3-Mile Streetcar “Starter” Route Unveiled

City Of New Haven Photo IllustrationWhen the city’s streetcar comeback plan made its first stop at Coop High School, trolley boosters jumped on board—and pushed for more “daring” destinations.

The discussion came Thursday night at the downtown Coop High School, where city officials held the first public information session on a proposed streetcar system.

City consultants propose building a three-mile, 12-stop “starter” streetcar system designed to link Union Station, the medical district, and downtown. Some in the 50-person audience called on the city to push beyond the limited route to reach more “daring” places, such as Grand or Whalley Avenue.

Others came bearing memories of the city’s former trolley system, remnants of which can still be seen in city streets.

Eighty-three year-old Jackie Grace graduated from West Haven High in 1944. She remembers with affection the “M” trolley car that she took from home to work at Yale. Then there was taking that same line to shows at the Arena on Grove Street. A token was a dime or three for a quarter. Then the trolleys disappeared in 1948.

The city has been working to revive that system in modern form, as other cities have, since 2007. Click here and here for past stories.

Those in the audience applauded a streetcar comeback, and also offered measured critiques.

City transportation chief Mike Piscitelli (at left in photo with Yale architecture professor Elihu Rubin) said downtown streetcar systems are not only people-movers but “place-makers” with a history of generating economic value. He said the evolving plan could take as long as five or ten years to be realized.

Mayor John DeStefano has lobbied D.C. for $20 million to pay for the system, which would cost an estimated $30 million to build.

City Of New HavenThe city has been working with San Francisco-based consultants URS Corporation on a preliminary “starter” route, which could later be extended into Hamden.

The three-mile route would be a largely one-way loop. It would run north up Church and Whitney to Science Hill and return down Temple. There it would jog around an infilled Route 34, through the medical district and back to Union Station.

Check out the proposed route, and an overview of the plan, on the city’s website.

Piscitelli said 25 American cities operate streetcar systems, with some 25 more in planning. New Haven’s would be Connecticut’s first.

URS’s Stephen Gazillo said the downtown route was chosen because Yale, Union Station, the soon-to-be finished new home of Gateway Community College, and local inhabitants added up to a daily density of about 80,000 people, enough to make a system not only feasible but of “tremendous potential.”

Architect Gene Festa questioned whether Stop Two on the system, Gateway, made sense. The Gateway students are primarily car users from the suburbs, Festa said. “Assuming a major constituency at Gateway is wrong.”

URS’s engineer Jenna Nichols responded that even if the trolley system ultimately attracted only half of Gateway’s 11,000 students, that would be excellent. Piscitelli added, “We’ve reached the point where we have to embrace Gateway” by giving them opportunities not use cars.

Both Phil Langdon of the Ronan Edgehill Neighborhood Association and the Urban Design League’s Anstress Farwell questioned the placement of the repair barn for the streetcars, which according to the preliminary plan is now on Church Street South directly across from the Yale School of Nursing.

If the system results in raising property values around it, as promised, “You’d hope there’d be a pretty valuable real estate there in 15 years. The maintenance facility should maybe be at a different location,” Langdon said.

City Of New Haven Photo IllustrationFarwell called the proposal very exciting, but she said she thought the maintenance facility didn’t belong because Church Street South as it runs from Union Station to downtown should be conceived of as a grand and noble boulevard, not home to a repair barn.

The most serious criticism by far pertained to the lack of daring or seizing of opportunity in the route chosen.

“I like the idea of getting it started. That’s great,” said Norton Street resident Frank Panzarella, who went to high school in Munich and fell in love with that city’s trolley system. “But I was wondering why not go all the way out Whitney to Hamden or down Grand Avenue where there’s a whole new community of immigrants.”

Piscitelli responded: “We need to get started and then get the fingers into neighborhoods.”

Rubin, a professor of urbanism at Yale, questioned whether a sufficient density of population should be the key to organizing the system, that is, bringing people to and from stations and parking garages, as he sees the preliminary route proposed by the city.

“I would like to know who is the rider who goes from two to four [meaning from Gateway to the Grove Street garage]. And who goes from three to six.”

Rubin called the plan a nice beginning,but said it is not exciting. “The idea of spectacularly throwing something down Whalley or Grand Avenue. That’s exciting.”

Rubin went on to say that the truly cynical view of the city’s proposal as expressed in the route that goes up relatively well-off Whitney Avenue is “We will continue to have a segregated transportation system.”

He suggested also that the trolley system had potential to bring Trowbridge Square out of its isolation, but there was no stop near it.

When he told URS’s Gazillo that he also though stop number three should not be in front of City Hall but at Church and Chapel, where struggling businesses on lower Church could use the economic uplift, Gazillo said that was an interesting idea. “Will you give me your card?”

At the end of the meeting, 83-year-old Grace said she was encouraged but troubled that the line didn’t go by St. Raphael’s Hospital. The one-way loop was not as she remembered a trolley line should be, she added.

About the route and repair facility, Piscitelli said the decisions were far from final. He threw down a gauntlet to participants to continue their participation. He credited architect Robert Orr and others with turning him and the city into “believers.”

“No street car system has succeeded without citizen support.” And he said the most successful systems included people such as who were in Thursday’s audience.

Piscitelli noted that modern streetcars are succeeding not just in bigger cities like Boston and Portland, Oregon, but also in Kenosha, Wisconsin, population 90,000.

“If Kenosha, Wisconsin can do it, we can do it seven times better,” Piscitelli said. The next steps are full design and making the case to federal funders.

To contribute your idea of how a trolley system should work, take a city survey here, or leave a comment below.

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posted by: anon on September 24, 2010  2:56pm

Extensions are a great idea, particularly:
1. Spring Street, Howard Avenue, and into West Haven, then eventually out to Milford/Bridgeport
2. Whitney to Science Park, Dixwell to Hamden Center, then eventually over to North Haven
3. Whalley Avenue to Westville/Amity, then eventually out to Waterbury
4. Wooster Square and Grand Avenue, then eventually out to Branford

But first you need a starter system. 

This proposal for a starter loop would make the extension systems feasible, without it, the extensions on their own would never work due to the job base and commuting patterns of this city.

A repair shed shouldn’t go on a Grand Boulevard, but there are probably no other options for its location within the starter system.  The shed could be screened with denser buildings, so you wouldn’t even notice it was there.  Look at the repair yards in other cities for plenty of examples of this.

All that said, $30 million would be put to much better use making the city more walkable and bikeable. $30 million could build hundreds of kilometers of crosswalks, protected bus shelters in the neighborhoods and bicycle lanes.  That would do far more to reduce car trips than a simple starter loop. 

The caveat to that is that federal funding is only available for streetcars, due to the transit lobbyists, and not for pedestrian improvements.  Pedestrian improvements also create far more jobs and higher local revenue per dollar spent than streetcars or highways do, but these jobs and funding go to local firms and actual workers, who unfortunately do not have nearly the same political power as large industrial conglomerates like the ones who build highways and streetcars.

But either way, $30 million for a streetcar is a bargain compared to the $2 billion Q bridge.

posted by: Anstress Farwell on September 24, 2010  3:41pm

Kudos to the city hall team and URS consultants. The presentation last night was an excellent early analysis of the benefits a streetcar system for the city. This is a big and important first step towards a system that will expand ridership, create greater equity in transportation systems, improve air quality, make streets more vibrant, and increase the value of underused and vacant land.

posted by: JBA on September 24, 2010  3:57pm

Why would New Haven do seven times better than Kenosha?  Big chip on your shoulder, Mr. Piscitelli.  Kenosha did this already, right?  I know we’re supposed to have NYC-sized chips on our shoulder, but puh-leeze.

posted by: bike friendly on September 24, 2010  4:00pm

like the Portland system, the new haven system should accommodate riders with bicycles.

posted by: Tim Holahan on September 24, 2010  4:18pm

It’s exciting to see this being discussed; I regretted missing the meeting. New Haven needs more and better public transportation options. The state-funded widening project currently turning western Whalley Ave into more of a highway than it already was paints an ugly future for the city’s streets and pedestrians if we continue to rely so heavily on the car.

It would be great to hear from more knowledgeable folks (Mark Abraham?) about the cost-benefit analysis of streetcars vs. expanded bus service. Streetcars are more appealing, of course, but they’re quite expensive and difficult to build (right of way, maintenance stations, etc.). New Haven, Hartford, and DC all seem unlikely to be able to foot the bill for full-on development for a long time.

If the cities of America had only maintained the existing streetcar/trolley infrastructure that was so widespread and popular in the early 20th century, we wouldn’t have to bring them back. It’s my understanding that the automotive industry bought and shut down the electric trolley systems in many cities. Does anyone know if this was true in New Haven?

posted by: robn on September 24, 2010  5:08pm

Honestly, the walks downtown from East Rock are about as pleasant as it gets. I’m continually shocked at the number of able bodied grad students lined up waiting for the shuttle for the same amount of time as it takes to walk downtown.

If the city wants to spur economic growth, rotate the line 90 degrees and serve several underserved parts of town that actually need transportation and economic growth. This line could run all the wishbone from Whalley and Dixwell all the way down grand through Fair Haven.

East Rock doesn’t need a tram. It needs more stable neighborhoods in New Haven that can share the tax burden.

posted by: Car Shipping Quote on September 24, 2010  5:08pm

I hope this comes to fruition. I attended my undergrad at SCSU and this would’ve made getting around safer and easier.

posted by: robn on September 24, 2010  5:12pm

GM destroyed our trolleys.


posted by: Our Town on September 24, 2010  5:45pm

I certainly understand the nostalgia and panache of trolleys, and all of the car haters here, but, really, can this guy find more ways to spend our money? He can’t pay head start, but a slew of track workers, trolley mechanics line crews, a trolley barn, these are things we can afford? No transportation systems pay for themselves out of revenues. The taxpayers would have to subsidise this also.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on September 24, 2010  5:46pm

I don’t really get the point of this starter system. No one can use it to commute. Everyone will still continue to get to the downtown area in the same way they do right now, then once down here they will have the choice to take the trolley around the 3 places that today are fairly easy to walk to. Its unpleasant to get to the train station from the other side of route 34, but we should address that problem by making that area more walkable, not by building a trolley line.
That 3 mile route could do wonders for development along Dixwell or Whalley Ave.
It would be much more economically beneficial for the city to reform the zoning along Whalley or Dixwell and put the trolley line there, then to create an practically useless loop around downtown. The BA and BB zoning along Whalley makes suburban sprawl the default development pattern, while making mixed use buildings only possible through variances. If New Haven were destroyed tomorrow, we would be unable to rebuild it under our current zoning. Chapel Street would look like the Boston Post Road and the Green would be a parking lot. This is a serious problem that needs to be addressed.
Whalley should be lined by 5-6 story buildings that have retail on the ground floor, 2 floors of offices and 2-3 floors of residences. Dixwell could support a similar form of 3-4 story buildings.

