Make way for 90 new and upgraded miles of cycling-friendly infrastructure — including a 400 percent increase to New Haven’s protected bike lanes — if the recommendations included in the city’s recently completed “active transportation” plan ever bear fruit.
That newly proposed set of car-free transit improvements is called the Safe Routes for All Citywide Active Transportation Plan.
City Transportation, Traffic & Parking (TT&P) Director Sandeep Aysola have submitted a 141-page final draft version of that plan to the Board of Alders as part of a proposed order authorizing the mayor to apply for funding from the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) of 2022.
If approved by the full Board of Alders, the order would call on the mayor to apply for roughly $5 million in federal infrastructure funds “in a manner consistent with the Safe Routes for All” plan. The goal is to spend those dollars on making New Haven a safer, healthier, more convenient, and more interconnected place to walk, bike, take the bus, skateboard, and otherwise get around town without taking a car.
The submission of the Safe Routes for All documents to the Board of Alders marks the culmination of years of planning, community meetups, and street-safety pilot projects undertaken by the city’s transportation department, the Community Alliance for Research and Engagement (CARE), and the New York-based consulting firm Street Plans.
The proposal now heads to an aldermanic committee for review before returning to the full Board of Alders for a final vote. A grant summary document included in the aldermanic submission states that the grant application deadline for this pot of federal infrastructure money is Sept. 15.
“The Safe Routes for All Citywide Transportation Plan is a document that will provide a blueprint and strategic vision for expanding and improving pedestrian, transit, and cycling facilities in the city of New Haven,” TT&P’s Aysola wrote in a June 28 letter to the alders in support of the infrastructure-funding-application proposal.
“With the adoption of the Safe Routes for All Citywide Active Transportation Plan, the City of New Haven can effectively prioritize and strategize improvements that will have the greatest impact to traffic safety and connectivity.”
Mayor Justin Elicker agreed. In his introductory letter to the 141-page draft plan, he wrote: “Decades ago, policy makers in cities around the country — including New Haven — built a transportation system primarily designed for one type of user: automobile drivers. This model is outdated and in need of change. Locally, we’re making progress towards reorienting away from this model and our Safe Routes for All Plan builds on that work. Our Safe Routes for All Plan moves beyond infrastructure designed for only cars and prioritizes safety and accessibility for everyone who is on the go — including bikers, walkers, skaters, scooters. Active transportation has numerous benefits including health, equity, and fiscal impact. And, as someone who bikes and walks throughout this city, I’m excited about the impact of these investments.”
Aysola clarified for the Independent that this local legislative proposal goes beyond simply seeking permission to apply for federal infrastructure funds. If approved by the alders, it would also see the city formally adopt the Safe Routes for All plan.
He also said that, even if the city does not get the $5 million in federal infrastructure grant money it intends to apply for for this project, it can still try to move forward with the plan’s various recommendations by seeking out other state and federal grant money.
When might such a bike network be built out, even if the city gets the money to do so?
“The Plan includes 90 miles of newly proposed and upgraded bikeways,” the Safe Routes for All plan reads. “With the existing [routes] and facilities under construction, the Full Network totals 128 street miles of facilities. Steadily building out half of the network over 10 years is both necessary and achievable, and can start with the high opportunity corridor segments.”
If the city follows through on that timeline, then New Haven could have 48 miles of new and/or upgraded bikeways in place by 2032.
Why More Bike Lanes?
While the Safe Routes for All plan includes plenty of recommendations on how to improve the city’s streets, sidewalks, and intersections for pedestrians, some of the most potentially transformative infrastructure upgrades are detailed in the “Bike New Haven” section of the plan.
That section calls for the addition of 81 new miles and nine upgraded miles of new “bikeways” to the city’s cycling network — including protected bike lanes, regular bike lanes, off-road paths, and “neighborhood greenways.” That section provides a detailed overview of New Haven’s current cycling landscape, as well as of how and where to add those dozens of new miles of cycling-friendly infrastructure.
It also makes the case for why New Haven should prioritize making its streets a safer and more connected place to pedal.
