by Joel Tolman, Director of Impact & Engagement
Great news: After concerted organizing by members of the Common Ground community and our neighbors in West Rock, CT Transit has committed to significantly improved bus service to our school and neighborhood! Starting on August 26th — in time for the next school year — city buses will loop past Common Ground on their way to and from downtown. This means Common Ground students will be dropped off and picked right at our site, rather than choosing between an extra 15-20 minutes on the bus or braving two dangerous intersections and a bridge with no sidewalks in order to get to school.
Just as importantly, this route change is a big win for West Rock Residents. Students at the federal Job Corps Center and residents at Westville Manor — just up the street from Common Ground — will be able to ride directly to and from downtown for school and work. Because the city bus will now loop through the West Rock neighborhood, people will be able to travel between their homes in New Haven Housing developments, the new West Rock branch of Hill Health Center and the corner store next door, Common Ground, and the programs at the Brennan Rogers Family Resource Center, Solar Youth, and the Boys and Girls Club.
We are making progress on other fronts, as well. At the same community meeting that CT Transit announced these route changes, Traffic, Transportation & Parking Director Doug Hausladen announced that the City of New Haven was ready to take a number of steps toward making a safer, more connected community:
- Installing schools safety zone signage, and potentially other traffic calming measures, around Common Ground’s campus.
- Placing flashing “your speed” sign coming down the hill toward Common Ground from Job Corps.
- Building speed bumps on Level Street, where drivers between Hamden and New Haven often violate speed limits.
- Creating bus shelters in the housing developments north of Common Ground’s campus.
- Pursuing funding to close the big sidewalk gap in the West Rock neighborhood — seeking to connect Common Ground, Southern Connecticut State University, residents in public housing, and other community resources.
This progress is possible because of lots of work by lots of people!
- For years, West Rock residents and community organizations have been getting organized to improve our neighborhood. Ms. Lensley Gay — head of the Family Resource Center at Brennan Rogers School — has created a space where children and adults can come together to connect with each other and the supports they deserve. Young people and adults have rallied when acts of violence threaten our community. Community anchors like Solar Youth, Common Ground, and New Haven Job Corps have stepped up to support residents and share their own concerns. Staff from the New Haven Housing Authority and Alder Michelle Sepulveda have stepped forward to support these neighborhood-driven efforts.
- The Community Alliance for Research and Engagement (now housed at Southern Connecticut State University’s School of Public health) stepped up to support this neighborhood organizing — facilitating focus groups related to transportation and economic opportunities, helping to lay the groundwork for community meetings, and supporting a year of work by two neighborhood health leaders: Westville Manor Resident Makia Richardson and SCSU grad student Meadeshia Mitchell.
- Last summer — when Common Ground’s farm director was struck and injured while riding her bike to Common Ground — we got organized around a Complete Streets Proposal to improve safety and connectivity in our neighborhood. Common Ground student Elliot Faulkner collected more than 150 signatures on a petition, and parent Montreal Johnson has collected hundreds more. Parents and community members reached out to CT Transit demanding action. The President and other key leaders at Southern Connecticut State University, and members of the West River Watershed Coalition, sent letters of support.
- This winter and spring, neighborhood residents and community stakeholders showed up in force to a series of community meetings to share their concerns and develop solutions. They met first to identify community priorities and identify spokespeople. At a second meeting, Mayor Toni Harp and members of her leadership staff, along with Transportation commissioner Douglas Solensky and members of his team, showed up to hear our neighborhood’s concerns. And, earlier this spring, residents gathered a third time to hear the commitments that city and CT Transit were ready to make in response to these demands!
- Bigger moves in the neighborhood — again, the result of neighborhood organizing and problem-solving by local agencies — have also allowed for this progress. After decades of division, the last stretch of fence separating the New Haven public housing developments up the street from their neighbors in Hamden came down this spring. The removal of the fence allows for busses to loop through the Brookside and Rockview developments for the first time — and, more importantly, for residents to travel freely to and from their neighborhood.
We aren’t done! We need to keep organizing and problem-solving to make sure our students and neighbors are safe and connected. And we need to keep building a stronger, more connected community, ready to face any challenge that heads our way.
Right now, we need to keep following up with City Hall to make sure they move quickly on their commitment to install school zone signs — while also advocating for other traffic calming measures that will slow down traffic around Common Ground’s campus.