Transportation: An Issue of Equity
Transportation connects people to jobs, the tasks of daily living, health care and social and family life. Yet the infrastructure of highways and automobile-centered development can be barriers to health, wellbeing, and an integrated community. As it moves into the 21st century, Greater New Haven is looking to comprehensive solutions that make the region a place where everyone can get where they need to go, regardless of their income, age, or physical ability.
Many local job seekers struggle to find employment because the neighborhoods where they can afford to live are not within walking distance of available jobs. At the statewide job placement agency CTWorks, 84% of the applicants identified transportation as a barrier, far more than those that identified child care, education, housing, inexperience, or language1.
No Car = Limited Options
In New Haven, 27% of households (13,000) have no car2.
"Ninety percent of folks we serve do not have vehicles," says Bonita Grubbs, executive director of Christian Community Action, which offers bus tokens to clients. "It clearly is an impediment." For example, Grubbs says one client who recently received her Certified Nursing Assistant license to provide home care was challenged getting from one client to the next on time by bus.
"A few of our clients have bikes, which are a godsend," added Grubbs.
Cars are the dominant way people get to work in Greater New Haven, where the commute times are relatively shorter than other metro-areas in the Northeast and can be seen as competitive asset. Transportation use in the city of New Haven, however, is more diverse. According DataHaven's Greater New Haven Community Index, 68 percent of New Haven residents drive to work or carpool; 15 percent walk or bike; 11 percent take the bus; and 5 percent use another means or work at home.
Alternatives to Automobiles
In recent years, urban planners have seized on non-automotive transportation options as an economic opportunity.
"It can create jobs not only in itself but as economic development along the corridors," says Karen Burnaska, director of Transit for Connecticut, which promotes bus and rail transportation as two necessary – and interconnected – components, along with roads, of a fully functioning transportation system in the region. Getting commuters out of their cars also reduces air pollution and improves health and wellbeing.
Between the Shoreline East and Metro-North Rail lines, Greater New Haven has the benefit of being connected to the northeast corridor's rail system. Metro North's New York-to-New Haven commuter train is the busiest single rail line in the country. Connecting Greater New Haven to lower Fairfield County and New York, it is vital to the local economy and a key to future growth. Yet the infrastructure remains stuck in the early 20th century.
Unfortunately, while the Federal Rail Administration is in a major planning effort that will impact the future of train travel, the New Haven line is not part of the process because the state owns the tracks. Worrisome proposals include a high speed Boston-to-New York line that would bypass New Haven, and perhaps Connecticut, entirely3.
Cyclists are another constituency promoting multi-modality and a cleaner environment. Elm City Cycling collaborates with the City of New Haven and local nonprofits and businesses to make cycling and walking safer, more enjoyable and more popular. The share of cycling and pedestrian commuters has increased in the past few years due to several factors: the high price of gasoline, concern for the environment, interest in maintaining fitness, and convenience.
"Multi-modality is a key concept, like bike racks on buses and vans picking up workers from the train station," says Tom Harned, a transportation planner and board member of Elm City Cycling. He says New Haven's award-winning Complete Streets manual – a collaboration of the city's planning and transportation departments and Elm City Cycling – could be a model for other towns in the region. Bike lanes and sharrows (painted bike signs on the pavement) have been added to enhance safety and promote the idea that bikes belong on city streets.
The Farmington Canal Greenway connects New Haven to Cheshire through Hamden and provides a 14-mile, off-road paved path for non-motorized commuting and recreation.
Jim Travers, the recent New Haven transportation director, says the City's Street Smarts campaign focuses on the safety and education of pedestrian, cyclists, and drivers. "The campaign highlights that roadways belong to all users and that we all must remain attentive and respectful at all times." He says the cycling network will be expanding to neighboring cities and towns, including Hamden and West Haven. He notes that another key element of "complete streets" is incorporating traffic-calming measures that slow down motor vehicles and promote safe movement by pedestrians and cyclists.
"The public-private partnership has been critical for people to make the switch from people relying on their private automobile," says Jean Stimolo, president of Rideworks, which runs vanpools for workers around greater New Haven and Waterbury. She says private employers' transportation policies and flexibility in offering options are keys to success, like guaranteed rides to those who need emergency rides home and rewards programs for taking transit. "As gas prices continue to rise, it becomes a no-brainer to support the right policies," she adds.
What The Community Foundation is doing
A grant from The Community Foundation's Community Fund for Women & Girls to New Reach (formerly New Haven Home Recovery enables 150 women who are financially-burdened, homeless and in some cases disabled get access to transportation for job training, work, behavioral health services and training programs.
A grant to Mary Wade Home paid for a van to bring elderly residents to appointments and errands.
Elm City Cycling received funding to create a comprehensive three-year strategic plan as well as to support Bike Safety Outreach & Education throughout New Haven.
Fair Haven residents used a grant to conduct a Traffic Calming Study. With those results, and the work of the City's Street Smarts Campaign to improve safety for motorists, cyclists and pedestrians, the City of New Haven secured a grant from the Federal government's Safe Routes to School Program.
1. Abraham, M, et al. (2013). Greater New Haven Community Index 2013. New Haven, CT: DataHaven, p.40.
© The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven