Noah Kazis ’10 wrote a column last week (“The Yale seat, for the city,” March 25) urging the Ward 1 alderman to focus on the city’s needs, to take the wider view and be the visionary unfettered by the needs of his constituents. Essentially, he argues that so far as New Haven is concerned, Yalies don’t have needs.
That’s a beautiful position to contemplate: the students of Yale, high in their ivory tower in a Gotham-esque city, full of objective wisdom untainted by the menial needs or wants of education, sanitation and crime. While other aldermen worry about their constituents, we can send a thinker, a philosopher king who can be the visionary who responds to “broader city issues.” It’s a sublime vision, but I’m afraid it’s also a false one.
I have a need. It’s menial. It’s self-interested. There’s very little noble or visionary about it and it will make townie commuters’ lives more difficult, but in this case, I honestly think that I matter more.
I want stop signs. Lots and lots of stop signs. Vast red forests of octagons. I want stop signs on Park, I want stop signs on Grove, I want stop signs on Prospect, but above all I want stop signs on Elm. I think it’s stupid and it’s dangerous that I have to play chicken with the citizens of New Haven just walking to class; I think it creates unnecessary animosity between students and townies, and I think it’s unpleasant having that much traffic coursing through the middle of our campus.
But first, a step back. Though I call for stop signs, what New Haven really needs is to remember what their streets are for and whom they serve, to rediscover their telos, so to speak.
Highways are obvious: They are all about getting cars from point A to point B with as few obstacles as possible. Toward that end they have wide shoulders and lack any impeding signage, and crossing parties are vented onto bridges and underpasses. I can live with that.
Urban streets are different. An urban street is no longer just about the car. Now there are destinations, shops, people living next to the street and pedestrians. Accommodating the urban fabric means reigning in the car. That means slowing it down, civilizing it and, while not preventing drive-throughs, certainly discouraging them.
An ideal urban street is narrow, runs two ways, is lined with parking spots, and has stop signs. Making it narrow makes the driver insecure and more cautious. A two-way street also slows down traffic and accommodates the driver actually driving somewhere nearby, whereas the net of one-ways waits to snatch you after your first lapse, frustrating drivers. The parking spots make local travel still more convenient and make pedestrians feel secure by providing a literal wall of steel between them and the street. Finally, the stop signs save everyone from stop-light syndrome, in which a driver sees five green lights and guns it down the road, lest he miss the fifth. They also make the criminal’s life more difficult: Slow traffic blocks fast getaways. Finally, cars and trucks that aren’t accelerating are quieter, vastly improving the life of anyone with a street-side window.
The notion of an urban street was lost with the decline of America’s urban core. As cities became derelict and dangerous, engineers rigged systems to move people through them as fast as possible: wide, one-way streets with traffic lights. Though that logic still reigns in New Haven, many cities, including my own, have implemented the above changes with stunning success. They make neighborhoods safer, drivers and pedestrians happier and neighborhoods more livable.
Nonetheless, Elm Street remains a veritable shooting gallery, an array of cars and motorcycles charging students in unison. As New Haven’s largest and most committed pedestrian population, we are more affected by this issue than any other constituency. Every day students put their lives on the line because the government of New Haven has failed to acknowledge that Elm Street has no business as a major traffic artery; that residents, pedestrians, businesses and local drivers have more claim to the street than drive-throughs.
It’s tempting to pretend that we, as students, don’t have city issues that actually affect us. It’s tempting to pretend that we can be disinterested and vote for the candidate who presents the best plan for some ambitious program that doesn’t concern us and at best will be a 10-year process. The truth, however, is that we do have an issue. We need an alderman who will push for stop signs.
Nicolas Kemper is a sophomore in Pierson College and a Production & Design staffer for the News.