Livable Cities: Ready When You Are” explores how New Haven is creating a more livable community for people at every stage of life with respect to transportation—the hub of any community. Doug Hausladen, Director of Transportation and the Acting Director of the Parking Authority for the City of New Haven, delves into how the city is creating more livability by connecting to people’s everyday lives. Learn what New Haven is doing to take care of “the whole person, their whole life.
Roseanne Azarian: Welcome to Front Door, a My Place CT Podcast. My Place CT is a free web-based resource from the State of Connecticut that helps people live life independently. Learn more at myplacect.org.
Hi, I’m Roseanne Azarian, the host of Front Door, where older adults, people with disabilities and the professionals who help support them, come for information and inspiration. Subscribe to Front Door on iTunes or the Apple Podcast app, Stitcher, Google Play or wherever you get your podcasts. Front Door is a production of the Connecticut Department of Social Services and Mintz + Hoke.
Today’s episode is about livable cities and the role transportation plays in making livable possible. And here to tell us all about it is our guest, Doug Hausladen, Director of Transportation and the Acting Director of the Parking Authority, for the City of New Haven. Doug, welcome to Front Door.
Doug Hausladen: Thanks, Roseanne. It’s great to be here.
Roseanne: We love having you here. We are excited to talk about this subject–livable cities. So, my very, very first question is, what is a livable city?
Doug: Well, I think that’s a tough definition, and the way that I like to view it is, a livable city is a city that is planned for you at every stage of your life—one that you don’t have to leave when you retire or one that you don’t have to leave when you go to school. Something that is ready from cradle to grave, things for you to do—and that’s all aspects of your life.
A lot of people only think about living in the place that they live rather than also working, also playing, or also going to school. So, in New Haven we like to say a lot—live, work, and play all in the same community. And for an education community, we also like to think about learning in the same community. So for me, a livable community is one that takes care of the whole person your whole life.
Roseanne: So how does transportation factor into making a community more livable?
Doug: Well, I think it’s the underlying foundation from which we all make livability in every community. And if you can’t get to your everyday means, transportation, of course, is going to be the center of your daily life. For us, in New Haven, we think a lot about being able to just walk to the store, walk to your neighbor’s house, or just to be able to do your everyday grocery shopping.
And so, for being a livable community, if there is transportation access challenges, you’re suddenly isolated, and you’re cut off from a lot of your community. One thing that we like to think a lot about as well is, how do you design for people of all types and all ages and all abilities, to get from A to B without putting too much effort and strain into it?
Roseanne: So, it’s all about making it easy.
Doug: That’s right, and transportation is the lifeblood of any community, whether that’s pedestrian transportation, transit transportation, or private vehicle transportation. You know, a lot of our communities are planned for vehicles. However, the most livable communities tend to be those that are first planned for pedestrians and for your feet.
Roseanne: Well, I want to get the elephant out of the room. That is, we are a nation that loves our cars. It defines us. As a transit planner, I assume that you are trying to change people’s mindset about taking a car versus other modes of transportation.
Doug: Well, I couldn’t agree with you more with respect to the culture, current culture of American civil society being one based around the vehicle. It’s been challenging over the last hundred years of dismantling urban centers in America and putting highways through them. Robert Moses has been, is arguably the most successful bureaucrat of the 20th century, and also the most destructive on another level.
So, undoing generations at this point, one way of planning and one way of building, is very challenging. I think that the best way to do it is the same way to do it with anything, which is making a connection to people’s everyday lives.
For me, it’s been an eye-opening experience having a father whom is suffering from, is a recovering stroke victim, and is now wheelchair bound—left-side paralysis. And so, having the experience of everyday life, of just pushing my father around in a wheelchair has been very eye-opening to me. And connecting with people on those experiences is one way that we’re successful in opening people’s eyes.
The tough part about defining American culture as car-based or putting it at the center of our culture is that, 30 percent of New Haveners do not own a car. And that’s 30 percent of households have no car in the household. Sixty percent of households have fewer than one car per worker in the household.
And so, if we give up on the notion, or if we accept the notion that American culture is car culture, and car culture is American culture, we suddenly put 30 percent of New Haven households outside of American culture, and 60 percent of households that are struggling to stay in that culture.
And so, you know, from my perspective and from working for Mayor Toni Harp in New Haven, we have an average income, median income of $27,000—maybe it’s $37,000—forgive me. And it’s less than half of the median income from our region. So, if we design our cities based on the need for cars, one third of our population is going to spend over $10,000 a year, which is one third of their income, on their car. That does not leave a lot of room for anything else.
