A Streetcar Comeback?

by Melissa Bailey | December 3, 2007 12:49 PM | | Comments (58)

portandstreetcar.JPGFor 10 cents in 1945, Jim Broker would hop the trolley from Westville to join the throngs of Thursday night shoppers at the Shartenberg department store. It was a “social time.” Cars were easy to catch, running until 1 a.m. As more cities revive the abandoned transit mode, the city has procured consultants to look at bringing back those easy downtown trips.

National transportation consultants TranSystems are set to start work in December to study the feasibility of reviving New Haven’s defunct streetcar system. The group has been hired through a $150,000 federal grant administered by the South Central Connecticut Regional Council of Governments, reports city transit chief Mike Piscitelli.

The study would look at bringing light rail — electric trolleys running either on rails in the ground or by overhead guide-wires — to New Haven, possibly stretching into Hamden. Such systems are making a “comeback” across the nation, Piscitelli said. Modern models are having success not just in bigger cities like Boston and Portland, Oregon (pictured above), but also in Kenosha, Wisconsin, population 90,000.

trolley258032.jpgSigns of old rails remain in the streets from when streetcars rattled through the city’s major arteries, taking factory workers to work, kids to school, and day-trippers out to surrounding towns.

Broker, who’s now 79, has lived in Westville all his life. He remembers hopping on the cars to go to school each day at the downtown Hillhouse High School. In summer, his friends would pack their towels and roll down to the East Haven beach.

“It was really quite an enjoyable trip,” said Broker. “A very social time.” The system was “efficient,” easy and quick, he said — “it was ideal transportation.” The light rail system was huge cost burden to the city, however. Pushed along with a lobby from car companies, the city finally ditched the trolleys and replaced them with city buses.

Today, when Broker and his wife go downtown from their Westville home to go to the movies or eat out, they drive a car. Buses don’t run as frequently or as late in the night, he said. Driving is easier and quicker.

A Comeback?

Piscitelli welcomed the prospect of light rail revival: “We’re very excited, for a number of reasons,” he said by phone Friday. He sees light rail as a way to fill in gaps in the city’s existing transit system, foster economic growth and widen the range of pedestrian-accessible parts of the city.

IMG_8911.JPGLight rail would be “a very viable, feasible way to better connect the city’s downtown and its outlying areas,” said Piscitelli (pictured).

Piscitelli pointed out a few areas where streetcars might connect to: the woefully hard-to-reach Union Station, the burgeoning Rt. 34 medical district, and up Whitney Avenue to Hamden. Unlike the old system, where streetcars took up their own center lane in major thoroughfares, the trolleys would be integrated into existing traffic lanes, he said.

The main advantage over the current city bus system would be frequency, Piscitelli said. A light rail system would go farther and run longer than the current underutilized electric “trolley” buses, which have to drive far from the center of town to be recharged.

Consultants will study current ridership, economic development potential and physical impediments to see where trolleys might make sense. The city will form an advisory committee to work with consultants, who are scheduled to report back in June 2008, said Piscitelli.

Broker welcomed the idea of reviving such a system, but wondered if commuters are now too “spoiled” by the convenience of modern automobiles to voluntarily switch back to the quaint cars of the past.

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Posted by: robn | December 3, 2007 1:23 PM

Cars are cool, but in some ways, they're not. Thye're expensive to maintaint and insure. Driving one to a dense downtown or any other parking limited place can be a pain in the neck. There are hidden costs such as upkeep of roads, petroleum related diseases such as cancer and asthma, and military presence protecting middle eastern and south american assets.

Since oil reserves are only going to last another 20-30 years anywy, whether we like it or not, we're headed towards cleaner fuel...answering my geo-political concerns. So the question remains, how does a fixed rail system improve upon a flexible (theoretically clean future) bus system?

Posted by: dylan | December 3, 2007 1:43 PM

Wonderful idea. Time and time again, it's been shown that streetcars (let's get away from "light rail lingo - that tends to be on its own right of way, with fewer stops, and much more expensive) are much more capable than buses to attract choice riders (not just the transit-dependent), thus expanding new haven's walkability and auto-independence. This decreased dependency on cars frees up parking, and the confidence is gained by developers because of the permanent tracks in the street. The combination of these things will help the city with infill. This will not only make it more active, but also add to the tax rolls without raises property taxes (since the 1920's, the 9 squares of New Haven have lost almost 50% of their taxable realestate, believe it or not. Much of that is now taken up by some kind of surface parking).

No doubt that some posters here at the Independent will see this is just some silly pipe dream that will be a burden to them. Rather, as far as planning and design go for urban environments, this is one of the best decisions the city of New Haven could possibly make.


Posted by: Ben Berkowitz | December 3, 2007 1:47 PM

Bring it down Upper State Street Mike!!!

Posted by: Fedupwithliberals | December 3, 2007 2:30 PM


Have no fear about costs! We need something to go with the $300,000 heated bus stops.

Posted by: ciaoh20by [TypeKey Profile Page] | December 3, 2007 2:46 PM

It improves upon bus systems in two ways: a) it helps to organize and centralize development along more compact routes in and around train stops, which has environmental efficiencies and b) by feeding directly off an electric grid rather than burning an individual fuel source in every vehicle.
Streetcars would be more energy efficient than buses, even cleaner diesel ones or hybrids, in much the same way an electric car is more energy efficient than a hybrid car. This means maintenance costs of streetcars (trolleys) is less than that of buses.
Buses are more flexible, but is that really an advantage when you consider their current frequency in running, frequent delays, slow running times, and the fact their impermanence gives developers no reason to build more compactly near this amenity? When did anyone build in southern New England to be closer to a bus route? Compare that to Metro-North commuter rail ( a true light rail system).

Posted by: king james v | December 3, 2007 2:55 PM

Robn is absolutly correct that light rail is both cool and unpractical. Piscitelli is on the same track as george bush when bush decided to forgo fuel efficient cars for hydrogen power full knowing the first was the better answer.
Electrify the bus lines in town, get those accordian busses they use in Seattle, Atlanta and Dallas, BUILD SOME WEATHER SHELTERS (the regular kind, not very few, unpractical $50k kind the mayor is so proud of) and make the busses go somewhere, and make them come by more often.
Also, when the mayor left us the message last week that left out the part about only first timers able to get the free tokens, it made me wonder. 1 - what is CT Transit doing to get the very casual rider to take the bus and 2 - why can't those of us who live in new haven take the shoreline east out to the east shore during the day, and why can't the east shore folks take the train into the city for nightlife then take it back home. Well, i know why, because there isn't service for that, but what i'm asking is Why isn't there that service? When the Q bridge finally starts getting built within the next oh, 50 years, the folks looking to go over it should have a reliable alternative in place to turn.
If there were to be a light rail system built anywhere the only feasable place would be along existing rail lines, which we already have, so we don't need to build new things, just maximize what we already have.

Posted by: JackNH | December 3, 2007 3:00 PM

New Haven, New Haven. Another $150,000 down the drain on an unrealistic, pie-in-the-sky pipe dream. Even wealthy cities like Portland and Seattle have trouble affording light rail. And we're going to do it? Give me a break.

Posted by: Esbe | December 3, 2007 3:01 PM

A wonderful idea that isn't going to happen until the federal government decides to greatly increase aid to mass transit and/or the price of gas goes up to $5/gallon and stays there. Both are real possibilities, I guess.

Posted by: Hiscoolness | December 3, 2007 3:06 PM

I am glad the study is funded by the Federal Government and not the City. No mention here about costs per day or costs per mile or per ride and whether the ridership exists to justify this.

Of course it is ecologically correct to use light rail so that the pollution from electricity generation is still there but becomes less visible.

Light rail will take much longer to build and is inflexible as others have pointed out. Construction will be mucho disruptive. This will not happen in my lifetime so I shall not be too concerned about it's capital and operating costs.

Do we have any examples of viable trolley systems in cities of the size of New Haven?? People are going to give up their cars to move around the City? Or drive to the train station and then take the trolley?

I would have preferred to have seen a viable bus system with expanded ridership and then decide whether or not a popular bus route can be switched to light rail. Perhaps the study's terms of reference will allow for an assessment of all options, yet for the amount of spending proposed it is hard to see that this is anything but a study to advise us on whether we need a further study, etc...

What happened to that other proposal for $350,000 subsidy for a trolley system with three trollies that was presented to the Board of Aldermen a few months ago?

Posted by: charlie | December 3, 2007 4:05 PM

"Even wealthy cities like Portland and Seattle have trouble affording light rail."

Check your facts, JackNH. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, New Haven has the third-highest per capita income of any BEA-defined metropolitan area in the United States, just after San Francisco and Silicon Valley. Seattle and Portland do not make the top ten. Even just looking at the immediate SMSA, New Haven's income of $41K significantly beats Portland's $37K.

Also, look at the population density figures in the central municipalities. New Haven and Seattle both have 7,000 people per square mile, while Portland has only 4,000.

Bottom line is, New Haven could easily support a small light rail system, if it were properly planned and designed. And a light rail system is 100 times better than a bus because psychologically, it has a very different effect on surrounding property values and transit users.

Posted by: cedarhillresident [TypeKey Profile Page] | December 3, 2007 4:22 PM

I'm with Ben!!
ohhh what fun. And what a marketing idea for the city.
I am glad we have the Government grant to cover it too. hmmm question Mike???..... So how would something like that fit in the streets??? You would have to figure out what areas these would fit in and not mess up traffic.

Posted by: Bruce | December 3, 2007 4:41 PM

ROBN: Different fuel does not necessarily mean cleaner fuel. We have a lot of coal left in this country.

