Christina Lee, Photography Editor

Yale and the City of New Haven are planning to convert the north section of High Street between Chapel and Elm streets into a public walkway, with design of the project to begin later this spring, University President Peter Salovey told the News.

The pathway, intended to fully pedestrianize the street, will restrict vehicular traffic with the exception of emergency vehicles, similar to the pedestrian-friendly walkway — Alexander Walk — which runs from the Humanities Quadrangle on York Street to College Street.

While New Haven retains public ownership of High Street, Yale will fund and design the project, subject to the approval of the City Plan Commission and the city traffic authority and with the guidance of the High Street Conversion Advisory Committee. The University and New Haven cemented the plan on Nov. 17, 2021, when Salovey joined New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker to announce an increase in Yale’s voluntary payments to the city and the High Street project, along with other initiatives, at a press conference

“We’re gonna get back to that this spring,” Salovey said. “It’s time to make that a beautiful entryway to the campus for everyone — the campus community, the New Haven community and visitors from faraway places.”

Jack Callahan ’80, senior vice president for operations,  told the News that he anticipates that the programming and design phase of this project will commence sooner than in the spring. He added that the University is currently discussing requests for proposals with seven design firms.

Callahan also said that the work is more complicated than previous pedestrianization projects, such as the one to convert a portion of Wall Street into Alexander Walk in 2021. Callahan specified that on this particular portion of High Street, the presence of Skull and Bones’ tomb and the U.S. Post Office pose “accessibility concerns.” These accessibility concerns, Callahan said, include a lack of parking spots for any food deliveries, as well as the ability of maintenance and utility repairs to access buildings.

However, Callahan said that another consideration for the project is beginning a major construction project during the academic year in 2025.

At the time of the announcement, New Haveners compared the plan to pedestrianize High Street to the city’s controversial 2013 decision to sell sections of Wall and High Streets to the University for $3 million. Those sections now comprise Alexander Walk and an adjacent walkway between the Law School and Beinecke Plaza. In 2013, protesters at City Hall, along with multiple aldermen including Elicker, denounced the permanent sale of a public asset to the University and expressed concerns over Yale’s power to close streets off to the public. 

During the 2021 announcement of the High Street plan, New Haveners and Yalies questioned what the difference was between giving Yale the power to design the street and just selling the street to the University, according to the New Haven Independent. In response, Elicker noted that the street will remain permanently open to the public and that the design will be subject to the approval of the city’s planning and traffic officials.

Laura Brown, Executive Director of the City Plan Department, said that although Yale will play a substantial role in the design of the pathway, city officials and New Haven residents on the advisory committee will remain active in the selection of a design firm and the final design. Brown said that over the past few months, she has helped identify resident priorities with the project and incorporated those in the request for design firm proposals.

“It will still be important that [High Street] is still a city street that is welcoming for residents,” Brown said. 

Despite the continued public ownership of High Street, Max Chaoulideer, member of Safe Streets Coalition of New Haven, said that New Haven is still ceding much of the control of the project to Yale, continuing a precedent of yielding public authority to the University.

While Chaoulideer supports Yale investing in “safe and beautiful places” for New Haven residents and its students, he said that the University should make a more active effort to welcome New Haven residents into its public spaces. 

“I think the question will be whether pedestrianizing this block will invite reasons to spend time on High street for anyone other than Yale affiliates or if it will just solidify the use pattern already in place, which is Yale-dominated,” Chaoulideer wrote in an email to the News. “Though Yale has many buildings, events, and spaces that are technically public, they are rarely welcoming or widely advertised. Pedestrianizing the street on its own won’t change that, though it could be an invitation to do so.”

Brown characterized pedestrianization projects as “good for everyone,” emphasizing that the safety of pedestrians and cyclists as they navigate downtown is a priority for the High Street project. 

Chaoulideer views pedestrianization efforts as a way to decenter cars, which have oftentimes been prioritized over pedestrians and their safety, and a way to strengthen the role of streets as a place to gather with others. He distinguished streets, a place to be in community and linger, with roads, which are more rooted in transportation purposes. 

“When we ‘pedestrianize’ a street, what we are essentially doing is reclaiming it as a place to spend time, whether to shop, play, eat, receive care, or anything else,” Chaoulideer wrote. “In doing so, we also reprioritize safety, accessibility, sustainability, equity, and beauty. And, if parking is removed, we usually are reclaiming an enormous amount of very valuable public space.”

Yale completed landscaped pathways on the stretch of Wall Street between York Street and College Street, and on the section of High Street between Grove Street and Wall Street in 2021.

Correction, March 1: This article has been changed to include language clarifying that the design for the High Street pedestrianization project is set to begin, not the construction.

Benjamin Hernandez covers Woodbridge Hall, the President's Office. He previously reported on international affairs at Yale. Born and raised in Dallas, Texas, he is a sophomore in Trumbull College majoring in Global Affairs.
Laura Ospina covers Yale-New Haven relations and the Latine community for the City desk. Originally from North Carolina's Research Triangle, she is a sophomore in Branford College majoring in Political Science.