And we’ve heard in a lot of communities that the rent is just too high. So, we’re seeing the transportation and housing costs swallowing up everyone’s income, leaving very little disposable income, which then has its own spiral effects.
So, I think for, yeah, so for us in New Haven, we really connect with folks to try and, for folks that don’t have these experiences of being a pedestrian, or seeing the city from your two feet. So, connect them with their own story to help them see it and then on the longer haul, really just undoing that default position, which is a very accurate default position for American-based conversations in community.
Roseanne: How do you take it from people who are actually using transportation, public transportation, all the way up to talking to officials and professionals throughout the community that would have much to say about what you do in regards to transportation?
Doug: It is a challenge, to change the story and to pivot on highlighting one angle over another, with respect to delivering the message and trying to promote a more livable community with respect to our transportation network. The big challenge, of course, is that so many folks whom are in a position of power or decision making, very much have the privilege of being a car owner and very much are usually able-bodied folks whom have a harder time identifying.
The nice part about working in the transportation sector now is that we have a good set of history to look back on. We have some data points in some cities that have turned the needle and moved the needle for the good. And so, we do have now anecdotes that we can point to other communities and say, hey, what about Seattle? Seattle has grown their transit use in the last ten years. They’ve included, they have increased their jobs in the downtown, but not increased the number of vehicles coming into their downtown.
So, what do we find from that experience that we can bring to New Haven? You know, obviously Seattle and New Haven are apples and oranges when it comes to size. And the only thing about the same is we both have a harbor—you know, Puget Sound versus the New Haven Harbor.
But the, you know, the message has to get delivered and it’s being more and more accepted because of these anecdotes and studies. So, we always look to New York and Boston, our leaders in the east and the west of us. And they are leading the way in active transportation, and showing the benefits and doing the studies. and taking the time to prove the case model.
I’d say, that we also have two major groups in America right now that are all asking for the same thing. Millennials, whom are graduating and taking over the workforce, and Baby Boomers, whom are retiring out of the workforce—they are the two largest demographic populations in our country, and both are asking for the same thing. They all want to live, work, and play in their same cities. And so, it is becoming a little bit easier to get a few more voices into the conversation and it’s a little easier to take it to the next level, which is, well why don’t we have a sidewalk in front of the store if we have a bus stop? And then people start to want to solve these problems together.
Roseanne: So learning from other cities’ successes.
Roseanne: Is one way.
Doug: And really, in Connecticut, having Connecticut cities to point to has been the most helpful thing for other Connecticut cities. You know, the Land of Steady Habits is a well-earned moniker, where most bureaucrats in Connecticut only focus on Connecticut because our state laws are very unique. And so, they just want to know what Norwalk has done, or what has Hartford done, or what is New London doing? When that happens, you get a lot more change faster and you start to pick up some, you start turning inertia for the better, and you start to get, pick up some momentum.
Roseanne: Before we dig into this topic a bit more, let’s take a break and we’ll be back with Doug Hausladen after this.
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Roseanne: We’re back with Doug Hausladen from the City of New Haven. Doug, tell us about some of New Haven’s most recent success stories.
Doug: I think there’s been a number of successes—also a number of failures that I could also share, and one of those successes, I would say, is a project that really touched on all of our policy highlights that we’d like to talk about. We’d like to talk about safe routes for all—but in that, under safe routes for all comes safe routes for school, parks, seniors, food, and transit—these five big policy areas.
So, Clinton Avenue was a road that touched all five areas of our safe routes policy. There’s a middle school, a retirement center where folks live, there’s two parks on the street as well as a bus line, and corner stores that serve the only fresh food in the area. And for us, in the Clinton Avenue project, there were some lingering community development block grant funds from the federal government left over when Mayor Harp took office in 2014.
Our office was really excited about delivering an improved bike lane to Clinton Avenue. The project and CDBG funding was called Clinton Avenue Bike Lane Project—about $133,000. And my staff came out to our community and designed the fanciest, greenest bike lane you’ve ever seen, and were thrown out of the room and rejected by the community because what it ended up they wanted wasn’t a bike lane necessarily there, they already had one and there wasn’t a whole lot of cycling population. What they really wanted was us to focus on their ability to cross Clinton Avenue. They wanted a complete street, if you will, on Clinton Avenue. One that prioritizes pedestrians and more vulnerable users, like cyclists, over big boxes or vehicles, or drivers.
