Elm City Cycling drew attention to Mayor Toni Harp’s unfulfilled election promise to construct separate bike lanes on New Haven streets last Saturday.
Harp originally stated her intention to install cycletracks — bike lanes separated from roads and parking lanes — by the end of her first term as mayor in her 2014 State of the City address. With Harp’s first two-year term soon drawing to a close, Elm City Cycling is putting pressure on her to act now.
Plans for two cycletracks were originally set last year to be constructed in the Elm City, one over Tomlinson Bridge, one on Edgewood Avenue and one on Long Wharf Drive, according to Elm City Cycling Education Committee Chair Melinda Tuhus. However, almost six months after the cycletracks were scheduled to be built, construction has not yet started. The proposal for the cycletracks aims to protect and grow New Haven’s population of cyclists, which is the second-largest in New England.
The city has no recent plans for the Edgewood and Tomlinson Bridge cycletracks listed on the New Haven Department of Transportation, Traffic and Parking website. According to Doug Hausladen ’04, director of the department, delays in cycletrack completion are largely due to construction on the Q Bridge and laws banning two-way bike lanes. The cycletracks are now slated for construction in 2016.
To overcome these challenges, the Harp administration worked with Gov. Dannel Malloy and the Legislative Commissioners’ Office to pass the Bicycle Safety Bill, which allows buffered and two-way bike lanes, and create the Urban Connectivity Program to help New Haven and other Connecticut cities receive funding for the redesign of transportation infrastructure, Hausladen said. He added that New Haven has now received state approval and $1.2 million of funding for the transportation project.
“We are poised to bring real bike lanes — safe and separate — to as many major streets as possible and build safe street crossings and intersections to protect pedestrians as well,” Harp said in her State of the City address last year.
In the same speech, Harp addressed the importance of access to safe transportation, calling it a civil rights issue. She said the addition of more efficient transportation would bolster job growth and provide opportunity for the people of New Haven. Elm City Cycling members said that providing infrastructure for cyclists falls under the umbrella of improving transportation.
Tuhus said Elm City Cycling members feel like they are on the “same page as the mayor,” but also that the city should make cycletracks a higher priority.
“Now, having just won the election for a second term as mayor and just two months away from the end of her first term, Elm City Cycling would like to remind Mayor Harp of that promise and encourage her to devote whatever resources are needed to bring it to fruition,” Elm City Cycling board member Bill Kurtz said.
Tuhus said she hopes providing resources for cycling, such as a bicycle renting service, will encourage people who are interested in cycling but concerned for their safety to start biking.
She cited a study conducted by bicycling advocacy group PeopleforBikes, which states that the addition of protected bike lanes is linked to, on average, a 75 percent increase in cyclists within one year of construction.
“In every city where they put in separated bike lanes, that’s what really kick-starts a movement towards cycling,” Tuhus said. “The more people that are riding, the safer it is for everyone.”
According to Kurtz, low-income cyclists — those making under $30,000 a year — are twice as likely as their high-income counterparts to be injured while biking on the road. He said because bike commuting is most popular in the lowest income quartile, providing safer bike lanes is good for public health and the local economy. He also cited a 2014 study released by Environmental Health Perspectives, which states that every dollar a city spends on bicycle infrastructure returns between $6 and $24 in benefits.