New Haveners Worry Route 34 Removal Will Be Less Than Transformative

New Haven's plan to remove Route 34 downtown will open up space for development, and aims to improve walking and biking connections. But locals worry the results won't actually be friendly to cyclists and pedestrians.

The removal of Route 34, a 1.1-mile stub of a highway that displaced hundreds of Connecticut families, homes, and businesses when it was constructed in the late 1950s, has become a cause célèbre for the City of New Haven in recent years.  The City’s vision of removing the road as a way to reconnect downtown New Haven with Union Station and create a walkable, vibrant neighborhood of housing, retail and commercial development earned plaudits from local and regional advocacy groups and activists early on, and was rewarded with state bond funding, ConnDOT support and $16 million in highly competitive federal TIGER II grants.

Tri-State strongly supports the vision laid out in New Haven’s application for the TIGER II grant. But many local advocates and policymakers are worried that the implementation won’t live up to the vision.

The City’s highway removal plan would open up 10 acres for development and add infrastructure intended to support increased cycling. But much of the project could maintain an auto-centric environment that is hostile to pedestrians, cyclists and transit users. (View a city presentation here.) For example, the current intersection of Church Street and North Frontage Road is four lanes across. Instead of enhancing pedestrian connections, the most recent City proposal is to expand this intersection to five lanes across:

 

Proposed intersection of N. Frontage Road and Church Street. (Click to view larger.)

To the City’s credit, officials have repeatedly said that they will continue to work with community members and look at new ways to address concerns.  However, they say their hands are tied because they must work within the constructs of outdated traffic models mandated by ConnDOT and the State Traffic Commission. For example, models predict that car traffic at the Church/N. Frontage intersection will quadruple thanks to developments like a new community college. These models, based on the assumption that automobile use will increase no matter the type of land use pattern, have routinely proven to be misguided and led to poor roadway design outcomes.

Local legislators have taken it upon themselves to ensure that the implementation of the Route 34 Downtown Crossing matches the City’s initial vision.  Earlier this summer, almost a dozen of the city’s Alders, Alder candidate Doug Hausladen (who is running unopposed), and State Representative Roland Lemar submitted a proposed resolution and letter to Board of Alders President Carl Goldfield.  The resolution, spearheaded by Alder Justin Elicker, called for the corridor to contain road capacity of no more than three lanes of traffic in each direction, including turn lanes; greater cycling infrastructure in the form of “cycle tracks” separated from car traffic along North and South Frontage Roads; better pedestrian connectivity; and improved traffic calming infrastructure.

The letter also praised the City’s outreach efforts, reiterated the group’s willingness to work with the City to improve upon the project, and stated the signatories support the concept of removing Route 34.

Tri-State has similar concerns.  The five-lane intersection at Church Street and North Frontage Road would be too far for pedestrians to cross safely without at least a pedestrian island to shorten the crossing distance and provide traffic calming.  Separated cycle tracks or parking-protected bike lanes could be solutions that provide a safe biking environment and support traffic calming and safer pedestrian crossings.  In addition, simple changes like making certain cross streets two-way could also enhance pedestrian, motorist and cycling safety while reducing congestion.

Images: City of New Haven.

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