Harp Calls Trolley Quest Part Of “Civil Rights Issue”

After an unintended trial balloon revived a controversial debate over mass transit, Mayor Toni Harp weighed in Tuesday night on the idea of bringing a “streetcar” or “trolley” to town.

Harp’s economic development chief, Matthew Nemerson, revealed at a Tuesday morning Development Commission meeting that the administration plans to revived a proposal to seek federal money for a transportation study that would include whether to bring streetcars to town.

After this story appeared about the meeting, City Hall started hearing from local officials who hadn’t been clued in to the plans. After a day of discussions, Harp released a statement Tuesday evening. The statement affirmed her general support for the study. It also affirmed her commitment to include critics of the original plan in the process to take into consideration concerns about including more than downtown and East Rock in any subsequent plan and avoiding eminent domain.

“Administration Seeks Alder and Community Input,” the statement as headlined.

The full statement follows:

Following a discussion at the Economic Development Commission meeting this morning related to authorized federal transportation funding, Mayor Toni Harp announced today she does have interest in pursuing federal funding for a transportation study of New Haven’s neighborhoods and downtown.

“Transportation is a civil rights issue, it’s an economic development issue, it’s a jobs issue,” Mayor Harp said. “Too many residents in our community struggle to find suitable transportation to get to work, to a doctor’s appointment, or to the grocery store. With better public transportation we can work to ensure a better quality of life for residents, particularly economically vulnerable families and seniors.”

The federal grant in question had been previously pursued by the DeStefano administration with a trolley-focused plan that was voted down twice by the Board of Aldermen, due in part the opaque process by which it was proposed. While using the same federal money, Mayor Harp presents a different approach as she proposes the study.

“We’re looking to include all of the alders, as well as community members, in the decisions about how this study is commissioned and completed,” Mayor Harp explained. “Earlier today it was reported that this would have to pass in ten days, too little time to take this to the aldermanic committees – that is inaccurate. We have plenty of time to include everyone. News of this came out inadvertently during the presentation of an unrelated report, rather than through our usual process. We want everyone to know this doesn’t indicate how the study will proceed – we want everyone to be involved.”

“While we’ll still be looking at trolleys as an option, this study goes beyond that,” said Mayor Harp’s Chief of Staff Tomas Reyes.  “It will show us where our transportation needs are and which areas are being underserved.”

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posted by: anonymous on January 15, 2014  11:16am

“Transportation is a civil rights issue, it’s an economic development issue, it’s a jobs issue,” Mayor Harp said.

Kudos to Harp for stating the facts. It’s too bad the Board/UNITE HERE saw this as a political football a couple years ago and worked to not accept the free State & Federal funding, even though citizens overwhelmingly testified in favor of it.  Hopefully they won’t vote against the elderly, bus riders, and young people again.

posted by: HewNaven on January 15, 2014  11:34am

I’m glad Harp stepped in and will not allow the BofA to deny a vital transportation study for a 3rd time. You’re darn right transportation is a Civil Rights issue and an Economic Development concern. Happy to discover that Harp understands this.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on January 15, 2014  11:42am

I think Harp has taken the correct position. I also generally support this Study since it would likely give us valuable information about our transportation system that can inform a wide range of future plans that may or may not include a trolley. It’s also great that she wants to bring in critics of the original proposed route and location of maintenance facility, which includes me.

posted by: Anderson Scooper on January 15, 2014  11:42am

Is it true that the downtown street conversion project, (one-way to two-way traffic), has died with the departure of Jim Travers? Where does Mayor Harp stand on that?

Obviously it’s a subject I care about much, much more than a trolley study, with the whole trolley idea sounding like another looming boondoggle and waste of federal funds. (Heated bus stops, anyone?)

And again what we really need is a 21st century bus system, along the lines of what Yale runs: http://to.yale.edu/shuttle. Why not a serious examination of CT Transit in comparison to other metro bus systems?

posted by: citoyen on January 15, 2014  11:56am

This is good news, coming from an administration that has had a bumpy start.

Mayor Harp is correct about being willing to study the question of public transportation in the city, and correct to want to involve lots of voices in this consideration, and I applaud her for this.  (And kudos to Matthew Nemerson for being willing to raise the subject again.)

I hope she will be able to sway unwilling members of the alder board, whose backing was so important in putting her into office.

Why on earth would New Haven *not* want to accept federal money aimed at envisioning possibilities for New Haven’s future?

This city has *got* to change its mindset about doing things the same old ways—from hand-picked one-candidate so-called “elections” (see the current scandal that is the Ward 3 alder replacement), to uses of its roadways, to thinking only in terms of current economic arrangements, and so on.

posted by: anonymous on January 15, 2014  12:13pm

Anderson - it seems likely that any bus/streetcar design study like this one would consider the possibilities of one way to two way street conversions in great detail.  The study that Jim Travers conducted was great, but needs a lot more work before it can be realized.

posted by: Eddie on January 15, 2014  1:00pm

You have to love the irony.  Anon consistently attacked Harp throughout the electoral cycle for things as petty as her appearance in the debates.  Yet Harp is probably the only political leader who has both the capacity and will to implement Anon’s top policy priority.  This all just shows how misdirected Anon’s behavior on here has become.

Anon note that Harp is taking a decidedly different approach to this study.  She is emphasizing inclusion and seems willing to ensure that the Alders’ priorities and concerns receive fair consideration.  The lack of this inclusion was the major failing of the last proposal.  Although you continue to seek divisions and antagonism by making up conspiracies, cooperation is going to get this proposal much further.  Perhaps you can take this opportunity to learn from Harp.

posted by: TheMadcap on January 15, 2014  1:11pm

I don’t often praise Harp, but saying transportation is a civil rights issue deserves praise.

posted by: webblog on January 15, 2014  1:54pm

Thank you Mayor Harp.

