Saturday, March 24, 2018

Four North End Leaders Oppose Route 9 Plan

Earlier this week, four former directors of the North End Action Team (NEAT) took the time to write to Middletown city leaders about their concerns on the proposal to make changes to Main Street and the North End in order to remove the traffic lights on Route 9.  

In these letters, Precious Price, Bobbye Knoll, Izzi Greenberg and Lydia Brewster noted the devastating impact that the proposed changes will have for the residents who live in downtown neighborhoods, and also the students and staff at Macdonough School.  

Their letters are printed in full below - please take a moment to hear their perspective. 

More information on the DOT plan is available here, here and here. 

From Izzi Greenberg:

Dear Mayor, Elected Officials, City Leaders, and Friends,

I am writing to share my opinion about State Project Numbers 0082-0318 and 0082-0320. These projects are "proposed to reduce congestion, improve safety, and improve access to downtown Middletown." I understand the Department of Transportation priority, and the proposed project will likely meet the goal of improving safety of people in cars, but at what expense?

As it exists, this plan and its ramifications have racial, economic, and environmental justice impacts and city leadership should be standing up for residents and opposing this project.  

The fact is that the state is trying to ease the safety, health, and social burden on commuters, and in turn is shifting it to the folks who live in the North End. This neighborhood is home to the densest population of People of Color and is the lowest-income census tract in Middletown.  It is no surprise that they bear the heaviest burden, as projects like this typically favor higher-income people over low-income people.  But that doesn't mean it is acceptable, and it doesn't mean our city leadership has to accept it.  City leadership should fight for its residents, not allow a prioritization of commuters who do not live here.

From a social justice perspective, the worst aspects of this plan are that:

*It prioritizes the safety and health of people in cars over the safety and health of people who live in this dense downtown neighborhood by forcing more traffic on to residential streets.

*Instead of reducing the already overwhelming crush of cars that cut through North End streets, it appears to be poised to increase the load. 

This plan is insufficient.  If safety were indeed a priority, pre-existing conditions would be included in the plan (they are not):

*The ramp that takes cars from the westbound lane of the Arrigoni Bridge and directs them onto Spring Street would be removed. It should be removed. This ramp exists to encourage commuters to cut through our residential neighborhood and speed past the city's only neighborhood school.  This ramp would not be tolerated if it dumped traffic into higher-income neighborhoods--it shouldn't be tolerated here.  

*The other traffic patterns that allow commuters to cut through would be changed.  The fact that our neighborhood, east and west of Main St., is a cut-through has not only reduced quality of life, but has reduced property values, reduced its visual appeal, and allowed absentee landlords to thrive.  This is not what we want for our downtown.  It should be no surprise that the streets with the most dilapidated housing are those which receive the most cut-through traffic.

The goal for commuters is to shave time off their drive. In doing so, they treat the children and families of the neighborhood as a burden.  Nearly all of the children at Macdonough School walk. We are lucky to have one of the few neighborhoods in the city with relatively continuous sidewalks. And yet, it is unsafe for children to walk, as cars speed, disregard stop signs, and generally are not considerate of the pedestrians in the neighborhood. 

The quality of life, health, and safety for residents is greatly diminished by the excess car exhaust, the litter from cars, and the general unpleasantness that exists when your small neighborhood streets are overwhelmed by the cars of people who don't live in or respect your neighborhood, but are only trying to get home as quickly as possible.  Our families can't use their bikes safely, in fact, we can't even park in on-street parking safely because the speeding commuters so often knock off the car’s side mirrors.

It is an embarrassment that commuters have been prioritized over residents for as long as they have. It is insulting and unjust to worsen the pattern.   North End and Downtown residents, along with the City of Middletown have worked hard over the last 15 years to increase the quality of life, improve housing, and make our downtown more resident and pedestrian friendly.  But we didn’t do it all.  We still have a long way to go, and this plan would put those improvements in reverse.

As city leadership, I hope you will do what is right and stand united against this plan. Stand firm and prioritize the people you serve over those who live outside of Middletown.

Thank you for your time and attention.

Izzi Greenberg

North End Middletown Resident, Columbus Ave.
Parent, Macdonough School
Organizing Committee Member, Middletown Racial Justice Coalition
Past Director, North End Action Team

From Lydia Brewster:

Dear City Officials:

I would like to support all of the points made by my former colleague and friend Izzi Greenberg and those of Jennifer Alexander in urging you to take a strong stance against the DOT –proposed changes to Route 9 that would severely impact quality of life, the appearance and the functionality of the North End.  I have spent much of the last 25 years working in some capacity on behalf of residents and institutions within the North End.  Those of us who have chosen to work there or to live there have seen many changes, most for the better, as a result of concentrated, patient, two-steps forward one back, momentum.  Frankly, slow, evolutionary change within a struggling neighborhood  is the speed that can result in deeper systemic improvements that result in long term success that is not at the expense of existing residents.  The proposed changes would, in my opinion, be a huge step backward.