“Countless studies reinforce that dedicated bicycle infrastructure, especially protected lanes, not only increase bicycle ridership, but also increase street safety for other street users,” the report states, pointing to example in Austin, Portland, San Francisco, Salt Lake City, and Washington, D.C.
More and better bike lanes also have “positive economic impacts” on retail sales and commercial vacancies, it continues.
“Finally, quality, safe bicycle infrastructure dignifies biking, and removes the stigma of not owning a car. This is especially important for low-income communities, and to create a transportation network that is inclusive and accessible for everyone.”
(Click here for an article from March about proposed new bike lanes on Orange Street in East Rock, which includes a debate around how much street space should be dedicated to bike lanes vs. on-street parking.)
Current Network: 47 Miles; Too Many “Sharrows”
The report states that New Haven currently has roughly 47 miles of “designated cycling routes in the city” — include 37 miles of New Haven’s street network.
The city’s current biking infrastructure includes:
• 17 miles of of shared lane markings, or “sharrows,” which are pavement markings that indicate to drivers that they should expect to see cyclists in the middle of the travel lane. (The report’s authors describe sharrows as the least protective form of bike infrastructure.)
• 12 miles of regular bike lanes — that is, striped routes on the street that are usually located between the parking lane and the travel lane.
• 10 miles of shared use paths, which, like the Farmington Canal Trail, are off-street paths that are physically separated from the travel lane.
• 8 miles of protected bike lanes, like on Long Wharf Drive and Crescent Street and what’s still going in on Edgewood Avenue, where bike lines are separated from traffic by at least a two-foot buffer and some kind of vertical barrier, like bollards, delineator posts, concrete curbing, or parked cars.
“Conventional” and “protected” bike lanes cover only 8 percent of the city’s existing street network, or around 20 miles in total, the report states. “Thus, there is a strong need to expand and upgrade the existing network, focusing new investment on the neighborhoods most deficient in bicycling infrastructure.”
“The streets of Amity, East Shore, Fair Haven Heights, Prospect Hill, Quinnipiac Meadows, and Wooster Square currently lack dedicated bicycling infrastructure,” the report continues. “While infrastructure touches the edges of these neighborhoods, these large gaps make it difficult to travel by bike through large parts of the City.”
The biking section goes on to identify five key challenges currently facing the city’s biking network:
To quote directly from the report, those challenges are:
1. Most conventional bike lanes are located in the “door zone,” between on-street parking and the travel lane, which puts bicyclists at risk.
2. Intersection treatments, like bike boxes, are concentrated in the downtown. The rest of the network lacks infrastructure to support bicyclists’ approach, queueing, and turning at intersections.
3. There are currently 47 designated bikeway segments in New Haven, but only 17 (out of 1,556) intersections where two bikeways meet.
4. Many existing streets with shared lane markings are faded, and need to be re-painted / upgraded to a more robust facility type.
5. On-street bikeways connect park trails, drives, or other shared use paths in only six locations across four neighborhoods (Dixwell, Downtown, East Rock, and Long Wharf).
Proposed Network: 128 Miles; 400% More Protected Bike Lanes
So. What would a better, safer, more convenient biking network look like in New Haven, according to the Safe Routes for All plan? And how exactly can the city get there?
The biking section of the report includes five key recommendations for addressing the city’s top cycling-network challenges.
To again quote directly from the report, those recommendations include:
1. Add protected bike lanes wherever feasible, especially along the most City’s dangerous corridors [such as Chapel Street, Dixwell Avenue, Ella T. Grasso Boulevard, and Grand Avenue]. To minimize parking loss, use “floating parking” to protect cyclists.
2. Incorporate bike boxes, two-stage turn boxes, bike signals, and protected intersections in conjunction with “no right turn on red” and Leading Pedestrian Intervals (LPI’s) at intersections, especially where existing/new bikeway facilities intersect.
3. Focus on expanding network connectivity when selecting new bikeway projects; Pay special attention to building out continuous “trunkline” east-west and north-south routes.