Posted by: cedarhillresident [TypeKey Profile Page] | December 3, 2007 4:56 PM

Bruce and Robn are right. Did not even think of that...what about modifying them with those ultra thin solar panels. And sum fuel cells "aren't those Conn. future??" I could be so way wrong on this....Bruce educate me is that possible??

Posted by: Paul Wessel | December 3, 2007 4:56 PM

The Kenosha link in the article has some interesting background on the economics of this in smaller municipalities:

"According to information from APTA's Heritage Trolley and Streetcar website, the entire project, including a new maintenance building, was completed for the astonishingly low cost of about $5 million - amounting to $3 million per mile (2000), or about $3.5 million per mile ($2.2 million/km) in year-2005 dollars. The cost of in-street track was reduced by using steel ties where track is embedded in pavement. OCS costs were reduced by standardizing four typical pole designs. Federal funding was obtained for most of the cost of the system....

During the summer season, up to 30% of the streetcar's operating costs have been covered from the farebox; the remainder of ongoing costs is borne by Kenosha Transit. However, sharp differences in function and trip-length produces a stark disparity in comparative operating and maintenance (O&M) costs, which are currently quite high for the streetcar - as a general rule, modes carrying passengers longer distances tend to show higher cost-effectiveness than modes functioning in a short-haul, stop-and-go, circulator mode over short route lengths...."

Fascinating stuff to explore......

see http://www.lightrailnow.org/facts/fa_ken_2005-01.htm for more

Posted by: DingDong | December 3, 2007 7:41 PM

This is a great idea. I cannot claim that restoring streetcar service is worth the cost of it - but that's the very point of doing a study. It will be very interesting to see what kinds of cost and what kinds of ridership numbers they come back with up. I'm glad New Haven is showing some vision at a time when the state is starting to indicate that they are looking to invest money in first-class public transportation. One of New Haven's best 'sells' is that it is Connecticut's only real city, at least one of the very few. If there's going to be state money for light rail in the future, New Haven needs to be sure that it gets it.

Posted by: nfjanette [TypeKey Profile Page] | December 3, 2007 7:44 PM

New Haven, New Haven. Another $150,000 down the drain on an unrealistic, pie-in-the-sky pipe dream.

If the many hundreds of thousands of dollars already spent on "feasibility studies" for various rail projects in CT had been instead spent toward the projects, we might have better rail service to Danbury and Waterbury with modern safety systems (i.e. signaling) and North-South commuter rail service between New Haven and Hartford/Springfield.

In this case, even if the study is paid for from "magic federal money", one wonders from where the proposed funding would come for the actual building and running of the system.

Posted by: nfjanette [TypeKey Profile Page] | December 3, 2007 7:51 PM

It improves upon bus systems in two ways: a) it helps to organize and centralize development along more compact routes in and around train stops, which has environmental efficiencies and b) by feeding directly off an electric grid rather than burning an individual fuel source in every vehicle.

Although I believe at this point hybrid buses would be the easiest improvement to the current system and the most bang-for-the-buck, there is a strong case to be made for utilizing an electric grid for mass transit. Such a grid can (and does in many places) power buses as well as rail cars.

If current political/economic/geological trends continue, we may be better served by centrally generated (OK, locally-distributed is good too - that's not the point) electricity to power as much as possible. I can easily see things playing out toward significant construction of new nuclear power plants as well as continued exploration and development of other energy sources. If may be more practical to generate the power centrally and distribute it over a grid to the transit vehicles than to utilize hydrogen or other sources local to the vehicles.

Posted by: DingDong | December 3, 2007 7:52 PM

P.S. Most experts - but we'll have to see what our experts, Transystems think - think that comparing streetcar fuel efficiency to cars is misleading on a per passenger/mile basis . On a straight comparison, they may be only slightly better or, depending on ridership levels, almost equal. Consultants generally take, or should take, a more holistic look at what first-class public transit does to trip generation and trip distance. In areas where there is high quality public transportation, development becomes more dense and people can walk to the store, to school, maybe even to work instead of driving. This reduces the amount and length of trips being made, which is the real reason streetcars have the potential to be far more environmentally friendly than private cars. I'm not saying this will be the case in New Haven - we'll have to wait on the consultant to see about that.

Posted by: APRILLL | December 3, 2007 8:14 PM

This is a great idea. I love it. It brings me back to the books I read in elementary school about streetcars. I think New Haven residents and visitors are really going to like the new way of transportation around the city. I can't wait to ride one.

Posted by: Transituser | December 4, 2007 9:18 AM

Who would be contracted to run the streetcars, an inept multi-national transit management conglomerate like First Transit that runs our bus system--a company that puts on new routes like the Sunday Waterbury service, does not publicize them, then takes them out of service for low ridershop or has buses arriving from the Green at Union Station at 6:16 a.m. or 6:21 a.m for a 6:22 a.m train to GCT?

Oy! This is what happened in the 1970's. Young techies spent millions on studies for all kinds of new transit systems--that were never implemented--because they were snobby about buses. The money would have been better spent in bus technologies to reduce diesel pollution that are only now being implemented and improving bus service in general.

