Although driving is still the preferred way to travel between home and work in New Haven, the city’s Department of Transportation, Traffic and Parking is hoping to incentivize residents to use alternative forms of transportation. With new bike lanes and a transportation contest called Go New Haven Go, the city is working to reduce its carbon footprint and make New Haven a bicycle-friendly city.
As part of a $135 million Downtown Crossing project aimed at increasing bike and pedestrian traffic in the downtown area, green bike lanes were painted in July on roads that commuters use to travel into the city. The lanes appeared on several blocks of Martin Luther King Boulevard, College Street, Church Street and Elm Street. To supplement these efforts, Mayor Toni Harp and Sen. Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73 have also championed Go New Haven Go, a month-long contest that challenges residents to find cheaper and safer modes of getting around town.
“Go New Haven Go is all about thinking outside the car, reducing carbon impact and increasing overall quality of life,” said Doug Hausladen ’04, director of transportation and head of the New Haven Parking Authority. Hausladen, who bikes to work each day, added, “I’ve noticed a difference in my own commute.”
Director of the New Haven/Léon Sister City Project Chris Schweitzer originally organized the pilot program in 2014 with the goal of cutting greenhouse emissions. The Sister City Project is a local nonprofit that conducts educational relief work in León, Nicaragua — an area that was devastated by a 1998 hurricane. Go New Haven Go was developed as a way to educate New Haven residents about the benefits of biking and walking: improved health, less air pollution and greater access to jobs in the city. A recent report published by DataHaven cited poor transportation as a significant barrier to jobs in the city.
Building off its success in the first year of the program, Schweitzer and the Sister City Project invited New Haven and other partners to get involved in Go New Haven Go’s second edition. Groups including CTRides and the Yale Office of Sustainability have been meeting with city officials on a monthly basis. This month, Go New Haven Go will advertise NuRides, a website where users can log their trips with alternative transportation and earn restaurant coupons, free tickets and tax discounts.
The month of competition kicked off with an event on Monday called “Walk the Walk.” Blumenthal, Harp and other city officials walked from City Hall to Broadway, where the Office of Sustainability hosted a celebration alongside The Shops at Yale.
According to Associate Director of the Office of Sustainability Melissa Goodall, the University will take an active role throughout September, planning a series of events on campus and partnering with New Haven organizations to organize other activities in the city.
“Yale is a major employer in the area,” Goodall said. “We are eager to partner with the mayor’s office and other organizations in the area to enhance the environmental, social and economic vitality of New Haven. This initiative is a terrific way for Yale and the city to support each other.”
The goal of both Go New Haven Go and the new bike lanes is to make the streets safer for bikers of all ages and to promote green travel in New Haven. The city was recently certified by the League of American Bicyclists as a “bronze” city, its third-highest award.
The city’s biking community is growing, but Hausladen said there are still not enough people willing and able to make the ride.
“Right now we just don’t have a true gut measure of how many people we could be serving on two wheels,” Hausladen said.
City officials and residents have also said the new lanes are not a cure-all for bicyclists. Because cars and trucks may accidentally pass or turn into the lanes, bikers should use the lanes with caution, Hausladen said. Educating drivers about respecting the new lanes is as important as the lanes themselves, added Matthew Feiner, founder of the Devil’s Gear Bike Shop.
When Feiner moved to New Haven nearly 20 years ago, he said cycling in the city “sucked.” However, new state laws that protect cyclists and pedestrians in auto-accidents and mandate three feet of passing space have also made biking much safer in the community. Nonetheless, bike lanes are only a small step in a larger process of improving biking infrastructure in New Haven, Feiner said.
There are still several dangerous intersections in the city, Feiner said. The meeting of Orange and Trumbull streets is a notoriously dangerous spot for bikers, Feiner said, and the Broadway-Elm-Whalley intersection is also congested.
The next step in the design of the bike lanes is to prevent drivers from turning across a bike lane, said Hausladen. He said he hopes to put thermoplastic, a concrete mixture, in the intersection to demarcate where the bike lane continues, essentially making a crosswalk for cyclists.