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Main Street was so named since it served as the main route into East Haven from New Haven. Originally part of the Boston Post Road from New York to Boston, Main Street received improvements during the course of the 18th century as private toll-funded turnpikes were chartered. In the 19th century, Main Street became part of US Route 1 and was used for interstate trucking prior to the construction of highways in the 1950s and 60s. Main Street also carried streetcars between the New Haven and East Haven Greens – requiring local and through vehicles including cars, trolleys, and trucks to compete with one another for space on the street. As a result of the construction of the Saltonstall Parkway by the 1940s, however, US Route 1 bypassed the portions of Main Street located in New Haven and East Haven. Today, Main Street serves local businesses, residences, and the civic life of East Haven. Buses have replaced streetcars, trucks mainly use nearby Interstate 95, and heavy local traffic has been diverted to Forbes Avenue and the Frontage Roads.
Prior to 1881, the entire east shore of the Quinnipiac River was part of the Town of East Haven. It was not until 1918 that Fair Haven Heights officially joined the city, followed by Morris Cove in 1923, and the Annex in 1959 (see here). Today, Main Street exists as a two-way road with central left-hand turning lane and shoulders east of Townsend Avenue in New Haven. Adjacent land uses include housing, auto shops, small businesses, and parking lots.
Crossing the border from New Haven into East Haven, Main Street becomes as a two-lane road with on-street parking. This section of the street exploded with residential development around the time the Saltonstall Parkway was built. Single-story commercial development and conversions of houses into stores increased along this stretch of Main Street as residential development continued to the north of south in the mid-20th century. Auto-oriented businesses began popping up after the construction of the Interstate highway.
In the heart of East Haven, Main Street widens to three-travel lanes with on-street parking on the south side. This was the commercial and civic center of the town when trolleys ran up and down the street passing the firehouse, town hall, green, library, church, and school. Today, shopping plazas, parking lots, and banks join and, in some cases, diminish the civic and commercial character of the street.
Pros: some retension of traditional Main Street feel; convenient on-street parking along much of the corridor; dedicated left-hand turn lanes a many intersections
Cons: no dedicated cycling infrastructure; overly wide lanes
With the construction of alternate routes and infrastructure for car and truck traffic, Main Street’s role as a primary carrier of traffic was greatly reduced throughout the course of the 20th century. Thus providing an opportunity to use space more equitably for other road users. Bike lanes along much, if not all, of Main Street is possible if the needs of cyclists and drivers are balanced more proportionally.
On the New Haven segment of Main Street where there is currently no on-street parking, travel and turn lanes can be reducded to 10-feet in order to make room for 4-foot bike lanes – replacing the existing shoulders.
Where Main Street widens as it crosses into East Haven, 4-foot bike lanes can be added to the roadway by reducing travel and parking lanes to 10- and 7-feet, respectively.
In the center of East Haven where Main Street again widens, an on-street parking lane can replace a westbound travel lane – making room for generous 6-foot bike lanes, 8-foot parking lanes, and 11-foot travel lanes.
Pros: dedicated cycling infrastructure to encourage alternate travel modes; reduced travel lanes to calm traffic; additional and maintained on-street parking for businesses
Cons: not protected cycling facilities and 4-foot bike lanes will prevent use by vulnerable riders; some reduced roadway carrying capacity in the center of East Haven
Main Street has served many purposes throughout its history – part of the early highway to Boston from New York, a trucking road along US Route 1, and the main street of East Haven. In light of the construction of the Route 1 bypass and Connecticut Turnpike, Main Street’s focus should shift to local access by car, bus, and bike to small businesses and public facilities to invigorate Main Street as a place to live, work, shop and enjoy. Creating dedicated bicycling infrastructure can be a boon to commerce as studies have shown that cyclists and pedestrians spend more money at businesses that they pass than motorists.