Stop Watch

Stop Watch

From downtown, you can catch a CTTRANSIT bus to virtually any part of the city. During peak hours, buses arrive constantly, kneeling to the curb on their hydraulics, trading passengers in and out.

The most active hub sits on Chapel Street, along the lower Green. Bounded by Church and Temple Streets, it boasts two glass-and-metal shelters and a rare CTTRANSIT ticket kiosk. Flocks of pigeons loop overhead, swooping down to nibble breadcrumbs among the ankles of the people who are usually milling about. Most of these people are waiting for buses. But not all.

Dividing the waiting area from the Green itself, a black iron railing marks another, subtler division. Those on the stop side of the railing often keep to themselves, watching alertly for their bus. When it arrives, of course, they get on. But those on the other side chatter at length and pay no attention to the comings and goings.

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A man who goes by “L” stands near his bicycle and shimmies to the hip hop coming from the speaker on his bike. Another man walks up to me seeking $70 in exchange for a shiny pair of Air Jordans, still in the box. Another goes up to a woman in a hoodie asking to buy some “loosies” (single cigarettes). She tells him to check with L, though L’s already gone. “He’s always taking off,” she says. “I don’t know how he makes any money.”

A man named Daniel sits on a bench finishing his lunch. Daniel regularly uses this bus stop to get to his methadone clinic. “Yeah, there are occasional fights,” he says. “Drug-dealing too. But the cops have been cracking down.” He points to the Green where three police officers stand over a man in handcuffs, rattling an orange pill bottle between their fingers.

At the police substation across Chapel, I met with Sergeant Roy Davis, NHPD’s district manager for Downtown. Familiar with the patterns of the hub outside his door, he says many riders take the bus for substance abuse treatment at the APT Foundation clinic on Congress Avenue. “The good people,” Davis says, “they get their dose and go back to their jobs or their home. Others stick around and sell loosies, pills, catcall women,” he says, or find other ways to cause trouble.

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The substation, a result of a “Downtown Community Alliance” initiative supported by NHPD, Town Green Special Services District and the Yale University Police Department, was opened in January 2014 at 900 Chapel Street. Its purpose, according to documentation put out by TGSSD, is “to enhance the quality of life in Downtown New Haven by promoting clean, safe and secure streets.” Its funding, according to the same document, comes from TGSSD and local businesses.

Sgt. Davis, among those tasked with fulfilling DCA’s mission, indicates that the general approach is pretty nuanced. “We focus on maintaining quality of life rather than making arrests.” Day to day, the substation works to curb public disturbances, from fighting to using or selling drugs, generally trying to keep the bus stop peaceful and lawful, or at least achieve some semblance of that. If Davis or one of his team notices someone disturbing the peace, they’ll provide an escort home, or to a clinic or hospital if warranted.

But it’s not as bad as that might make it sound. The vast majority of visitors to the bus stop seem to be doing just what it’s intended for: catching buses.

A woman named Cristina stands and chats with the agent at the ticket booth. They know one another well and she needles him about a broken-down bus earlier in the week. Cristina has to catch the 5:15am O bus to make it to her job at Taco Bell on time. “If I’m late—I’m fired.” Without access to a car, her livelihood depends on the smooth operation of the CTTRANSIT bus system.

Soon after our talk, Cristina got on her bus home. Daniel left with his dose of methadone. Sgt. Davis continued manning his post, watching all the comings and goings and keeping a special eye on those who never seem to leave. The bus stop fell into its regular rhythm, pulling people into the city’s heart and pumping them out to its limbs, while maintaining a life all its own.

Written and photographed by Daniel Shkolnik.

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