Other 3 mile routes that could be explored:

One issue regarding Whalley’s future is a proposal to create a green median down the middle. It would make more sense to make sure there is dedicated on street parking, bike lanes, and room for side-by-side trolley lanes.
A green median would make more sense along the Blvd.

posted by: Millie10002 on September 24, 2010  5:54pm

I agree with Rubin in questioning the use cases for the starter route. As a Wooster Square resident, the route is no use to me. It doesn’t help me get to Union Station or Chapel/York/Upper State restaurants faster. Or visit friends in other New Haven neighborhoods without driving or walking for a long time.

Who is going to be taking the trolley during peak/off-peak hours? When I pass by Church St after 6pm - there is hardly anyone around. The route reminds me of the light rail stops near Exchange Pl in Jersey City. They are mainly used to transport commuters to cheaper parking lots farther away. The light rail did not reduce the traffic jams going in and out of the area.

What is the ongoing operating cost? Who is going to pay for any losses? The Tampa 2.3 mile streetcar is already in a $325,000 hole for their next fiscal year and the ridership was usually low whenever I see it go by.

I am all for public transportation and cities like NYC, Montreal, Paris, Tokyo and DC have done a great job with their subway/train/bus systems for moving both residents and commuters. I can only hope New Haven comes up with a comprehensive plan to transport both population efficiently.

NYC also has fantastic bus routes that makes sense and run frequently. Instead of the trolley system, would it be more cost-effective to enhance the current bus system? My guess is it would be and the city can make better use of the $30M to improve the quality of life of its residents.

posted by: We'll see on September 24, 2010  8:53pm

I’m not holding my breath, but it would be amazing if it actually happened. This is the type of visionary project that turns New Haven into a livable pedestrian city and spurs further development, more housing, more business, more retail and more parks downtown. Let’s hope our community leaders have what it takes to really make this happen. We’ll see.

posted by: Not Again on September 24, 2010  9:46pm

Don’t you get it. Every time there’s bad news in town there’s an upbeat story a few days later. The administrations doing this, the administrations doing that. This is more of the same. It used to be an immaculately dressed Mayor with a mile long grin. Now its just something that looks like a slippery turd outside his office. Oh good, we’ll all forget the mega shoot out downtown last Saturday, and the fact that 25% of our kids leave our schools uneducated.

If it went along Whitney or Whalley this project might have some merit. It goes from the railroad station into the Yale campus. City folks will not get any benefit.
So the feds are giving $20 million to a $30 million project. Who pays the rest. You got it folks, we do. Oh its just $10 million. Really cheap and good value compared to the billions we’ve spent on schools that don’t educate our kids. So the mayor goes to Portland a year or so back and wants the same toys they have, and we have to pay for it. $10 million more in taxes for a trolley that goes nowhere.

This must be the original street car named desire. Can’t the Mayor just buy some Lionel like every other kid. He’s got plenty of room in his armoire to put it away when he goes home at night.

I’m sorry, but ‘bike friendly’, isn’t the idea you ride bikes to help the environment. Is 3 miles too much for you to pedal that you need to take up space on a clean energy electric trolley that uses, what no, huge quantities of environment damaging coal to produce the electricity.

Please, Aldermen Goldson and Smart, get this under control. I don’t know what people are inhaling in city hall nowadays but its sure sending them way past cloud 9.

posted by: Paul M. on September 24, 2010  10:21pm

This is great news.

I’m so tired of hearing people say “we can’t” whenever this issue comes up. It’s been transformative in Portland, and if you’ve ever been there you’d know how broadly used and popular it is.

I do have one complaint: Whitney Ave.? Really? Couldn’t it be somewhere a little more dense, like Whalley?

I know that East Rockers sometimes have trouble remembering that there’s a larger city they live in. My fear is that by not going as far as Hamden and not going into denser areas, this becomes yet another thing that only the city’s most prosperous residents can access. Just looking at Dixwell, Whalley, and Whitney, who would think that Whitney is the one that needs better mass transit and infrastructure?

I hate to pull the class card, but come on!

posted by: Scott on September 25, 2010  2:21am

As much as I love the infamous Kenosha red-light district, I don’t think the Wisconsin town should serves as a model—cheeseheads are bound to laugh at us.  If New Haven had a citywide system (not an almost useless mere three miles) and managed to capture 30% of commuters, which is wildly optimistic in a town with a well-established car “culture,” roughly 40k people would ride the train each day, which seems hardly worth the expense.  Buses are fine. (Plus your reporter Melinda Tuhus has chided us for so long that we know we should be ashamed of any transportation beyond a bicycle (and only if it includes a helmet and all the lights the Devil’s Gear sells).

posted by: Edgehood on September 25, 2010  8:33am

I would love to see a trolley system in New Haven but that doesn’t make me blind to all of the possible shortcomings. The old trolleys and private passenger railroads all closed because they weren’t profitable. What innovations will make our new trolley system different…?? Ways to reduce energy costs and the use of automation should be considered as well as ad revenue. Some creative deal with a trolley manufacturer would also help. It would be a shame to build the thing and watch it lose money…!!
Regular train tracks in our streets have already proven to be a huge safety hazard, so we need to be real careful to get a good design…

We should consider a mass transit solution like the Schwebebahn in Wuppertal, Germany. It could go over almost any street without effecting traffic or pedestrians. This system has been working for over a hundred years…

posted by: Swatty on September 25, 2010  9:34am

Downtown to the train station? That’s walkable! Add a few more buses. What a waste of cash!

posted by: Millie on September 25, 2010  11:05am

The J bus already goes up Whitney Ave and Union Station. If you are at the bus hub downtown, you can transfer to other buses that will take you directly to Yale Medical. If people don’t want to take the bus, that is another matter - but does not take $30M to resolve. Check out the map here: http://www.cttransit.com/uploads_RTDivisionSystem/NewHavenMapSystem(2).pdf

The streetcar idea is a poor use of overly taxed residents’ dollars. Did the city or the URS consultants do a gap analysis? If so, I want to see how they came up with this idea.

posted by: Ray on September 25, 2010  11:15am

URS in their presentation estimates the cost for the New Haven system at 60 million to 90 million not the 30 stated by the city.  That does no include operation and maintenance costs.

URS says the system costs 30 million per track mile, and the operating cost are 35% to 50% higher than bus operating costs.

A fleet of hybrid or electric busses seems like a better alternative.

posted by: David Cameron on September 25, 2010  11:57am

The idea of a downtown streetcar route is an interesting one.  But several questions arise:

1) Why make it a one-way loop going north up Church & Whitney and then south on Whitney and Temple?  Has any research been done by URS or others to demonstrate, in terms of people who would benefit from and use the service, why that route should be given priority?

2) Has any research been done to assess the extent to which placing streetcar tracks on Church, Whitney, and Temple would add to the already-considerable congestion from car and truck traffic on those streets?

3) Is there any reason to think that, as the URS representative claimed, half of the 11,000+ Gateway students would use the service?  Is there any reason to think that a substantial number of the employees of the Yale-New Haven medical center would use the service to get to and from work?

4) Why not consider, in addition to or instead of separate north-south tracks on Church and Temple and a two-way track on Whitney north of Trumbull, a single two-way east-west track on Chapel and Grand running from Westville to Fair Haven?  Has URS or anyone else compared the potential demand for such service in Westville and Fair Haven compared to the Whitney Avenue area?

5) One of the most congested downtown areas during the morning and afternoon rush hours is Union Ave. in the vicinity of Union Station.  Has URS or anyone else studied where those arriving in the morning work, whether the proposed route (or an east-west alternative route) would assist them in getting to and from work, and whether the existing bus service is deficient in the morning or afternoon?

6) New Haven has had to layoff employees, sell assets, impose high taxes on residential property owners, and resort to a variety of fiscal gimmicks (e.g., innovation based budgeting, monetization of parking receipts) in order to balance its budget.  The state will have deficits in excess of $3 billion in each of the next three years.  Even if the federal government provides $20 million, which is doubtful, where will the other $10 million come from?  And is a $30 million streetcar service the best way to deal with the problem of moving people to and from and within the downtown area and alleviating the congestion in that area?  Aren’t there much cheaper and more effficient ways to move people in the downtown area - e.g., shuttle buses, vans, expansion of Yale bus service, etc.?

posted by: blankenship on September 25, 2010  12:22pm

I’d rather see the city use this money to improve the New Haven bus line and improve existing infrastructure.  I am a commuter and unless there are extensions, this does not obviate the need to drive my car into New Haven. 

I love the nostalgia of a streetcar and the photo illustrations are exciting, but it doesn’t seem sustainable.  (It also reminds me of The Simpsons episode:  “Marge vs the Monorail”.)

posted by: Westville Mom on September 25, 2010  1:27pm

I was particularly struck by Prof. Rubin’s comment about this route not being “exciting.”  It seems as if the introduction of a trolley should actually DO something for the city, other than just transport.

To that end, I am submitting an alternate route as a suggestion:


This route would do 3 things:

*  ENHANCE the desirability of living/working/building along the Legion Ave. corridor, thereby serving as a catalyst for much-needed development.

*  CREATE A TOURIST ATTRACTION by connecting the Yale Bowl & Tennis Stadium to downtown.  Visitors could use the trolley both to get from the train station TO THE STADIUMS and also to get from the stadiums TO DOWNTOWN (for dining/shopping, etc.), leaving their cars at the stadium lots.

