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Banner Image: View of Whitney Avenue in Hamden from 1902 (Hamden Historical Society).
Whitney Avenue is an important thoroughfare in New Haven – traversing several city neighborhoods and giving access to Downtown from towns to the north. The street is a major commuter route during morning and rush hour traffic. Used predominantly by motorists, the avenue also carries the J-bus route, serves pedestrians walking to work and Downtown services, and handles an increasing number of cyclists.
Grove to Trumbull
Church Street currently runs one-way northbound to Grove Street at which point Whitney Avenue begins. Deviating from Church Street’s path, Whitney Avenue transitions from three northbound travel lanes to two with on-street parking on either side. Many businesses, stores, offices, and some residences populate this stretch of the avenue. Recently, the intersection of Audubon Street received an impressive redesign to better accommodate crossing pedestrians from offices and schools.
South of Humphrey
Past Trumbull Street, Whitney Avenue meets Temple Street at Phelps Triangle to become a broad thoroughfare. Originally a colonial-era highway radiating from the Nine Squares, Whitney Avenue was chartered as the Hartford Turnpike in 1798. Laid out through the estates of James Hillhouse, who chartered the road, and Eli Whitney, for whom the roadway was eventually named, the adjacent land was first home to a few mansions and landscaped grounds. The arrival of horse-drawn streetcars along the avenue in the 1890s, however, encouraged land subdivision and a construction boom ensued. A fashionable address early on, Whitney Avenue did not begin to lose its favor until the arrival of electrified trolleys and the associated noise of the modern era. Today, many of the buildings lining the lower portion of the street have been converted to offices, parking lots, and institutional buildings. At 40-feet wide, the avenue south of Humphrey Street carries vehicles on two travel lanes in each direction.
North of Humphrey
North of Humphrey Street, Whitney Avenue widens to 50-feet, adding a center turning lane and allowing on-street parking along certain stretches. This section of the street remains predominantly residential as fewer homes have been converted to offices than in the lower segment.
Pros: high roadway carrying capacity; dedicated turning lanes along most of the northern stretch; some convenient on-street parking; large trees and shaded sidewalks
Cons: high travel speeds; lack of dedicated cycling and bus infrastructure
In 2009 when Whitney Avenue was being repaved, there was an opportunity to redesign the street in order to better accommodate multimodal travel along the thoroughfare. The City and ConnDOT missed that opportunity and Whitney Avenue has remained a difficult street to navigate on bike, especially during rush hour. Furthermore, buses are easily delayed and caught in commuter traffic along the corridor. Outlined before are some ideas for how to envision Whitney Avenue as a multimodal thoroughfare so that the next opportunity to transform the street is not squandered.
Grove to Trumbull
The entire segment of Whitney Avenue south of Humphrey Street is 40-feet wide, including the one-way portion that traverses the Whitney-Audubon district. By narrowing travel lanes from 12-feet to 10, and parking lanes from 8-feet to 7, a dedicated 6-foot bike lane can be added to the street.
South of Humphrey
Beyond Bradley Street when Temple and Whitney converge, the avenue can be converted from four lanes to three with a dedicated center turning lane and generous shoulders that can be used as bike lanes.
North of Humphrey
North of Humphrey Street where most of Whitney Avenue already has a dedicated turning lane, the existing parking/travel travel lanes next to the curb can be reconfigured to have dedicated on-street parking on the south side and bike lanes. Southbound buses heading towards Downtown would temporarily use the bike lane to pick-up and drop-off riders.
Pros: high roadway carrying capacity is largely maintain; dedicated cycling infrastructure along the entire corridor; dedicated left-hand turning lanes
Cons: not protected cycling infrastructure; buses still travel with cars; loss of some on-street parking on the north side of the street
As an important thoroughfare in the city’s history, Whitney Avenue deserves to be accessible to all road users. Currently, the avenue is designed exclusively for automobiles, while cyclists and bus riders have to vie for space along the treacherous route. In 2009, an opportunity to envision Whitney Avenue as something more than a commuter car sewer was missed, but the idea should not be forgotten.
By sacrificing some on-street parking along the corridor, converting the street to a 3-lane roadway, and narrowing travel lanes, Whitney Avenue can include dedicated cycling infrastructure to encourage multimodal transportation alternatives while not losing roadway carrying capacity. At 22,000 vehicles per day, 3-lane roads are a viable option for Whitney Avenue; for more information on undivided four-lane to three-lane road conversions see here.