Posted by: Transituser | December 4, 2007 9:47 AM

I am all for streetcars and light rail, do not get me wrong. However, let's keep in mind the history of our spending millions on such studies in CT.

With that in mind, the studies done for such new systems are based upon ridership prediction models that can have serious flaws. For example, the model used to predict ridership in the third 2001 study for the New Haven-Hartford/Springfield Railroad only predicts 8 passengers will board from New Haven each morning when the first non-commuter hour Amtrak a.m. train from New Haven to Hartford has at least 30 passengers.

And if the state skimps on operations funding and does not hire and supervise excellent transit management operators after the Fed pays for capital investments in track and cars, the service will be as poor as that of buses, MetroNorth and ShoreLine East at the current time.

Posted by: charlie | December 4, 2007 10:48 AM

The system will only work if there is frequent service and accommodating "station" designs. Look at Curitaba's system in Brazil, or Istanbul's new line. If you have to wait more than 5 minutes for a tram, you will hop in your car instead. That said, if an appropriate system is built, it will do wonders for the area and its economy. I would rather see one really well-functioning trolley line connecting Hamden and/or SCSU to Downtown to Union Station than see two or three mediocre ones.

Posted by: eli | December 4, 2007 11:08 AM

Didn't any of you guys see the "simpsons" episode with the monorail? Remember what happened to north haverbrook & ogenville?
Yes it's a cartoon, but it's actually pretty close to what the wizzard wants to put in the Elm City.

Posted by: Bruce | December 4, 2007 1:33 PM

Good Questions, CedarHill.

I think fuel cells are still too expensive for realistic use. There are some bus demos here and there but only pilot programs. Fuel cells will find more niche markets in the near future but don't expect to see them on the roads any time soon.

Solar powered automobiles have been toyed with for decades but never really took off. Probably the reason for this is that it's hard to find enough surface area on a vehicle to collect sufficient energy. You can store the energy in batteries and use it when it's needed (buffering the energy consumption) but those batteries are very heavy, so then you need even more energy to move the vehicle. Solar is best suited for small stationary power applications. It seems like a better choice might be to use solar collectors to assist with electric generation in a central location and then feed that into the grid powering the buses. Still, solar is very expensive to install.

Here are some typical plant costs for stationary generation:

Fuel Cell $4,500/KW
Solar $5,000-10,000/KW
Natural Gas Turbine $1,000/KW

Posted by: ciaoh20by [TypeKey Profile Page] | December 4, 2007 1:51 PM

I believe Charlie is right about having one excellent line instead of 2 or 3 mediocre ones. A long north-south route connecting Yale's many portions of the campus, science park, lower Hamden, the Medical center, the train station, and even downtown West Haven is feasible, would replace existing shuttle services, and still pass through enough areas to attract large numbers of riders from within the city, weekend visitors to downtown, and the like.
Long term, once a line that is difficult to see failing because of lack of ridership, other lines can chip in and be part of redevelopment schemes.
Also, unlike the fictional Springfield or maybe the many cities and towns around the country latching on to trolleys today in the hopes of encouraging people to live downtown, New Haven is already very dense and has a downtown population over 5,000, an incredibly strong base for a downtown trolley circulator. Its very existence in the 40s, prior to the massive parking crunches we now see, proves that its not wildly off base. 60 years of car ownership growth and people needing to park downtown have not improved parking. Trolleys can help create a park once then ride mentality.
Lastly, for the more futuristic minded people thinking about energy generation, why not steady, reliable centrally generated hydro-electric for a new transportation grid? Tidal pool generation is a burgeoning technology, and the Quinnipiac and Harbor offer's that resource in spades, and even some polluted vacant places to place new plants and transformers...

Posted by: ciaoh20by [TypeKey Profile Page] | December 4, 2007 1:57 PM

One other thing, and maybe transituser can help me out on this one, wasn't there a proposal in the late 70's to make a dedicated bus way using the Farmington Canal from Hamden to New Haven?
I thought the reason that went down was people in Hamden didn't like the notion of mass transit users in New Haven coming into their neighborhoods....Maybe I'm wrong because I couldn't remember that not being here at the time, but I do recall reading something about that...

Posted by: Transituser | December 4, 2007 2:55 PM

In answer to CiaoH20by, I don't know as I was happily living in Manhattan at that time. I was, however, told that the light rail line stop for the Minnesota Mall of America is in a remote location as to such a prejudice against transit riders. This despite all the talk about reducing auto air emissions with more transit use to prevent further global warming.

I just will end that this study will cost $150K. This is after the cost of two studies our COG has conducted to improve bus service in the past few years,the 2000 ConnDOT Bus Study with its great ideas for increasing ridership that were not implemented, three studies between 1992 and 2001 for New Haven-Hartford/Springfield commuter rail service, and many studies for a West Shore Rail Station.