*  RELIEVE downtown of some parking problems by allowing commuters from distant towns to park in outlying lots/garages [could Yale cooperate in this regard?] and switch to a pleasant trolley to get to downtown and the medical complexes.

posted by: roomforaview on September 25, 2010  2:15pm

This would be wonderful for New Haven. Cities that I’ve visited with light rail or streetcars are thriving. Great way to get around, great for the environment, a tourist draw and a blast for the economy. There’s a great new energy all along a streetcar line. The completion of the canal trail all the way to the harbor with a citywide network of bike routes was a big first step. Addition of a streetcar route would be sensational! Of course, the city also needs to tie Union Station directly into the fabric of downtown. Right now it might as well be in Oshkosh. We are a major train hub with a beautiful train station. In D.C., the train station opens onto Capitol Hill. In NYC, it opens into the middle of bustling downtown. In New Haven, people step out of the train station into a no man’s land and have to hop into a cab?! We have to return to our roots - and lead with our once great harbor, and our railroad prominence.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on September 25, 2010  2:21pm

Not again,
This trolley proposal has been on the city website for about a year. There was a meeting last week for the public to put in their opinions to the city. This article covered that meeting, which has been planned for a long time.

It’s true that we can not afford transportation costs at the municipal level, nor at the federal, state or family level. Unfortunately, the culprit isn’t liberal trolley lines for the purposes of inconveniencing others, its our current mass transit system, ie individual car ownership for the masses that requires an elaborate, expensive and deadly public infrastructure. People should be outraged that our interstate highway system and state roads are an entirely public infrastructure paid for by everyone, yet the only one’s who can use it those who are of a certain age, certain ability, and certain income range to have the private transport that operates on the infrastructure. This massive shift of investments at every level of government and the populations has meant that our other forms of transit need to be highly subsidized and are largely used only by the people who have no choice. Our mass transit of cars also has meant the destruction of the public realm in America, which has lead to enormous increased costs of improving and upgrading pedestrian and cyclist infrastructure simply as a response to dangerous conditions created by a car culture. Crosswalks, bike lanes, traffic signals, lane striping, and excessive signage are unnecessary when the streets aren’t overrun by cars.
Cars and roads were part of and continue to be a part of massive government expansions into markets and the economy through the use of public funds from tax payers. There is nothing free market about the rise of automotive commuter culture and trucking. Conversely, the rail lines in industrial areas of the country were paid for, owned and operated privately as were trolleys (its a different story for the lines that went out west which were largely a result of horrific Chinese slave labor).
It’s true that this proposal is another government intervention, but if it’s done properly it can actually restore the balance that was distorted following the policies of post-WW2. A slight increase in gas prices, a shortage of parking, too many potholes and traffic congestion can mean a tipping point that causes people to drive less or cause a massive injection of public wealth into “fixing” the problems, which usually means increased aggression in the middle east, more gas subsidies, more destruction of cities to create parking, paid overtime to pave roads, and widening of traffic lanes, which usually means getting rid of pedestrian space, on-street parking, trees, and only results in increased traffic congestion as more people choose to use the street that seems like it has the highest capacity. Instead of doing that, we should provide a viable option to driving. Trolleys are more attractive to middle class people than buses, which is partly why GM was so successful at switching the middle class from buses to cars.
Hopefully the city will also implement “bus only” lanes on routes to test to see what it would be like for a trolley.
Mass transit through individual car ownership has never and will never be profitable, however, fixed-path transit and cargo transport has and can be privately profitable. If it takes an initial public injection of funds to get to that point again, then so be it. The technology for electric trolley lines has been with us for a century. Electricity can come from a number of different sources whereas cars and its infrastructure are solely dependent upon cheap and abundant oil. Cars haven’t switched to electric because there’s no profit motive. Companies would have to change their entire production arrangement, revamp their facilities and end up selling cars that are affordable for the masses. That ain’t gunna happen. If we do get electric cars it’ll be because the federal government gave private companies our tax dollars to do so, and we end up having no choice but to buy cars that continue to travel on asphalt roads and along side trucks that are transporting produce that’s been sprayed with petroleum based pesticides and herbicides. The automobile has gone from being a delightful plaything for elites to being the cultural erosion tool of big business. How are we supposed to have a functioning democracy when half the country spends their life locked in individual steel cages that go back and forth between temperature controlled sealed off housing in the woods, to monoculture offices.

One issue I have with the rendering shown at the bottom of the article is that it gets rid of an on-street parking lane. We need to encourage parking on the street as much as possible, so that we don’t have to provide it on building lots. Nearly every street in the city should also be two-ways except for the hand full that are not wide enough.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on September 25, 2010  2:48pm

“...20 million trolley rides began or ended in their base year, 1907 (the city’s trolley system sold 31.6 million rides in total for that year).” [Douglas Rae. Fabric of Enterprise, City: Urbanism and Its End (pg. 83)]

“On average in this era, each of the city’s 130,000 people took well over 200 trolley trips per year. The trolley system was organized starfish style, with each arm anchored to the downtown hub. This meant that of the roughly 90,000 adults, each averaged over 300 rides, and almost all found themselves passing through downtown often enough to spend a considerable fraction of their income nearby. Riders arrived downtown in anticipation of a visit to one of the big department stores, which was an exciting experience…The big department stores like Gamble-Desmond worked as “anchors” in close association with an endless variety of small enterprise. The block in question held well over a hundred other firms.” [Douglas Rae. Fabric of Enterprise, City: Urbanism and Its End (pg. 96)]

The AAA conservatively estimates that the average car costs a two parent, two child household $10,000 per year per car. The average family owns 2.5 cars. Transportation costs account for 25% of budgeted income for families. Since 1970, transportation costs for the average middle class family has gone up 52% according to the Federal Commerce and Labor Departments.
People could buy a second home in East Rock if they sold their cars and took fixed-path transit.
Should we subsidize a form of transport that everyone can use, or one that only the most capable among us can use? Should that transit that everyone uses also be attractive for those that have a choice or should it be ugly, polluting and relegated to the side of the road?

posted by: Walt on September 25, 2010  3:43pm

While it is supposedly true that
GM pulled a shady deal to dump trolleys and   replace them with buses in the 40’s,  local folks were not tricked, they just hailed the buses which greatly reduced     the horrendous traffic jams Downtown and gave faster service.

Each time a trolley stopped so did all traffic,  as the curbside lane was blocked by boarding passengers.

I realize your pictures are fake, but in the main photo you show middle - of- the- road tracks,  which would repeat the old problems
—-and then what would your dear bikists do, those who cant even navigate the Tomlinson Bridge tracks (  which were a bother 60 years ago,  but a problem kids age 10 quickly solved with 90 degree crossings)

Rails on their own right-of-  way as in Boston are good.  Sharing the roadway with cars, and worse bikists,  is hazardous.

No fflexibilityis another factor. For example, the old Ferry St trolley wasted time and energy going around State and James while the replacement bus sshortcut-ted down   Humphrey St   without the waste.

Change the energy source,  but do not bring back the dreaded rails

Just wasteful dreams by impractical folks as I see it.  Hope it is never funded.

posted by: Ben Berkowitz on September 25, 2010  6:21pm

Ah the future, where apparently white people, and only white people in this rendering, take public transport New Haven.

I agree with Elihu that this is unproductive. We don’t need a loop downtown. Run the line out one of the corridors and spark economic development.(I vote for Whalley)

This loop will not render any major improvements for the city and as such will not garner anymore federal dollars for the corridor.

Think Bigger Guys!

posted by: Ben Berkowitz on September 25, 2010  6:27pm

Also, forget the out of city planners and ask the community what they want.

This is about serving people so ask the people what they want.

posted by: Liz on September 25, 2010  6:59pm

Does anyone remember the trolley (actually a bus done up to look like one) we had a few years ago? I used to take it from Wooster Square to downtown and I was frequently the only passenger on it—and it was free! Maybe if it had a longer route, people might have used it. I propose that before we put down expensive, unmovable tracks, we first try an expanded version of the fake trolley. If it doesn’t work, at least we haven’t sunk a ton of money into it.

posted by: Liz on September 25, 2010  7:03pm

Ditto what others have said about Whitney. If it went down Dixwell, at least downtowners could use it to get to the supermarket and people from Newhallville and Hamden could get to work downtown.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on September 25, 2010  9:29pm

Trolley’s need to be in the center of the road for turning radius. if they are on the edge, they can’t make the turn properly. Also with trolleys in the center of the lane, it gave pedestrians a buffer between the movement of the street and the safety of the sidewalk. That buffer has been almost completely taken away with the advent of mass car culture. You are reading the problems of traffic congestion completely wrong. Traffic congestion wasn’t a problem of trolleys, it was a problem of cars. The streets worked wonderfully when it was just trolleys, pedestrians and the occasional bike or vehicle. Cars caused traffic congestion, nothing else is to blame.

Also, the city needs to stop focusing economic development downtown. We already have too much traffic congestion, too much parking problems and too many unstable surrounding communities that need investment. The idea that downtowns are the economic engines of cities and should be the place everyone works, shops, and enjoys recreation and culture is a massive mistake and a massive misunderstanding of cities. The old economic engines of the cities-factories-were located in neighborhoods, not downtown. People walked or hoped on the trolley to get to work. Putting a trolley line along Dixwell or Whalley would create the opportunity to develop those thoroughfares as centers for commerce and job growth. It would be better to share the burdens of parking and traffic with surrounding neighborhoods to disperse the issues and actually get rid of them; it would also be good to share investment between downtown and neighborhoods to make sure the necessary infrastructure is in place and the correct zoning is in place to allow for dense, pleasant and livable mixed use development. The more people commuting in from Woodbridge who can stop along Whalley for work, the less problems for downtown.

posted by: Walt on September 26, 2010  6:56am

Good point   re trolley turns JH, but could easily be solved by moving tracks out to the center only where a right turn happens on the route, not everywhere.

Improvement will not really come with tracks , but maybe via maneuverable buses (called trolleys to make you happy)  powered by   other than diesel to clean up the air.

The people have spoken.  Your anti-car rhetoric is just a dream that most of your fellow citizens think is BS

Mass transit in our region will not entice enough riders   to break even unless there is another situation like fuel shortages,  artificially high fuel prices,  or other factors which forces use of the system

We Americans like our cars and our freedom.  We do not buy your proposals and won’t support them unless coerced.

