Goodbye Downtown New Haven Highway, Hello 1,300 Parking Spaces?

Image: Christopher Bocksteal/ Svigals + Partners

A 5.5-acre chunk of New Haven that was destroyed by urban renewal in the 1950s will be redeveloped, but the plans call for a lot of parking. Image: Christopher Bocksteal/Svigals + Partners

Advocates for livable streets in New Haven have high hopes for the Downtown Crossing/Route 34 West projects, made possible by a highway teardown that will open 16 acres of prime, center-city land.

But the opportunity to create a better connected, more people-friendly place is off to a disappointing start. Last week, the New Haven Board of Alders unanimously approved phase one of the project — a 5.5-acre site that had been obliterated to make way for the highway during the urban renewal era, but never saw the planned road construction. For decades, the block has been little more than an enormous parking crater.

Plans call for the area — dubbed Route 34 West, call for a medical office building, a Rite Aid, and the headquarters of a nonprofit mental health caregiver. And oh yes, the development will also include an 800-space parking garage. Meanwhile, at the city’s insistence, a “temporary” 500-space parking lot will also be added near the site.

Some residents say the design is like a suburban office park. ”It’s simply providing a way for people who live outside the area drive into town for jobs but for people that live in the area, not doing anything to improve their mobility,” said Anstress Farwell of the New Haven Urban Design League

Farwell is disappointed developers apparently plan to do nothing to expand transportation options as part of the project. Residents have urged the city to consider bike lanes on adjacent streets, but the city has not yet made any commitment to them or to expanding transit.

City officials said they couldn’t eliminate a large parking lot — the site formerly held about 600 spaces — without replacing the car storage. The 500-space lot is only supposed to last five years — until the businesses can develop another location or encourage employees to use other modes of transport, city officials say.