Controversial one-way street eliminated

February 20, 2019

BRIDGEPORT — Residents and business owners in a North End neighborhood have gotten their way and convinced a city board to reverse its controversial decision designating Yaremich Drive a one-way street.

The months long battle over the road’s direction and the police commission’s change-of-heart Tuesday is a civics lesson of sorts, showing that community leaders — in this case a councilwoman and a prominent Democratic leader who lobbied for the one-way designation — do not always speak for the community.

And also perhaps next time the police commission should heed the advice of paid city staff. A municipal traffic engineer last June recommended Yaremich remain a two-way street.

The cop commission’s decision last year to side with Yaremich Drive residents Councilwoman Rosalina Roman-Christy and Steven Nelson, a prominent Democrat, over the engineer’s advice was the focus of a warning Diane Lord, a private attorney, delivered at Tuesday’s meeting.

Lord represented Dr. Dennis Williams, who has complained that making Yaremich Drive one-way made it harder for patients to access his parking lot and created a potentially dangerous situation for them.

“Listen to your traffic engineer and change the street back to two-way,” Lord said to police commission members. “It occurs to me as a lawyer if you go against what your traffic engineer says and, God forbid, somebody gets hurt, you’re creating a liability.”

After the one-way signs were installed in early December, the traffic engineer issued a second opinion calling for their removal.

Edwin Farrow, cop commission member and attorney, accused Lord of making “a veiled threat.”

“I’m not threatening,” Lord said. “I’m just saying that’s what could happen.”

Ultimately it was Farrow who made the motion to return Yaremich to two-way. The commission’s unanimous vote was greeted with cheers from several audience members who live or work in the neighborhood.

Yaremich Drive is located off of Reservoir Avenue, behind the Trumbull Gardens public housing complex. The one-way designation prevented cars from turning from Reservoir onto Yaremich, forcing drivers to instead use Soundview Avenue.

The change was sought by Roman-Christy and Nelson, who maintained it made the narrow residential street safer, reduced speeding and would thwart some of the criminal activities spilling over from Trumbull Gardens.

But last June Bridgeport’s traffic engineering department disagreed, writing Yaremich “carries minimal traffic during the day and does not carry cut-thru traffic” and “converting to one-way operation will increase vehicle speeds (and) volume of traffic along Soundview.”

The police commission, whose council-appointed members include several Democratic political insiders, initially opposed the one-way designation. But then in August, after additional lobbying from Roman-Christy, the commission made Yaremich one-way.

“I’ve been informed it’s a rare, if not ever, occasion this board goes against the city’s traffic engineer,” Lord said Tuesday.

Representation without communication

Critics have complained that Roman-Christy failed to inform enough community members about the one-way proposal until it was finalized and the new traffic signs installed in early December.

“Our voices were not heard,” Rev. Manuel Garcia, who lives near Yaremich, told the cop commission Tuesday, arguing on this particular issue local community leaders “failed us greatly.”

Meanwhile Roman-Christy and Nelson have complained that the people who have fought the one-way designation are outsiders.

There is also tension around a community garden at the corner of Reservoir Avenue and Yaremich, across from Williams’ medical practice. The one-way designation similarly impacted the garden’s parking lot.

Those who manage the garden and people who purchase vegetables there believe Roman-Christy and Nelson wanted to force the operation to relocate from the city land so they could get a library built on the site.

Roman-Christy and Nelson in separate interviews in December described the garden as “an eyesore” but denied making Yaremich one-way was done to hurt the farm.

Roman-Christy attended Tuesday’s meeting and briefly addressed the police commission. She disputed the impact the change in direction had on Williams’ office and on the garden, adding the latter “only is there three months of the year. How are they inconvenienced?”

The police commission had previously urged the sides to get together and discuss a compromise. Garcia said attempts were made, but people either were unable to meet or refused to do so.

Judith Edwards, head of a Reservoir Avenue revitalization group, sat a few feet from Christy and told police commission members the councilwoman had no interest in sitting down with opponents.

“The farm reached out to Miss Christy,” Edwards said. “She canceled. She stopped answering them. She doesn’t want to come to a compromise.”