Mass transit is needed but certainly not new rails in our streets.

We can’t.  and do not want, to go back to the early 1900’s   as you seem to propose.

posted by: Walt on September 26, 2010  7:03am

What is the magic of rails in the streets to you folks?

To me the idea is anathema,  I do not get your enthusiasm.

What’s the story re   your dreams of rails?


posted by: alexey on September 26, 2010  8:24am

$30 million dollars seems low based on the proposal that is linked in the article.  It estimates 20-to-30 (m) million dollars per mile, thus 60-to-90 (m) million dollars for the New Haven starter project.  Check the math, folks.

posted by: Corporate Sponsorship on September 26, 2010  8:53am

Why are we ignoring corporate sponsorship? Ever been to the XL Center, Gillette Stadium, or the Comcast Theatre? Those naming rights were sold for money.

Corporations such as Knights of Columbus, Pfizer, Higher One, Assa Abloy, Ikea, St Raphael’s, and other New Haven giants could each sponsor a mile of track, or break down the cost into quarter-mile sponsorships. Electronic screens within the trolleys will flash the corporate logos and messages when running along that designated section of track, possibly alerting the rider to specials, information on products, etc.

One ust not discount the massive potential for advertising revenue both INSIDE and OUTSIDE the trams, such as what the old trolleys at the rideable museum in East Haven feature.

I support the electric bus with overhead catenary (electric) wire service as the solution, instead of in-road tracks which will cause maintenance headaches, bicycle accidents, and ultimately increase the cost. Boston Harbor has amazing electric buses which can deviate a few blocks (on battery power) should an accident or errant parked car get in their way, or if a service change is warranted. They just hook up to electrical power as soon as possible after the deviation. It’s quiet (no gas motor) and modern. No tracks in the road, and the route is clearly marked by the overhead wires.

Also, we should not forget that there are many neighborhoods in New Haven- Whalley & Fair Haven being two of the most under-served. Fair Haven has tremendous possibility in terms of investment (residential & commercial/industrial) and could serve many if the potential for the area is recognized through development of a trolley.

Corporate sponsorship should be considered- naming rights for a mile on the highway is commonplace- why not for the trolley? There is no shame in saving money, only spending it needlessly!

posted by: Pedro Soto on September 26, 2010  1:24pm

I think that this streetcar is a fantastic idea for New Haven, and there have been a ton of great comments on this!  I’ve got a few points to make. I apologize that it’s a bit disjointed.

With this build out, what I strongly believe the transportation planners should do is not think of the streetcar system and the bus system as mutually exclusive systems, but part of an integrated whole.

Design improvements that will come with streetcar service, such as displays with time until the next car, dedicated lanes and kiosk ticketing should also be extended to bus service as well. Busses should become a ton more streetcar-like with these improvements, which will most certainly increase ridership.

That way, when the streetcar network expands, it can simply use the existing rights of way that has been carved out.

Fixed stops with longer distances should definitely be looked into. It’s bizzarely illogical that NH Buses stop every hundred or so feet.

The streetcar is important for a lot of the reasons noted above, and especially because it’s a loud signal that getting around the central core of the city should not be all about cars.

As for the trolley shed, I think that it should be located elsewhere, and not right downtown on an area that can and should be developed with higher value use.

One idea might be to park the trolley shed on one of the future possible spurs, so that it would be easier to build out in that direction, since the cars would be heading off to there.

A perfect location would be up Grand Avenue or Chapel towards wooster square, past I-91 but before the river in the East Street area.

Admittedly, adding a spur like that would definitely increase the cost of the project, but it might also be able to get a spur put into the system in the initial phase rather than having to wait.

I agree that while the downtown loop is an interesting one, it’s a loop that is really (as a few people mention) benefit daily users from out of town and students, and is not really a loop that is going to get a whole bunch of commuters (except for the huge mass that will certainly wait on Whitney).

It’s logical that this plan is centered on the train station, and getting people around the CBD and Med Area, but at this stage of the game, I agree with many on this forum—- Get a commuting spur into this plan if at all possible in the initial phase should be pursued, with the fallback position being the current plan.

The crux of my argument is this: the streetcar is being touted for New Haven as being a booster for development along it’s path and the area is runs through. The current plan is slated to simply run through the highest value sections of the city!

For New Haven to get the biggest economic bang for the buck, the system should start out by getting out to at least one area ripe for development.

Look at all the open lots on State Street and the buildings up Grand, throw in a streetcar, and now you’re talking development possibility.
By using the streetcar as an economic carrot for these areas, investors will flock to this opportunity.

And as anon points out, $30 Million is nothing compared to the new Q bridge. He’s actually LOW on the Q-Bridge. Taking the whole project, from West Haven to Branford it’s actually almost $3 Billion for 13 miles of road. That project is $230 MILLION a mile.

Think about this- if the same amount of money were invested for a streetcar system as has been invested for the Q Bridge, at about $15 million per mile. The region could have built a 200 MILE streetcar system, an actual regional system!

posted by: JB on September 27, 2010  8:48am

Amnesia, maybe? 

The city is broke.  It’s broke this year and it will be more broke next year. 

It’s not plausible that the city’s cost will be held to 10 million on this project, but even at that rate, the city can’t afford it.

posted by: anon on September 27, 2010  8:53am

Although it is true that we should “make no little plans, they have no magic to stir men’s blood and will not be realized,” one must be realistic about the streetcar system.  First, a system can’t be built all at once.  Second, it must connect existing centers of high-density activity, not just existing residential neighborhoods.  Third, it must allow reasonable journey times so that you get to where you want to go without having to cross the entire city first.  Whalley Avenue is nice, but it only employs a couple thousand people.  Downtown New Haven employs about 40,000 people, and is a transit hub for many tens of thousands more; in addition, it has major room to grow over the next 10-20 years. 

It’s true that a starter system may not be about serving neighborhood residents directly, but residents could benefit from the economic development and tax revenue that would be created by connecting these hubs of activity (train station, medical district, Church Street employment corridor) and reducing vehicle trip costs.

The naysayers should look at available research, traffic count, LED and downtown studies before weighing in on whether a route going out to the King’s Block on Grand Avenue would be more well used than a route connecting three of the busiest activity and employment hubs in the entire State.  A starter loop going out towards Chapel Street, for example, would leave out the entire business district that runs north for about a mile from Route 34 along Church and State.

Having a strong “starter” corridor would lay the foundation for future expansions on Whalley Avenue, Columbus or Dixwell. (the city’s website indicates that a route running up Dixwell Avenue to the center of Hamden would be first, which makes sense given our region’s current commuting patterns and land use policies).  Having a starter corridor that doesn’t attract enough patrons because it doesn’t reach enough key destinations is a recipe for failure.  Look at examples from other cities, for example, Minneapolis, whose starter system recently connected the airport with downtown and laid the groundwork for rapid expansion.

On the comments who propose bus or pedestrian improvements instead: These are also incredibly valuable, but someone pointed out above that the Feds generally fund capital-intensive projects like highways and streetcars, not buses, sidewalks or crosswalks. 

Funding for the latter creates many more jobs per dollar spent, and are therefore distributed more equitably.  However, DeLauro’s Federal funding has rarely been about creating jobs (witness expiration of the TANF funding this month)—it has been about lining the pockets of huge industrial conglomerates and contractors, that, sadly, almost exclusively employ and are owned by middle to upper-income white people.  Yes, this is a class issue but the facts are the facts and you can’t change deeply ingrained political realities all at once.  But the city can lobby for a streetcar, while it simultaneously pushes for more equitable Federal policy.  If our diverse cities become more prosperous and livable, and have sidewalks instead of just billion dollar boondoggle bridges, they will have more clout in Washington and Hartford in a decade or two.

That said, a streetcar project could be combined with thoughtful improvements to local bus connections and shelters, GPS systems on the buses, etc., (after Yale added GPS to its shuttle buses and marked the stops, ridership doubled), as well as pedestrian access improvements so that our younger, elderly and disabled residents would actually be able to cross the busy New Haven streets and walk to the new stops.

posted by: William Kurtz on September 27, 2010  8:55am

It’s been said already, and really should be self-evident but while a light rail system is a great idea, this downtown loop is less so.  To be useful, a rail system needs to actually go someplace.  I doubt this one will take many cars off downtown streets since its endpoints are already within easy biking distance and well-served by CT Transit and the Yale shuttle. 

Here’s an idea: run this rail line right past the train station, down Kimberly Avenue onto Elm Street in West Haven and end it right at the Stop and Shop on Elm and Wagner Place.

posted by: Walt on September 27, 2010  9:11am

To bikists

If this is some devilish plan by car folk to wipe out all Downtown bikists via entrapment on trolley rails, I deny any part in it.


posted by: anon on September 27, 2010  10:11am

Keep in mind that until that day when every corridor on Jonathan’s map can be repopulated with streetcars, there’s nothing preventing the region from tying its CT Transit bus schedules into a downtown streetcar loop that runs every 10 minutes. 

It might get many more people to use the bus if they could hop off their bus, grab a coffee, and then hop right onto a direct streetcar at any moment, instead of waiting on the Green for 40 minutes for one or two other bus connections to take them to their office, lab, hospital appointment or the train station.

The most efficient transit systems in the world rely on a combination of local buses with higher-capacity systems.

This doesn’t have to be an either or proposition.

posted by: Nh resident on September 27, 2010  10:26am

This is madness!  We already have a good public transportation system—one that doesn’t require months of ripping up our streets, $30 million (and probably more) of our tax dollars, a new hazard for drivers to contend with, and an embarrassing white elephant for decades to come.  (See Detroit, “people mover”).

