Isaac Yu, Contributing Photographer

On Wednesday evening at Scantlebury Park in Dixwell, the city of New Haven held a Safe Routes for All workshop as part of community outreach efforts to make Elm City streets safer.

In 2019, New Haven adopted the Safe Routes for All plan, a document which aims to create a blueprint to improve public infrastructure in New Haven. In its first phase in 2020, the city installed low-cost traffic reducing infrastructure around the city. Currently, the plan is being implemented in New Haven through partnerships with consulting firm Street Plans, the city’s transportation department, Community Alliance for Research and Engagement (CARE) and Safe Streets. 

“We’ll essentially have a plan that will serve as a blueprint for the whole city,” CARE Director Alycia Santilli said. “So any time a street gets repaved or there’s new construction or there’s a new federal grant on the streets of New Haven, we’ll have a blueprint for how to make it more bike-friendly, more pedestrian-friendly and improve bike infrastructure.”  

The Safe Routes for All plan consists of three parts: Ride New Haven, Walk New Haven and Bike New Haven.

Bike New Haven aims to improve the streets for cyclists by increasing the mileage of dedicated bikeways in New Haven by 150 percent, implementing continuous bikeways and introducing bicycle intersection improvement — like bike boxes, signal changes and prohibiting right turns on red signals.

For Bradley Street Bicycle Co-op owner John Martin, the need for safe streets holds particular importance, as his friend was struck and killed by a car while driving. He said that he believes that the changes the plan would implement could save lives. 

“The streets are a public space and we have a lot of it. You don’t need to have three cars in your house,” Martin said. “Maybe [with the plan] you’d need to drive around a block to find a parking space, but that sacrifice that you’d make, the return, would be literally people not dying.” 

Walk New Haven aims to make the street safer for pedestrians by upgrading the 10 most dangerous intersections by 2031, installing safety measures like raised crosswalks and wider tactile pads and installing temporary plazas and promenades. 

Ride New Haven is intended to improve bus routes by improving bus stops on high ridership corridors, installing dedicated bus lanes, reaching out to community members to engage residents in improving their bus stops and installing more bike stops near and at bus stops to improve bicycle availability. 

The plan aims to implement these projects equitably by allocating a fixed budget each year to pedestrian, transit and bicycle improvements in the city’s BIPOC and low-income neighborhoods.

However, Santilli added that the main challenges to the plan are funding, implementation and community trust. She said that five years is an ambitious schedule for the plan’s implementation. 

Martin said that there is a lack of biking infrastructure. He added that the Safe Routes for All plan is not the only initiative that aims to make streets safer for bicyclists and pedestrians, citing last year’s Twenty is Plenty campaign which advocated for the city speed limit to be lowered from 25 to 20 miles per hour.

At the event, Mayor Justin Elicker said that “a comprehensive traffic plan is vital to the health of the city, and it impacts every resident.” He noted that the most common request he gets while canvassing city residents is to build more speed humps. 

Elicker added that as a local cyclist, the city has come a long way over the past decade in making bicycle travel safer. Despite this, he still feels that there is more work to be done, but that there might be some difficulties in implementing the plan. 

“Some components of the plan may eliminate a travel lane for a car or eliminate a lane of parking for a car to facilitate more pedestrian and bicycle access,” Elicker said. “Those growing pains can be challenging for people. [By] eliminating travel lanes, some people may be fearful that it’s slower to get from one place to another.” 

According to Elicker, the public should engage with the plan’s implementation even if that means certain elements are not realized. 

However, workshop attendee and New Haven resident Kevin McCarthy raised concerns about the level of public engagement at the workshop. Twenty to 25 people attended the workshop.

“The city of New Haven is more or less evenly split — Black, white and Brown — and this crowd isn’t,” McCarthy said referring to the majority-white crowd. “I was talking to an organizer, and there was outreach, but [the meeting’s lack of diversity] is noticeable.” 

McCarthy added that the meeting’s lack of representation makes it difficult to obtain community support for the Safe Routes for All plan. 

He also said that there is tension between the biking community and the city at large and expressed that the plan should emphasize that infrastructure changes would also support pedestrian and bus safety. For instance, he advocated for bike racks in buses to encourage people who live in the suburbs to bike into the city. 

“There’s people who would benefit from fixing the sidewalks, there are people who would benefit from bike lanes and there are people who would benefit from more frequent bus service. All those are good things, but there’s a finite pot of money,” McCarthy said.

According to Dana Wall, the senior project manager for Street Plans, community feedback and crash data indicates that Chapel Street and Whalley Avenue are the most dangerous streets in New Haven. Wall said that one of the plan’s points of focus is to implement bike lanes at intersections like Chapel Street and Whalley Avenue so that people can cycle safely for at least one continuous mile.

Currently there are only 17 miles of bikeways in New Haven, with the proposed plan aiming to double that to 36 miles.