And it took us three times, three designs—and finally we really opened up our ears and quieted our mouths, ‘cause we were on a sales pitch and I wanted to sell this green painted bike lane. However, thankfully, we had some good feedback and good opportunity for engagement with our community, and redesigned the project to really focus on the pedestrian experience of crossing the street, for those folks in the Mary Wade Home who were just trying to cross the street to sit in Chatham Square Park, and just enjoy the park.
So, we ended up designing a number of new elements that included green infrastructure-bio-swales that were built into bump-outs and built into raised pedestrian crossings, flashing, rapid rectangular flashing beacons, if you’re familiar, as well as two big intersection tables that really changed the profile and the perspective of Clinton Avenue.
And when we brought that project back, the community actually cheered at a public meeting—and that’s when you know you’ve got solid gold and you did what they wanted. And that was, you know, that success story is a story of growth in the Mayor Harp administration where we went from planning for people to planning with people and really found that getting out in the street and walking streets with people is the best way possible to plan these projects.
You know, another minor success we’ve had, which was potentially not successful, was the New Haven Housing Authority C.B. Motley facility over on Sherman Parkway in Newhallville in New Haven. And the Mayor was on a campaign and had been approached by some of the seniors living there whom requested my presence, and wanted a bus line moved two blocks to go along their Sherman Parkway. For those listening—and we do have para-transit services in New Haven—that is a door-to-door para-transit service for medical calls. We also have My Ride, which is for any reason and then in addition we also have fixed route bus transit, which is the CT Transit service.
We were responsive, but didn’t exactly do what our community wanted, which was, they wanted us to move a bus line two blocks, make the bus turn left, right, right, and then get back on the main line at Dixwell Avenue. However, when we came out, we heard what they wanted—they wanted the bus to come to them. And then I asked them, “Why? Why do you want the bus to come to you?” Because it’s right there. It’s only a block and a half walk, and with 30 minutes of exercise, fifteen minutes of a walk there, fifteen minutes of a walk back, you’re going to get your CDC recommended active lifestyle requirements of a daily life.
And it turned out that they’re, they were, a lot of folks on scooters or on, using walkers. And within that one block walk, as the crow flies—it is a four block walk as it were, there were about four or five handicap ramps that were so mangled by tree roots that people had literally fallen off their scooter and into the roadway. And so, folks were using, you know, driving their scooters, not on the sidewalk. but riding up in the driveway, in the parking lane, and taking their lives in risk just to get to the bus stop.
And so, by meeting our community where they were and walking it with them, you know, we really found out the true problem, the true barriers to their livable community weren’t the bus wasn’t right here—it’s that the path, the walkway to the bus was untenable and impossible. You know, there were other issues, like people blocking the sidewalk with their car, so we’ve sent out parking enforcement. It was dark—we took over the street lighting program and changed all the street lights, worked with the neighbors to put in motion centers and timers, got the police to help walk the line, and talked with all the homeowners about the importance of eyes on the street.
And I have not been requested, since all of those repairs happened, I have not been requested to move the bus any longer, but they do have some more sidewalks for us to work on.
Roseanne: That’s awesome. I think it’s all about, as you said, not planning for the people but planning with the people.
Doug: Absolutely. And the best way is to get to those folks and do it right there on the ground with them.
Roseanne: Where do I begin this conversation? Or do I just start? Do I just start making some kind of inroad to create more livability? We obviously have a lot of roads to…
Doug: To repair.
Roseanne: To repair, right. Roads to follow, actually, that could do so. Where do you begin?
Doug: I don’t think there’s any bad place to begin, and a lot of people come at the livability from different angles. I come at it from a transportation perspective. A lot of folks come at it from a client resiliency perspective. A lot of folks come at it from a retire-in-place perspective. And I think that if you can come from a place of personal story and a personal passion, you’re going to come off much more authentic and much more successfully find yourself in a position to actually make change in your community.
That old Barack Obama proverb of, you know, African proverb of, “If you want to run fast, run alone. If you want to run far, run together.” And that is a hundred percent true around community change and on building more livable communities.
Roseanne: Well this, we could go on, we could go on forever. It’s got so many wonderful aspects. We hope you can come back again.
Doug: I’d absolutely love to. Thanks so much.
Roseanne: Thanks so much for listening to Front Door, a My Place CT Podcast. Please subscribe, rate or review the show on iTunes. And you can access all the episodes as well as transcripts and the show link at myplacect.org. Stop by Front Door for our next episode. And remember, our door is always open.
Anncr: Front Door is a production of the Connecticut Department of Social Services and Mintz + Hoke.
My Place CT is the virtual home of No Wrong Door.