It makes much, much more zees to invest in cleaner, more frequent buses, if it’s really necessary.  Not as sexy as a trolley, but much smarter.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on September 27, 2010  10:55am

Did the original trolley network have a downtown loop? I may be mistaken but I think all trolleys ended and started at the corner of Church and Chapel and radiated outwards from there.
I don’t get what the point of this loop would be. No one can use it to commute.
It seems that the way to connect these important places is to simply improve walking networks and biking infrastructure. Its difficult to imagine who would use this loop, but perhaps the planners in charge of this have the studies to back up this loop.
I would like to see a plan along 3 miles of Whalley that has bus only lanes or a trolley, bike lanes, no driveways, interior alleys running parallel to Whalley, and rezoned underused and vacant parcels for 5-7 story mixxed-use development with consolidated parking accessed from alleys. Economic development is happening downtown with or without a trolley, I feel like we could get more bang for our buck if we spur development in other districts outside of downtown. Whalley could become a commercial retail and office corridor with integrated housing for various incomes.

posted by: anon on September 27, 2010  10:57am

NH resident:

Buses are essential to have, but they are noisy to ride on, and lurch constantly while driving.  In stark contrast, modern streetcars offer a dead silent, and incredibly smooth and comfortable ride to passengers. They also are faster to board, have no steps up and have a dedicated travel corridor so are faster and higher capacity.  Have you ever taken one?

In other words, you get what you pay for.  There are reasons why so many major cities around the United States, and world, prefer streetcars, and why they are strongly preferred by commuters seeking a comfortable and rapid trip to their destination.

I think everyone would agree that our bus system needs to be made much better, just like our regional train, bridges, bicycle, and highway systems needs work.  We need all of them, so it isn’t necessarily a matter of choosing one.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on September 27, 2010  11:35am

The bulk of the middle class associates transit buses with poor people who want cars, but can’t afford them. Trolleys don’t have that stigma. If we can convince the middle class that buses are cool (meaning undoing decades of propaganda ingrained into us through the media and entertainment) and give preference to bus routes over car routes then yes that would be great. However, trolleys are a desirable form of transit for the majority of people and because of their physical presence (size and in-road infrastructure) they demand hierarchical preference in the street. Buses require that you paint on the lanes “bus only”, they would require a massive ad campaign to overcome their stigma, and we don’t know if that will even work.

I like cars. I have car calendars, car posters and I like reading car magazines. I am in favor of making cities, towns, villages and the countryside pleasant to inhabit and navigate through. In order to get to this goal, we cannot have our mass transportation system consist of private individual car use on massive public infrastructure. Making roads more navigable in cars cannot be done through street widening, lane widening, cobra head highway lamps, wide turning radii corners, etc because those things degrade the public realm by destroying city street light, destroying the countryside, and making places undesirable to inhabit. Housing values near busy roads are not competitive with similar housing in pleasant conditions. We no longer have enormous wealth, we cannot afford superfluous connector roads to get us away from unpleasant arterial roads, which in turn get us away from unpleasant highways. That is not a sustainable model for development. The ratio of roads to buildings needs to be much lower than it currently is because roads do not generate wealth, and in many cases they actually cause things to loose value over time.
The only way that driving will become substantially less polluting, less stressful and more efficient is if most people stop doing it so often. Walking, biking, transit and driving should each be viable options to get to and from daily needs. The point is not to outlaw driving, but to make other transportation options viable so that people have choices and are not required to sit in traffic all day, walk ridiculous distances along abysmal roadsides, wait an hour for a bus that is most likely stuck in traffic because there’s too many cars, or risk death by taking a bike.
You are also using mass transit incorrectly. Mass transit is whatever the majority transportation mode is. In this country, our mass transit is cars. It didn’t used to be, but now it is.
The majority of the American public has been bombarding with media and commercial propaganda for at least a large part of our lives that influences most things we do. The idea that cars as a mass transit device was some type of natural progression of innovation, the free market, and public support is simply false. The working people in this country didn’t dream up Futurama _the city of the future) for the 1939 World’s Fair, they were too busy working hard, wealthy, elite planners who don’t have anything to do all day but daydream about ridiculous crap came up with highways, and sky scraper’s in a park-like setting and mass car culture. Large companies like Standard Oil, GM and Firestone Tires, among others, lobbied the government to impose car culture on the American public while destroying trolley systems, mass production assembly to reduce costs and minimize manual labor, and advertising at great cost. From 1914-1945 our country went through a lot and its towns and cities were brought to their breaking point. Instead of addressing the problems head on by injecting our towns and cities will loans to fix infrastructure, fix buildings, and improve facilities, we decided to spend public money on creating Futurama for the masses. This wasn’t a choice made by the public. The Oak Street neighborhood would have been happier to get loans from banks to fix up their house, rather than having banks redline them because they weren’t “natives” and the government come in and demolish their community to replace it with an “imaginative” 6 lanes expressway that will never be backed up and will get you anywhere. The government contracted builders, not to fix up existing places, but to build new sprawling habitats on the outskirts of cities where standards for design required car use. Banks had plenty of money for new suburban housing thanks to federal housing standards and risk analysis (the same analysis that considered Italian neighborhoods to “risky” for investment because they are prone to rapid decay, not that the neighborhood rotted during WW2 when everyone was desperately doing all they could to support the war effort and factory smoke running 24/7 isn’t exactly good for wood exterior siding and people didn’t have the money nor time to do general maintenance.
The automobile was one of the greatest inventions of the modern era, but its been grossly perverted into a tool for status, social viability and bankruptcy for many middle class families. The freedom train left in 1945 when the government helped big business monopolize transportation and today all we’re left with for options are bike-at-your-own-risk, highly subsidized and crappy buses transit, unpleasant and often impractical walking, and road rage inducing car driving that is also highly subsidized and it operates on public infrastructure even though it is highly segregationists in terms of who can viably use that public infrastructure. That is what you’re defending. I want better options, so that everyone who wants to can own and operate a car, but that they do not have to use it for every trip every day.

posted by: Westville Mom on September 27, 2010  12:16pm

Have posted an updated/clarified map to this site:


I just don’t think the importance of this trolley concept for tourism/visitors (as well as for commuting) is being fully appreciated.

The Chapel St. route includes two hospitals (10,000 employees, at least), Gateway CC, the theaters, Yale art galleries, shopping, restaurants, and nearby clubs (particularly useful for the night crowd.)

Regarding commuting, people most likely don’t commute enough on buses already because they live too far from bus stops to make it feasible. Having to drive a car to a bus only works if there is a convenient and free lot at the bus stop.  Then having to take a long bus ride from there (with frequent stops) is a further deterrent.

The red lines on the map show the potential for traffic from Rt. 34 and Ella Grasso Boulevard (from I-95) to go directly to commuter lots at the west end of town to connect to a trolley.

As for Hamden, it would appear that many years ago there existed a right-of-way for rail commuting, which is now the Farmington Trail.  Great for young bicyclists—- however many there are in the dead of winter—- but not so great for “regional” transport.  I’ve said many times before that I think it was a mistake, but that’s water under the bridge at this point.

The old concept of the 34 Connector was to magically funnel people (consumers!) into New Haven from I-95 & I-91.  However, there has to be a “there” there and it did not work exactly as planned.  The “charm-factor” of a trolley should not be discounted in contributing to the “there” that’s here ... so, it needs to go where the VISITORS want to go, not just the workers, however important the commuting aspect is.

I also agree with other commenters that the maintenance facility should NOT be on Church. St. (what a mistake!) and the possibilities for corporate sponsorship should be exploited to the fullest extent (which dovetails nicely with the concept of “trolley as tourist attraction.”)

posted by: walt on September 27, 2010  12:25pm


Never was a loop as part of the regular bus or trolley system as I recall.

I was part of a group which started   a free uniquely-decorated bus loop via Church , Grove,  Temple and Grove Streets in the 1950’s

Buses were provided by CT.Co. but paid for by us .

Was financed by retailers and banks to connect the then Malley/Macy area,  after 1950’s redevelopment stretched the distances between the     the sellers of goods and services at the south end, and employee/buyers at the SNET/Yale/banks areas   on the north end,, and also the east and west sides of the route., and provided every 15 minute-  free-  rides for all Downtowners.

Worked quite well and was continued after I left,  until Macy/Malley efforts failed.

Could not figure why December 8 was the biggest user- day of the year until a few of us Catholics in the group pointed out that that was a Catholic Holy Day and the big users then were Downtown employees headed for St,  Mary Church noon- Masses.

posted by: Millie on September 27, 2010  12:34pm

Streetcars are faster than buses? I lived in Boston for 5 years and avoided it like the plague because it was so slow. I would walk or drive instead. Their T subway system is much better and does not have to contend with traffic. I can’t recall taking streetcars in the cities abroad (Tokyo, Melbourne, Paris, Beijing, etc.) I have worked or lived - just trains.

If our buses are not up to par, I would like to see the city look into improving them, maybe start with the $10M+ that it would fork over for the streetcar system.

For an efficient bus riding experience, I would vote for Manhattan’s model. The traffic lights are timed (at least they seem) and their routes go north and south, east and west. That is opposite our hub model here, creating a bottleneck and forcing riders to wait for transfers.

I really hope the city/URS did a best practice analysis on this streetcar proposal; at least someone should compare that mode of transportation with adopting a better bus system.

posted by: Doyens on September 27, 2010  12:47pm

We sure spend a lot of time and resources thinking complicated stuff up and more time and energy looking for somebody else to pay for it. It’s never supposed to cost us much locally, and in the end, costs us an arm and a leg with benefits projected so far out, they never get here or when they do, we don’t recognize them.

Are there no relatively simple, affordable solutions which utilize our existing expertise better for the good of all? Could we not get rid of the filthy, unkempt and congregational transfer station on the green and increase the number of buses on dedicated loops so service is better, shorter, more frequent? Can you not use all the corners of the green for transfer points?

The $30 million is a down-payment - David Cameron raises some very important questions. We should not think about going down this road until they are all answered and more asked. We just spent $1.5 billion on new schools with no plan, no analysis of what we actually needed and we are demonstrably poorer for it. This needs to be carefully and thoughtfully vetted without buying into the hype or trying to sell it.

posted by: walt on September 27, 2010  12:51pm

Correction, maybe

Vague memory says we had 2 buses,  giving 7 1/2 minute service, but I would not bet much money that that is true.


posted by: Thomas on September 27, 2010  2:45pm

Before the city lays tracks and spends a huge amount of money for a system that may or not be used to the full extent the consultants come up with, why not set up a bus type system. Providence, Newport, Charleston and Savannah have system’s that loop the cities business and tourism area’s. New Haven could set up a loop around East Rock, Grand and Blatchley, Westville upper Chapel and the Hospital. These systems would run continually and conveniently. By doing this the city can add or delete routes. Also wondering if the passenger use numbers include Yale’s population who have there own system? CT also needs to look into a Metro Card system that will link to all the states mass transit systems.

posted by: Walt on September 27, 2010  3:30pm

Another correction to previous post.  Remove one “Grove Street”  of course.