And then when we had significant bus service cutbacks in early 2002, including the elimination of the A Orange Street line to Union Station, it was for the lack of $100K in operating funds.

Posted by: cedarhillresident [TypeKey Profile Page] | December 4, 2007 4:29 PM

Thanks Bruce! Knew would come through for me with an answer :) Wow what an expense! you would think there was a way the government would be able to make that less costly so that more would use it??

Of course my question was based on the fact that I finally watched "Who Killed the Electric Car?" and saw those new batteries and thin solar panels that old guy invented. I was hoping that by now they may be in more use. That and I know so little about this stuff.


Posted by: robn | December 4, 2007 6:23 PM

in all seriousness...can those who have made factual-like statements about fuel efficiency (or lack thereof) and also incentivization of development around fixed transportation systems (or lack thereof) please cite some sources...I would like to know more about this subject. I'm a big fan of trolleys, but a bit skeptical... I'd like to see the science and economics in more detail.

Posted by: Carole [TypeKey Profile Page] | December 4, 2007 9:30 PM

Did any of you trolley enthusiasts read Paul Wessel's post above? It makes two knockout points:

1. Kenosha, Wisconsin, built its trolley line for the "astonishingly low" cost of $3 million per mile (in year 2000 dollars).

2. At best, fares cover 30 percent of Kenosha's operating costs -- never mind the $3 million -per-mile capital investment.

How does this possibly make economic sense for New Haven?

We need to fix the bus system: make it reliable and clean, and run buses more frequently and at more convenient times (e.g. at night, so you could take the bus home from downtown after dinner or a movie). Add some bus lanes to make the routes smoother and quicker. And here's one small suggestion to make the bus more convenient: Let riders use smart cards instead of having to carry change or go down to the Green to buy a bus pass.

Posted by: Gary Doyens | December 4, 2007 10:08 PM

What is striking about these posts and this story, is how all this information is available, and it didn't cost $150,000 to find it. Why is it that Piscatelli feels the need to spend all that money for this even if does comes from those every loving federal taxpaying angels? This, just like the PERF report - requires common sense and a desire to seriously come up with solutions and ideas.

Posted by: ciaoh20by [TypeKey Profile Page] | December 4, 2007 10:26 PM

Almost all mass transit comes at some subsidy all over the world, even Metro-North running through CT's gold coast enabling the phenomenal financial sector growth in Fairfield County needs state assistance...only in the United States is the charge leveled that mass transit must pay for itself directly at the fare box, which of course it can not, but urban areas routinely make the decision to end up subsidizing transit anyways and with good reasons. Mostly because it does make tremendous economic sense to make this kind of investment in the infrastructure--its a boon to retailers, developers, property owners and I think could make also make the point it will help foster a synergy easy connection between Yale New Haven and some researcher businesses located elsewhere in town if they're linked efficiently in this way.
Cities do not function well economically without these kinds of mass transit choices (subways, trams, trolleys)--why else would they in Republican, low-tax, car centric and oil consumption Texan cities like Houston and Dallas (Austin too), and let me throw Kansas City in as well for the heck of it, ever even consider funding light rail options in addition to their buses? And they've not only considered it, they're being won over. It isn't just congestion (while it is about that) and it isn't just the environment (while it is about that, too). Developers like it, cities need them in order to grow more densely. The alternative is to make more expenditure on building ever larger parking garages for the same smallish streets--a game at which an expensive, land crunched urban center will always lose to its land rich suburban neighbors.
Buses are great, but do not seem to deliver the same results in ridership or density in side by side comparisons that trams, trolleys, and streetcars do.(Curitiba Brazil's buses are an exception to the rule, with their clever dedicated lanes and other practices, that I do not think transliterate culturally to the US and is physically unsuited for New Haven's streets.) But do not just take my word for it, or just the existence of the literally countless case examples of urban areas around the world (trams in Zurich, streetcars in Toronto as two quick ones) and throughout the nation (new systems in Miami, Minneapolis, Atlanta are all in the works, so too in Cinncinati, Columbus, Charlotte, Portland to name but a few that are in planning or completed)--I recommend anyone interested in doing internet research to look for studies recently completed across America for trolleys in dozens of cities and towns, they should be a matter of public record.
By the by, trolleys ought to run far more frequently than buses once implemented because they will not need to be refuelled, once every 5 to 10 mins would be ideal, and their running on electricity would make them cheaper to maintain than buses with the rising fuel costs.
Another point not mentioned is to pretend you're not from New Haven, or for that matter you're visiting any city. How confident are you to use a bus system in a city or town you've never been in? Compare that to how confident you might be to ride a fixed rail system like the T in Boston or some other subway. This is but another advantage a fixed rail route provides retailers and attractions in New Haven--its legibility to out-of-towners. You can see the tracks, you can expect a vehicle to come--its a massive pyschological difference with measured outcomes in practice.

Posted by: king james v | December 4, 2007 11:06 PM

I like eli's note, not for nothing, that episode hits this situation on the head. sorry all of you brainiacs, economists out there.

