With her dog Toohey perched on her lap, Brianne Mullen, the urban sustainability associate for the Yale Office of Sustainability, held a discussion on Thursday about Yale’s efforts to encourage sustainable transportation on and off campus.
Seven people attended the event, which was hosted by Yale’s urban studies discussion group, CITY Yale. Mullen spoke about the university’s transportation-related and New Haven-focused initiatives, beginning with an outline of the history of New Haven followed by one focusing on modern initiatives. Mullen said many of the issues with present-day transportation stem from the midcentury, when cities were built with one-way streets designed for commuters in private cars rather than residents walking or taking public transportation.
“Car became king and streets were designed to move cars more efficiently in and out of the cities, New Haven included, because cities were places where people thought of issues around blight, crime and poverty,” Mullen said.
New Haven was planned on a grid system. The street grid later turned into one-way streets in which people would enter and exit the city from the two main arteries of North and South Frontage roads to help commuters get downtown to work and then back to the suburbs, Mullen said.
Decades later, Mullen finds herself working on transportation programs that fight against the city infrastructure that’s been built for one-way streets. The city has hired a consultant to examine how to convert one-way streets into two-way streets — a complicated process that involves changing light infrastructure and gauging the impact on traffic. Mullen said she believes Church Street will be the first New Haven street to undergo such a change.
At the event, Mullen also discussed sustainability planning efforts on Yale’s campus. The University released a new sustainability plan in October, Mullen said, the first such plan that highlighted Yale’s position within New Haven in terms of shared systems such as transportation.
Mullen said that as an open campus, Yale is unusual because it lacks traditional boundaries separating the university from its surroundings. The University doesn’t own the streets or systems that surround it, so urban planning or infrastructure initiatives at Yale have to be tied to the city systems.
“So we have to do it together,” Mullen said. “We can’t just make a decision about transportation or planning at Yale by ourselves.”
At the moment, both Yale and New Haven are working to realize new sustainability plans. Mullen pointed to the city’s Climate and Sustainability Framework, which was released earlier this month, as one recent step.
Yale’s sustainability plan includes 38 goals and nine broad ambitions. One of these ambitions is mobility. By 2019, Yale aims to complete a Sustainable Transportation Framework and related analyses for enhancing sustainable transportation infrastructure on and across campus. And by 2025, the University hopes to increase the proportion of university community members commuting to campus via sustainable transportation by 10 percent compared to 2015 levels.
“We’re not trying to get people off of transit systems. The advantage that New Haven has that is one of the only cities in the state that is actually growing,” Mullen said. “I think that it’s chicken and egg. Do you try to get people out of their cars first or do we improve transit infrastructure first? It really has to be a twofold policy.”
Andy Sandweiss ’19, co-president of CITY Yale, worked with Mullen the summer after his first year at Yale. He said he decided to invite her for the discussion because her work bridges the gap between Yale and New Haven.
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Clarification, Feb. 24: The details of North and South Frontage roads were corrected to reflect the New Haven grid more accurately.