Add “George Street”.


posted by: trolley on September 27, 2010  4:49pm

OK..I support any train/lrv/subway system idea in any city. I support that New Haven needs something of the sort. What a 3 mile loop, otherwise known as a inner-loop, has been found of great need in already based systems. The point of it is to have one line, that connects all of the downtown inner city, and have other lines that connect to it at different spots that spiral out.(transfers etc.)
Now I have studied and have a huge passion for understanding transportation systems and history. These cars are EXPENSIVE. Forget the maintenance and building cost for tracks etc. The so called branches, are in very high crime areas, and as a tax payer and someone who knows the area well, would not want my 25 million car getting graffiti, destroyed or shot up, one window can cost 5-6 grand or more to replace.
Also, before this system is built, new haven needs to clean up and stop dying, Lets face it people, new haven is a decaying city, it has been and true life long residents will tell you. The crime rate is the biggest problem more now and is getting worse, who wants to take the bus at night, its sketchy smelly and unsafe or heck even walk down the streets at night. Hell you cant even go out to temple street without being shot at.
Again this needs to be addressed before putting in a 90 mill plus system and all of a sudden the system is as bad as the buses.

Take the 30 mill, put it into cleaning up the city’s neighborhoods and the shit that happens in them then lets talk trolleys and rebuilding.

posted by: mpeg on September 27, 2010  5:06pm

Sounds great…..So whos gunna ride the trolly into the bad parts of town? Thoes lines are gunna be terrible, you cant even ride a bus into fair haven at night without feeling like your gunna get jumped any minute. Heck being on temple street when the bars let out isnt safe.
Also Where are all these toursits? The only tourist i see are for yale which they provide them with everything…and When Yale/QU/unh/scsu isnt here the city is dead?

Being from new haven area all my life, I agree trollys would be great, but lets clean it up first (maybe get rid of the jail drop offs?), and I also agree new haven is on the decline. Why waste 10 mill of my tax money on a trolly car that in prolly a mounths time will resemble the nyc subway cars, dirty, disgusting and graffited…..The inner loop will be much the same its a waste right now.
Think about that first.

posted by: Thomas on September 27, 2010  5:50pm

Anyone see the episode of “The Simpson’s” episode based on “The Music Man.” where a con-man comes to Springfield to sell them a mono-rail system? Sorry for my cynicism.

Anyway I think New Haven and other cities need put in a bus/trolley system first and see how the public uses it. Will Yale, SCSU, QU and UNH still offer transportation for their students and staff? What would the cost be? what would the schedule be? Heck if they could get Metro-North to allow the trains to travel and make stops at the State Street Station it would link the rails to downtown. Speaking of Metro North when are the new rail cars arriving?

posted by: Mister Obvious, PhD on September 27, 2010  10:35pm

Choose whatever bus line carries the most passengers through town now. See if it covers its costs. I’ll bet a billion to 1 the answer is no. I’ll bet there’s a huge subsidy somewhere. Double the number of passengers, do a financial analysis to see if the trolley will ever cover its cost on the same route. Again I’ll bet a billion to 1 it can’t. So why bother wasting taxpayers money yet again. Too many good ideas from people at city hall siting around with nothing better to do. In 20 years time when gasoline costs an arm and a leg it may be a different story.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on September 27, 2010  11:26pm

trolley and mpeg,
It is really beneficial to be honest in a public forum so that people who may read your posts don’t mistake completely made up jibberish for some kind of factual account of existing conditions.
Crime is on the decline and has been for nearly 2 decades. 2010 has been the lowest crime year since the early 1970s. Shootings are down significantly this year, as are muggings.


An argument can be made that New Haven is continuing to “decline” relative to certain economic prospects for certain groups, but it’d be difficult to prove that the city has been declining for the last 20 years.

Would trolleys be vandalized more than buses are now? Is it a big problem? When was the last time a bus window was smashed or hit by bullets? Does it happen regularly? Can anyone supply dates of instances?

Don’t just completely make things up, it is counterproductive.

posted by: nh on September 27, 2010  11:44pm

mpeg - I definitely agree. Clean up the Union Station area, get rid of the projects, because that is not helping. Connect Columbus Avenue together, and bring Lafayette Street down to Columbus by Union Avenue. Just work on pedestrian improvements, the area should be safe and pleasant to walk; I shouldn’t have to take a trolley or bus to get from the train station to downtown.

As for the bus system - it’s terrible. We need more buses here, and we need more options. “Select Service” buses are good options, have some express buses that skip some stops. O and B buses should add on another via route - B buses turn onto the Boulevard and travel down Frontage Rd to the Medical District / Union Station, and O buses continue down Frontage Rd on the same route.

In my dream, some of those buses to Union Station would have luggage racks. There are times when I’d be able to take a bus to the train station, but (a) my luggage gets in the way, and (b) it takes 20 more minutes to take the bus, because I have to wait for a late bus, and take the Union Station bus too.

posted by: Westville Mom on September 28, 2010  9:04am

MPEG—I think you bring up a very interesting point about tourists.  Partly, it depends on how you define “tourist.”  I am speaking of a group that includes anyone traveling into New Haven for any kind of enjoyment or visitation.

If you have been here your whole life (and I don’t know how old you are), you probably remember things like large festivals.  The Yale athletic fields once hosted an Irish festival and a Greek festival.  There was once an Israel Day on the grounds of what is now the tennis stadium.  About 16 or so years ago there was a huge Special Olympics in the Bowl and its surrounding fields, which was very well attended.  All of these events were very well attended and safe.

We have two huge stadiums in this city which are severely underutilized.  I can think of several possible reasons why Yale no longer rents out these facilities for festivals and concerts, but I have to say I think it is shortsighted.  The philosophy seems to be “what’s good for Yale is good for New Haven” but I think it’s exactly the opposite.  What’s good for New Haven will ultimately be good for Yale.  A culturally elite event such as the Festival of Arts & Ideas draws a certain crowd, but it resembles no “festival” I’ve ever been to.  It’s also expensive.  After the first year when they closed off Chapel St. for the beginning of it, I haven’t attended at all. 

I think this city is virtually clueless and inept about how to attract visitors and has fallen prey to a level of elitism that borders on a strange parochialism.  New Haven intellectuals are so self-absorbed and disconnected from the “average” person, they can’t figure out what to do to attract average people.

Example:  About 15 years ago we had visitors from Japan—dear friends with two teenage daughters.  What did they want to see?  An OUTLET MALL.  They had heard about American outlet malls and were obsessed with the notion.  I had to drive them up to Clinton Crossing, rather than take them shopping in New Haven.

So, what I’m suggesting is that the “concept” of a trolley is something that is inherently attractive for travelers, but is not an end in itself.  It should be part of an OVERALL STRATEGY.  People are right that better bus service would suffice for getting from point A to point B.  The trolley route proposed by the city appears to be nothing more than a personalized transit system for the privileged east side of town to get to and from the train station and the hospital.

I am merely asserting that (IF built) it should be something much more significant than that and it needs to be connected to a comprehensive strategy for increasing tourism and aiding commuting.  The mayor and Yale both need to FIRST recognize that attracting the middle class “average” citizen to this city means coming down off their high horses a little bit and accommodating the cultural preferences of the “common” folk, for a change.

What’s good for New Haven—tourist dollars, positive publicity, and foot traffic—would be very good for Yale, too, by fostering a more attractive, safer city.

posted by: anon on September 28, 2010  9:15am

New Haven has a major budget problems and a large debt load that will need to be reduced before taking a big project like a streetcar system. The long term cost of the streetcar system is the scary thing. It seems like the city likes to spend money on things (that are not necessary) when the state and federal governments are paying for 70% of the costs without factoring in the long term costs. Everyone knows the system would not pay for it self, but city hall. 

New Haven should focus on making the metro north and shoreline railroads are easily accessible for commuters with a better bus system. Fix the bus system before starting any other major costly projects.

posted by: Alphonse Credenza on September 28, 2010  1:33pm

Just what the people need.  Another project of dubious value erected with taxpayer money.  We can’t afford, we don’t need it, we won’t have it!  Who is going to profit from it?  Guess who….

posted by: Aaron A on September 28, 2010  2:45pm

This is a good discussion about the relative benefits of a streetcar system.  One aspect that I think hasn’t been brought into the mix is the idea of extended economic benefits that might come with light rail transportation (and, for reasons that are not entirely clear, don’t come with bus lines).  The crown jewel example of this argument is the Portland light rail system where a 4 mile street car loop spurred $3.5 billion in private revitalization investment in a 6 block corridor near the track over an 8 year period (these numbers are from the city of Portland).  The increased tax revenues on these investments alone paid for the line, and the city is more economically robust for the development.  Perhaps this is an exceptional outcome, but it’s one of the reasons city planners get all hot and bothered about light rail systems, not just because they don’t understand the relative costs of different forms of transit or are blinded by nostalgia.  Whether the cost/benefit analysis works out for a city of New Haven’s size and shape is a question that will need more study, but understanding mass transit as an investment that will not only make people’s lives easier and have less negative environmental impact, but as one that should help create value and stimulate economic development is important to a full discussion of the options. 

We should try to fully understand all the factors that go into making successful, economically stimulating public transit before we do anything, but like others here my gut instinct is that connecting desirable places will produce more meaningful ridership than a downtown loop in an area that is already quite walkable (with the possible exception of the train station).  Minneapolis has just recently begun to implement their streetcar master plan, and they began with a line that connects downtown to the airport (and the nearby Mall of America) while running through some older, residential neighborhoods and transitional zones between neighborhoods and uses (for example: slowly-being-abandoned light industrial areas).  The result is new development in the transition zones and increased home values in the old neighborhoods (in addition to efficient transit that generated a lot of civic pride and excitement), which has encouraged people to invest in their properties and spurred new, higher-density development adjacent to the line.  The line also allows suburbanites and out-of-towners to park at the mall and get on the train to go downtown, avoiding traffic and parking difficulties, especially for large events like football and baseball games. 

