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Amid a rise in traffic accidents and calls for safer streets, the New Haven aldermanic City Services and Environmental Policy Committee on Thursday unanimously approved a proposal to allow New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker to use state-appropriated federal funds to improve pedestrian safety at the Farmington Canal Trail.

The proposal was favorably reported to the Board of Alders, who will vote on its final approval. The funds will go to New Haven and Hamden, which plan to use federal grants to raise the pavement’s crossings — points where pedestrians cross streets — on the Farmington Canal Trail. The raised crossings will lift the street to the level of the trail at intersections, creating a mini speed bump meant to deter speeding motorists.

The trail’s westernmost end begins in downtown New Haven along Temple Street, in the shadow of Yale’s Helen Hadley Hall. Tracing the route of a former canal and railway, it runs through the Elm City before continuing northeast through Hamden, Cheshire and various greenways, such as Sleeping Giant State Park. The trail extends 81.2 miles, ending in Massachusetts. It is a popular route for bikers, joggers and in-line skaters.

“We’re very concerned about complete streets and safe streets in New Haven and in the canal line, where you have a high number of pedestrians crossing the street, but it’s really even more so the cross streets,” New Haven City Engineer Giovanni Zinn told the News. “We’re trying to be responsive to what we heard in the neighborhood about speeding along those cross streets, and the canal line is a natural spot to create raised features for traffic calming.”

The Connecticut Department of Transportation approved New Haven and Hamden’s joint application for funding under the 2015 federal Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, or FAST Act. The raised crossings will be installed along the trail’s intersections with Munson, Division, Thompson, Shelton, Ivy, Brewster and Bassett streets. 

At the Thursday City Services and Environmental Policy Committee Zoom meeting, Zinn said that the construction of bigger crossings will take four days, while smaller crossings can be built in a day. He added that the city has yet to set a timeline for the construction process.

The $772,500 in funding provided under the FAST Act will cover 80 percent of the project cost. The city is expected to put up the remaining 20 percent using its City Street Reconstruction bond funds at $154,500, according to the proposal and Zinn. Since Hamden and New Haven sent a joint application for the funds, both cities must agree to a memorandum of understanding to confirm how the funds will be allocated to meet the cost of each crossing site.

During the meeting, Ward 21 Alder Steven Winter spoke favorably of the raised crossings. He said his constituents in Newhallville were eager to see the implementation of more traffic calming projects.

“This is really needed, and it’s excellent to hear that because of the 4-to-1 match, it will free up funds for other traffic calming improvements elsewhere in Newhallville and in the city where it’s so badly needed,” Winter said.

City Services and Environmental Policy Committee Chair and Ward 10 Alder Anna Festa added that given how the pandemic has motivated New Haven residents to go outdoors, it is essential to ensure that canal users are safe.

Aaron Goode, a representative for the New Haven Friends of the Farmington Canal Greenway, said that similar raised crossings on the trail intersections on Webster Street and Hazel Street in Newhallville have improved pedestrian safety by slowing incoming traffic. Goode recounted an accident that happened to him in 2018, when he was almost struck by a pickup truck, to suggest the need for increased pedestrian safety measures like the crossings along the trail.

“It’s very easy to get into a complacent mindset because you’re on a trail, but in actuality, the many crossings are some of the most dangerous places for cyclists in New Haven,” Goode said.

Goode said his organization’s research has suggested that accidents along the trail are bound to increase with the rise of trail usership. According to Goode, information collected from the Connecticut Trail Census’ infrared sensors showed an increase in trail usage, from 110,000 in 2019 to 150,000 in 2020.

So far this year, 13 Elm City pedestrians have died in collisions with motor vehicles.

Razel Suansing | razel.suansing@yale.edu