In January 2012, the Connecticut Department of Transportation approved a design waiver request to reduce street width as part of the City of New Haven’s Downtown Crossing plan. The TIGER II-funded project will now feature 10-foot interior travel lanes and 11-foot curb lanes to accommodate a one-foot shoulder. These design standards will be utilized for all downtown streets within the project area including North Frontage, South Frontage, Orange, Church, and College Streets.
This news reflects incremental progress toward creating a human-scaled and pedestrian-friendly Downtown Crossing plan, with both city planners and community activists influencing ConnDOT’s decision. Since the practice is relatively new to the state of Connecticut, New Haven’s design waiver documented successful cases of reduced street width in comparable cities in its presentation to ConnDOT. According to City Plan staff member Donna Hall, “Having streets that feel friendly isn’t enough; we want to create street activity, livability and support a growing business district. Reducing street width allows us to redefine the right of way in older cities like New Haven and helps us reallocate space for truly complete streets.”
This victory for New Haven’s streets comes at a time when the plan is under fire from the New Haven Urban Design League. The League’s recently released report, “A Highway Rebuilt, Not Removed,” identifies flaws in the current project. With no new cross streets, and increased parking, the League shows that the current plan does not meet the community goals outlined in the TIGER II grant proposal. The League’s report recommends a public charrette process to revisit the plan to improve the connectivity and walkability for Downtown Crossing.
While the Route 34 project continues to receive feedback from New Urbanists on ways to improve the proposed plan (such as reducing the number of lanes), the reduced street width is another sign that the City of New Haven and ConnDOT are working together to create walkable, vibrant streets. The next challenge is to align the efforts of the City and concerned citizens and activists, such as the Urban Design League. Through collaboration, the City and the League can codify what will not only be best for the city’s coffers, but also for the city’s residents as well.