Unprecedented Bicycle Infrastructure Project Planned for New Haven Suggests a Changing Mindset at ConnDOT

An agreement between the City of New Haven and the Connecticut Department of Transportation (ConnDOT) will create a safe bike connection on Route 1 (Water Street, the Tomlinson Bridge and Forbes Avenue) between downtown New Haven and the city’s eastern port district, including what would be Connecticut’s first-ever cycle track — a two-way, on-street bicycle lane separated from motor vehicle traffic. This type of bicycling facility has been proven to work in other cities but has yet to be tested in Connecticut.

It’s a groundbreaking step for New Haven as well as ConnDOT, which had to sign off on the proposal because Route 1 is a state road. It also represents a major victory for local advocates like Elm City Cycling, who have pushed New Haven to think big and embrace cycle tracks and other protected bike infrastructure.

New Haven transportation director Jim Travers announced the deal at the Bike Walk Connecticut Summit last month and provided more details to the New Haven Independent last week. He also provided MTR with a feasibility document which he described as a preliminary “concept drawing that was used to facilitate the discussion” with the State. The document highlights the westernmost part of the cycle track, where it connects with the planned Farmington Canal Greenway. The final leg of the Greenway will start construction next year, creating a multi-use trail from New Haven to Springfield, MA. The cycle track will connect with the Greenway as it enters Water Street from an on-street bike lane on Olive Street and continues west along Water Street, over the Tomlinson Bridge, turning right into the Port District, continuing on Connecticut Avenue and entering Fort Nathan Hale Park.

As the Independent describes it,

[T]he cycle-track will at that point shift over to what is now the southernmost lane of traffic heading east over the Tomlinson Bridge. That lane will [be] separated from cars by a row of tall plastic markers, Travers said. The bridge will have one eastbound and two westbound lanes for cars.

(We’ve created a Google Map of the described route.)

The Tomlinson Bridge has long been a trouble spot for cyclists due to hazards such as railroad tracks, fast traffic, and (particularly after Q Bridge construction began) the lack of a shoulder and sidewalk. Route 1 has repeatedly been found to be the most dangerous road in the state for pedestrians.

The project provides some evidence that a complete streets mentality is pervading ConnDOT. Furthermore, Travers told the Independent that ConnDOT staff had suggested adding bike lanes to State Street as part of an unrelated repaving project. “DOT has started to change their mindset from movement of vehicles to movement of people,” he said.

There’s much more work needed to make complete streets part of ConnDOT’s standard operating procedure. But it reflects well on the State that it is willing to endorse this type of cutting-edge design. The cycle track would be built as part of the Pearl Harbor Memorial Bridge project, likely in 2015.

2 Comments on "Unprecedented Bicycle Infrastructure Project Planned for New Haven Suggests a Changing Mindset at ConnDOT"

  1. Hmmm… Some concerns:

    A night time riding bicyclist is using a 600 lumen headlight in the cycletrack heading west while motor traffic is heading east just 5 feet to the RIGHT. Has anyone ever studied the possible confusion of placing oncoming bicycle traffic to the RIGHT of motor vehicle traffic? I would NOT design a cycletrack like this WITHOUT a crash barrier to block a cyclist’s headlamp from blinding and confusing oncoming traffic and to prevent a head-on collision. Westbound cyclists are likely to be blinded even more by the headlights of oncoming cars. Plastic bollards are not an adequate solution.

    The transition at Oliver Street needs to be very carefully planned using the most innovative design for it to work. Pedestrianizing cyclists movements would be a cop-out.

    All the intersections the cycletrack will cross need to be very carefully designed otherwise you get the typical sidepath conflict problems. Bicycle signal-heads? How do you make sure right turning motor traffic going to head east is aware of fast moving bicyclists heading west?

    This can be a great project but the devil is in the details.

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