Posted by: Fedupwithliberals | December 5, 2007 6:54 AM

The main advantage over the current city bus system would be frequency, Piscitelli said. A light rail system would go farther and run longer than the current underutilized electric "trolley" buses, which have to drive far from the center of town to be recharged.

What about comparing the light rail to existing CT Transit buses? You can run what you have for as long as you want. Why spend more money to get the same results?

Posted by: UrbanElm | December 5, 2007 10:39 AM

Could not agree more with "transituser" and his observations on the absurd discontinuities between local bus service, metronorth, etc.

$150 K could buy a study that would actually help coordinate the transit resources we already have.

Not enough attention is paid to how the study is carried out. Who are they talking to? What the heck are they actually doing? Just to say "feasibility study" is meaningless and maddening.

Posted by: charlie | December 5, 2007 11:18 AM

Mass transit is not even REMOTELY "subsidized" when you compare it to the billions of dollars our country uses to subsidize automobile traffic. Do you really think that the car companies are paying for all of our roads and interstate flyover exchanges? What about those nice little multibillion dollar payments that go down to the refineries in Texas and Louisiana? How about the trillions that we spend on "national defense" that primarily goes towards securing gas for our vehicles?

Posted by: robn | December 5, 2007 1:16 PM

PW's Kenosha study is intersting...for Operating and Maintainence costs alone, the light rail cost is 5X bus cost....however, it doesn't really address a comparison of hard costs for infrastructure (roads vs rails). If NH wanted an equitable X shaped system that ran Whitney-Congress/Whalley-Grand and a stem on Dixwell, that would be about 13 miles of rail and according to the Kenosha study, around 52 million dollars of hard cost. Not that we would discard existing roads, but I wonder if there is some value you can place on bus-induced wear and tear on roads. The damage is something I can personally attest to, having nearly lost a kidney to the very big bus divots on Whitney Ave.

Posted by: ciaoh20by [TypeKey Profile Page] | December 5, 2007 4:15 PM

You're 100% correct about the subsidy of cars, and I would like to add to your list the costs of parking on land

Posted by: cedarhillresident [TypeKey Profile Page] | December 5, 2007 4:28 PM

ok New Head Liner paul....

NHI readers save tax payers $150,000

I am impressed with all this info on this thread bravo to all

Posted by: dylan | December 5, 2007 4:38 PM

Glad somebody brought up the subsidization of automobile transportation. As for the cost of parking on land, think about this. Since around the 1930s or so, the non-Yale, non-Green portion of the Nine Squares has in fact lost about 50% of its footprint density. In its place you see, almost always, surface parking of one size or another. and the wasted cost of structured parking is just exorbitantly high. Think of the taxes cities lose when you facilitate this kind of transportation.

Here's another cost of auto traffic - suburban sprawl. Not only does this fuel the consumption of green space, but the supply of public services and infrastructure per person becomes much higher when you have to move them further.

Streetcars, far more than the omnibus (which has been steadly failing since it became the dominant mode of public transit 60 years ago), monorail, or light rail, are the best way to encourage pedestrian activity citywide, link to the heavy railroads, and intelligent land use.

Posted by: charlie | December 5, 2007 5:54 PM

All good points, Dylan. The reality is that we could all go on for hundreds of pages about how the government MASSIVELY subsidizes automobiles. Mass transit, if done well, costs nothing by comparison, and enables much greater economic efficiency, as you point out.

The reason government subsidizes the bulldozing of our country is largely because people are ignorant of the subsidies and their effects, since they are hidden so well in our "daily life", and because they just don't care when another few million acres of forest are paved over for more AT&T Wireless outlets. Somehow, nobody questions the fact that the average family spends more on automobiles than they do on most of the other basic necessities of life combined.

Unfortunately, it is going to take a major crisis to wake people up to the amount of waste taking place in our society right now. When that happens, people will have no choice but to start advocating for streetcar lines, better transit, and pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods instead of automobile wastelands, which look the same no matter where you go.

New Haven needs to be at the forefront of this movement, or it risks falling into the very deep hole that the rest of this country is going to be finding itself in in a few years. The bottom line is that our society needs more subsidies for education, job training and health care, not for more and more cars. With better transit that encourages sensible growth, there will ultimately be more money collectively available for those things, and less money being collectively used to line the pockets of oil tycoons in Dubai and wealthy developers who continue to pave over our country's precious open space at alarming rates.

Posted by: Transituser | December 6, 2007 5:18 AM

Urbanelm--unfortunately $150K or more was already spent on a study to better coordinate the transit we have--the 2000 ConnDOT bus study. Only one of its recommendations was implemented--bringing the Western Q line out to the Amity Shopping Center. One line it recommended expanding, the Orange Street A line that provided better scheduled service to Union Station than the J does, was eliminated.

