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The city solicited the engineering and construction company CDM Smith to lay out a plan for the future of Fountain Street, a notoriously congested and dangerous street in New Haven — but some residents think the plan omitted important features.

On Wednesday evening, the city and the South Central Regional Council of Governments virtually held their third and final meeting on the improvement of Fountain Street. The meeting was part of a series of discussions on how to make Fountain Street safer and more functional for all modes of travel. At the meeting, CDM Smith presented its plan to address problems including congestion, frequent speeding and vehicular and bicycle crashes. Notably, the position and lack of protective barriers on the bike lanes in the CDM Smith plan received backlash at the meeting.

“I definitely think that the city should look at how they can maintain roads that will get people to travel … in a way that is safe,” resident Stasia Brewczynski said. 

The area in question is an approximately 1.5 mile stretch of Fountain Street, beginning at the Woodbridge town line and continuing east until the intersection of Whaley Avenue and Fountain Street. The main objectives of the plan are to balance mobility for pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists, minimize congestion and improve air quality, CDM Smith Project Manager Becca Hall said. According to Hall, the plan’s developers based their analysis on field work that the company conducted in 2019, alongside feedback from the previous two public meetings, the last of which was on Feb. 12, 2020.

The main concern from the last meeting was a general feeling of insecurity amongst pedestrians and bikers, Hall said, with residents expressing uneasiness regarding vehicles violating traffic laws, speed limits and ignoring signage. Letters and comments received after the Feb. 12 meeting also highlighted the lack of bicycle facilities.

“The number one request was bike lanes,” Hall said. “[Residents] also wanted to see modern roundabouts, safer crossings, shorter pedestrian crossings, wider sidewalks, bump outs and additional crossing time.”

The CDM Smith plan includes the implementation of unprotected 5-foot bike lanes with 2-foot buffers, updated signage, updated pavement markings, widened school sidewalks, bike boxes — painted areas on the road where bikers can move in front of parked cars — and revised timing of traffic lights. The plan also suggests installing bumps outs — raised areas of pavement which protrude out slightly into the road — to decrease pedestrian crossing distance, slow traffic and increase visibility of crossers.

The implementation of bike lanes was a point of contention at the meeting. The community specifically requested bike lanes protected by a physical barrier at the last meeting, Brewczynski said. 

“What the community asked for and what is being offered are not the same thing,” Brewczynski said. “I’m a little confused why 2 feet isn’t enough for any hard protection whether bollards or curbs. There are definitely hard protections that are that skinny.”

CDM Smith did not include physical bike lane barriers because of zoning restrictions, Hall said. There is a clear zone policy that necessitates that the shoulder is free of objects, she said.

Clear zones are traversable roadside areas that are free of objects. They are areas where an out-of-control vehicle can safely come to a stop. The width of clear zones are determined by the traffic volumes, slopes and speed limits of a given road.

“There are clear zone requirements and since this is a state road, we can’t put a physical impact barrier,” Hall said. “And we do need to have some type of shoulder provided. It’s a buffered-in protection for the bike.” 

CDM Smith will consider amending the plan to include flexible posts bordering the bike lanes, Hall said. Besides flexible posts, New Haven may not offer any other bike lane protections that adhere to the restrictions, she said. 

Still, Brewczynski said that flexible barriers are insufficient. Flexible posts are built to spare damage to cars but do not protect cyclists, she explained. She reiterated that the community requests hard protected bike lanes. 

Installing hard barriers would be difficult to maintain during the winter or during periods of inclement weather, said CDM Smith Project Director Sharat Kalluri. 

“Once you get a 2-foot area, it’s very hard to put a physical hard shoulder because of the weather we go through in the winter,” Kalluri said. “Maintenance becomes a problem and then you’ve got to do drainage because you don’t want to have a situation where the bike lane has got ice on it in the winter.”

Brewczynski responded that it would be beneficial to create a drainage system associated with the bike lane, in order to accommodate hard protective barriers. 

It is difficult to fit multiple features within a small parameter, Kalluri said. He promised to discuss the possibility of installing a bike lane drainage system with the city. 

Sandeep Aysola, director of transportation, traffic and parking, suggested creating a raised protected bike lane that would act as a multimodal avenue for pedestrians and cyclists.

“Is there a possibility that it could become a protected bike lane which is a shared-use path, where you have pedestrians and bicyclists who are not at the same grade as the roadway, but they are above grade?” Aysola asked. 

Implementing that idea would require widening the shoulder area, which would require property acquisitions, Hall said. 

Any additions or alterations to the shoulder area would also be difficult due to roadside trees, Kalluri said.

“I think the biggest thing is some of the street trees,” Kalluri said. “You have a lot of street trees along the corridor that would certainly be impacted if any work is done beyond the curb limits.”

CDM Smith’s plan located some bike lanes between a designated curbside parking area and the road. 

Brewczynski felt that it was dangerous to “sandwich” the bike lanes between parked and moving cars. 

“[The location of the lanes] is unfortunate because that’s extremely dangerous,” Brewczynski said. “Cyclists can be killed when they’re doored, especially on a street where people are traveling at killing speeds. Shifting where parked cars are would be one easy solution to this problem, so I’m unclear why this choice is being made.”

Dooring is the term for a driver opening their vehicle door in the path of a biker. It refers to when a sudden or negligent door opening causes a biker in the adjacent lane to collide with the door or swerve into another vehicle to avoid the door.

The bike lanes were positioned in that way to maintain continuity in maneuvering through different intersections, Hall said. 

Resident Roslyn Hamilton raised a separate concern over the timing of traffic lights. She said that traffic would flow more cohesively if red lights were strictly activated by a pedestrian signal such as a buzzer. 

“My observation is that if no pedestrian is in that area to cross, cars are just starting to back up all the way up the street waiting for this light to change,” Hamilton said. “That needs to be looked at and regulated. I think you could control that by having buzzers.”

The type of light timing in which the pedestrian walk signal, accompanied by a red light, activates on a regular interval is called automatic pedestrian recall. Automatic pedestrian recall is the mode of light timing used in many urban areas, according to Hall. 

“It decreases the pedestrian delay and increases the likelihood that a pedestrian is going to cross in the crosswalk and wait for their time because they know it’s coming,” Hall said. 

CDM Smith will consider addressing some of these “smaller elements” regarding signal timings and pedestrian signals in the final report, Kalluri said.

Ward 25 Alder Adam Marchand emphasized that the Fountain Street plan is not finalized. CDM Smith consultants will work on revising and completing the plan until the end of the year. From there, securing regulatory approvals from the city and state is a “whole other set of processes,” he said.

CDM Smith will submit its final report by the end of 2021.

RACHEL SHIN
Rachel Shin covers nonprofits and social services. Originally from Mechanicsburg, PA, she is a first-year in Silliman College planning to major in English.