The Traffic Enforcement Division of the New Haven Police Department will double in size, city officials announced Wednesday morning.
Standing alongside Mayor Toni Harp on the steps of City Hall, NHPD Chief Dean Esserman told a small crowd at a press conference that the department is doubling the number of motor officers and also purchasing new motorcycles. The division, which currently operates seven motorcycles with six motor officers, will be adding six additional motor officers.
Harp, who introduced Esserman, said the measure aims to not only enforce penalties on those who violate motor vehicle laws, but also raise awareness of traffic safety procedures and call attention to the risks street traffic poses in the city.
“It all sounds great until all those walkers, runners, bike riders and pedestrians start mixing it up with cars and trucks on our streets, sidewalks and crosswalks,” Harp said at the press conference. “It’s clear to me we must do all we can to separate the cars and trucks from all those other vulnerable users. Because in almost every single case, if a vulnerable user comes in contact with a car or truck, the vulnerable user will lose.”
Esserman said the employee and equipment increase in the division, which entails adding another work shift for officers, will lead to more motor officers working in more neighborhoods throughout the city. He also said two bicycle officers will be working in each of New Haven’s 10 districts.
“We’ll have 30 to 40 bikes in the city now for the first time,” Esserman said.
City officials stressed that the measure seeks to improve the safety of pedestrians, cyclists and drivers alike in the city.
Ward 8 Alder Aaron Greenberg GRD ’18 said the expansion is an important first step for improving traffic safety, an issue of concern in many Elm City neighborhoods. Last fall, an 81-year-old woman was killed in a fatal accident while crossing the intersection of Olive and Greene Streets in Wooster Square.
Director of Transportation for New Haven Doug Hausladen ’04 said there has been consistent demand for the increase of traffic enforcement since 2008, when the New Haven Safe Streets coalition garnered over 2,000 signatures on a petition. He also said the division staff additions are consistent with Esserman’s recent increase in police training classes.
Hausladen cited the relatively high number of New Haven residents without cars as evidence for the need for the division expansion. He said that, according to a recent report, 30 percent of New Haven homes do not have access to cars.
“That means that over 30 percent of our workers are trying to get to work outside of a vehicle, and these measures are all about improving safety on our streets for all our users,” Hausladen said. “As the mayor said, our streets are shared and sacred spaces for all of us to share equally and enjoy.”
Hausladen also said the press conference was timed for April to highlight Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and that the Department of Transportation will be working jointly with the Department of Parks and Recreation to educate cyclists.