional and state government, private institutions, nonprofit organizations, major employers and individual citizens must continue to work cooperatively on this issue and begin planning our city using 21st-century principles that emphasize safety, economic viability, and alternative forms of transportation along with more traditional concerns such as motor-vehicle capacity. Every street in New Haven must be reevaluated for its impact on safety.  Organizations such as the Yale Medical Campus Traffic Safety Group, one of the founding members of the newly-created New Haven Safe Streets Coalition, are actively working for pedestrian and driver education programs directed towards students, employees and area residents, improved enforcement of traffic laws and progressive infrastructure improvements, and will need the continued support of the University.

Best regards,

Mark Abraham, YC ’04
Carole Bass, YC ’83, MSL ’97
Hon. Ward 2 Alderwoman Gina L. Calder, YC ’03, EPH ’08
Hon. Ward 6 Alderwoman Dolores Colon, YC ’91
Kevin Currey, YC ’09
Justin Elicker, FES/SOM ’10
Doug Hausladen, YC ’04
Angel Hertslet, YC ’08
Erica Mintzer, MED ’09
Tiffany Ng, YC ’05
Hon. Ward 1 Alderwoman Rachel Plattus, YC ’09
Adler Prioly, YC ’09
Rob Rocke, GRD ’97
Hunter Smith, LAW ’10
Jason Stockmann, GRD ’10
Rachel Wattier, MED ’09

The authors are supporters of New Haven Safe Streets, a coalition of individual neighborhood associations, business districts, organizations and residents advocating for the adoption of a citywide strategy to reduce the number of traffic-related injuries in New Haven.