My grandchildren attend Macdonough School and live on a North End street that is vibrant, friendly and connected.  My son works in the North End.  He and his family eat in North End restaurants and shop in local stores.  What’s even more important is that as they walk on the neighborhood’s sidewalks they see and know their neighbors.  I urge you not to forsake that kind of neighborhood atmosphere for the benefit of a bit of commuter convenience.

I implore those of you who represent the residents, the neighborhood and the city to react strongly and quickly to this misguided plan to destroy Rapallo Avenue and negatively impact all of the smaller internal neighborhoods within the large one. 

Sincerely yours,

Lydia Brewster
St. Vincent de Paul Middletown

From Bobbye Knoll:

Dear Mayor Drew, Elected Officials, and other involved or interested parties:

Please allow me to be the third former director of the North End Action team to ask you to take a strong and public stance against the proposed DOT changes to Route 9 and Main Street.

There is no doubt that these changes will adversely affect the quality of life for North End residents and families attending Macdonough School.

I agree wholeheartedly with the points made by both Izzi and Lydia, I do want to strongly reiterate that if we allow this plan to go through we will again be choosing to neglect the needs of North End residents and place an unfair burden on our most vulnerable neighborhood to ease the burden of others. We cannot continue to overlook the needs of families residing in the North End to benefit other areas in our city and communers. It has happened to this neighborhood too many times. These changes will have negative impacts on families who walk to and from the school, who walk to and from the downtown, and who live in areas that will see increased cut through traffic (a problem that North End residents have been asking for solutions to for years). It will also negatively effect the air quality in the neighborhoods in which North End families live and play.

Our city has made great strides to become friendly for downtown living. Please don’t ignore the impact these changes would have to the folks that are already living downtown. We’ve seen initiatives to create walkable and bikeable neighborhoods in Middletown. The North End is already a walkable/bikeable neighborhood. If we prioritize these initiatives in other areas why wouldn’t we work to protect them in our most vulnerable neighborhoods?

This plan is insufficient. It creates harm to residents of Middletown. I ask our city leaders to hold DOT accountable to answer the following points: will there be changes after the public session? Has there been a traffic count study done to see what the impact will be for the proposed Rapallo exit? Will it be publicly available? How many vehicles exit Washington Street currently? How many northbound travelers exit Hartford Ave.? Do we know the real and true impact these changes will have to the residents of our city most densely populated neighborhood?  What will the new traffic counts be on the residential streets of the north end?

Again, I urge you all to publicly oppose this plan and push for solutions that don’t unfairly place the burden on on North End residents again.

Thank you,

Bobbye Knoll Peterson, Middletown Resident
Former Director North End Action Team
Former North End Resident and Homeowner

From Precious Price:

Dear Middletown City Leadership & Elected Officials

I am writing to share my opinion of the Route 9 Project 0082-0318 & 0082-0320 proposed by the state of Connecticut’s Department of Transportation. As former community director of the North End Action Team, current director of the Middletown Racial Justice Coalition, and future Middletown North End resident (April 1, 2018), I strongly oppose this plan. 

As I am not yet a North End resident, I can’t speak to plethora of the concerns already mentioned by many Middletown residents. I can say that, socially, this plan has many implications that would be detrimental to North End residents. The proposed plan seems to increase the flow of commuter traffic through these residential neighborhoods, and this will no doubt increase the health disparities that are already prevalent in this historically disenfranchised community. It’s no secret that car exhaust and other pollutants increase respiratory illnesses such as asthma in children and heart complications. Not to mention, there’s an elementary school where students would be negatively impacted by increased traffic, both in regards to health and safety, as they commute to school each day. These are the commuters we should be prioritizing. 

When we follow trends of the workings of systemic and institutional racism, we understand it is not a coincidence the streets chosen to have the greatest impact from this plan are heavily populated by people of color. Many members of this neighborhood already live near railroads, bridges, and highways, so much so that it could be hard to conceive that the health of these residents are of any importance to those in power in our city or state. After a while, they start to seem like throw away neighborhoods. People in power created this. This is environmental racism at its core and will only be exacerbated by adding a Route 9 off-ramp in the proposed location.

One of the reasons I chose to move back to Middletown is because I feel that this is a place that, despite its issues, wants the best for its residents. Being a part of NEAT and the Racial Justice Coalition convinced me that although communities aren’t perfect, they stand up and support each other. I guess in this regard I have very high standards for this city and hope my future move will be a worthwhile investment of my time, expertise, and money. 

I wholeheartedly oppose sections 0082-0318 & 0082-0320 this DOT project for these reasons, those expressed by my friends, neighbors, and colleagues, and hope that you will come out to support and prioritize the safety, and well-being of the residents of Middletown. 

Best regards, 

Precious Price, 

(Soon to be) North End Resident, Prospect Street 
Middletown Racial Justice Coalition Director
Former North End Action Team Community Director

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