4. Enhance all existing shared lane markings with green-backed “super sharrows.” Introduce neighborhood greenways with traffic calming as low-stress alternatives to dedicated bikeways.
5. Add dedicated bike lanes where feasible to directly connect to more parks, schools, commercial centers, and transit; Emphasize on-street connectivity to park trails and drives.
The “Proposed Network” section of the report then states that New Haven’s “bikeway mileage” could and should be increased from 47 miles to 128 miles, including 39 new miles of protected bike lanes and 20 new miles of “neighborhood greenways.”
In total, the proposed cycling network envisioned by this plan would see the addition of:
• 39 new miles of protected bike lanes, bringing the city’s total to 47 street miles.
• 20 new miles of “neighborhood greenways,” bringing the city’s total to 20 street miles.
• 16 new miles of other types of bike lanes, bringing the city’s total to 28 miles.
• 13 new miles of “enhanced shared lane markings,” bringing the city’s total to 30 miles.
• 2 new miles of shared use paths, bringing the city’s total to 12 miles.
“Excluding shared use paths, the Proposed Network allocates bikeways to 52% of the City’s street network,” the report reads. That’s in comparison to the 15 percent of city streets covered by bike lanes today.
How might this newly expanded biking network affect city parking?
“The proposed 128-mile bikeway network requires reallocating existing parking space[s] along just 6% of the City’s street mileage,” the report reads. “In the vast majority of instances where spatial re-allocation is required, parking would be replaced on one side of the street only.”
It also states that the proposed network would require “road diets” — or the narrowing of the travel lane used by cars to make room for bike lanes — on just 3 percent of city streets.
The bike section of the report goes on to provide detailed drawings of what improved bike infrastructure could look like at four particular locations: Dyer Street and Ellsworth Avenue, East Street, Fitch Street, and Woodward Avenue and Raynham Road (see below.)
The bike section of the report concludes by putting forward a set of 11 criteria — from network connectivity to bikeway type to neighborhood equity to parking removal — that the city should consider when deciding which new biking infrastructure to prioritize, and where.
The streets and projects that came out with the highest “scores” — and, therefore, should be at the top of the city’s list when building out new bike lanes — include:
• A new westbound protected bike lane on Chapel Street. “This is the only proposed protected segment that goes through multiple Priority Neighborhoods, and through a neighborhood currently without dedicated bikeways.”
• A new eastbound protected bike lane on Columbus Avenue. “The proposed protected bike lane mostly uses the existing shoulder, simplifying implementation.”
• A new southbound protected bike lane on Dixwell Avenue. “The proposed bike lane is also on a corridor slated for BRT in the Move New Haven Study.”
• New protected bike lanes on Whalley Avenue. “Protected bike lanes within the existing curbs fit on a portion of this segment, but would need to be at sidewalk level further northwest along the corridor, which increases cost.”
• A new two-way protected bike lane on Forbes Avenue. “This segment would be a key piece of the Harborside Trail.”
• A new two-way protected bike lane on Union Avenue. “The City has a draft conceptual plan for the corridor, which passes right by Union Station.”
Safe Streets Advocate: “Great Step,” Not “Ultimate Goal”
One of the local car-free transit advocacy groups most involved in the yearslong process of developing and championing the Safe Routes for All plan was the Safe Streets Coalition of New Haven.
What do they make of the version of the proposed Safe Routes for All plan that has now been completed and submitted to the Board of Alders?
“The Safe Streets Coalition of New Haven advocates for equitable improvements to transportation infrastructure and policy in our City, and this plan goes a long way towards achieving that goal,” Safe Streets Coalition member Lior Trestman told the Independent in an email comment.
Trestman singled out for praise:
• The importance of having a municipally approved plan in place in order to secure state and federal grant funding for infrastructure projects. “There is an enormous amount of funding currently available for such projects (including the USDOT’s Safe Streets and Roads for All (SS4A) Grant Program), but they require having a plan in place. This plan should be passed ASAP so that we can start making progress.”
