Church Street

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Church Street was one of the first streets laid out as part of the Nine Square Plan in 1638. Originally known as Market Street, the thoroughfare was remained Church Street in 1784 when the municipal government was incorporated. Traversing the east side of the Green and today’s Downtown, Church Street has been central to the city’s life for nearly four centuries.

Existing Conditions:

Grove to Chapel Street

Named for Trinity Church, which was formerly located on the street, Church Street eventually developed as the civic and commercial center for the city. The construction of Henry Austin’s City Hall building in 1861 preceded a wave of civic buildings that would follow at the turn of the century and bring two courthouses, a post office, and library to form a civic complex around Church Street. Numerous office buildings, commercial blocks, and banks also populated the corridor around that time. Today, Church Street still maintains much of its commercial and civic character. In the 1950s, many of Downtown’s streets, including Church Street, were converted from two-way street to one-way. As it stands, from George Street to Grove Street, there are three northbound travel lanes flanked by on-street parking.

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Chapel Street to MLK Boulevard

South of Chapel Street, the roadway widens slightly and between George Street and MLK Boulevard two southbound travel lanes join the three northbound lanes – eliminating the on-street parking. During Urban Redevelopment when the Oak Street Connector was constructed, Church Street was reconfigured as the premier retail street in the city with direct access to the highway – meant to supplant Chapel Street. This worked temporarily, but the Chapel Square Mall eventually failed and has since been replaced with a new Gateway Community College Campus – adding higher education to the long list on Church Street’s roles.

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Church Street South

In 1907, George Dudley Seymour wrote an open letter in the New Haven Register calling for a movement within the city to support the construction of public buildings and civic monuments. Principle among these monuments was the call for a wide avenue to connect the Green with a new train station to be constructed on Union Avenue. In 1910, this call was answered with the publication of the New Haven Civic Improvement Commission Report by Cass Gilbert and Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. In the report, the authors detail how to connect the train station with Downtown, which consisted of widening Temple Street, projecting a new avenue to the train station, and creating a series of public squares along the route to guide visitors to and from the Green to the station. This vision was never fully realized, however, but the proposal did make another appearance during Urban Redevelopment when Church Street was extended over the Oak Street Connector to Union Avenue.

Church Street South is a divided roadway with two northbound and two southbound travel lanes with a left turn lanes at intersections and on-street parking. The roadway is formidable to cross even with the center divider and has been the site of numerous accidents.

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Pros: high road carrying capacity; dedicated left-turn lanes; convenient on-street parking

Cons: one-way travel; no dedicated biking infrastructure; high travel speeds; large number of vehicle accidents

Two Way Conversion & Bike Lanes

The Downtown section of Church Street is a prime candidate for the city’s ongoing effort to convert one-way streets back to two-way. With it’s generous width, Church Street could accommodate two-way travel starting at Grove Street, while also making room for dedicated bike lanes.

Grove to Chapel Street

Between Grove and Chapel Street, there is enough room to accommodate two northbound travel lanes with a dedicated bike lane, one southbound sharrow lane, and on-street parking.

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Chapel Street to MLK Boulevard

South of Chapel Street where the roadway widens, an additional southbound lane can be added along with a dedicated southbound bike lane.

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Church Street South

On Church Street South, travel lanes can be narrowed to 10-feet to accommodate the inclusion of dedicated bike lanes along the thoroughfare.

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Pros: high road carrying capacity maintained; two-way travel possible along the entire corridor; on-street parking maintained or added to; dedicated bike infrastructure

Cons: not protected cycling facilities

Conclusion

Church Street is one of the oldest streets in the city – there since its inception. As such, the street deserves better use than a mere race track for northbound vehicles. There is ample width along the street to accommodate dedicated cycling facilities and two-way travel, while maintaining convenient on-street parking to support the numerous businesses and services along Church Street.

Church Street was reconfigured and extended in the 1950s in order to facilitate better access to the Downtown from suburban areas. Sacrificed was some of the street’s functionality and accessibility for local users. Church Street can become one of many examples in the city of how to maintain current functionality while incorporating local travel infrastructure for the betterment of Downtown circulation.

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