However, no one has presented argument that transportation is not a civil rights, economic development or jobs issue. Indeed, it is all the above. The problem with the re-emergence of this issue is that it does not fulfill the needs priority of the city.
Just because the Feds have left over monies it must spend, does not mean that our city planners should indebt our citizens to the tune of $30M for a three mile trolley venture from church St. to Science Park and back.

Back in 2010, Mayor DeStefano said:
Mayor John DeStefano “has lobbied D.C. for $20 million to pay for the system, which would cost an estimated $30 million to build”.
“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”.

See the link here:

Today, Nemerson and Harp appear to be changing the narrative while spinning the same ole story with a new justification, which now includes a vague reference to the neighborhoods. Either way, a three or thirty mile study will only produce what we already know; street cars are not New Haven’s priority.
Until such time as Nemerson and Harp start to develop their own agenda based on the reality of today’s priorities, we will be mired in the special interest of (yesterday) and the past twenty years.

posted by: robn on January 15, 2014  1:59pm


Its nice to know that Mayor Harp is listening to constituents like ANONYMOUS and adjusting course.

posted by: robn on January 15, 2014  2:02pm


To point a fine point on the mayors statement, “TRANSPORTATION is a civil right issue,” not necessarily trolleys.

posted by: anonymous on January 15, 2014  2:02pm

Eddie, Mayor Harp’s suggested approach to this is no different from the approach suggested by Nemerson, Elicker, Fernandez, and the other candidates for Mayor last year.  As all of the candidates noted during the debates, bus and transportation studies were not a major policy priority under DeStefano, who was apparently content to let mid-level city staff push the project forward with little support.  To be fair, DeStefano was focused at the time on larger projects such as Downtown Crossing, which is also a stated priority of Harp and Nemerson.

Mayor Harp will make this issue a priority, in part because all of the other candidates (and now Nemerson as EDA) eloquently suggested at the debates that we should.  Harp offered very few specifics at those debates, which is the only reason why she was roundly criticized by many city residents for her performance.

Anyhow, I am glad that we both agree that when the administration makes this one of their top policy priorities, it will happen.

posted by: getyourfactstraight on January 15, 2014  3:12pm

I think the study is ok, but I believe all should be aware that it is just a way to spend fed money that probably needs to be spent. I think if this were to move forward it would be another expense to the taxpayers to implement an actually trolley system. I also am not sure a trolley covers any type of civil right movement, but rather CT transit would cover such and should be looked at and improved upon. If a trolley system is implemented we do know one thing, the mayor will not be using it unless she has a body guard with her. Well at least she immerged from her isolation to talk about something. It’s kind of like a turtle peeking out from it’s shell and then going right back in again. I am glad Tommy Reyes has finally immerged because he at least understands politics and what people want to hear. If Mayor Harp has any common sense at all she will confer with Tommy on a lot of issues before she opens her mouth. He could save her a lot of embarrassing moments.

posted by: Nathan on January 16, 2014  1:20am

Not that I’m a conspiracy theorist, but NHI’s approach on these subjects might give the impression that if enough critics submit comments to a favored story, NHI will just run it again the next day/week under a barely disguised rehashing of the same material.  It’s funny how the promoters were lined up in the comments for today’s edition of the story.

As I wrote in version one of this article, the administration may not be able to resist the lure of the federal money for the “study”, especially if it can be directed in politically advantageous ways.  Make no mistake about it, though, this foolish idea will not be built, because the city can’t afford to improve the existing transit infrastructure, let alone pay the construction and operating costs (almost all public transit is subsidized) for a new mode of moving people around the downtown area.  The only reason the absurd busway from New Britain to Hartford is being built is that the governor simply couldn’t leave the money on the table given the state of the economy and the political benefits of spreading that funding.  It not as if there is any compelling reason to move large numbers of people from New Britain to Hartford, given the latter has bled jobs for decades.

posted by: anonymous on January 16, 2014  3:29pm

Nathan - investments in transit are not a zero sum game. 

If we thought the way that you do, then our society would not have any roads, bridges, or transit systems at all.

If you have more riders, more physical investments, more routes, more jobs, then a system can be made to run far more efficiently and profitably (not that investments in transit, or in highways, are ever measured as profits in the traditional sense, given the fact that roads and transit are all heavily subsidized by the rest of our economy). 

If this design study showed that our bus and transit system could be improved, and better at serving the low income residents and youth in our city who desperately need jobs, then it would have been money well spent. 

It’s an absolute disaster to our city that the Board rejected it the last time, even with the State and Federal governments paying almost the entire cost.  It is also a slap in the face to Unions, as public transportation creates hundreds of great Union jobs.

posted by: webblog on January 16, 2014  4:46pm

The department of Economic Development, Matthew Nemerson, Mike Piscitelli, and now with the help of Reyes and Harp really need to stop this propaganda. They know full well that back in 2010/2011 the city posted a full executive summary of the study and the plan for implementation of the streetcars/trolley.


To raise this twice defeated issue again with the promise of guarded of “civil rights”, expanded “Economic development” and “JOBS” is a deliberate deviation of the truth to the highest degree.

What they really need; is to stop the constant promises of job creation, whereas; in all recent or past development/creations; job development for city residents cannot be demonstrated or otherwise shown.


posted by: ebw1957 on January 19, 2014  7:57pm

None of the posters to this discussion mentioned the current system which is public buses. I watch these buses pass by all the time with few and often no riders.

Explain to me how changing from a bus to a trolley makes things better? Because they are pretty ?