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CityFixer

The Next Generation of Complete Streets Is Unfolding in New Haven

The city's new approach puts an emphasis on fast, cheap, and lean designs.

New Haven wants to quicken the pace of its complete streets projects. (New Haven DOT)

As a local activist in New Haven, Connecticut, Douglas Hausladen helped push for the city's complete streets policy, formally adopted in 2010. But as director of the Department of Transportation, Traffic and Parking, the position to which he was appointed last year, he's had a frustrating time fulfilling that mandate. The small agency only has money and personnel to finish about one full-fledged complete streets project a year, he says, even as dozens sit in the queue.

"That doesn't get us anywhere," he says, "nor does it lead to any sort of transformation as a city."

So Hausladen, in his official capacity, has decided to go a little rogue. In November, he and City Engineer Giovanni Zinn began pushing an initiative they call "Complete Streets 2.0". Basically, they have designed cheap-and-lean street modifications—from protected bike lanes to pedestrian-friendly curb extensions to pop-up triangle parks—designed to go up quick and "fail fast." If the projects don't provide the expected benefits in a short window, they can be torn down in a single day.

The approach puts a government imprimatur on a style of citizen (don't-call-it-"tactical") urbanism, whereby activists push back against car-first street design by doing things like painting their own crosswalks—and often get arrested for their troubles. In that sense, Hausladen calls Complete Streets 2.0 "really, really weird, as far as normal transportation engineering goes." But it also fits with the city's larger push for alternative transportation options.

"The whole goal is to rethink the roadway and to reprioritize the roadway for all users," he says. "Not just for the automobile user."

The first Complete Streets 2.0 project on Hausladen's radar is a redesign of Edgewood Avenue. Instead of two-lane traffic in each direction, Hausladen wants to remove a travel lane each way, bump out the curb parking, and make room for a protected bike lane (below). That sounds like a major project, but by doing the job with paint, delineator tubes, and traffic bollards—rather than hard-engineered curbing—he says it can be done for less than $80,000.

A diagram of potential Complete Streets 2.0 changes to Edgewood Avenue in New Haven. (New Haven DOT)

The hope right now is to complete Edgewood 2.0 by May. Unlike citizen urbanists, Hausladen will still have to take his case to the public. He's already started community discussions, and says he'll spend weekends going door-to-door along Edgewood all March and April if necessary.

As with unsanctioned street work, though, there's the little problem of the law. Current statutes may complicate or even prevent some 2.0 projects: two-way cycle tracks, bike lanes on the left-hand side of a street, or parking that extends beyond a foot of the curb (as in the Edgewood plans) all raise legal questions. But with the state updating its highway design manual for 2017 to address complete streets concerns, Hausladen believes he'll get support as needed in the interim.

"Pretty much any infrastructure you've seen in a progressively designed city that make accommodations for bikes is illegal," he says.

In the short-term, Hausladen wants to finish 20 rapid complete streets projects inside of a year, with at least one for each New Haven neighborhood. That would be an "order of magnitude" change from the current pace of one traditional street redesign a year for the whole city, he says, and the list of project requests submitted by the public is a long one. They might not all pan out, but Hausladen says the beauty of this approach is that some degree of failure is built into the process.

"These are test facilities for a reason," he says. "If it doesn't work, and if the world does end as some people expect, then we can revert to what it was."

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