• The plan’s prioritization of improvements for buses, pedestrian safety, and bike safety. “Our City desperately needs improvements in these areas if we want to lift up the 30% of households that don’t own a car, meet any climate goals, or make our City safe and comfortable to get around in.”
• The plan’s policy proposals that go well beyond just putting paint on the street. This plan ” includes recommendations for eliminating the concept of jaywalking, making a commitment to Vision 0, augmenting City staff to quicken progress, establishing benchmarks, and evaluating progress. The Intersection Database will help make our City safer for folks with disabilities, and the Equity section has recommendations for making sure that the implementation and evaluation of projects supports the Priority Neighborhoods, elderly, and children foremost.”
What about his and the Safe Streets group’s concerns about the plan as proposed?
Trestman pointed out that the plan calls for the implementation of half of the proposed bicycle network by 2032. That’s a long way off, he said. And the need for making significant safety and access improvements for pedestrians and cyclists and bus riders is an urgent one.
“The largest roadblocks to progress are procedural within the City,” Trestmant wrote. “How would having this plan affect the aldermanic approval process? What are potential Charter revisions that could speed up the process? What changes can the City make without Aldermanic+Traffic Authority approval (such as adding bike lanes on streets where nothing would need to be removed in the process)? A functional transportation system relies on an interconnected network, which is foiled when Alders can veto individual improvements because they feel beholden to a few folks who don’t want change on their block.”
“As advocates we are excited for the progress that this plan could bring about, and strongly support its adoption,” Trestman concluded. “However, we feel obligated to push our City to consider this plan as a great step in the right direction, not as the ultimate goal.”
17 Years, 17 Plans
The Safe Routes for All plan isn’t the first document to lay out how New Haven could improve its transit infrastructure. Far from it.
According to a section of the report entitled “Existing Plan Review & Summary,” the city has put together, adopted, promoted, or otherwise played a part in drafting 17 different transit-focused plans in the 17 years between 2004 and 2021.
“The project team reviewed a total of 17 previous plans and studies relevant to active transportation in New Haven,” that section of the report reads.
“What this should reinforce to readers is that the City of New Haven has been planning for and implementing active transportation improvements since as early as 2004, with the Plan for Greenways & Cycling Systems.”
So… what were / are those 17 transit-focused plans that have come out over the past 18 years that relate to transportation in New Haven?
• 2004 Plan for Greenways & Cycling Systems
• 2008 Route 10 Corridor Study
• 2009 Downtown Bicycle & Pedestrian Gap Analysis
• 2010 Whalley Avenue Corridor Study
• Elm City Cycling 2013 Bike & Pedestrian Plan
• 2013 Hill to Downtown Community Plan
• 2014 Two-Way Conversion Report
• 2015 Park New Haven Mobility Study (Medical District)
• 2015 Comprehensive Plan — Vision 2025
• 2016 Wooster Square Planning Study
• 2017 Fair Haven Mobility Study
• 2017 Newhallville Mobility Study
• 2018 Union Ave. Road Diet & Cycle Track Analysis
• 2018 New Haven to West Haven: An Intercity Cycling Report
• 2019 Long Wharf Responsible Growth Plan
• 2019 Move New Haven Transit Mobility Study
• 2021 New Haven Bike Vision
Only three of these pre-Safe Routes for All plans are citywide, the latest report reads. Most focus on specific corridors or neighborhoods.
The Safe Routes for All plan found five key themes that came up again and again in these previous reports, and that it sought to build off of with this newly completed and proposed plan. To quote directly from that section of the report, those key themes include:
1. Previous plans repeatedly call for continuous East-West and North-South bicycle connections through and outside of the City.
2. Mobility studies have been conducted in only two of the Priority Neighborhoods, with other areas of focus being Downtown and Wooster Square.
3. Connections to proposed greenways are repeated priorities of existing plans and studies.
4. All existing plans and studies place emphasis on protected bicycle facilities, traffic calming solutions, and expanding neighborhood greenways.
5. Multiple plans call for two-way conversions, especially in the Downtown core, as crucial mobility and placemaking improvements.