City Plans Transit Study, Beyond Streetcars

A million-dollar plan to study transportation alternatives in New Haven has returned for the third time, and this time it’s about more than just streetcars.

The plan—to accept a federal grant for $760,000—reappeared Monday evening on the Board of Alders agenda, where it has shown up twice before.

In 2011 and 2012, the city sought permission to receive a Federal Transit Administration grant to study the feasibility of installing a streetcar system in downtown New Haven.

Both times, the proposal failed. Alders balked at shelling out thousands of matching dollars for studies that were focused on streetcars downtown.

This time, the federal grant would pay for a study of transit alternatives—not just streetcars—citywide.

Board of Alders President Jorge Perez assigned the proposal to the City Services and Environmental Policy Committee, where it will be the subject of a public hearing before returning to the board for a full vote.

Alder Perez said the study proposal is more likely to find approval this time around.

“It makes sense for us to study our transit system,” he said. “If it’s done the way it’s being proposed, I would think it has a better chance.”

City transit chief Doug Hausladen said the grant requires a $190,000 match. The state Department of Transportation (Conn DOT) has pledged $100,000 of that, he said, leaving New Haven to pay $90,000.

The total—$950,000—would pay for a two-year study, Hausladen said.

Hausladen said the state money has been promised under the condition that the resulting study has a wide scope, that it looks at how New Haven’s transit systems fit with state systems. (Click here for a story about problems with the bus system.)

The federal money has already been earmarked, but expires at the end of the fiscal year if the city doesn’t claim it, Hausladen said.

Nearly two years after the last streetcar plan fizzled, to the dismay of transit activists, the new Harp administration revived the idea in January. Mayor Toni Harp called the trolley and broader mass-transit-improvement quest a “civil rights issue.” (Click here for an in-depth analysis of the benefits and challenges of installing a streetcar system.)

“It’s not going to be about streetcars,” said Hausladen said of the study. “It will be about mobility in general. ... a true alternatives analysis.”

That includes proposals that can help mobility, like shifting traffic lanes or signal timing, or changing bus routes and installing improved bus transfer station, maybe one with a bathroom, Hausladen said.

It could also include streetcars, he said. “Everything is on the table.”

Hausladen said he’s convening a group of neighborhood Community Management Team representatives to set the scope of the grant application.

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posted by: anonymous on May 22, 2014  11:41am

The previous studies that Perez rejected would have extensively studied the entire transit system, too, as both the city officials, planners, the Mayor, and others who testified made clear at the time. 

It’s a testament to the good work by Hausladen, Nemerson, Elicker, and Harp for keeping this point front and center over the past year.

Politicians can’t keep voting down transit improvements forever, given than 90% of the public wants them.

Also thank you to DeLauro for holding the money until the Board of Alders finally stopped holding the city’s development and jobs base hostage for their own political gain.  Unfortunately, New Haven is now 3 years behind everyone else, with nothing to show for it. DeStefano should have pushed harder for this 3 years ago.

posted by: Anderson Scooper on May 22, 2014  11:53am

Here’s my transportation plan:

Get rid of the two failed housing projects in Dwight/Edgewood, (i. e. Kensington Square and Waverly Terrace), and suddenly that many more New Haveners would feel comfortable walking or biking to Downtown.

No, I’m not kidding.

If you also ran a simple Yale Shuttle-type bus route, on a simple loop, that whole neighborhood could be transformed.

posted by: robn on May 22, 2014  12:05pm

I’m behind this if, as proposed, its not exclusive to street cars and if the money is spent on a report from a qualified group, not on bureaucratic support from the city.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on May 22, 2014  12:51pm

I second robn’s comment. Hopefully a large scale $1 Million study won’t be subject to the same problems that the smaller $10,000 neighborhood main streets study was:

There is very little difference between the area off Edgewood Avenue and the area off Orange Street in terms of quality of the housing stock, proximity and cohesiveness with downtown, and organization of streets. SoHu (South of Humphrey) was an antebellum satellite village with a mix of mansions, small houses, and tenements above shops, factories, schools and institutions, just like the West Village (Chapel West and Dwight-Kensington). Goatville is very similar to the working class West River area with many small houses and apartments mixed with shops, schools and institutions. Whitney-Orange is very similar to Edgewood with large single, two-, and multi-family houses mixed with a handful of apartments, shops, schools and institutions.

With some targeted investment and small changes, that area of the city could flourish, for sure, but it would also need some protections in order to maintain a base level of affordability. I suspect that Dwight’s issues have less to do with Kensington Square (a potentially good model) and more to do with absentee landlords, job access, and attractiveness for higher-income folks. East Rock is right at the point of becoming unaffordable and could use some protective measures as well.

posted by: Bradley on May 22, 2014  4:01pm

JH, as a long-time SoHu resident, I agree with your analysis. But I suspect that premium that East Rock landlords can charge will likely go down as more housing gets built in and near downtown and more graduate students begin to seriously consider Dwight and southern part of Newhallville.

posted by: Noteworthy on May 22, 2014  6:21pm

Study This Notes:

1. This is a testament to no bad idea or waste of money ever dies. It just gets reincarnated.

2. Does Perez ever say no? Apparently not. Even though the taxpayers are getting clobbered with higher taxes because the city is spending more money than it takes in, yet again;ran a deficit each of the last two years; has zero dollars in its reserve account and is one vote away from approving millions in new spending and more positions for Miss Toni’s growing entourage - he still says yes.

3. And what could this transportation study possibly tell us that we don’t know already? Certainly nothing that is worth a million dollars of federal, state and local tax money - all of it paid for by us.