I agree with Elihu Rubin, Robn, William Kurtz and others that the first line needs to be kind of bold and connect disparate, vital areas.  I also think it should run through some less economically robust neighborhoods to give them a developmental boost, while connecting more stable areas to catch new ridership .  One idea in this vein would be a line from Westville to Fairhaven Heights along the continuous Whalley-Elm-Grand corridor.  This would connect New Haven’s two outlying Main Street-style commercial centers (downtown Westville and Grand Avenue in Fairhaven) with the Green while running through underdeveloped and underserved communities.  It would also pass through York Square, the commercial district on inner Whalley and get you very close to the State Street train station.  The same line could be potentially be extended north on Whalley to the Amity shopping area to provide easier access to those stores for downtown residents (especially needed with Shaws gone) and to intersect with the Wilbur Cross Parkway, allowing it to service park and ride commuters. The same could be done on the Fairhaven end by turning the line along Quinnipiac Avenue in Fairhaven Heights and connecting to the Walmart-Lowe’s shopping area on Route 80 at exit 8 off I-91.
This is just an example, I’m sure there are many other similar kinds of routes that could make beneficial new connections and be useful to different kinds of users.  Or maybe a dedicated-lane, super fuel-efficient bus system (with fewer, raised-platform, covered ‘stations’ for faster boarding, as was done in Curitiba, Brazil and is seen as an exemplary, cost-efficient rapid transit system) will prove to be a more appropriate mix of risk and return.  Or maybe some other innovative idea will make more sense, but I think we should consider an improved mass transit system as an investment in our future, not an economic wet blanket.  It would be amazing for New Haven to see people from diverse neighborhoods and backgrounds get excited about a common idea.

posted by: Westville Mom on September 28, 2010  3:12pm

Aaron—-Your ideas make sense, but I’m curious as to why everyone seems to be forgetting that Whalley is in the process of a major renovation.  What do people want the city/state to do ... rip it all up?

As far as development is concerned, the most glaring (and infamous) hole in the fabric of the city is the Legion Ave. corridor.  Whalley, while not containing an ideal mix of businesses, is relatively vibrant (as this city goes.)

Did you even look at the suggested route I posted above?

It addresses commuting, as you have mentioned. I should add that the Legion Ave. corridor connects (or could connect) with the proposed redevelopment of the Rt. 34 Connector area downtown.  That line could ALSO continue into Fair Haven, as you suggest.

I find it odd that the cause celebre of many decades (34 Connector) seems now to only be of interest to people regarding the section south of the hospital.

posted by: Anstress Farwell on September 28, 2010  3:40pm

A few thoughts:

Anon #1: I agree we need to improve bike lanes and bike parking, and pedestrian cross walks. I think a good streetcar system would support these goals. Bike riders would benefit from reduced in-road congestion with a mode shift from cars to transit. And a greater concentration of people using places and sidewalks around the lines will increase property values and create the revenues needed to reinvest in infrastructure for feet.

Anon #2: Streetcars are a way to fix and improve the bus system.

Other benefits: Streetcars are quiet and cleaner—important factors in making dense areas attractive to people and valuable to businesses.

I agree with the many comments on making the first step bigger and more balanced with in-town and commuter users, and to look at lines rather than loops. (See Phil Langdon’s article at New Urban News:


As explained at the meeting, the concept presented was far from a final project. The study was looking to understand costs and engineering issues common in New Haven, and to seek out public comment—which is happening, happily, here.

Three possible routes with high merit are ones that would follow, more or less, the two currently busiest bus routes— the B (Whalley) and the D (Grand and Dixwell / Science Park); and one where there is only fractured bus service—the Route 34 / Legion Avenue zone.

The Legion Avenue line (it could be called the “H” for Health line) could run from the Train Station through the Medical District, out to the Boulevard and then to one of three destinations—the Yale Bowl (as Westville Mom advocates), or to Southern CT State College, or eventually, to West Haven and the Yale West Campus. The Legion Avenue “H” line could support better development of the 11 acres the city seeks to reclaim from the Connector, and the 26 plus acre site stripped out for the highway that was never built. There are now major institutions and developers in this zone who could be significant partners in creating a streetcar line—a financial model used in Portland and other city. For a great small study of how this works, financially and environmentally, see the link in this story:

Student has a plan to revitalize Oakland
The San Francisco Chronicle, June 10, 2010

posted by: mpeg on September 28, 2010  3:41pm

John hopkins, I dont know how long you lived here, or what ever your city status is, but numbers mean nothing anymore. Look around you, do you feel safe walking the streets? Whats the point of having a steetcar going to places were people dont want to go? you seem like a one of the people westville mom talks about,you seem to have your blinders on!

Westville mom and NH I totaly loved your comments. I agree with what you and others have said. I do remeber the special olympics, and I helped out at alot of them. There is so much we could do at the stadiums. Of course sports teams in New Haven are another form!

NH-They need to totaly clean up near union station, I have a freind who commutes up here daily and she hates having to walk threw the projects to get to the hospital. But new haven seem to not care about it…course thats what you get with a bunch of high horse liberals!

posted by: William Kurtz on September 28, 2010  5:46pm

Numbers mean nothing anymore.  This is one of the problems with contemporary political debate; we’re far more concerned with how things “feel” than how they “are.”  I agree that public perception and the image of the city are important, but at the same time, the public perception is sometimes in need of a reality check.  It’s either true that crime is down, or it isn’t. 

You talk about “high horse liberals” but then betray an even more dismissive elitism when you ask, rhetorically, “Whats the point of having a steetcar going to places were people dont want to go” conveniently ignoring the fact the people already live and work in those “undesirable” places.  Sometimes, they want and need to go other places to, you know, shop and work.  Where do you think the people who will be working at the outlet mall that another poster thinks is the pinnacle of American civilization are going to live?

posted by: anon on September 28, 2010  6:33pm

New Federal study of relevance to this:


posted by: David D on September 28, 2010  8:18pm

I love New Haven and understand the desire to have trolley service. The associated costs are what disturbs me. You can buy an awful lot of buses for the huge costs of running a trolley as described here.

posted by: abg22 on September 29, 2010  12:56am

If the prospects for funding this project seem hazy at best, that’s because they ARE hazy—and that’s not necessarily an accident. This is a classic example of a head-fake meant to encourage speculative development in the downtown area (trolley systems are supposedly great at attracting private development dollars, though the recent TRB report that Anon referenced shows that with the exception of Portland the stats on this are in fact decidedly mixed).  When I worked in government we used to call this “power-point infrastructure” - trawling for speculative development by holding out the prospect of major infrastructure improvements that had only the faintest possibility of actually happening.

posted by: Millie on September 29, 2010  10:35am

The TRB report is a good start for the government to look into the efficacy of streetcars as more places are looking for federal funding (which still translates to hard-earned tax dollars for most).  The study also points out that more follow-up analysis (like benchmarking, economic development impact) is needed.

I wonder if modern buses/shuttles would have achieved the same tourist ridership in Savannah as its streetcars. Martha’s Vineyard has year-round buses to encourage car-free travel to and around the island. They highlight that transportation option in their marketing literature.

It might be tempting to fall in love with a new mode of transportation in the short term. This post, http://www.humantransit.org/2009/07/streetcars-an-inconvenient-truth.html, asks some hard questions about streetcars, which I hope city planners will consider for the long term.

posted by: Harry David on September 29, 2010  8:28pm

I come late to this discussion and have tried to assimilate the heavy and mostly intelligent comment traffic here. I note two strains of commentary.  The champions of trolleys feel and mostly asume that trolley lines are a public “good” that confers benefits to all, hence no further need for analysis, funding sources, costs vs. benefits, etc. 

The others who commented seem not to be genetically predisposed to favor this transportation mode and keep asking questions about costs, benefits, impact on air quality/traffic/economic development etc..

I lean towards the second group and am quite agnostic about this proposal.  Absolutely no hard information about how this starter system or the ultimate system will garner ridership from cars and buses, at what cost per ride, how will this be financed for initial as well as operational costs, etc.

I will assume that a trolly line may make sense if it was both inherently cost effective without massive infusion of public funds and if it provided some other public value such as reduced carbon emissions, traffic congestion, etc.

I am not sure how an electric propelled trolley reduces carbon emissions.  Electricity generation extracts about 35 (??) % of the energy from a fossil fuel source. Electrical power does not reduce carbon emissions over the alternatives such as hydrocarbon driven buses—they merely relocate and concentrate the carbon emissions to the location of the power plant rather than spew out the carbon and other stuff where people breathe it in. This may have value but nothing in the comments above allows one to place a cost for the value of this public good.

I cannot fathom the implied assumption of so many of these comments—namely that those who will not use a bus will flock to a trolley?? Are buses the choice of the proletariat that are shunned by the the academic and professional classes? So these more affluent citizens will flock to a trolley and hope that the ride will be so heavily subsidized that those who ride the buses will switch transit modes? Or hope they do not? Or make sure they will not by the choice of routes, etc..?

At a time of budget crisis, possibility of mid-year tax increases to close budget gaps, employee layoffs and reduced subsidies from the state it is hard to believe we inhabit the same universe.  Does the fact that “most” of the capital costs will come from federal taxes make the cost burden more palatable? I should feel better that the subsidy is coming from my big federal pocket rather than my smaller state and city tax wallets??

Ten years ago the City embarked on another major capital project—the construction of tens of new schools. This was done without a plan and without any noticeable impact on student performance. The argument then was the same—we have to take advantage of state tax dollars which might go elsewhere… We know the results—cost overruns, cuts in state subsides and minimal, if any, student performance gains.

This whole proposal is a welcome and exciting diversion from our harsh economic realities. We all need to forget our woes and dream of a better future without being dragged down by prosaic questions about why we need this and who will pay, etc..

posted by: Harry David on September 29, 2010  9:13pm

Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. I looked into my soul and tried to fathom why I was not more enthusiastic about this new mode of transportation. After much reflection and a visit to my spiritual adviser I uncovered whence cometh my bias.

Long long ago—fifty plus years ago—in a far away country called Calcutta we had tram cars that plied the main thoroughfares. I fondly remember running alongside to hop on to one of these, wait for the ticket collector to come towards me and then make a quick hop off to evade my moral duty.