It does not matter how many studies are done or how much equipment is bought or how state of the art that equipment is. Transit, especially bus transit, either has its marketing and operations management contracted out to private for-profit transit management companies like ours to an international conglomerate, FirstGroup here in the U.S. First Transit, or by social service "soup kitchen" bureaucrats as run the Transit District operations in CT regions. Few have the creative entrepreneurial spirit to provide the customer service necessary to bring transit operations into the 21st century. Most important not enough transit users organize among themselves and get up in arms as consumers of other products and services do to change this situation. The only transit user lobby group here in CT, the Metro-North Commuter Council, has its members appointed by state officials.

Well, let's hope that out of this and the discussion of the 5 $300 bus shelters (whose heaters do not work consistently) that NHI transit news articles show more critical thinking as do its articles about other subjects.

Posted by: Transituser | December 6, 2007 2:55 PM

correction $300K bus shelters

Posted by: ciaoh20by [TypeKey Profile Page] | December 6, 2007 3:38 PM

Hey, that's 300k less per shelter they'll have to spend when they install the trolley line...

Posted by: Walt [TypeKey Profile Page] | December 7, 2007 9:55 AM

Probably no one here remembers when we had trolleys on all the routes around New Haven

Even though there was only a fraction of the cars in use today, Downtown was a mess with traffic tied up, with trolleys jamming both middle lanes, and the side lanes being unusable because of passengers trying to get onto the trolleys.

New trollsys, even the trolley-buses, would be about the same, causing, not easing, but causing,clog-ups because of their inflexability.

Demand is way down because Downtown has for a longtime been in a continuing downward spiral as a retail center. This will not be reversed unless gasoline disappears from the market.

Dedicated trolley routes will never happen even in such places as the Farmington Canal route, which is much too narrow for two-way service, and is now dedicated to the joggers and bicyclists. (Just look off the bridge on Temple St, just north of the rear of
St. Mary's Church to get an idea of the small space available.)

Just more wasteful studies, which are at least less costly than the boondoggles that would result if we actually tried to implement the suggestions of the trolley enthusiasts.


Posted by: robn | December 7, 2007 1:21 PM

Even the anti-East Haven crowd can enjoy this one. You want a sense of trolley flavor, visit our very own Shoreline Trolley Museum. They've got 100 vehicle and it's the "oldest continuously operating suburban trolley line in the United States."


Posted by: DingDong | December 8, 2007 1:21 AM

"Demand is way down because Downtown has for a longtime been in a continuing downward spiral as a retail center. This will not be reversed unless gasoline disappears from the market."

Maybe if people had a good way of getting there that doesn't involve gasoline, that might make a difference?
Also, gasoline will never disappear from the market, but the price will go up. It's at $3.20 or so now. Maybe it's start to start building some alternatives to automobile transport as oil production will begin to decrease?

Posted by: ciaoh20by [TypeKey Profile Page] | December 8, 2007 2:17 PM

Walt, new trolleys probably wouldn't be anymore intrusive to the roadways than buses are now---in fact they would be less so because they wouldnt weave in and out of lanes, trying to scoot up to the curbs. They'd just be chugging along their fixed predictable route, mixed in with the traffic, stopping where buses line up in long lines now causing back up and confusion. They would most likely not take the middle lanes except in long stretches where there wouldn't be much passenger getting on and off, and most likely there would be dedicated stops where people could cue up--but hey, if downtown is thronged with people and traffic clogging the streets, wouldn't that be a rosier picture of a downtown retail area, compared to an image of cars whizzing past on streets free of pesky pedestrians, with most the stores closed? I think New Haven's had both experiences in the memory of many people.
Has anyone been to one of those dense suburbs of Boston and seen how the T functions in these places? I'm sure you will find people that will complain about the T, but nobody is proposing getting rid of them, not when so much positive development is occuring all around them. The T really adds to their attractiveness.
Also, even in the olden days, trolleys could have two way service on one set of tracks, the ole fashioned contraption would just go in reverse after its end destination...But we need to get away from the idea of these as being some relic of the past, just foolishly resurrected. They're a true, contemporary, transit option cheaper as compared to light rail. They never fully went away in the states, they exist all over the world under different names, and they're multiplying in both their construction and proposed systems.

Posted by: Walt [TypeKey Profile Page] | December 9, 2007 4:46 PM

Just dumped brilliant reply to Ciao as new system required.

Sometimes posts go thru, sometimes not, and the new system instructions diaappear and cant be followed.


Posted by: Walt [TypeKey Profile Page] | December 9, 2007 4:49 PM


This went thru after dumping longer post twice..

Frustrating and inconsistent..

Posted by: ciaoh20by [TypeKey Profile Page] | December 9, 2007 6:04 PM

Sorry, Walt, about the posting.
But FYI, for people who are interested about the Canal's history, the Canal was used was once used for full sized locomatives.


I think it should remain a bikepath, though.

Posted by: JZ | December 9, 2007 9:51 PM

New H. has 300k bus shelters? Downtown is in economic decline? I had no idea.

