Jessie Cheung, Staff Photographer

In the last week, New Haven saw two pedestrians struck and killed by cars: one on Ella T. Grasso Boulevard where the driver fled, and one on Whalley Avenue, where the driver stayed on the scene. 

These two boulevards have been a magnet for cars crashing into pedestrians and are marked by high fatalities and crash tallies. Even with efforts across the city to incorporate more pedestrian and bike-friendly infrastructure, initiatives on state-operated land have stalled in recent years, with activists growing increasingly frustrated. 

In response to such incidents, the Yale Police Department is in the process of potentially adding a new unit specifically addressing pedestrian and traffic safety. News of these two deaths comes on the one-year anniversary of a crash outside the Schwarzman Center where a cyclist was killed in a hit-and-run

Ella T. Grasso Boulevard

Just before 10 p.m. last Saturday, New Haven police received a call that a pedestrian had been struck by a car on Ella T. Grasso Boulevard near Plymouth Street. According to NHPD spokesperson Officer Scott Shumway, the driver had already fled by the time police arrived at the scene, where they found New Havener Damaso Rosario Luna, 68, unresponsive. 

Last year, the New Haven Independent reported that four pedestrians were killed on a single strip, less than half a mile long, on the same street during 2020. The street, owned by the state Department of Transportation, or DOT, is not in the city’s control. 

The DOT had promised in 2021 to address pedestrian safety concerns on the road by adding pedestrian crossing signals, push buttons and ramps. The Independent reported that the DOT said the construction would begin in April 2022. 

But construction has still not yet begun. Now the DOT says that construction won’t start until April 2023 and would not be completed until October 2023 due to a contract holdup. 

“I think the state is a more difficult partner that we don’t interact with that much,” said John Martin, the owner of Bradley Street Bicycle Co-Op. “But it is certainly the roads of intersection over in our city that are the major corridors. They do move a lot of traffic, but they need to be calmed down because people are dying, and that’s unacceptable.” 

Martin, of course an avid cyclist, is also involved with the Safe Streets Coalition, a community group that advocates for safer and more accessible transportation infrastructure in the Elm City. 

Overall, Martin said he feels that the city has been “pretty receptive” to the concerns of pedestrian advocacy. But it does not mean change is happening fast enough in his view. He highlighted the Edgewood Avenue Cycletrack, now nearly six years in the making, that consists of a 2.1-mile road-adjacent path from Forest Road in the Westville neighborhood to Park Street in the Dwight neighborhood. The project, which cuts through 11 intersections and cost $1.2 million, officially launched in July 2021. The latest update did not provide an end date for the construction.

In other areas, particularly crash hotspots, Martin said he wants to see more traffic-calming infrastructure, sidewalks and signals in place. One way to do so is through road compression. This kind of traffic-calming technique, Martin explained, creates thinner pathways so that cars cannot reach quicker speeds as easily as they can on long, open strips of roadway. 

“I like to put fault often in physical infrastructure, or lack thereof, because until we have that, then we can’t start to think about other things,” Martin told the News. “We can’t force people to drive 20 miles an hour. You can try with enforcement, but you can do a pretty good job when you start to compress the roads and make people feel uncomfortable driving faster than twenty miles an hour.”

Whalley Avenue

Around 6 p.m. Friday evening, New Haven police got their second call this week of a pedestrian struck dead by a car. 

In this case, New Havener Shanice Reyes, 27, was found on Whalley Avenue between Dayton Street and Emerson Street. According to Shumway, he was transported to Yale New Haven Hospital, where she died from injuries sustained in the crash. The driver who struck Reyes Friday night stayed at the scene.  

Unlike Ella T. Grasso, Whalley Avenue is fully city-owned. Where the road trails outside New Haven’s bounds into Hamden, it shifts over to state ownership. 

“They are just a couple roads that account for a disproportionate number of fatalities in our city,” Martin said. “They’re really scary for bikes and pedestrians for a lot of reasons, but all of them for the same reason, which is that they all are designed only for cars and not for human beings.”

The city recently announced plans to redevelop State Street, which include narrowing the road to open more space for pedestrians, cyclists and housing. In September, Max Chaoulideer, a member of Safe Streets Coalition of New Haven, told the News that this redevelopment is set to address one of New Haven’s most “dangerous arteries.” 

Martin added that there is talk of New Haven’s Whitney Avenue being redeveloped as well, which he said needs traffic-calming measures in place. 

“But both of those are running through wealthier parts of town,” Martin said. “And you know, every road counts, and every road has deaths, so I want to see more of these things happening in parts of town that don’t have as much advocacy or as much agency directly attributed to them.” 

College and Grove Street one year ago: hit-and-run solved

The news of the city’s second pedestrian death this week was announced exactly one year after a New Haven man named Stephen Rediker, 79, was struck by the driver of a pickup truck on Nov. 7 outside the Schwarzman Center. After a week in critical condition, Rediker died of his injuries. 

In late September of this year, the NHPD revealed they had solved the case. When they were stumped with video footage of the fleeing truck that did not fully reveal the truck’s license plate, police decided to publicly release the footage they had. Around 8 p.m. on Nov. 17, when they shared that footage, an anonymous caller said they saw the footage on the news and gave police the truck’s location. 

Police tracked down the driver the next day and obtained a confession. The driver was charged on one felony count of evading and arrested on June 21. 

A new YPD unit? 

Yale Police Chief Anthony Campbell said that pedestrian and traffic safety is one of the key points of concern the Yale Police Department has for Yalies and New Haveners. He mentioned a safety alert he sent out to the Yale community earlier this week, urging students, faculty and other Yale community members to pay attention to vehicular traffic around them. 

Campbell noted that a student was recently hit while crossing the intersection between Trumbull and Prospect Streets. He said that the student was not paying attention and walked into incoming traffic. The driver tried to stop but knocked the student down who, according to Campbell, lost consciousness. 

That student was transported to YNHH and has since been released with non-life threatening injuries. 

Around campus, particularly during the change in daylight saving time, Campbell said students are “frequently distracted” while crossing streets, often with headphones in and helmets off while riding scooters and bikes. Traffic hotspots that tend to fall at the epicenter of crashes include the intersections of Wall and College Streets, Elm and High Streets, Elm and Broadway, and Prospect and Sachem.  

“Drivers also really need to take note when they’re in those particular areas around campus,” he said. 

To address these issues, Campbell said the YPD is trying to establish a “Pedestrian and Traffic Safety Unit” to locate and target those hotspots. He said the unit aims to focus on pedestrian safety education rather than looking to ticket drivers. To do so, the unit would deploy officers on foot to areas with high-level traffic to stop drivers who may run a red light or to stop pedestrians who are distracted. 

One YPD officer who submitted the proposal for the unit presented the plan to the University’s Traffic and Pedestrian Safety Committee on Wednesday which Campbell said was well-received. The officer is slated to present that proposal to YPD command staff on Nov. 18. If it goes through, Campbell said he is looking to establish the unit by the end of next month. 

In the hit-and-run incident that killed Damaso Rosario Luna on Ella T. Grasso Boulevard last week, police are asking that any witnesses who have not yet spoken with the police contact the New Haven Police Department Communications Division at (203) 946-6316. Anonymously call 1-866-888-TIPS(8477) or text “NHPD plus your message” to 274637 (CRIMES).

Sophie Sonnenfeld is Managing Editor of the Yale Daily News. She previously served as City Editor and covered cops and courts as a beat reporter. She is a junior in Branford College double majoring in political science and anthropology.