AT that time I rode the only other mode of transport open to me—the Raleigh bicycle which we had to assemble ourselves from spokes, rims, tires and hubs.  The presence of tram tracks embedded in the asphalt often resulted in the bicycle wheel slipping into the grooves of the track resulting in a nasty somersault and split chins (I still have the scars).  Especially when the tracks are submerged in a foot of water from the monsoon rains..

When I had the opportunity to own my very own car I enjoyed it so much I lost all my nostalgia for the tram car. But now, it seems, I will have a second chance to enjoy what I thought I had lost for ever—the experience of manoeuvring around trolley tracks…

Luckily for me, this may not happen in my lifetime.

posted by: Westville Mom on September 30, 2010  12:17pm

Harry David—I really enjoyed reading your account of growing up in Calcutta!  I, too, grew up riding trolleys (in an American city.)  We couldn’t afford a car, so I didn’t get my driver’s license until marrying at the age of 28.

This thread has missed some of the intangibles related to the trolley vs. bus debate:  intangibles such as stability, permanence, and predictability.  Since trolleys depend on tracks and power lines, they are actually part of the BUILT environment, as opposed to being mere vehicles.  The construction of trolley lines communicates to business owners, residents, and institutions that there is a solid commitment of ridership—or at the very least the promotion of ridership—to and along that street.  That is partly why I joined this debate—to protest the idea of investing so much money in a section of town that has already benefited from stability, permanence, and predictability for so many decades.

IF a line were built to connect to Ella Grasso Blvd., could the city persuade a Stew Leonard-type person to build an URBAN marketplace somewhere along it???  There was a popular flea market there for a long time ... don’t know if it still exists.  The IKEA store on Long Wharf, while an architectural disaster in my opinion, at least works financially because people WANT to go there and it is easily accessible.  The same case COULD be made for the western end of New Haven on or near the Boulevard, if a trolley line were there.

The intangibles of nostalgia, charm, and fun have been discussed, but not the economic intangibles.  Perhaps this is because the concepts of stability, permanence, and predictability are identified more with (evil) conservatism than liberalism (or “progressivism” if you will.)  However, cutting edge technology, imagination, and iconoclastic methods can be employed in the promotion of stability, permanence, and predictability, too!  [Btw, this is why Sarah Palin is such a threat to the Left.  She is “cool” and daring in support of her conservative principles—in short, an existential threat to those who championed using new and cutting edge methods to DE-stabilize our mortgage system, our banks, and our health care, among many other things.]

So, in advocating the addition of a trolley line, what people are really doing—whether they recognize this or not—is advocating for stability, permanence, and predictability for a section of town.  What we are seeing in the national economy, unfortunately, is a total breakdown of financial faith in the “system” because rational people don’t invest in something that is likely to radically change any minute.  This is equally true of “unpredictable” New Haven, in so far as crime is concerned, at least.  I, for one, would welcome a move in the other direction—a move toward stability and commitment to a neighborhood.

This also extends (not to get too far afield) to the lottery school system this mayor has imposed on the city.  As I have asked many times, who wants to make the biggest investment of their lives (a home) in a neighborhood where their children won’t be guaranteed a spot in a nearby school?

Stability, permanence, predictability.  Conservative principles this city and this country would do well to pursue.

posted by: Harry David on September 30, 2010  4:33pm

Westville Mom:  We may have a chicken and egg problem—no not the case of “Why did the chicken cross the road”?—here.

If a trolley line and the message it sends were enough to encourage economic development, business investment and urban vitality, then perhaps we should have more trolley lines in Congress Avenue and other areas of the City where blight has descended and stubbornly stays.

I have not done the rigorous analysis I should but I would hazard a guess that those cities where trolly lines have succeeded in stirring development are located in regions where growth and economic development would have occured anywhere.  Population shifts in the USA favors the southern states and the Northwest parts of the country.  Would a trolly line in Detroit stem the tide? Or in South Bend or Grand Rapids?

WE can debate all the reasons for this population shift—some factors such as climate (of the metereological variety) are beyond our control, while others such as business friendly climes can be manipulated to attract investment, jobs and economic growth.  Unfortunately, Connecticut, and New Haven in particular, do not seem able to stem the race to the South and is distinctly hostile to new business. 

Not being a development economist I can only speculate as to why we seem to have regressed from the days when Macy’s and Malley’s were thriving in downtown. Our mismanaged schools that has become a magnet for our high taxes with no visible results, our hostile business climate where we spend so much time figuring how to shift the burden of taxation from residential to commercial taxpayers, our poor track record at encouraging development through onerous and counterproductive zoning regulations, all contribute to business flight.

Ironically, this trolley proposal, to the extent it will suck up tax dollars and not turn the tide of business flight, will actually compound the problem by becoming a drain on the tax base.

IKEA succeeded because there was and is a market for what they do. And the City may have provided incentives for them to come here. We seem to make it harder for businesses to thrive here and then lavish tax incentives to anyone who promises to invest her without demonstrating that our tax extractions actually provide genuine value in terms of service delivery.

I am too jaded to believe that our political culture—in Connecticut and the Northeast generally—will allow for the kinds of business climate that will attract investment—or stem the outflow of what remains. Trolley lines and other infrastructure schemes that do not assure population and business growth here will take us further down the path of higher taxes and underutilized investments.

Perhaps it is time to retire to where I came from!!!!  But for all the economic growth in those developing countries I still find this place attractive to live in, so I think I shall stay.

posted by: Westville Mom on October 1, 2010  9:08am

Harry—-Don’t leave!  We need all the conservative thinkers we can get.

You paint a pretty accurate, if depressing, portrait of New Haven.  I don’t think we can compare ourselves to places like Detroit, though, because we haven’t sunk that low yet.  (New Haven without Yale? ... maybe.)

The intangibles of which I speak have a lot to do with “perception” ... something the “ruling class” around here cares little about.  (Although, their use of the wind turbine as a marketing tool was pretty clever, I have to admit.)

Regarding Macy’s and Malley’s—according to my recollection, sales probably declined around the time the food court was built in the mall and became a rather infamous hangout for teenagers and other people with large coats (identified in the Register as concealing weapons.) A couple of shootings sealed the deal.  By the way, that seems tame compared to what’s going on these days.

The other night I entertained a family of five from halfway around the globe who spent some time in New Haven about 16 years ago.  They briefly visited downtown and said it “looked” better.  Their primary question was about ... you guessed it, CRIME.  I had to tell them it was about the same.  That’s my perception and frankly, I don’t believe the city’s statistics. (Murders might be down because our doctors’ technology has gotten better or people are using different guns.)

Crime is a prime example of the “predictability” factor.  Using a lottery to determine where a child goes to school is another one.  Even Obama agrees with this.  Here is a very recent quote from the Washington Post:

“In the interview with NBC’s Matt Lauer, Obama was asked for his view on the recently released documentary ‘Waiting for Superman,’ which depicts the challenges of improving urban schools. Obama said it is ‘heartbreaking’ that some parents have to rely on a lottery to get their children into a school they think will meet their needs.

The educational future of children ‘shouldn’t depend on the bounce of a ball,’ Obama told Lauer, referring to a lottery method. ‘Our goal is to make all schools high-quality schools.’”

Heartbreaking ... indeed! And destructive to a city. 

It is excruciatingly frustrating that this city has for decades forged ahead with bold moves based on demonstrably faulty assumptions and beliefs.  The trolley idea will probably die and maybe it should ... at least until more retail businesses are attracted to the city.  One thing that is obvious to me—and not the ruling class—is that the perception of New Haven has to change first.  Suburbanites and visitors see it as a city that tolerates high crime, has a crazy mixed up school system, hikes taxes unpredictably, and bends over backwards to attract illegal aliens.  Who would want to invest in a city like that?

Maybe if some of the closet-conservatives at Yale would just speak up for once ....  one can dream!

posted by: abg on October 7, 2010  10:54am

For those interested in the history of trolleys in New Haven, I’d recommend Frederick Chesson’s 1995 book “New Haven - From the Collection of Charles Rufus Harte” (Harte was a civil engineer for the Connecticut Company, the main trolley operator in New Haven, and he documented the evolution of New Haven’s trolleys and railroads, and many other aspects of the city’s modern life, in thousands of photographs from 1908 to 1956). The book, which combines Harte’s photos with Chesson’s explanatory text, is worth buying (http://www.amazon.com/New-Haven-CT-Collection-Charles/dp/0752402129/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1286462786&sr=8-1) just for the great photographs of early 20th century New Haven. Here’s Chesson writing about the trolley system:

“The electric trolley arrived in 1892, much to the relief of residents near the Grand Avenue Horse Barn, whose 350 equines insisted upon both eating and excreting, whether they were out pulling cars or not.  Three years later, the transition to electric power was virtually complete, and the Fair Haven & Westville Railroad Company listed eighty electric passenger cars on its 1895 roster, but only ‘6 Old Horsecars.’

By 1900, it had bought up some thirteen rival street railways and was the largest operation in Connecticut, having carried over sixteen million passengers. Its own corporate existence, however, was about to be terminated by an even larger entity, the New Haven Railroad. In May 1904, the company was sold for over ten million dollars and its assets turned over to the New Haven’s trolley-operating division, the Consolidating Railroad.

Further transit acquisitions followed, and by 1910 the new Connecticut Company had become the state’s principal transit operator. Growth continued up to about the time of World War I, then began a slow but accelerating decline as the automobile gained ascendancy… [Another reason for the trolley’s decline was that] trolleys required some 600 volts of direct current, which was mainly supplied from generators driven by massive steam engines or the newer turbines. Supplying large amounts of direct current power to fleets of trolley required miles of very heavy and expensive feeder cables. Repairs to the network of over-head trolley and feeder cables were both costly and time-consuming. The normal vulnerability of the trolley’s electrical supplies to ice storms and other natural disasters was heightened by fears of German sabotage during World War I.

In less than forty years, the Connecticut Company’s streetcar empire was to vanish entirely, the last trolley clattering off into oblivion in New Haven at the dusk of Sept. 25, 1948.

Besides passengers, the Connecticut Company also carried light freight and parcels in a fleet of trolley express cars. Early morning runs specialized in milk cans from dairy farms as far away as Woodbury.