Traffic safety project gives nod to medical history

Yale community members repainted bollards at a high-traffic downtown intersection. The design acknowledges the historical role of barber-surgeons.
Barbershop pole-painted bollards outside Yale New Haven Hospital

Last weekend, Yale staff, students, and alumni teamed up with city residents and leaders to repaint the concrete bollards at the intersection of York Street and South Frontage Road in downtown New Haven. The project, which was part of Yale Sustainability Week, was aimed at beautifying the city and emphasizing safety.

And in a nod to the historical contributions of barber-surgeons, who played a critical role in providing medical care in centuries past, they decorated the structures in the style of barbershop poles.

The 10 bollards were originally installed in January 2020 at the high-traffic intersection to improve safety following the 2017 death of a Yale New Haven Hospital employee who died after someone drove a car onto the sidewalk at the intersection.

In the years since, Abby Roth, director of communications for medical education at Yale School of Medicine (YSM), noticed that much of the original yellow paint has peeled away. And that’s not just a cosmetic issue, it’s a safety issue, said Roth, a member of Yale’s Traffic Safety Committee.

If they’re bright yellow, pedestrians are more aware of them and may be more likely to stand behind them as they wait to cross the street,” she said. “And it may help those driving clearly see the sidewalk as well.”

Roth has been a part of this project since the beginning. She was elected to the New Haven Board of Alders the same year as the 2017 crash and, along with others, advocated for the bollards at the intersection, some of which fell within her ward. In recent months, when she noticed they had begun to look a little worse for wear, she coordinated with a current alder to ask the city if volunteers could repaint them. The city said yes, and soon thereafter, Yale’s Traffic Safety Committee — which falls under Yale’s Office of Environmental Health and Safety, led by Executive Director Kevin Charbonneau — and committee chair Kirsten Bechtel, professor of pediatrics, stepped up to sponsor the project and help recruit volunteers.

Since the project is near YSM, Roth said she reached out to a member of the school’s Program for Art in Public Spaces (PAPS) to see if they could come up with a creative idea for how to paint the bollards.

Terry Dagradi did. Dagradi is the PAPS coordinator and the Cushing Center coordinator for the Medical Historical Library. Through the latter role, she has learned quite a bit about medical history, including the interesting role barbers played prior to the 19th century. Once called barber-surgeons, these professionals used to offer medical treatments, such as bone-setting, abscess-lancing, and teeth-pulling, on top of hair care.

I thought it could be fun, being so close to the Yale School of Medicine campus and Yale New Haven Hospital, to reference the historical barber-surgeon poles that used to identify where you get help,” said Dagradi.

Volunteers scraped away old paint and sanded and repainted the bollards. The project joined other Yale Sustainability Week events, including a book swap, plant walks, yoga, and classes on plant-forward and seasonal diets.

We hope this promotes pedestrian safety and beautifies the neighborhood,” said Roth. She also hopes that it is just the first of other needed traffic safety measures at the intersection, such as raised crossings and speed cameras, topics that the Yale Traffic Safety Committee and other community advocates often discuss.

Photos courtesy of Amber Wilder.

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