Last Monday, two admitted students were struck by a car crossing Elm Street, causing them both to be hospitalized. And honestly? I’m surprised that we didn’t witness an accident sooner. Since arriving at Yale in August, I have been both intrigued and horrified by the sheer danger that Elm Street presents. We all know the feeling of awkwardly sprinting across three lanes, trying to beat out the tidal wave of cars let loose by a green light just up the block. In its current state, the automotive thoroughfare is located between two of the busiest locations on campus — Yale and New Haven should work together to prioritize pedestrians and create a safer walking experience. But at the end of the day, this incident hints at a larger issue of Yale’s setting within the urban fabric of New Haven.

The City of New Haven has long recognized that jaywalking on Elm Street is a problem. In a 2015 report published by the city government, planning researchers noted how “pedestrians are crossing Elm Street mid-block between High Street and College Streets” and categorized this behavior as a primary issue to be addressed. The report recommends converting Elm from a one-way street to a two-way street, which would slow vehicular traffic and lead to a safer pedestrian experience. Bureaucratic processes take time, however — the aforementioned report describes the Elm Street conversion as a long-term project that will be implemented five or more years after the recommendations were published in 2015. Optimistically, we can assume that the project is still on schedule. But whether this is true or not, we are not precluded from starting a dialogue about livable streets in New Haven and exploring even more radical options for Elm and the rest of the city.

Recent research has elucidated the many benefits of two-way street conversions, but the findings are preliminary and neighborhood dynamics are affected by more variables than what direction cars travel down the road.

I like to daydream, so here are some of my ruminations for Elm (in ascending order of ridiculousness practicality):

1) Reduce the street to two lanes by adding a planted median in the middle and creating another crosswalk halfway between College Street and High Street. This would increase the aesthetic value of the street, reduce the volume of vehicle traffic, reduce the speed of traffic and give pedestrians another crossing point.

2) Create a series of pedestrian bridges along Elm — in addition to looking super cool, nobody would ever need to risk their life trying to get in a 4:59 p.m. Durfee’s swipe.

3) Completely bury Elm Street, creating a semi-subterranean tunnel with an urban park in place of the existing road, similar to the Tunnel Tops project in San Francisco.

4) Just ban all automobiles in New Haven. Easy! You can’t have car accidents without speeding steel boxes careening around, right?

But in all seriousness, and even more important than my fantasies of car abolishment (I grudgingly admit), pedestrian-focused planning can have a positive impact on Yale, New Haven and the interaction between Yalies and New Haven residents. Consider, for instance, the roughly 2.5-mile trip from campus to the Yale Bowl, a frequent route for varsity and club sports athletes, alongside spectators for weekend games. Students, myself included, call Ubers or hop on Yale-chartered buses to head out to the fields, absorbed in conversation or their phones for the duration of the 10-minute drive, the New Haven scenery passing by as a mere blur outside the window. Now imagine a dedicated bike path to the Bowl instead, a piece of infrastructure that fits into a larger bicycle path network that could be built to serve the New Haven community and Yale students alike.

The absence of casual interaction between Yalies and New Havenites can certainly be attributed, at least in part, to a lack of overlapping public space. From what I have noticed, Yale students seldom interact with residents beyond structured volunteering events. While the unification of our two communities over the horrific shooting of Stephanie Washington and Paul Witherspoon III is to be admired, tragedies should not be the only catalyst for New Havenites and Yalies to come together; informal, day-to-day interaction can build community much more effectively than scheduled gatherings.

Elm Street could be a link between the home of hundreds of impressionable first years and the epicenter of New Haven, the Green. Pedestrianizing Elm would ameliorate automobile dangers for hurried Yalies, but more importantly, act as a conduit between New Haven and Yale by providing a shared space that would create casual interaction.

But let’s not wait for the completion of the Elm Street conversion for that to occur. Go walk around New Haven. Notice how urban spaces shape our behavior. Understand that cities aren’t stagnate. And then? Come up with some ideas of your own.

Kapp Singer is a first year in Grace Hopper College. Contact him at kapp.singer@yale.edu .

  • Elliot Britton

    Such an interesting piece Kapp. Have there been proposals for a pedestrian crossing across elm? Perhaps one whose timing syncs with the high street light?

    • yalie

      Why not use one of the two that exist: at York and College?

  • heavensdoor

    Paul Witherspoon was robbing a working man and he was not shot.
    The two police officers were responding to a call that came in from a
    store clerk that said that Witherspoon was not only robbing the poor
    Register worker but with a gun. THAT is the call the 2 police officers received.
    Mr. Witherspoon was the problem..and the clerk for intentionally adding “gun” to get
    a quicker response by the police. Before any facts were in the two african american police officers were hung out to dry.. two people who are trying in their lives to be part of the solution..not like the two muggers who were not. By the way the female told an emergency person.. that her boyfriend just committed a robbery and she got shot.
    Dragging out Rev. Kimber the felon showed me just how crazy this was going to be. Yalies protesting before one iota of truth was established. Talk about a rush to judgement. Your heroes are now criminals is that correct? No wonder black females and males don’t want to join police departments..look how they are treated before any facts are in. Mr. Witherspoon should go out and work for a living and not steal what others have earned. He’s the problem in society..not a victim.

    • John Sand

      Blah blah blah blah.

  • heavensdoor

    Town and gown never mixed..only when it was a “fixed” event. Yalies think they are better than the people around them..there and elsewhere. They also walk right in front of vehicles because being a Yalie and mostly wealthy people the commoner..aka driver should just get out of their way. It’s actually more amazing more haven’t been hit..apparently the common sense gene doesn’t mix well with other types of intelligence. I worked in the downtown area for many years and had to walk alot..from my office.. and trust me I never came close to getting hit by a vehicle of any sort. you have to pay attention and be careful. What a concept.

  • 45rpm

    Nice article. Your option #1 (two lanes; planted median; mid-block crosswalk) is not only a great suggestion but also seems “minor” enough to, perhaps, have a chance. It’d be great to keep the focus on this issue and make something like this a reality.

  • John Sand

    I would favour the burial option myself, but it would be damn difficult (I’m not sure how many of the properties along that stretch are residential; if they aren’t, it might be easier and business owners might welcome increased foot traffic). Bike lanes would solve your problem of disconnection as illustrated by the Uber example, but would make the road tighter and probably increase traffic. You could also introduce a congestion charge for the middle of town to increase park-and-ride or biking, but that would necessitate a lot of public transit investment.