Seriously, on that second one? And is there more than antidotal evidence?

I used to live in Portland. The streetcars are beautiful and fun to ride. But, silly to spend the money on that in N.H. Aren't we having a budget crisis as is? It's not like the streetcars will be able to run through the poor neighborhoods (muggings on streetcars, anyone?) And as much as I love grad students, building them a streetcar taking them from E.Rock to downtown is just plain silly.

When Portland built their system, it took a huge amount of capitol. The conductors and mechanics were all imported from the Czech Republic. They stayed a year teaching the local employees how to run the thing. All that on the dime of the tax payers. Imagine that in New Haven? Come on. I'd be happy for less littering and a crack down on petty drug dealing.

Posted by: on whalley | December 10, 2007 8:52 AM

I think not having the buses stop to pick people up every 20 feet would vastly increase efficiency. Seriously, the people waiting at the bus stops can shout conversations to each other they're so close.

Then there's the common sense of the riders while getting off of the bus. The bus will stop to let a group off, take a group on then not 10 feet after it returns on it's way some clown pulls the cable to get off. He can't just get off back there when the bus initially stopped? It take more time for the stupid thing to pull over, lower the suspension, open the door the get back under way than it would have taken the passenger to just walk the extra 10 feet.

Busses are fine it's just that from the joker who decided to put a bus stop every 10 yards to the inconsiderate clod riding the bus a substantial amount of efficiency is lost.

Posted by: Walt [TypeKey Profile Page] | December 10, 2007 10:02 AM


Downtown as a retail center.

Yes, headed down since the days when department stores Malley's Gamble - Desmond, Macy*s, Stanley's, Shartenberg's and Yale Co-op were unchallenged, except for each other as retail draws. Now, none remain----replaced by suburban stores.

Yes, down since the days of the "5 and 10's" like Grant, Newberry, Kresge were the leaders in lower priced stuff. None remain.

Some high class specialty stores remain on upper Chapel, most of the rest is schlock (whatever that means)

Posted by: Walt [TypeKey Profile Page] | December 10, 2007 10:38 AM


Thanks for your sympathy but your earlier post was a good description of the old trolley days even more than the current buses.

Predictable, unchanging routes, mixed in with the traffic, trolleys backed up for blocks as they could not pass trolleys in front, causing backup and confusion

They had to take the middle lane because that is where the tracks were, and when they stopped the curbside lane was blocked too by boarding passengers and traffic backed up behind them. It was illegal and impossible to pass them while trolleys were stopped.

Power was clean electric, produced by dirty oil and coal.

If alternative power sources are developed,why would we need the trolley wires ?

I'd like to see trolleys too, especially on the route that Robn touts, going from the Green , speeding through the East Haven/Branford marshes (where the Museum is) and to the East Shore beaches but we will never have them again.

Boston--yes re the T, but building the T if the rails and right-of=way did not still exist would be another boondoggle

Posted by: Transituser | December 11, 2007 8:54 PM

I keep on about the 5 $300K little bus shelters that accomodate about 10 riders apiece. Well, a NH Register article just reported that in the past five years the city built 321 housing units for $59.5 million--that's @$185K apiece. Truly no one is watching the shop for transit expenditures like those bus shelters and now for yet another study.
The authorities dealing with transit put out a press release or have a press conference and everyone goes hurray without thinking about what the needs are and how funds are spent to meet them often because few take it enough to know what's what. Oy!

Posted by: JackNH | December 12, 2007 8:47 AM

I had a good laugh when Charlie seriously suggested New Haven is more affluent than Seattle or Portland! I live in Seattle half the year, New Haven the other: I'm in Seattle, and this city oozes money. (Just ask Whole Foods, who did a survey of New Haven and its environs, and concluded household income there was too low to support one of their stores; in the Seattle city limits, there are two, soon to be three, of their stores.)

In any case, in Seattle, where I am now, the city is opening today a 1.3 mile streetcar downtown. It cost 53 million bucks to build! In addition to the money running it will take away from the once-wonderful bus system, you can WALK that 1.3 miles faster than the streetcar will take you . . . it's a toy train. Far better to expand New Haven's bus system-- or even make it free, for a fraction of what a fixed-rail system would cost.

Posted by: Chris Gray | December 14, 2007 4:36 AM

By luck, I once listened as WELI hosted a CT Transit PR flack, calling in to point out that the Boston subways had huge diagrams of the entire system in each station and couldn't they, at least, post schedules at bus stops. They soon did, at least for several years.

I, also, still remember seeing a report on 60 Minutes about the Mayor of San Diego suing the oil, automotive and rubber companies which they proved conspired to put the city's trolley system out of business. The most amazing part of the story was that she then used the award or settlement to put in a light rail system, instead of just burying it in the general fund.

Shortly after, I wrote a letter to the editor to one of the local papers, which was published, suggesting New Haven do the same. The car companies can't afford the deep pockets now, but even foreign cars have tires and most run on oil.

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